Editorial: OK, I know it's not strictly dance related but everyone at Wright Rhythm has been so great in supporting me for the Marathon that I wanted to write a short article to let you know how I got on...
Published Sunday April 22 2007, by Peter Normand
Most importantly for me, I achieved my target of under 4 hours with a finishing time of 3hrs 49mins 46secs, something of which I am really proud especially as the weather was so hot (reaching 23.5C, the hottest London Marathon ever). This placed me in 6,894th position out of 36,396 (the largest ever London Marathon starting line up) beating sporting stars such as Sally Gunnell and Matt Dawson as well as celebrities such as Evan Davis and Gordon Ramsay.
The first thing to say about the London Marathon is that the organisation is amazing, right from the registration event in the days before through to the end of the run and the runner support at the finish was, for me at least, flawless. The day began with a nervy but efficient train ride out to Blackheath where runners were herded around the start enclosure to the lorries carrying spare kit, to the toilets, to the drinks station, back to the toilets (everyone was very well hydrated!) and finally to the starting line-up where you really feel like just one person amongst thousands. With minutes to go before the start the runners are walked forward towards the starting line, then the starting hooter sounds, everyone cheers and ... just stands there for a couple of minutes until there is room to start walking the rest of the way to the start line! Finally you cross the start line (at a respectable jog) the nerves flood away, the muscles start to work and it hits you that there's no stopping now! (Funnily enough, one of the first road signs you pass is "Red Route - No stopping at any time"!)
The start of the marathon takes you out east from Blackheath to Woolwich then down to the Thames and back west. Although there was a big crowd, after the first mile or so people weren't getting in each others way and the running was pretty steady. The trickiest thing to deal with was bollards and road humps which were hidden from view until the last second forcing everyone to swerve round them. The atmosphere was electric, everyone was smiling, some were chatting and we quickly got a taste of some of the entertainment to come with music, live bands and crowds cheering every step of the way. The miles seemed to tick away almost effortlessly and I was able to take in the scenery as we rounded landmarks such as the Royal Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark.
Shortly after the 8 mile mark, as I passed Surrey Quays, I was hoping to get the first sighting of the support team that Bec was leading around the course by public transport. Unfortunately, I didn't see them and, as the miles were beginning to take their toll it was a real disappointment. I later learned that they had seen me but only after I'd gone past so couldn't attract my attention. A quick check of the watch at 10 miles let me know that I was still on track for my target of under 4hours which gave me the necessary boost to keep my spirits up. The next thing I knew we were approaching Tower Bridge, the crowds were huge and and it's an amazing feeling crossing the river, you think of the iconic images of runners flooding across and realise that's you! Running the marathon! And nearly half way! Once across, there's a section where the course doubles back on itself and there's a chance to see the front runners on almost the final straight. It wasn't too dispiriting as I'd been expecting it but they did look a bit too fresh and fast!
Having not seen my supporters at Surrey Quays I'd pretty much given up on seeing them at all so it was a massive boost when, just after the half way mark, I heard my name being shouted and turned to see Mick, Cathy, Carys, Bec, Kieran, Mum and Dad waving and cheering me on! The adrenaline started flowing again and I managed to give them a bit of a wave and a smile. That was undoubtedly the best moment of the whole marathon. However, it was shortly followed by the hardest. With a lap of the Isle of Dogs and some weaving in and out of Canary Wharf I really began to feel the heat and, although I never doubted I would finish, will-power had to kick in just to make sure I kept moving. This section of the run was definitely the point at which mental toughness was key, there was still a long way to go but I was feeling really tired. Another brief glimpse of my supporters on rounding Canary Wharf and the unexpected surprise of Mark cheering me on as I headed back down Poplar High Street (I think) gave me just enough to keep going.
The miles now seemed to be getting longer and time slowing down, I felt almost like I was running backwards and was amazed when I looked at my watch to discover that my pace hadn't dropped that much. That said, I have to confess that, going under Upper Thames Street tunnel, I did have to walk for a hundred meters or so, in previous runs this has been a killer for me and I haven't been able to start again but but the camaraderie of the runners was fantastic and one guy put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a couple of words of encouragement which galvanised me back into action.
Running along Embankment was a battle between my head and my body the whole way, sometimes my body was winning and I almost felt like giving up and sometimes my mind took over and I was able to relax and concentrate on my running. The one thing more than anything else (including all the miles of training runs over the last 6 months) that kept me going for those last couple of miles was the sight of Carys perched on Kieran's shoulders yelling her heart out for me. I wasn't able to muster a wave but I knew at that point that I would make it and it really spurred me on. The rest, including crossing the finish line is a blur, the only things I can remember are the signs saying "800m to go", which at the time sounded like "nearly there" but actually 800m is a very long way after you've just run 26 miles, and seeing Sally Gunnell giving her post race interview on a big screen.
Once I crossed the finish line I was shepherded in a daze through finishing zone - another half mile where you hand in your race timing tag, collect a 'goody bag', have your photo taken and pick up the spare kit you left at the start. The whole time I felt awful, I wasn't able to keep any fluids down and and my one thought was to get to the meeting area where Mum and Dad would be waiting for me. I kept thinking "I'll feel bad for a few minutes but I'll get over it!", it wasn't until I'd been sitting with Mum and Dad for a while and was still unable to hold any fluids down that I realised I was struggling. Walking back across Horse Guards Parade I couldn't keep going and just sat down. At that point a couple of medics came over to see how I was and took me to the first aid tent, where everyone was fantastic. I was diagnosed with extreme dehydration but otherwise healthy so they gave me a drip and, after a couple of hours rest, I was feeling, if not fine, then at least alive.
Back at home there was a mini party going on and it was great to sit quietly in the corner and hear the day from everyone else's perspective. Everyone seemed to have had a fantastic time which made it even more worthwhile. Now, looking back, it was an incredible experience and one of the proudest of my life. I'm so glad that, 8 months ago, almost on a whim, I picked up the entry form and sent it off, never expecting that I'd be sitting here now reflecting on one amazing day.
Finally, I can't leave you with the impression that running the marathon is a one man job, I certainly couldn't have done it without all the support and encouragement I received from everyone. In particular a huge Thank You must go to...
So, will I do it again next year? At the moment my legs are saying "no, never!" but I may feel differently when the application form comes through.
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