I consider myself fortunate that I haven’t had the experiences and life changing circumstances that need those to draw on the support of Sebastian Action Trust. In truth I don’t know anybody who has had need. This prompts the question why run for SAT, the answer for me was easy. I was 51 and ran my first half marathon, the Windsor half marathon in September 2015. As I crossed the line I knew I wanted to run a full marathon. I signed up and paid for flights and accommodation to run the 2016 Berlin Marathon. I then wanted to support a charity and started to research which one. I looked at the larger charities then looked closer to home and met with Jane Gates. This was a small charity without the household name and brand that draws in easy donations and I knew immediately that what I could raise would have a direct impact. I ran in Berlin a year to the day after completing the Windsor half and was able to raise a few thousand pounds for SAT.
And so then came London and again I was immensely proud to run for SAT and be asked to write this blog. I hope the following review of my day in London may inspire one or more of you to run a marathon, a half marathon or something else that is a challenge to you and raise money for SAT.
Following a 5:00am alarm call, porridge quickly followed, a challenge in itself at that time, arriving in good time at Farnborough station to catch the bus along with 15 other runners from Windle Valley Runners. Some, nervous and over-hydrated meant we had two garage pit stops before arriving in Greenwich. On arrival, the 16 from the bus divided into our different start areas. I headed into the red start area with three other runners. We soon separated into our respective start pens, pre-determined by our predicted finish time. Then at 10:00 the elite runners set off and we began walking forward, I crossed the start line at 10:08. 26.2 miles in front of me, it was never going to be easy. Stick to the pace, not too fast, not too slow, and then worry about the temperature, the person dressed as a bunny and where the first water station is. At three miles the different starts merge into one race and the full scale of the events hits the runner. I was on pace and ran on through to the Cutty Sark. Just imagine how many times you’ve seen it on the TV coverage and there I am running around it with 40,000 other runners. It’s about 6 miles in and I’m aware the leading runners will be finishing in less than an hour. I carry on and am passed by a woman that looks like a friend of my wife, Hayley. I know it’s not Hayley but it’s a great to have a ‘friend’ just in front of you, somebody running notionally faster and I can track her. At about 12 miles we arrive at Tower Bridge and I’m still about 10 metres behind ‘Hayley’. I was so awestruck on the approach and the journey over it that I slowed a little and never saw Hayley again. Turning right the next milestone is 13.1 miles, halfway. I reach this point in and I’m on schedule to finish inside of 4hrs15, my target.
Passing through mile 16 I was slowing a little but I knew from my watch I was still well on course to finish sub 4:15. That was until the mile 17 marker came into view. I could feel the front thigh muscles (quads) tightening and threatening cramp. I changed my stance and running style to alleviate the pain and carried on. The adjustment didn’t help my technique and I was slowing as a result so I kept switching between running at pace and protecting my quads but the quads were progressively getting worse. The problem in not running with the technique is you put strain elsewhere. As I passed through 20 miles my calf muscles went into spasm and the real pain hit. I knew immediately sub 4:15 was gone and by the time I reached 21 miles I knew close to 4:15 was gone. I was in pain like I’ve never known before. We’ve all seen the runner on the TV that looks like the guy in need of a bathroom; “please don’t let me look like that” was all I could think of as I tried to distracted myself. I reached a water station and even the act of moving my upper body to the left and putting my arm out changed my posture by a fraction leaving me jumping up in the air and reaching for the first barrier to stretch out the muscles.
Then there was a Lucazade Sport drink station just ahead and I needed it. I was a few metres behind this guy who looked more physically tired than me and was therefore drained. He clearly wasn’t thinking as he proceeded to tip the Lucazade over his head, clearly thinking it was water. I’ll spare you the expletives but needless to say he wasn’t happy having squirted sugary drink into his hair and all over his back and face. Another distraction, another half mile passes. I see Lucazade man stop as we reach the next water station, and wash sticky drink from his body. At 23 miles all the misfortune is mine again as the calves were far worse than the quads and the pain was continuous and grinding.
My opening sentence said I have no experiences that have led me to call upon the services of SAT. For those who have forgiven me if my choice of words is poor; all other readers please feel the sentiment: My pain was nothing, I kept asking myself if it was pain. As I had done in Berlin six months earlier, I filled myself with the distraction of asking what real pain was. I was dealing with my physical pain but couldn’t answer the question, could I deal with emotional real lasting pain, and every reaction and feeling that I can only assume goes with that. I was drained by the physical pain of cramp and I promise I was hurting, but it was only physical pain. “I will keep going, I will finish, I have to finish. But I have an option to end this pain when others don’t, all I have to do is stop, you can’t stop when others don’t have an option”.
The underpass at Embankment comes into sight just before mile 25. It came and it went, just over a mile to go. The Houses of Parliament are next. Turning hard right I arrive on Parliament Square, less than a mile to go, so onwards onto Birdcage Walk. I was still running, well I say running, it was more of a fast shuffle but the end was getting closer with each pace. The crowds were the final distraction I needed but even with them cramp hit again and I had to stop and stretch with less than half a mile to go. Leaning on the barrier with the crowd excitedly shouting words of encouragement certainly provides the final burst of adrenalin. All the call of the “go on Andrew, you can do it”, “go on Andrew you didn’t come to London for a walk”, “Andrew, run there’s a Womble getting closer”, having a name on my shirt paid off. So off I go, Buckingham Palace and 365 yards to go, the last 0.2 of the 26.2 miles. And then it happens...I am passed by a Womble. I’m not too disheartened as with each step the finish lines gets larger. Then all of a sudden it’s not in front of me, it’s behind me and I can stop running. By the purest of coincidences somebody recognized me on line and gives me a big hug. That hug was worth more than anything in that moment. I walk on and collect my medal.
Returning to the beginning, I said I hoped you will do something after reading this. Please do something as there are so many reasons to do so. Did I finish only for SAT, for a medal, because it was fun, for the pain, or to say I ran the London Marathon? The answer is no to them all, I ran for all of them and without all of them I wouldn’t have finished. You don’t have to run a marathon but make your challenge your marathon as you will feel better and in doing so I’m sure it will help somebody else. And me, well I’m off to Tromso, Norway for the Midnight Sun Marathon. It’s over the Artic Circle and it’ll be light at midnight when the runners are finishing as it starts at 8:30pm That’ll be my fourth marathon in 9 months and my last one in 2017. After that who knows, all I wanted to say was “I ran a marathon”.
Thank you for reading.