A 5.50am alarm signalled the start of my London Marathon day, rousing me from a sleep in which I dreamt of nothing but horrifying marathon disasters, such as looking down at my feet just as the starting gun was fired, only to realise I was still wearing my slippers, or even worse, arriving at the start line and being told I’d missed the race completely as I’d got my dates mixed up.
Let me tell you, I was glad to be awake.
After wolfing down a breakfast of wholemeal toast and boiled eggs, I re-checked my bags for the eleventy billionth time (oh, OCD, how you still plague me so), and plastered my entire body in Vaseline. Yes, Vaseline. You see, there’s something called chafing. And it hurts. A lot.
After getting dressed, a job made far easier by my, ahem, Vaseline lubricated body, I charged round the house and began ordering my marathon-support team, including the cat, to hurry up, bellowing the time every five seconds, in the manner of a Sergeant Major ushering troops to war.
Oh yes, I was a delight to deal with.
Despite my best efforts, we ended up leaving the house for the train to London, 5 minutes later than my
uptight carefully crafted time-schedule anticipated, and so I drove to the station at break-neck speed, foot firmly on the gas, screaming obscenities at the learner driver pootling along in front of me.
Car parked, we ran to the station. Well, I ran, my supporters for the day, Kristin and Emma, both asthmatics, huffed and puffed and trotted behind me as I called back to them with friendly and concerned remarks such as, “I’m the one running a marathon today, get a move on”.
As I said, I was a deeee-light to deal with.
Luckily, we didn’t miss the train, and we took our seats amongst a handful of other marathon runners, whom I eyed beadily like an eagle hovering over its prey. Kristin and Emma chatted animatedly, and I stared out of the window, my heart racing and a ball of anxiety forming in my stomach which threatened to unite me with my breakfast. Occasionally, the girls would talk to me, asking me questions about how I was feeling or offering me some water, yet I could barely muster a reply, I felt disoriented; a potent mixture of sheer excitement and agitation coursed through my body.
I did have to laugh though, when I took this photo of Kristin and Emma and their ‘banana here’ supporter sign, which, only the day before, Kristin insisted on holding in front of her at crotch level, giggling like a schoolboy.
Arriving at London Waterloo, we made our way to Waterloo East, where we were to catch a connecting train to the marathon start. As the train pulled into the platform, people jostled with their elbows, barging in front of us, desperate to get a seat. “This is 500 times worse than my commute”, Kristin commented loudly, rolling her eyes.
The train trundled along towards Maze Hill station, towards the ‘Green’ marathon start, and I watched from the window as the white, whipped clouds began to part, making way for the warming sun. I smiled. Only the day before, as I flicked through 5 different weather forecasts, horrified by the cloud and rain icons that cruelly taunted me, I quietly asked my Mum to make the rain go away. It seemed she’d heard my request and sealed a deal with the weather-Gods. Amen, and thanks Mum.
Departing the train, with Kristin carrying my kit-bag like a mule and Emma bringing up the rear, we followed the crowds through a neighbourhood estate, winding our way through car-lined streets dotted with signs warning the runners not to wee in people’s gardens.
As I turned a corner, it became abundantly clear that the station name, Maze Hill, was called this due to the GIANT HILL that was presented before me. It was also around this time that Kristin and Emma conveniently decided to bid farewell to me, in search of a cafe serving hearty marathon-supporters breakfasts. After hugs, kisses and “good lucks!” a plenty, they left me to navigate the steep incline alone, kit-bag slung over my back, head bowed. The last few weeks of marathon training is ALL about the taper – which, in a nutshell, means cutting back your training, so that your body can rebuild to peak strength. I think, where the London Marathon is concerned, the tapering period is simply a way of preparing runners for the pre-marathon EVEREST MOUNTAIN MARATHON you are forced to navigate, before the running event even begins. Why the London Marathon organisers don’t organise ski-lifts/Stannah stair-chairs to ferry their runners to the peak is beyond me; do I have to do all the thinking here, London Marathon organisers? Jeez.
In between gasping for breath during the ascent, I talked to a woman who had run 4,058 marathons already. This year. “What time do you hope to complete it in?”, she asked, “erm, I just went to get round”, I replied sheepishly AND THEN SHE SNORTED. SHE SNORTED! “I’m a good for age runner”, she added, “how did you get on the Green Start?” My head now imploding with nerves, I may also have ugly-cried a little, but only a little, out of the eye furthest away from her. I bet, when she was a kid, she pulled the legs off spiders. What goes around, comes around, Lady. You’ll see.
Although I now felt a tad thwarted by Ms Good For Age and her acerbic pig-snort, I was quite excited about the Green Start – I’d heard that it was also where the celebrities set off. I’d spent the days before the marathon, researching who they were, and other than Nell McAndrew, Will Young and Gordon Ramsey, I didn’t recognise a single one – something I congratulated myself on, actually.
I’d been pre-advised by knowledgable marathon-types to immediately find the toilets, as the queues can get ridiculously long. Advice well-followed, there I queued for over fifteen minutes, nervously shifting from side to side, well aware of the colossal feat ahead of me, fighting with the frightening thoughts filtering through my brain. “YOU CAN DO THIS”, I kept telling myself, “YOU CAN, YOU CAN, YOU CAN. You’ve come this far, DON’T WUSS OUT, porta-loos really aren’t all that bad, plus, you brought your own toilet roll and hand disinfectant, YOU CAN DO IT.”
Emerging from the porta-loo a self-claimed hero, I walked over to the changing tents, slinging my kit-bag down on the ground and rifling through it in an attempt to locate my Vaseline pot. Yes, more Vaseline. It’s like crack, I tell you. One hit is never enough. It seemed that everyone else had the same idea, and I was greeted with some sights that fiercely burnt through my retinas and into the centre of my mind, where they will linger forever. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to see the sagging under-carriage of a male veteran marathon runner.
A tannoy announcement reverberated around the start, alerting all runners to hand in their kit-bags. This was the point of no return for my iPhone, as I had chosen to not run with it, and so we tearfully said our goodbyes as I packed it away in my bag. “See you at the end”, I whispered to my beloved gadget, “I’ll be relying on you to call people, so make sure you bust through the network mayhem, don’t let me down”.
I then, very slowly but surely, made my way to the start line.