It’s always good to reflect on how far you’ve come regardless of what level you’re at with your running. Today, instead of writing about my latest run, I want to tell you about my first marathon – the race that changed my life.
I always loved watching the London Marathon on TV and would be glued to the screen all morning watching all those crazy people running 26.2 miles but would always feel inspired to go for a run by the time I stopped watching. I wondered what it would be like to run it…….
In the September of 1997, while lifting carpets in my flat, I felt my back ‘go’. I had no idea what had happened but all I knew was that every time I tried to sit down or move the wrong way, muscles would go into spasm and pain would shoot up my back. I walked the mile to go to see the doctor as I wasn’t confident about being able to get on a bus or taxi without going into spasm. It was probably the slowest mile I’ve ever walked as my back went into spasm several times on the way there. I was prescribed Diazepam and Ibuprofen and signed off work for 4 weeks. The drugs did their job but I knew as soon as they wore off, I was in pain again.
During the time I was off, I was reading a magazine and in it there was a feature on the London Marathon and a note saying that the entry forms were available so without a thought, I shuffled round to a local sports shop, got myself an entry form, filled it in and sent it off along with a cheque in hope. I had decided that I didn’t want to go through life troubled by back pain. I had seen how my mum had been affected by back pain and I didn’t want to be like that, I wanted something different.
A quick note that back then, to enter the London Marathon you had to collect a magazine from sports shops that had the entry form inside. You took it out, answered loads of questions, folded it up, inserted a cheque, popped it in the post and hoped for the best. On internet forums there were debates on when the chequers were cashed in relation to whether you were in or not. I got in first time.
I remember calling my mum and telling her that I might be on TV in April. When I told her that I was going to run the London Marathon she said “You’re off your head!” That coincided with the “oh crap, I’m going to have to train now” moment upon receiving the acceptance magazine in the post. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t a runner back then, I wasn’t even a regular at the gym I was a member of! I discovered that a couple of guys I knew, Paul Innes and Gary Cumming, who I’d been at school at the same time with, were both to be running and so I joined them for long Sunday runs. I really enjoyed those runs and I made up the rest of my training during the week.
I felt a mix of nerves and excitement when I arrived at the Expo and got that “oh hell, this is actually happening” feeling as I walked around the various stands and I left there on cloud nine ready to run. Race day came with a mix of nerves and excitement. The fire alarm at the hotel went off in the early hours and we all had to evacuate. I don’t think anyone has a great nights sleep before their first marathon anyway!
I remember the entire journey to the start being crammed on trains. I followed the best tip I’ve ever heard, that I still pass onto everyone in that as soon as you arrive at the start, go to the toilet and as soon as you come out, join the queue again as you will be needing by the time you get to the head of it. Trust me, this works! Another tip I followed was to start my stopwatch when the gun went off and stop it as soon as you cross the start line. As you passed each mile clock, you could then make the calculation to work out your actual time. This worked pretty well to keep the brain active and later on in the race, it would take the best part of a mile to make that calculation. It could often take a few mins to cross the start line and these were the days before chip timing. This already makes me sound old, like the days of black and white!
I recall being at mile 17 and wondering why I thought this was a good idea and just wanted to get to the finish. I remember coming out onto the Embankment and running out into a wall of sound. This was incredible! All along, I could hear lots of people shouting my name and all of a sudden the struggle I had at mile 17 had disappeared and was replaced with happiness and determination to complete this. I cried when I saw Big Ben in the distance as I knew I was nearly there.
My shins had been sore and I was feeling sorry for myself as I got closer to Buckingham Palace but then I saw a runner who had clearly hit ‘the wall’ in a big way and being supported by two other runners who had abandoned their own races to prop this guy up and help him get to the finish. That, to me, summed up the spirit of running and it’s giving me goosebumps as I write this as it’s still vivid to me now as it was in 1998. I snapped out of my mood, lifted my head, saw the finish line and gave whatever I had left to get to the finish. And cried. I think everyone goes through every emotion in 30 seconds after they cross the finish line.
I took my time shuffling along The Mall before going into St James Park to have a lie down, check out my goody bag and reflect on what I had just done. I went from “this is horrible, never again” to “oh my god, this is amazing when can I do it again?” The overwhelming feeling was the sense of achievement. I felt like I had achieved something massive for the first time as I wasn’t particularly that good at school and wasn’t that committed to sport either. I felt like I had achieved something that I previously thought was impossible, something only fit people did. I suddenly felt that if I could do it, anyone could do it and wanted to be able to inspire others to go after the things they previously believed were impossible.
Crossing the finish line that day certainly changed my life. A few months later, I had the courage to give up my job ,making pizzas and begin studying towards becoming a Personal Trainer. 17 years later, I continue to run marathons and believe anything is possible. If I can do it, anyone can.
Tell me about your first race. What kind of impact has that made on your life?