Have you ever experienced the sensation, where you feel that your mind has somehow left your body, and you’re looking down on yourself, watching, and wondering, “what the hell is going on here?”.
At mile 15, that’s what happened to me.
It wasn’t that I was delirious, in fact, I felt fully cognizant, but I knew that something weird was going on in my brain, almost like I was floating effortlessly on a wave created by the deafening din of the crowds. I took another PowerBar energy gel shot and hoped it was just a case of low sugar levels. I’d heard so much about ‘hitting the wall’ and desperately hoped that I wasn’t, not with another 11 miles to go. I decided to concentrate on a mile at a time, and to hold my pace. My thighs were starting to burn
a little a lot and I had an overwhelming urge to stop and stretch them, but I knew I might not have the conviction to start running again if I did, so I just kept on putting one foot in front of the other, promising myself that if my thighs continued to hurt a mile from now, I would allow myself to stop.
As I rounded a corner, I heard my name being shouted, it was Kristin’s voice. I figured I was imagining it, I had arranged to see them at around mile 17, not mile 15, and so I lowered my head once more, and concentrated on maintaining a steady pace. “LIZZZZZZZZZ”, there was her voice again, louder this time and much clearer. I looked up, and saw her, waving frantically in a bid to get my attention. Stood next to her were Emma, Katja and Priscilla, and they were waving too, I spotted the ‘banana here’ banner and ran over to them. Priscilla shot this video of the exact moment, and as I’m sure you will agree, I was definitely a little dazed and confused…
Kristin: “Keep going!”
Me: “What mile is this?”
Me: “Is it?”.
Emma: “Spot on, excellent!”
Me: “I thought it was only mile 15″.
Emma: “You’re doing good then”.
Long distance running, for me at least, is a mental game. Seeing the girls supporting me, willing me to keep going, was like someone had injected me with 50 shots of espresso, my spirits soared and I couldn’t stop smiling. I ran with vigour and confidence, knowing I’d see them again soon.
At this point, I noticed that a lot of runners around me were starting to flag with exhaustion, the presence of St John Ambulance crews and medics grew ever stronger, as they helped countless runners get back up on their feet again. I pushed ahead, determined to keep running, “you will not walk, you will not walk”, I repeated to myself, swinging my arms to strengthen my pace, “you will not walk, you will not walk”.
And I didn’t. Not once during the entire race.
Mile 21 arrived and so did the girls.
Notice how I didn’t stop? Yeah, I was still playing the mental game of “sure, you can stop in a mile if your thighs still feel like they are being stabbed by RED-HOT KNIVES, but for now, Liz, you ARE going to keep running, because if you don’t, I’ll kick your ass into next week”.
Marathon running is all about being kind to yourself, folks.
Knowing I only had 5 more miles to go, I looked forward to seeing my Mind family at mile 22. The crowds lining the streets were more than 6-deep in parts and the noise, oh the noise, it was out of this world. People hung over the railings, waving flags and banners and handing out jelly sweets and water. For as far as the eye could see, there were people EVERYWHERE. I cannot even start to explain just how electric the atmosphere was, the rush I experienced was similar to something you feel at a music concert, where the combined cacophony and energy of thousands of people transports you to a higher level. I just could not believe that I was running the London Marathon, I remember feeling the same during the Paris half-marathon only a month earlier, and reminded myself to take it all in, as it was beyond anything I’d ever experienced before. Just writing about it, brings it all back – it was truly magical.
At mile 22, as I neared the Mind cheering post, all I saw was a symphony of blue and white.
The Mind supporters screamed my name and whooped and hollered as I ran past, and I grinned back at them, honoured to be running for such a wonderful charity.
Once I had passed them, I knew there was only 4 miles to go. I powered ahead, feeling happy and content, and looked forward to seeing my family at mile 25.
The crowds lining the course were now 10-deep in parts. I was deafened by the noise and completely overwhelmed. Spectators would shout my name, looking me directly in the eyes, and with resolute authenticity, would shrill, “you can do this, Liz, great pace, not long now, go!” I would nod appreciatively and yell a thank you, and then the same would happen again, just 500 metres on, “keep going, girl, KEEP RUNNING!!”
People who have run the London Marathon before have described the crowd support as being treated like a celebrity. It certainly felt that way to me. Complete strangers urging me to keep moving with such warmth and earnestness was enough to make me want to fall to my knees and weep. I felt proud to be a Londoner (calm down, Dad, I won’t forget my Northern roots).
At mile 25, I looked everywhere for my family. They weren’t where they said they’d be, and I started to think I’d missed them. My heart sank. I remembered something that Kristin had said the day before, when I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see my supporters during the race, “it doesn’t matter if you don’t see them, it’s more important that they see you”. I thought of them all, standing somewhere in the crowd, and held my head up high, quickening my pace – I wanted to make them proud. My Dad saw me as I headed towards Westminster. He was stood on a skywalk and spotted me below. He said that I seemed to be running with such stamina and power – which was true, as amazingly, even after 25 miles – I felt completely energised and like I could run forever.
The countdown to the finish line started with an ’800 metres to go sign’, and as I ran along Birdcage Walk, I couldn’t quite believe that this was it, I’d very nearly completed my first marathon! I almost wanted to stop, and turn back, to run it again, so that it didn’t have to end. I turned the corner and saw Buckingham Palace, followed by a ’385 metres to go’ sign, I attempted a sprint finish, although I had no idea if I was actually running any faster, my legs had kind of ‘locked’ in a steady pace over the last 25 miles, so it’s probably more likely that I managed an awkward looking trot instead.
No matter what I looked like on the outside, inside I felt fierce and capable.
When I crossed that finish line, as cliché as it sounds, I knew from that moment, that I could achieve anything I set my mind to.
Other than walking normally again.
It took a week and an intense sports massage for that to happen.
I don’t have the words to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who supported me on the day, especially my dear family, Kristin, Emma, Priscilla and Katja. You have no idea just how much you made my day so very special and one I will never forget.
When I turned my beloved iPhone back on and saw all the Facebook well-wishes, Tweets, messages and emails, I was deeply moved. I thought of you all as I ran the 26.2 miles, and I’d like to thank each and every one of you for sponsoring me – your money has gone to an amazing charity and it will help to improve the lives of people who are struggling.
Mum, memories of you carried me through.
That last mile and a bit was for you.