Tuesday, May 04, 2010

How was the Marathon?

Okay, it's taken me a little while to get around to writing this post.

The London Marathon was incredible. I got up early, oddly calm, having spent the previous day preparing myself for it, then had a breakfast of toast with honey and bananas and a lot of water and got to the tube with Jonathan to meet Lucy to travel together to Blackheath. Lucy was far more excited than I was, and the trip was quite amusing as we spotted other runners - at first the occasional Smurf and nervous person clutching a red bag, then by the time we hit Embankment, it was a tidal wave of runners packing onto the extra train services they'd arranged just to get all the runners to the event, which made it feel a little like we were on the way to our first day at Hogworts.

At Blackheath, I said goodbye to Lucy and Jonathan, who gave me a huge hug and told me how proud he was, and I turned to go into the runner area as it started to pour down with rain. The heavens opened as I stripped down to my shorts and the t-shirt with my name on it and there was nowhere to avoid getting soaked; by the time I had dropped my bag off and queued for a wee, the starter area was already packed and the huddle under the bus shelter made it impossible to find anywhere to avoid getting soaked, so I was stood out in the cold and the rain, which fell almost horizontally, cold and heavy.

Suddenly, the harsh reality of the task ahead was starting to sink in and it wasn't feeling great.

I started chatting to the people around me, which was reassuring; they were nervous, too, but we managed to lift each other up a little and we talked about who we were running for and why and all that. Eventually, pathetic fallacy kicked in and the rain lifted a little and before we really knew what was happening, the race had begun. We wished one another one last burst of good luck and we all headed off.

The first couple of miles was just a melee of packed in runners and it quite quickly became clear that the segmentation according to your estimated time hadn't worked because there were people who'd started the race near the front who were walking the entire route, sometimes large knots of people doing this, sometimes large groups of people doing this in costume and sometimes large groups doing this in costumes that meant that they were all tied together and blocked almost the entire road so the whole race of thousands and thousands of runners who actually ran were funnelled into narrow, single file bottle necks to get around them, which was frustrating and a little bit dangerous at points, but you have to, well, take it in your stride, I suppose.

The atmosphere in the first half was electric; there were so many people out to cheer you on along the streets and there was so much music, which was such a surprise. All the pubs in South-East London had live music or DJ's outside them to entertain the runners and the crowds and there were gospel choirs outside churches and an enormous Chinese drumming troupe who I just wish could have been with me the entire distance.

I missed Jonathan at Greenwich, having cleared the distance faster than we'd anticipated and I kept a steady pace up to Tower Bridge, stopping there for an AGE to queue for a portaloo, not wanting to be one of those people peeing all over London landmarks.

Running over Tower Bridge with the crowds cheering me on was incredible, it was a moment to savour, to take slowly and enjoy - the temptation to run through that was strong, but I'd been told that it got harder from then on and that I should enjoy that high point so I took it easy there and I'm glad I did.

God, they were right, it got harsh after that. The run along to the Isle of Dogs was longer than it looks on a map, weaving annoyingly all over the place and it's all away from transport so the streets were quiet and narrow, so it was slow, crowded and the atmosphere was starting to fall flat.

It picked up at Canary Wharf, where I was starting to falter, having been running steadily for a couple of hours by that point, and I caught Jonathan, Griff and his friend and Lucy, who were just what I needed to spur me on. The next part got hard; running through the wharf, the wind picked up and lifted cold air off the water which made my hamstrings tighten and from that point on, running became uncomfortable, but I kept on going, pulling on those happy memories I'd been reminding myself of in the lead-up to the race.

By the time I was getting back towards Tower Bridge and I saw Jonathan again, I was struggling and I was feeling dizzy and uncomfortable and it was getting harder and harder to find those happy thoughts and I was starting to worry that there was still an hour to go, another six miles of this, but fatigue, pain and boredom was starting to really cut in.

