People who do the Marathon more than once often say they want to get a personal best, beat a certain time, or that they didn’t give it their all the first time round. I can, with absolute certainty, say that I couldn’t have given it anything more, I’m thrilled with my time, and I have no regrets.
On Sunday, I tweeted and texted my way around the London Marathon, and as God is my witness I’LL NEVER GO MARATHONING AGAIN.
Will I be running another one? God, NO. No. Right. Now that’s over, are we ready for an inspirational post about marathons? Then let’s begin.
Saturday night, a week before, I had my first marathon panic dream. This broke down into a handy checklist that I wrote down on waking so as to avoid any such problems on the day itself, including useful things like “put your socks on properly” and “get to the start on time.”
Somewhere after all the crying and the poor sleep I managed to get along to the Expo, with H along for the ride claiming to need an iPhone arm band but really to discreetly ensure I didn’t have a highly-strung breakdown.
I got weepy on seeing all the stalls for race number collection. I shed a tear on seeing the runners’ wall with all the names on. My eyes dampened on seeing the photo wall, and my lip trembled on collecting my tracking tag. H very sensibly left me to it on Saturday evening so I could gather myself à la Winslet, faff around making pasta and watching The Good Wife.
I also got inspirational running nails done at Reecey Roo’s in Camberwell. More on that another time, that place is amazing.
The cat benignly failed to paw me awake at 5am as usual, so I had eggs on toast and coffee at 6, and got the bus to London Bridge at 7.30. Yes, I had allowed 90 minutes for disaster. By the time I got to Greenwich I was surrounded by runners and saw my first fancy dress costume, a bloke carrying a tiger. Within five minutes I’d seen two killer whales on an ice berg, and five superheroes. For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t nervous.
I met a girl called Elie while experiencing the distress that was the women’s urinals. No! No to women’s urinals! We bonded over the fact I gave her a tissue. You have never seen so many women going “But – what? This isn’t working. WHY AM I IN HERE, I AM 43.” Rows of bottoms stood around looking panicked.
Elie headed off once we dropped our kitbags, and I met up with some of the other Mind runners. “The only thing I regret last time is sitting down,” a woman called Samantha said while we queued for a “just in case” at the portaloos. “I just stopped and sat on the pavement for a bit. I could have gone so much faster.” I listened while applying my 17th layer of SPF50.
We warmed up and stretched, with Stomp and Prince Harry wafting out from the big screens, and then went off to our pens. “You were born to do this,” I muttered to myself, realising that I have become the sort of person who says things like “You were born to do this.” Eventually we got to the start. Dad texts me to say he and mum have set up camp on the north side of the Highway.
I AM RUNNING THE BLOODY MARATHON
The one thing my pro-runner friends were unanimous in was not running too fast. The first two miles or so are always rubbish while my legs warm up, so I happily stuck to a slow and steady pace while marvelling at the fact that barely half a mile had gone past before runners were fleeing to nearby bushes for a piss. I spent five minutes running near a bloke dressed as Thor.
At mile 3, when runners from different starts start to merge, I get massively carried away and high five two policemen.
I manage to get through my first two 5k checkpoints at almost exactly the same pace. I AM A MACHINE. H texts to say he’s at mile 7. Sara is tracking me on Runkeeper. I feel completely calm and everything’s alright.
My careful pacing goes out of the window when I start running behind someone dressed as a minion from Despicable Me.
“H loves the minions!” I think feverishly, “It will be hilarious if I turn up with a minion!”
The minion starts running faster which is not part of my plan. I end up running raggedly towards H, who is clutching a sign with KAT on it and beaming widely. “LOOK H, I BROUGHT A MINION!” I scream, and fall into his arms for a kiss. I never manage to regain that pace. Let that be a lesson to you: do not try and speed up for a cartoon-based sight gag.
Actually no idea where I am anymore. Have I passed Cutty Sark? In between looking out for a KFC that my colleague Mark might be standing by, I am overtaken by a Womble and keep getting caught up to by the run/walk pacing group. This is gross indignity as I am still running and haven’t walked yet.
I am entirely distracted by Helen, who is a black and pink Irish vision on the left and I wave at her furiously and shout “Helen! I am running a marathon!”, stop for a hug, say something entirely incomprehensible, and then run off beaming.
