The Marathon is 26.2 miles. Each mile has turning points that can stop your race or define it. It is a collection of thousands of people striving; to finish, to break a record or to best themselves. It has taken me some time to gather my thoughts together following the London Marathon, all down to what happened after mile 21. A turning point that would change how I view running.
Roll back one year and I had put myself right at the back of the crowds of people readying themselves to run, panicking that I was about to do myself some serious injury. I had written a will, told those I loved that they were loved and tied all my thoughts in neat bows. All of that shrouded the enjoyment of the build up, this year, I had my headphones off and chatted to others. The thing I find about the London Marathon, more than any other marathon I have ever run, is that the stories you hear inspire you. Every runner has a reason to run and in London the reasons you hear will warm your soul.
All of this soon faded as I crossed the start line and focused on the job in hand. Last years’ London was all about just finishing and not hurting myself and in doing so I surprised myself, but now I wanted to impress myself. I wanted to get around 4:30. I craved a great result so plugged my headphones in and cracked on with the serious act of running as the start line loomed above. I did, however, stop less than half a mile in because I was desperate for a wee but after my dive into the nearest bush my mind settled on the miles ahead.
The first fourteen miles were seamless, careful pacing and experience meant that I felt truly great. I was actually enjoying it all. The noise level in London does become deafening near the 20 mile mark but at the early stages I was being carried by the swell of cheers. I knew at the fourteen mile mark I would be getting a supply drop and some much needed pain killers for my ever sore ankle, this dragged me through the long drag after you pass the high of Tower Bridge. From then I kicked on and got my body back in the groove, my pace had then slowed by about twenty seconds per mile, but I knew that I would find my second wind and gain those seconds back. I never really hit the wall so to speak just simply slow down, the running becoming interspersed by periods of walking to allow my limbs to recover. This slow down began to happen much later in the race than I’m used to so I felt that I was certain to get a new PB.
Then at mile 21 the whole race changed. Simply by meeting two fellow runners I knew that I would never look at the marathon in the same way again.
I saw them about twenty meters before I came up besides them, even from there I could see that the guy was on his last legs. He was struggling to simply put one foot in front of the other and leaning heavily on the much shorter lady who was doing her very best to keep him moving forward; shouting words of support and trying to get him to drink. I didn’t even have to think, I stopped and asked to help. His name was Mark and her name was Jo, this is her retelling of when I met her:
“And then an angel arrived, ‘do you need some help’ followed by sticking his arm round Mark from the other side and we moved forward with renewed force and power. They say a problem shared is a problem halved and there in that moment with James’ cheery grin I knew we would make it. We still had four miles to go and it was frankly a long way for this six legged combination but I knew in that instant we would make it and we were a team. James shared plenty of stories of how running had helped him, Mark was basically a bit delirious but we were regularly handed water and the crowd really took to us, huge cheers every 100 yards or so. Other runners encouraged us as they went past, a couple of bigger blokes offered to take a turn carrying but I felt I’d come this far, I’d do the last mile. I never thought I’d walk down the Mall, but Mark couldn’t run, a couple of officials headed towards us and offered to help but James and I were adamant – we’d get him to the line. We crossed the line, handed Mark to the paramedics, made sure they gave him his medal and then basically, James and I, who an hour or so before had never met hugged and cried and both agreed it was our best marathon ever. And we got our medal and eventually parted to go and find our friends and families. We’ll probably never see each other again, but the experience will always be one of the most special days of my life.”
They say run with heart. That day the three of us did just that. We never faltered, never stopped believing in one another and never for one second thought about leaving Mark behind. Runners are a huge, worldwide community, we range from the 5K strollers to the 100 mile endurance machines. We run as one because we all want the same thing, to better ourselves. We offer one another advice and support because at some point we were all beginners. I feel that by helping Mark, even though he was fitter and far more experienced than me, I gave back to a community that has become so important to me.
While I didn’t get a new personal best, I feel that that London Marathon 2017 will go down as the most memorable marathon I’ll ever run because on that day I was my personal best.
Next Race: Edinburgh Marathon
Three Song Playlist
Sam Gellaitry – Long Distance
JP Cooper – Passport Home
Francis and the Lights – Friends