Squiffy's London Marathon Antics
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Squiffy vs. The London Marathon
People had told me I was mad to even attempt 26.2 miles on crutches, but there was no way I was backing out on this one, I had to do this for Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre, although when I awoke at 5.30am on Sunday 17th April 2005, I did wonder, just for a little while, what I had let myself in for.
Would the weather be kind? All sorts of dire warnings had been issued by the Met. Office for days before, gales, heavy rain etc. so it was a wonderful surprise to open my curtains at the hotel to find glorious sunshine streaming in.
First things first, after having a shower, I thought it imprudent to go down for breakfast dressed in my clown gear, so threw on a tee shirt and jogging bottoms and went to stock up on those all important "carbs" before the race began. There was a palpable atmosphere when you walked into the breakfast room, fear, mixed with excitement, dotted around the tables were little groups of terrified looking people, did I look the same? I wondered.
After three bowls of Weetabix, two rounds of toast and 3 muffins (all no-nos on my normal anti-MS diet, I washed it all down with apple juice and thought to myself, "Well, it's show-time!"
Returning to my room I then began the task of applying the clown make-up, which was quite hard given the amount my hands were shaking, was that fear or just MS tremours? Fear methinks :O)
All done, I then left my room to check out in full clown costume and make-up. Waiting for the lift a young family arrived with a small girl of about 5 in tow. She took one look at me and started screaming! The poor lass was probably traumatised for life and will never be able to go near a circus, ever. :O)
Anyhow, got on the tube at Canning Town station and alighted at Canary Wharf for the Docklands Light railway…….now, you think it would all be simple, but the station I needed was a good 400 yards from where I thought it was, which, given I was on two elbow crutches and carrying the well over loaded Marathon "kitbag" meant some struggle.
I finally made it to the platform and the train rolled in full over over-excited people (the spectators) and terrified people (the runners). I managed to get the whole carriage roaring with laughter with some quip, which totally alludes me now, but it helped my nerves if no one else's.
We all got off at Greenwich, which at least meant I must be in the right place! A very nice man, running for the Multiple Sclerosis Society helped carry my kitbag towards Greenwich park, and we chatted about MS, the race etc. until my mobile went off, at which point I wished him well and sent him on his way. My daughter and son (Teen and Mini Squiffs) were phoning to wish me well. Ahhhhhhh. I then set off struggling as best I could with the crutches and very heavy kitbag (how much does clown makeup weigh for goodness sake?) when suddenly my bag was whisked away by a lovely lady in Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre running tee shirt who then insisted on carrying my kitbag, along with her own all the way to Greenwich Park (if you are reading this, thank you both for helping me out, I never got your names).
Well, I found the correct lorry and deposited my kitbag, not knowing if I would ever see it again at the finish and set off to find a loo. (It must be noted here that I along with many other Msers have a tendency to use any loo as it hoves into view :O)
Having done what I had to do I then texted my good friend, and Marathon partner-in-crime, Niel (Skinny Legs) to find out if he was actually up yet and on Greenwich Common somewhere, given there were 30 odd thousand people milling around this could be a bit of a problem finding each other. But, like any true Yorkshire man he was at the Tea Tent supping on a PG Tips, so we found each other relatively easily. I was pleased to find that his running mate, and much better looking, Ann (HappyChick) was also in evidence and looking keen as mustard to get on with the job in hand, whereas myself and Skinny Legs probably did a good impression of two knocking knees escapees from a fancy dress party.
We were then asked to line up in our allotted starting "enclosures", given our expected times, we were near the back, which seemed a good idea as there were a lot of people in front and meant I could hide and not be noticed quaking like mad.
The horn went off at 9.45, not that we could hear it being probably half a mile from the start! But the hordes started to move forward at quite a brisk pace so we knew this was it! I got to No. 2 enclosure and suddenly realised I had better nip to the loo sharpish, as there was no way I would get to the first set of loos just after the first mile……..
I said fare thee well to Skinny Legs and Happy Chick and bolted (well, a fast crutching anyhow) through a side entrance in the fence and "raced" to the nearest loos. Coming out I was pleased to see that the mass of people hadn't moved much, so was able to jump back in hardly further back than when I left!
And then there it was…..The Start Line! My mouth went dry, my knees knocked even more, but I plastered, what I hoped was an eager grin on my face and off I plunged into the unknown. Round the first corner, and the first "Go on Squiffy" emitted from the crowd, which was quite a lovely surprise to be recognised quite so soon. Thanks to Mr and Mrs Zepto from The Fool, for giving me that confidence booster right at the start, I can truthfully say you made all the difference!
The crowds were amazing, and as the runners sped off leaving us "walkers" their cheers seemed to increase in volume! I was blown away by the goodwill and shear joy these people were giving out to every one of us that passed.