The fatigue and dehydration then made an uneasy shift happen and I realised I was starting to zone out, having little moments where I wasn't quite present and I couldn't concentrate on what was happening, that the ground was starting to swim, I couldn't find any sense of joy or happiness and all my sense of hope was fading away from me and it was with a chilling sense of worry that I realised I was starting to have one of those seizure-type-migraine things that I'm taking topiramate to avoid, but the leaflet with the tablet tells you how important it is to keep hydrated.

Obviously, this wasn't happening, and they weren't working, and I didn't have long before I wouldn't be able to speak or feel half my body or see properly and I was faced with a horrible choice. If I kept running, I'd exhaust myself more quickly and bring it on more suddenly, but if I slowed down, it would take me longer to get to somewhere I could safely collapse.

I slowed down, hoping to see Jonathan near Embankment, but the crowds were ten people thick and he hadn't been able to get through, or had he been there, I couldn't see well enough to understand that I'd seen him, so I walked a couple of miles until I reached the final mile and pulled out the last of my energy, thinking I'd find him at the runner meeting point and started running again, and found that moving actually drove me back into that strange meditative place that the pace can put you into, like knitting or maths can, where it becomes a mantra, and I sort of floated through the finish line in a haze.

I picked up my bag, not really able to remember one moment to the next and found my way through a crowd in what had become muggy heat to the meeting point, but I couldn't find Jonathan and phones wouldn't work in a place where so many thousands of people were lost, so I sat down to wait and ate and drank to try to pull my head together a little.

Luckily, our friend Annette appeared and we chatted for a bit before she headed off, but still no sign of Jonathan after an hour of waiting and looking, so I struggled to my feet and wandered out, when I suddenly got a cluster of a dozen messages saying he'd not been able to get past a police blockade and was stuck at Westminster.

I was exhausted and could barely speak, so I'm ashamed to say that when I spoke to him on the phone, I was snappy with him. I couldn't manage to articulate that I was having a seizure, only that I needed to find him. I don't know if that was embarrassment or just the anger I felt that it was taking away from me what should have been a really joyous sense of accomplishment, so when we eventually did meet, I more or less collapsed into his arms and just asked to be taken home with the last few words I could manage before language just vanished in a fog of deleted syllables and frustrated looks.

It made me so horribly upset that I'd had this happen when I'd wanted to meet him and the others with a sense of wild joy and achievement and instead I was just a quivering blur of sadness and a sense of hopeless failure, even though despite the need to walk the last few miles I'd still made my target time of four and a half hours, which was an incredible accomplishment.

He took me home on the tube, I slept on his shoulder on the District Line for a few stops, then I seemed to be able to speak a bit more after more food and drink and smiled and chatted to other runners on the train and then collapsed into the grimiest bath I've ever taken before taking Jonathan out for a meal to thank him for having been so supportive and amazing through the entire marathon - from the crazy idea of running, right through all the training runs and the missed weekends and the anxiety about the races up to the event itself where he went through hell to cheer me on and pick me up when I fell at the end of it.

It's horrible that this thing that happens with my brain has taken my driving license from me and it's taking away from me the possibility to do this kind of thing again, if this is what's likely to happen. It's hard, but I suppose it's something I just have to take in my stride.

I will keep on running, definitely, but I'm not going to do longer than half-marathon distances any more if the epilepsy thing is likely to mess me up at all, but I'd still very much encourage everyone to do this at least once in their lives.

If not a marathon, then find something that's, like this was for me, right on the cusp of impossible, and make yourself a plan for getting it done.

If you want to put in a donation for my fundraising page, then head over there now by clicking here, or, better, enter the ballot for the 2011 London Marathon and let fate decide if you get a place and let me know if you get in and I'll give you all the help and support I can while you train.

There's a lot of things left on my list of things I want to get done by the time I'm 40, the MA and the Marathon are only a couple of them, but I think having a list like that's a really, really powerful thing to have, because it's showing me as I'm ticking things off it one by one, that the future really is our own to take control of if we're willing to put in the hours, or, perhaps the miles.

Write your list, that's the first step.

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