One of the many “marathon truths” that people tell you, like “It’s the best day of your life!” and “You’ll feel AMAZING afterwards” is that you’ll probably hit the wall at 18 miles. Not to do anything by halves, yet doing this almost exactly by halves, I hit the wall at 9.25.
By now, it is incredibly hot, but I’m more concerned by feeling my energy run out. Later on, I twig this is probably because breakfast is many, many hours ago and my Shot Bloks aren’t doing the job. For now though, I burst into tears and berate myself for feeling this bad when I’ve run nine miles without any bother loads of times during the past months.
The minute I pass a Lucozade stand, I grab it. I’ve been super fussy about what I packed to take with me, and vowed not to drink anything new “because I haven’t trained with it.” Fuck that. I drink the lovely, sugary, electrolyte-y sports beverage and slowly feel myself coming back to life. But my confidence has taken a massive knock and I look forward to the rest of the race with the same enthusiasm I have reserved for the day someone asks me if I’d like to conquer my dislike of large spiders.
A quick word for the volunteers: they are incredible. Miles of people handing out drinks, or Vaseline, or plasters; acres of people massaging limbs, giving encouraging words, making the whole thing happen. They were the most inspiring, wonderful part of my whole day.
By now I’m into familiar territory, running down Jamaica Road towards Tower Bridge. The roar of the crowd has been deeply weird, sometimes getting me through, sometimes putting me off entirely. I adored watching the marathon last year, and thought Ian deeply curmudgeonly for saying the noise was off-putting, but now I just feel as though I’m snaking through a gladiatorial concourse with people picking sides and gunning for you (cheering optimistically) or against you (“Come ON Kat”)
I cannot tell you how amazing it was when one American girl bellowed out “Kat you are so STRONG you have GOT THIS you are AMAZING!” That is the perfect cheer, and I instantly ran on. Soon I’m winding round over Tower Bridge and instead of the wave of euphoria that is Another Marathon Truth, I feel a sense of satisfaction that comes from having run over this bridge loads of times on my way to work. But I feel part of something. And more importantly, I have friends and family just round the corner.
I burst into tears on seeing Oldest Friend, her husband and her brother. We all have a massive hug and I mutter something incomprehensible about it being so hot and hard, which just sounds deeply pornographic now I think back to it. I can’t spot my parents.
By now it’s clear that my parents aren’t there and I send the most forlorn text to my dad while walking along wailing. I get a text back: it turns out my inability to tell time, or direction, has backfired. They’re on the other side of the Highway and I won’t see them for another 8 miles. I start wailing so hard that a member of St John’s Ambulance comes over. And then another one.
“I…missed my PARENTS.” It’s pathetic, like a kindergarten child who has temporarily mislaid their stuffed animal.
Another St John’s comes over. And – oh wonder of wonders, it is someone from my drumming group at the Olympics! We have a lovely, if one-sided chat as I am still weeping, and then I set off running again.
The road is now a WASTELAND of people walking. What was a trickle at miles 14 and 15 is now a full-on zombie invasion. My legs have stiffened up, so in between paracetamol and sweets and orange slices (DELICIOUS orange slices) from spectators, I have a walk and send a disconsolate tweet about having another 10 miles to go.
“You’d go a lot faster if you stopped texting,” sirens out an old boot from her chair.
“I’M THE ONE FUCKING RUNNING,” I snap. I wish I could say something more witty, but come on. My brain is barely in my head right now. Brilliantly, the next person I see is a chap called George from work, who offers me some ice. I apologise for not looking more like an Inspirational Marathon Runner, and after a quick chat, I hobble off at some sort of run jog.
H and Helen text me to say they will both see me around mile 18, and Helen has Olly and Corrie in tow. Wonderful! But even better is that text at the top of the post: the tweeting has paid off. It’s earned me another £300-odd quid for Mind and for a brief, glorious moment, my hot, stressed head turns to liquid gold.
Utter joy as I see H, once again clutching his sign. Not that you’d know it as I run towards him, burst into tears again and do some more wailing. What an excellent person I am to support.