The miles seemed to slip by and before I knew it I was through mile six and in view of the Cutty Sark. Time sped on, the crowds got bigger, bands were playing at every pub, the volume of cheers increased as each mile slipped by, and suddenly I was down Tooley Street and turning the corner towards Tower Bridge. Two things then happened, people I knew appeared in the crowd screaming my name (thanks guys) and secondly a wall of sound totally pounded me as I went up towards the bridge itself. You have to be there to comprehend what that sound is like, but it certainly lifted my feet up and carried me on for the next few miles.
Turning towards East London along East Smithfield I then saw a mass of runners (obviously the bulk of the sub-5 hour runners) coming towards me on the other side of the dual carriageway. They were passing Mile 22 I was passing Mile 13. I experienced very mixed emotions at this point, I was still going well, covering the ground at a steady 4 miles and hour, so was pleased with how things were going, but to see this mass of humanity going past you the other way, knowing they were only 4 miles from the finish did leave me wondering what time I would finish at. The crowds were amazing at this point not only cheering on the "runners" on one side of the road but also cheering even louder for us "walkers" on the other. It was also very uplifting to be cheered along by many of the runners going past me, and this again lifted my spirits.
Docklands was a weird experience. After the massive crowds, the shear "emptiness" of much of Docklands was hard to take; it was so quiet, with just the odd few people cheering in patches, was a little unnerving.
Around Mile 19 I caught up with Sue, one of the MSRC runners who had hurt her knee and had been forced to walk the rest of the way. Meeting her was great as the emptiness of Docklands had had a negative affect on my moral, why I don't know, maybe the shear adrenalin rush of the roaring crowds is what keeps people doing the Marathon going. Anyhow we chatted as we walked and it was nice to share the experience with someone else along the way.
When we got back to the East Smithfield dual carriage way and Mile 22 the crowds had thinned considerably, but there were still enough to raise quite a lot of noise. At mile 23 I needed another "pit stop" so bid farewell to Sue and sent her on her way to the finish.
At Mile 24 I think I hit "The Wall", My legs started to seize, my head span and I almost hit "The Road" never mind "The Wall :O) There then followed one of those weird conversations with yourself, where you argue with yourself about what to do next. Luckily my stubborn side was triumphant and on I staggered. To say from this point on my Marathon was hell would not be too strong, but I followed the advice of Sam Murphy (my "personal" fitness trainer, well she had seemed like that by the end of the Marathon Expo :O) and I "visualised" crossing that finish line and getting my medal. I won't say it cured me of the pain and shear exhaustion, but it did help. Thanks Sam if you are reading this.
Mile 25 appeared on the Embankment through a red mist of pain and I gave myself another stiff talking to and set off on that last 1.2 mile stretch. Going past Big Ben was an amazing experience, the crowds were roaring again, this lifted the mist of pain, I gritted my teeth and dug in for that last effort. Going down Birdcage Walk I passed some people looking even worse than I thought I did, so I knew I was not alone in this "hell" of the last mile. Buckingham Palace swept into view and I knew than I WAS going to finish! I was literally staggering all over the place as I rounded into the Mall but the crowd lifted me again and up that road I went and the glorious Finish Line came into view and the tears started to stream. I crossed that line at 6:32:52, not that I cared at that point. I HAD FINISHED and that was all that mattered.
I passed through "chip removal" in a haze, had THE MEDAL draped around my neck - it was so heavy that nearly buckled my knees there and then! I was then given a "goodie bag" which was my undoing, how do I carry this and still walk with two crutches and two legs totally devoid of life? Things then got worse as I was given my "kitbag" back. I propped myself against a tree and just stood there, I literally couldn't move. I had visions of me being there all night when a "vision" appeared streaking (not literally :O) through the crowd. Helen, from the MSRC had somehow persuaded the organisers to allow her into the secure area to get to me. Well, I sobbed on poor Helen's shoulders for about 10 minutes out of pain and shear elation, I am not sure which was more, but after that my legs decided to help out and we staggered up some steps (!) to be collected by Big L, CEO of the MSRC and the best darned looking taxi driver I have ever clapped eyes on.
Together with other team MSRC runners who were also being picked up we were sped back to The Economist building where the MSRC Reception was based.
As I climbed the steps towards the forecourt outside the Reception I was met by a mass of sound as all my friends and family welcomed me "home". To say the next hour or so passed in a haze would not be an understatement. I was worked on by a great Sports Masseur who managed to make me feel human again, two cups of hot sweet tea and a sandwich later and I was back in the land of the living.
I would like to thank everyone who supported me before during and after the race, you are all too numerous to name, but you know who you all are, and it did mean everything to me to know you guys were out there willing me round that course.
Would I do it again? Well, never say never…………………………………….