London Marathon shocker: I did it (and survived)

Against all the odds and contrary to my other half’s fervid woe betiding – “your nipples will bleed… feet will crumble… you’ll wet yourself… I’ve read all about it” – I’ve only gone and run the London bloody Marathon and survived, relatively unscathed. I dragged my tormented legs across the finish line with my dignity, and nipples, intact. My friends and family were pretty surprised, I’ve always been what you might term ‘a reluctant mover’, and I was a little taken aback myself. But it’s true, I did it. Liz Cookman: runner of marathons… well, a marathon.

It’s taken three months to write about it, it felt like a memory too precious, too worth savouring, to begin organising it into words and sentences. The marathon was at once the toughest and the most wonderful experience of my life.

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Start line selfie: getting ready to go over

The first five miles were easyish. It was like a cartoon world – the sun was shining, the birds were singing, everyone was smiling and I could do anything. The streets were lined with people willing us on and passing out sweets. As we passed pubs we were serenaded by bands playing their own versions of uplifting hits in everything from rock to the steel drum, Eye of the Tiger and Don’t Stop Me Now were particular favourites.

The mile markers seemed to be flying past; if only that had lasted.

By the time I’d reached mile eleven or twelve the heat – it would have to be the hottest day of the month/year – was beginning to get to me and the gaps between each balloon-laden arch – the mile markers – seemed to be growing exponentially.

At Tower Bridge, just before the halfway line, I was beginning to flag despite shovelling in the energy chews.

When I said I ‘ran’ the marathon, I’ll have to come clean. That isn’t strictly true. After mile fifteen, there really wasn’t all that much running going on. Hobbling, walking maybe, but not much running and at somewhere around mile 19, the pain set in. Agonising, searing, unceasing pain. My (ample) bum and thighs were in some sort of spasm, the muscles were useless and the cramp, or whatever it was, was more intense and all-consuming than just about anything I’d experienced before. I felt like a lump of steak after a few days tenderising under a gaucho’s saddle: all the pounding against the hard road had melted my muscles.

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36,000 runners start the London Marathon and on average 98% of them finish. Everyone is simply determined that, no matter what, they will get to the end. There are those who fall or can’t cope, the further the distance the more casualties line the sides of the road, being treated by St John’s Ambulance volunteers. But once the pain has calmed or they catch their breath, they carry on. I was seriously sore, but I had to carry on.

By this late stage, pretty much all the runners left were, like me, tired and heavy and hurting. We may as well have been wearing concrete boots. The last five miles were very, very slow (the second half of the race took me 40 minutes more than the first), which is tough psychologically because, by that point, all that’s keeping you going is picturing a cold pint of bubbly, sweet cider at the end – and you want it now.

Some of the runners had become so slow in fact, it looked as if they were trapped underwater, exaggeratedly bouncing and stomping, but with very little forward thrust. I power walked, it was the only way I could deal with the pain, moving just fast enough to somehow trick my muscles, and it meant I was one of the speedy ones. I sailed past runner after runner, creeping towards the end, stopping only to wave to my uncle Timothy and kiss Andy, who were on the Mall to cheer me on (thanks for coming you guys!).

A few metres before the finish line I was almost in tears. I had somehow missed my mum who was somewhere near the end, and she’d missed me. My prepared ‘crossing the line’ track for some reason wouldn’t play – this was not the triumphant scene I had pictured. But with a few seconds to spare, it (Wildfire by SBTRKT, in case you wondered) finally kicked in and I managed to muster the strength to run, one last burst over the finish line and I’d done it, coming in just before the timer hit six hours.

Sun burnt and in agony, but I id it!

Sunburnt and in agony, but I did it!

I can now say I’ve run the bloody marathon – who thinks they’re ever going to be able to say that!? Most people called me mad, but the feeling of achievement, the feeling you get from doing something you never, ever thought you’d be able to do is just wonderful. That evening, I might have been walking like a penguin, but I got my pint (and a few extra) and it was the best pint ever.

 

I ran the marathon for the Canal and River Trust, you can sponsor me here and help them to keep up the good work they do preserving our waterways.

On fear and the London Marathon

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On fear and the London Marathon

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That’s me crying after running a half marathon along the river a few weeks ago on the right.

I’ve been meaning to write this post forever – and many more like it – about how I will be running the London Marathon in support of the Canal & River Trust. But I’ve been tentative about making a big deal of it as my training has been so hit and miss – in the two-and-a-half months I’ve had to prepare there have been three weeks off due to injury, another to sickness, two to bad organisation and one more due to heavy pollution, which should only have been a few days, but, you know, I had to make sure. There have also been countless runs missed due to friend’s birthdays (hangovers), unexpected work things (lazyness) and various other commitments (writing, failing to). I’ve spent weeks uming and aring about wether I’d be able to do it, so long that it has creeped up on me and now, like it or not, wobbly bum or no wobbly bum, the time is upon me: the marathon is tomorrow.

I’m scared. I feel sick. The longest run I’ve done to date is 13.2 miles along the Thames a few weeks ago, for at least seven miles of that I wasn’t entirely sure if I would ever be able to use my lower body again. Doing that twice and surviving will be a miracle. However, ridiculously, the thing worrying me the most right now is that I might bump into to someone I know there, I think I’d like to be alone – aside from the 30,000 strangers – with my pain and slow deterioration into a sweating, snivelling, sobbing wreck. The thought of someone I went to school with, one of those irritating ex-school friends who were just always good at life, sailing past me, calm and grinning, is too much at this point.

Anyway, it’s late and I have a long night of tossing and turning and night terrors ahead of me. And I’m still to iron my name onto my vest as I’ve no idea if I actually own an iron. By the time I write again I will, no doubt, be in considerable pain, but in the name of a good cause at least. The Canal and River Trust look after our waterways and the ecosystems they support – when you SPONSOR ME (as you will, because you’re all such nice people), your money could well help make life on the river that little bit better for a family of swans, or some eels, or otters, or trout. And, given the scarcity of our contact with nature in these modern times, rivers and canals definitely make life better for us.

P.S. sorry about the poster, limited time etc etc.

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