Thor is back, and I have hazy hopes of bringing him to Helen for another hilarious photo opportunity. Instead, I grin hugely on seeing Helen, Corrie and Olly all cheering their heads off. We have an extremely sweaty hug and then it’s off again. “I can’t believe you’re still smiling!” Olly said. “I literally just put this on for you right now!” I reply, inspiringly.
Wonderful walking coincidence #3: I’m piling my last pack of paracetamol into my gob when I hear “Kat!” and suddenly my friend Judith, who I worked with on my very first job at the Times, is in front of me grinning. She takes a picture, which looks as though I have been affected by severe rictus.
I can’t tell you what a massive and necessary boost it is to have your friends and family there. I might have been faster if I hadn’t stopped to hug everyone I knew, but I probably wouldn’t have got around at all.
I haven’t checked my texts for a while as I am not entirely confident of my ability to see. Suddenly I glance to the left and there is H! H, whose penchant for Doctor Who I firmly believe has given him equal teleportation powers, has popped up again! He co-opted his neighbours to call my name, and I reward them by kissing H hugely, and doing some more crying. Thank God for the rehydrating powers of Lucozade Sport.
I can see the Gherkin over the roofs of houses and know that the Highway, and therefore my parents, are tantalisingly close. Before then I high five some more children, take much-needed candy from babies, and stop to go “Seriously? Can I actually have this? Thank you!” to a magnificent couple who offer me an ice pop.
Run Dem Crew, that fiercely wonderful and dedicated running team, have taken over a stretch of road in support of their runners. Their signs remain, but as they are all way, way faster than I am, the supporters have long gone.
Soon I’m on the Highway. I grin for a photographer, trying not to look too rictus, and suddenly realise I failed to clock the giant bank of Mind supporters in front. That means my parents, and there they are, waving and hollering, and I climb up off the road, my legs aching like calcifying accidents, for a huge hug.
Past the Tower of London, down onto Lower Thames Street and there’s Clem, who has sent the most amazing texts throughout. HELLO CLEM! She is handily located near a sign cheerily advertising post-marathon gin, which is pretty perfect. More hugs and then – oh, oh my God. H is there again. Doctor Who, eat your heart out. I win the best Time Lord.
Lucozade Sport has taken over mile 24 which means running into a branded tunnel filled with inspirational wording, music and all the logos you could imagine without going blind. We come out onto the Embankment in the sunshine and small children shrieking “GO KAT!” By now I can just grimace instead of smile.
Definitely cannot see now. I completely miss my quizmate Rich, but am drawn in by the bellows of Helen, Olly and Corrie who have heroically headed to the finish for another, infinitely sweatier hug, and more mumbled nonsense from me. I mean, they probably didn’t actively come over here for the hug, but they were getting one nonetheless.
I feel incredibly nauseous and my fingertips have started to fizz, but I am not stopping. I limp-jog-run past Big Ben, down to Birdcage Walk. For the last three miles I have been obeying Marathon Truth: “It will fly by! Remember every moment!” and have been seriously thinking about each step, as they take me towards the end. Down more of Birdcage Walk. Birdcage Walk is very bloody long. Then round past Buckingham Palace, and towards the now-deserted stands.
“KAT! KAT!” It’s Chris! Chris and what feels like a small army! I laugh hysterically and blow kisses and wave, and, as it turns out, completely miss my neighbours who are just along from them.
I pick up my pace for the last few paces of this godawful but totally necessary experience and cross the finish line. I am garlanded with roses. A passing Dutch lord asks for my hand in marriage. I am given a small pony.
What actually happens is that I hyperventilate, am carted off by St John’s Ambulance to a leather lounger where I lie down until I can breathe again. A nice woman gives me a medal, I apologise for being dramatic and then I’m off to get my goodie bag and my kitbag – why did I put so much in it? Was I concerned I might be going to war? – stopped for a picture with some other Mind runners, and then it’s off to the AB meeting point, where I can see H holding the KAT sign, and know that my parents, Helen, Corrie and Olly are all there, and that I’ve run the marathon. I’ve done something to combat all those years of mental rubbish. My supporters have raised a sockload for Mind.
And I need never run the fucking thing ever again.