If you read about my triathlon, you'll know that I sorely berated myself for not putting in enough work beforehand. The whole thing was agony from start to finish, and I staggered across the finish line not far from last, feeling defeated, deflated and like I'd let myself down. I was not a pretty sight. I was really keen not to let that happen again, but the bronchitis had its own ideas. There was nothing I could do.
|Ewww, thick mucus.|
As if to match my new found PMA, the sun shone down on us on the morning of the run. Being a Londoner, I am a regular complainer about the weather, the traffic, the hell-hole that is the Underground and the sheer numbers of bodies that one has to fight through on a daily basis. Being a Londoner doesn't always make you a nice person. But the sun was out, and the early-morning tube trains were packed with people in lycra and trainers, many of them looking as reassuringly nervous as I felt. For once I felt glad to be one of the multitude. We (me, Julia, and our personal photographer and sherpa Tom - Julia's husband) shuffled off at Knightsbridge and wandered through the crisp morning into a beautiful Hyde Park. Amidst the green were a few trees doing that clever autumn trick of being a hundred different shades of red and yellow. These trees tug at my heartstrings and remind me of the house I grew up in, and a beautiful colour-changing Chinese Maple that I will always love, even though I haven't laid eyes on it for nearly ten years. Excuse the sentimental digression.
More than 12,000 runners and thousands more in faithful friends and supporters poured into Hyde Park with us. We located Julia's charity marquee and agreed on it being our rendez-vous spot for after the race. Julia was running for Tommy's, a phenomenal charity funding research into stillbirth, premature birth and miscarriage. This is the moment for a double confession. Firstly, I was not running for a specific charity, because I had been lucky enough to get a ballot place. Secondly, I had done something naughty, and taken a ballot place belonging to someone else. This is against the rules of the half, because places in this particular run are coveted, and the organisers quite rightly want to avoid people selling their places on for a profit. But the circumstances are more than mitigating. My beautiful friend Aleks recently moved to Sierra Leone with Save the Children, another amazing charity. She's literally gone to Africa to save lives, so I think can be forgiven this small infraction. Lord knows what possessed me to stick my hand up when she offered her place on Facebook, but there we go, I did. The 30@Thirty spirit can be dangerous.
|At the dreaded GREEN starting funnel.|
I set off at a modest trot, determined not to blow myself out too early. My plan was to intersperse running with short walks, but I figured I'd try and run at least 5k before my first break. I had the wise words of both Justin and my friend Jenny in my head right from the start. Slow and steady, slow and steady. London was glorious. The first stretch of the race was outside the park, and the sun danced on the buildings and statues, amongst them the Wellington Arch, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament, one of the most extraordinarily beautiful pieces of architecture in this town, if you ask me. I was just starting to get over the initial shock of running again after more than two weeks when I hit the one mile marker, and felt for the first time that I might actually manage this after all. Thousands of people lined the roads, shouting and cheering, and despite the fact that loads of runners were streaming past me, I knew that at no stage was I going to find myself cast adrift. I know that is is still possible to feel lonely in the midst of twelve and a half thousand people, but somehow I felt in my heart that I was going to feel a part of this crowd, not alone within it.
Half way down The Mall, a gentleman just behind me answered a phone call in Portuguese, and cheerfully explained that he was running. Whoever was on the other end of the phone clearly didn't quite understand the seriousness of the run and kept him on the phone for a few more minutes. It made me laugh. I felt happy, despite the fact that I became aware that there was no way in hell I could have answered a phone call at that precise moment. In fact, when I spotted Tom a few minutes later I didn't even have the puff to call out to him, and instead ambled towards him wildly waving my hands. I found out later that Julia had done exactly the same. Below are the respective pictures of us signalling that all is well.
|Hello! Lungs haven't exploded yet!|
|Seen better, seen worse.|
And here is perhaps the strangest, most wonderful thing of all. I felt great all the way through, and not once did I stop and walk. Not once. It could be argued that my pace over the last two miles was slower than the slowest of slow walks, but I was still jogging right up until the last 100m, when I managed a little tiny sprint. Not once did I feel defeated, deflated and like I'd let myself down. In fact, although I didn't have a watch on me, I knew from the six mile mark that I wasn't going to take the three hours I had predicted. I knew that I was doing OK. I mean, let's be clear here, I'm no Mo Farah, but I almost felt this good when I finally crossed the finish line at two hours twenty-seven.
I smiled my way through that race, singing strange snippets from random songs in my head. I looked at the people around me and wondered what had drawn them to the race. I watched the different sized bottoms jogging past me, appraising them without judgement, full of good will towards everyone who passed me or was passed by me. I read people's charity shirts and thought about the personal experiences that make people dedicate so much effort and energy to a particular cause. I thought of the autistic children, the grandparents with Alzheimer's disease, the millions of people fighting, beating and losing to cancer, the mothers and fathers who had lost children, the people still to be lost, the people being helped by the money raised on that sunny day, as we all jogged around London. I thought about how important it is to smile, and how it feels to be part of something good. I did my best to ignore the tightness in my ankle and the increasing pain in my knees and hips. I took Justin's advice and kept channeling The Little Engine that Could, all the way to the finish.
So, here's me with my wooden medal, in the shape of an autumn maple leaf. I hope this is one of those trinkets I manage never to lose.
And here are some happy finishers. The wonderful Julia, who finished in an extraordinary one hour and fifty-three minutes, and her lovely friend Kati, who was heroically leaving Hyde Park to cook a Canadian Thanksgiving lunch for several friends. Hats off to that, since after the race I managed a cheeseburger, chocolate milkshake, onion rings, fries, and an obscenely long soak in a hot bath. Not all at the same time, I hasten to add, though that might have been nice.
Nine down, twenty-one to go...