At the start line, I met a girl called Vicky. Well, I say “at the start line”, there isn’t an actual start line, unless you’re a celebrity or an elite-runner. Everyone else is allotted a ‘starting pen’. Starting pens are a little like European cattle trucks, only with less cows (although I did see a few people dressed as cows, so it kind of added to the effect of live-animal haulage).
Vicky helped to calm my nerves, and as we chatted she told me that she was aiming to ‘just get round’, as I was, and so we agreed to run together at a 10 minute mile pace. As our starting pen started to move forward, I looked to Vicky, quizzically, wondering what was happening. “This is it!” she squealed, “we’re on our way”. And that was it. I didn’t hear an air-horn, nor a starting gun, not even a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO! Just a slow shuffle over the starting line, and off we went. I stayed with Vicky for approximately 0.7 seconds, before she promptly picked up speed and left me for shit. I reassured myself that I was running at a steady pace and figured that she’d probably burn out a lot earlier than I did, at which point, I would pass her with a victorious fist shake and a supercilious eyebrow-raise.
I didn’t see her again.
The first few miles of the course weaved through pleasant tree-lined neighbourhood streets, and the crowds were already out in full force. Children held their hands out, begging to be high-fived by the passing runners, and hungover-looking adults stood outside their homes, sipping coffee, and wearing dressing gowns and bemused expressions that said ”Yo, why are 37,000 people running past my house?”
I checked out my pack of fellow marathoners, a mixture of sport-looking folk, nervously glancing at their GPS watches every second, and the more ‘casual’ runners, some already walking, as well as a man called ‘Eddie’ who was clearly very well-known, because people kept slapping him on the back as they overtook him and saying “go, Eddie!” Eddie had a bright dyed-pink beard, which I am glad I remembered, as I just used this as a reference when I typed his name into Google (something I have been meaning to do all week). Lo and behold, Eddie is famous, he’s a BBC London radio host, and was running this year after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during his training for the 2007 London Marathon. What an inspirational chap!
At mile 7, I knew that Kristin and Emma would be waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to see them and quickened my pace, snaking around the runners in front who were slowing down as the road started to thin. I knew I had to look out for them on the right hand side, and I scoured the faces in the crowds, a dazzling blur of coloured flags and banners and balloons. I saw Kristin first, she was shouting my name from the top of her lungs and jumping up and down, and then Emma, holding the now infamous banana banner high above her head. I grinned manically at them both and waved as I passed them, craning my neck to soak up the last seconds of seeing them before running smack bang into the back of another runner, very nearly tripping them up. Not cool, Liz. Not cool.
On I ran.
The mile markers passed by, one by one, which isn’t a surprise, really, as that’s what miles markers do, and I found myself feeling strong and capable. It was a rather spiritual experience actually, running along with so many thousands of other people, unified and bound by sheer determination and a mutual respect for each other and the distance ahead.
As I ran over Tower Bridge, the roar of tens of thousands of people shouting in unison was ear-splitting, exhilarating and slightly terrifying, all at the same time. I spotted a woman named Sasha, who for some reason, (I suspect craziness), decided to hula hoop her way round the marathon course and into the Guinness Book of World Records. I saw my chance to jump in front of the television cameras and film crews, who are notoriously stationed on Tower Bridge each year, and therefore decided to hang a metre behind Sasha, knowing the cameras would be trained on her, hoping they would catch me too. I still don’t know if my cunning plan worked, did anyone see me? I was the girl with the blonde, wild curls, blue running top and a shameful desperation to grab my fifteen seconds of fame from the coat-tails of someone far more worthy. Gah, marathon running makes you act like a prick. And hallucinate. Or so I thought…
Here’s a conversation between my sister and me, after the race:
Me: “I ran past Jimmy Savile today”.
Sister: “Liz, Jimmy Savile is dead”.
Me: “No way! I TOTALLY ran past him”.
Sister: “Erm, yeah, but no. He’s definitely dead”.
Me: “Wow, marathon running causes hallucinations”.
Now then, now then. Who needs acid when you’ve got 26.2 miles to addle your brain?
You can see why I got confused.
Tower Bridge signalled the half-way point, which was a relief. For about five minutes. And then it slowly dawned on me that I had to run the EXACT SAME DISTANCE again. I didn’t feel physically tired as such, but I started to experience mental exhaustion, knowing that I had over two more hours of willing my body to keep moving in a forward direction.
Let me assure you, this is no mean feat.
I also started to get paranoid that I was either dehydrated or over-hydrated. I had read so many articles detailing the combined dangers of marathon running and water consumption, and therefore started to ‘check’ myself for symptoms. Which was all well and good, only, I couldn’t quite remember what I was supposed to be looking out for. I did remember, however, from my equine days as a teenager, that the way to check if a horse is dehydrated is to pinch its skin. If the skin quickly returns back to its original shape, the horse isn’t dehydrated. I decided that this theory would be the same for humans and so I became the mentally deranged running girl, purposely pinching her arms and chunnering away to herself to “only sip at the water, DON’T GULP IT DOWN, sip, sip, sip!”
At this stage, I was actually growing weary of the crowds. I realise I sound like a huge ass-hat for saying that, and believe me, I WOULD NOT have got round without them, but hearing your name screamed at you every five seconds seriously starts to fry your brain. Imagine walking down a busy shopping high street, happy in your own head, when you suddenly become increasingly aware that your name is being repeated. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Throw in a “YOU CAN DO IT’!” and “DON’T YOU DARE STOP NOW!” and “IT’S JUST ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER!” and I was ready to stop, march over and scream back “WHY DON’T YOU EFFIN GIVE IT A GO THEN, HUH?”
But I didn’t.
I smiled, and waved graciously, all the while cursing under my breath, still pinching at my skin and wishing I had my iPhone with me so that I could swing by the WebMD website and diagnose myself once and for all with dehydration or whatever the opposite of dehydration is called.