Monday, April 18, 2005

My London Marathon

London Marathon Day started with a big bright sun in the sky. Some forecasts predicted showers in the afternoon, so my goal was to finish the race before the rain. As I got dressed, our thermometer showed that it was 5 degrees Celsius, so I added an extra layer under my race shirt. However, once I got outside in the sunshine I decided the long-sleeves were unnecessary, and I realized we’d be running in Mo-Optimal Conditions. [Regular readers of this site know that Mo-Optimal Conditions would be sunny with some clouds, and the temperature between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius.] While some people thought it was too hot, I thought it was perfect, as it never got hotter than 12 degrees. “Bang on the sweet spot,” Tim said.

The atmosphere at the start line was electric, and reflected how I felt: giddy mixed with nervousness and fear. Would all the training I did be enough? A year ago, I was only running maybe once a week for 20 minutes, and I only started thinking seriously about the marathon in September. But then I would think about all the snowy, rainy, cold, foggy days that Nicholas and I set forth to run and I decided I did all that I could to be ready. I looked around to take it all in and try to relax. Children walked around the runners offering up bottles of Lucozade. Hot air balloons were tethered on the Heath next to the start. The BBC helicopters hovered overhead. I did some stretching and checked my bag, which, in a feat of logistics, would be waiting for me at the finish.

With more than 30,000 people registered to run, the runners are divided into three starts, and then divided into pens, just like cattle, so the start will be somewhat orderly. The green start off a side road is for runners with a good-for-age time and “celebrities” (a term sometimes loosely applied). The red start in Greenwich Park, otherwise known as the mass start, is where the charity runners and most people in fancy dress go. The blue start from the Heath, where I was, is for the elite men and women racers (not me, obviously) and those lucky enough to get a spot in the lottery (me). The pen you are assigned reflects the predicted time on your application, but as my predicted time was far off what I knew I was going to do, I moved back so I wouldn’t get in the way of the faster runners.

We were off! Thousands of runners, all pursuing the same goal: to run 26.2 miles. I saw people of all ages, shapes and sizes. I waved at the BBC camera hoping that my Mom in the U.S. would see me, as she had awoken in the middle of the night to watch the web cast. Other than my hip flaring up in mile 2 (bummer!) I honestly didn’t even notice running the first four miles, such was the excitement and group sense of mission.

By the fourth mile, I saw my first spectator friend of the day: Mollie, Andrew and Nicholas’ swim teacher, who was so excited to see me she just kept jumping and shouting, “Go Mo! Go Mo!” From then on, I saw friend after friend after friend. Zoe on top of someone shoulders screaming, “You look brilliant!” Kate handing out water by the Arches. Fellow runner Liz catching up with me momentarily, then speeding ahead. Roisin jumping up and down in front of the Maritime Museum. Xanthe waving on Norman Road. Then, the best part: my incredible family waiting with their Mr. Incredible balloon on Creek Road bridge. (I stopped to give them all kisses). At that point, I didn’t even feel tired due to the rush of the crowd in Greenwich.

After spotting two more friends (Marie and family in Deptford and Leslie a little further on), it was back to plodding along. This was when the hard work began. I still had 20 or so miles to go and I wasn’t going to see any friends or family again until maybe mile 18. When the euphoria wore off, my hip started becoming excruciatingly painful. But then I remembered the emergency pain relief I had brought with me—three different kinds based on the severity of the discomfort—and I took some. By mile 10, I was just under my 11-minute-mile pace goal, but then I decided I could either try to stay on the pace, possibly injure myself and have to drop out, or slow down and enjoy myself, and finish with a smile on my face. I, much to my mother’s relief, picked the latter.

But even with the crowd shouting, “Come on Mo! You can do it!” (I put my name on the front of my shirt), it still was very hard work. Then, as I was drinking some much needed water and thinking that I’d never get to the halfway point, we turned a corner and there it was: the beautiful Tower Bridge, made all the more gorgeous knowing that I was nearly halfway.

The absolute worst part (with the second-worst part the stretch between Surrey Quays at mile 10 and Tower Bridge) were miles 14 to 18. First, you see the much faster runners on the opposite side of the road running their final four miles. (“****![Insert favourite swear word here] Why can’t that be me!” or “****! I really am slow!”) Second, you know you still have 12 miles to go, and that might as well be a million miles at this point. But I asked myself, “Do I feel worse than on the day I did 19 miles in the terrible heat?” and the answer was always no, so on I plodded. I kept repeating to myself, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” I also kept looking down at my left hand, where I had written 121 in black permanent marker, representing the money I raised to send that many African girls to primary school. [It’s not too late to increase this number! Go to]

The crowds throughout the day were incredible. They estimated more than 500,000 people came out to support the runners, and if I could, I’d personally thank everyone who yelled an encouraging “Go Mo!” during the race. I decided early on I was going to smile and give a thumbs up whenever anyone shouted my name. I didn’t want to be a miserable runner on such an incredible day. Pubs set up DJ booths. Bands played. People danced. Kids held out their hands, looking for high fives. People held out boxes of candy, to help runners increase their glucose levels. At the mile 17 water stop, I hesitated to take a jelly baby, remembering my mother’s advice to never take candy from a stranger, but I so wanted a sugar rush I took one anyway. (I had my own supply of jelly babies, but the plan was not to eat them until mile 18).

By the time I hit mile 20, I FINALLY felt good. The hard work was behind me and now it was a more or less straight shot to the finish along the Thames. I wanted to pick up the pace, but the problem was most of the people around me were walking, so it was very difficult to dodge around them to run.

The rest of the race is a blur—running past the Tower of London, running under the Millennium Bridge, running past Embankment (To see Marie and family for the third time! Hooray for them!), then Big Ben getting larger and larger as we approached. Finally, it was a right turn in front of Parliament for the last mile of the race. I took off my iPod Shuffle so I could bask in the adulation of the crowd. I felt like an Olympian. I could see other runners with their finishing medals around their necks and I thought, “I’m going to have one soon! I’m going to finish the marathon!”

One final turn by Buckingham Palace, and I was at the finish line, with a smile on my face, my arms jubilantly up in the air, and tears running down my cheeks, as predicted.


Anonymous said...

Congrats, Mo! The most I did today was walk into town for errands, coffee and writing, then back. Way to go! Will still is bugging for you to drive a race car next year--"It will be faster, and then she won't hurt," he says. Plus, I think he thinks you will get to drive the M&M mobile.


Anonymous said...

We are so proud of you, Maureen! Lots of love,
Anne, Chris, Ned and Hugh