I am broken, actually broken, both physically and mentally, but it doesn’t feel bad. I actually feel so incredibly proud of myself right now that I am sure I must be outwardly glowing.
Virgin Money London Marathon 2017, you have taken me to my outermost limits of endurance and beyond, but I didn’t give in to the pressure or the pain, I completed all 26.2 miles on what I can only describe as both the best and the worst day of my life.
Let me take you on my race day journey…
Firstly I have to say that VMLM is painstakingly and perfectly organised; every moment, from entering your start zone to collecting your goody bag at the finish line, was executed with total precision and perfect timing. Thank you to all the marshals, baggage handlers, medal hangers, organisers, St. John’s Ambulance crew and police officers who made it a most perfect and safe day for runners and spectators alike.
My story begins with the fact that I trained for and planned to run the VMLM with three other wonderful women, one of them being my sister, Helen, and the other two, Kate and Tracey, are friends of ours and we are all members of Calne SMaRTT running and triathlon club. Each of us secured a place in the VMLM via different methods; mine was through the ballot, Helen’s was a charity place, and Kate and Tracey both won places through our club. There are three separate starts at VMLM; blue, red and green, and they all merge together at mile three. Due to the manner in which we secured our places in the race, Kate, Tracey and I started at the blue start, and Helen started at the red start. Imagine our dismay when we became aware of this, Helen and I have run together for years and always wanted to run our first marathon together, and now, with the prospect of having to try and find each other among 40,000 other runners, it looked like we might have to tackle this marathon without each other’s support. We made a plan involving texting, keeping to the left, and changing pace. We fully expected it to take at least 9-10 miles before we found each other, if at all.
We parted outside the start areas, already emotional with nerves and now with the added prospect of not seeing each other until the end. Kate, Tracey and I entered the blue start, and Helen wandered to the red. I felt a wobble in my knees and a slight tremor in my lips as we shuffled towards the reason behind the months of gruelling training in the freezing cold, we were all about to become marathoners!
The perfectly efficient bag drop went without a hitch, the only thing left to do before taking our place on the start line was have a wee, so we joined the ever increasing queue for the female urinals…yes I did say female urinals. Another efficient idea to keep the queues moving quickly, and it worked! We edged our way swiftly and smoothly to the front of the queue not fully understanding what to expect of a female urinal. As it turns out they look just like the men’s urinals. Have you ever used a she-wee? At the entrance to the urinals you collect your pee-and-go disposable cardboard funnel, and the plan is to pull the front of your clothing down, slot the funnel into place around your lady bits, lean forward over a designated urinal and let gravity and the funnel guide everything in the right direction. Well I walked around the corner with my funnel and was greeted by a row of lovely bare bottoms! As it turns out, Instead of trying to manoeuvre the funnel into our clothing, most of us found it much easier and quicker to just whip everything down to our knees and get on with it; we were on a tight schedule after all! It certainly lifted spirits and banished pre-race nerves at least for a few minutes!
Next we were herded into our start pens like thousands of colourful day-glo sheep, and the excitement bubbled. At 10am precisely, as the elite and fast runners at the front rapidly took flight, the masses at the back slowly edged forward. All I could think of was meeting up with Helen; I had my phone in hand, ready to text the exact time we crossed the start line, and I didn’t miss an opportunity to snap a few selfies with the crowd as we shuffled along. At 10.16am Kate, Tracey and I crossed the start at a nice easy pace with an encouraging wave from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry in the royal box on our left. I fumbled with my phone to try and get a picture but missed the chance as I nearly sent it flying through the crowds of runners. I clumsily texted Helen our start time, and a few minutes later she came back with a start time of 10.20am. Great! She was only four minutes behind us! As arranged we kept to the left, slowed down, and knew that she would be speeding up so that there was a miniscule chance we would cross paths after we merged.
The atmosphere was electric! There were crowds lining the streets and cheering, bands playing, all the pubs were already packed with people spilling out to cheer us on, I couldn’t believe the support! Marshals were everywhere guiding us with shouts of “HUMP!” every few seconds just so we didn’t trip on the sleepers in the road! Children were lining the streets,
hands outstretched waiting for a high-five from as many runners as they could tempt. I felt like I was running on a cloud!
As we approached mile three, I texted Helen that we were about to merge and I could see the mile three marker, she replied and was at 2.8 miles, also just before merging point. Astounded that we were so close, Kate, Tracey and I started to mindlessly scream her name as loud as we could, knowing she was within reach, but with no reply, just a few odd looks from our neighbouring runners. As thousands of runners merged into one solid mass my phone rang, it was Helen. She had just crossed mile 3, she was right behind us but we couldn’t see each other for the crowds. I turned and ran backwards for a second, praying I didn’t go flying and end my journey here…and there she was, a flash of yellow flying towards us! We did it, and so much sooner than we imagined, it felt like a little miracle!
We floated along for the next few miles, happy to be together, enjoying the noise and encouragement of the crowds and the different musical inspiration along the way. Hearing our names being called by strangers was weird and exciting at the same time! But one of the most memorable moments for me, was when those voices calling my name were not strangers, they were my children and my husband and my dad and my friends in a huge welcoming crowd. The first time we saw them at about mile 11 made my marathon. All four of us managed to see our loved ones along the way, more than once, and it was all thanks to the VMLM app used to track runners, another efficiency box ticked!
We all reached half way feeling good, basking in the extravaganza of Tower Bridge! We were running at a steady pace, not too fast, still smiling and relishing every moment, and not once had any of us slowed to a walk, even managing to swallow our gels and apply deep heat on the run, we felt epic! Then glancing to our left we saw the faster runners coming the other way and heading down towards Embankment. I felt slightly less epic, but was still in awe of those heading for a sub 3 hour finish!
We somehow cruised on to mile 16, still running steadily, but for me, things were starting to niggle. Recovering from a recent ITB injury I could feel the sharp twinge of that injury slowly returning on the outside of my left knee. I quickly realised that it was time to focus and start to use the various mindfulness techniques I had practiced in my training, only I couldn’t block out the noise of the crowds all around me. I quickly forgot that idea and instead used the crowds as a distraction, trying to smile and focus on their happy, expectant faces to avoid the pain.
The last ten miles are already becoming a bit of a blur, a mish-mash of necking gels, guzzling Lucozade, applying deep heat and swallowing paracetamol, all the while trying to focus and just keep running. Left, right, repeat…I think I was even saying that out loud to myself at one point. The crowds were amazing, there is no way I would have finished without them, every time I felt like slowing down someone would shout my name, “Come on Lorna, you can do it!”; “Looking good Lorna, keep going!” I saw my family and friends again at mile 18 and I wanted to cry, and their encouragement pushed me on yet again. 8 miles to go, don’t stop now, but then with a burst of pain in my knee, I had to, just for a few seconds. I slowed to a walk trying to block out the pain. Helen slowed with me because we wanted to finish together, and I willed Kate and Tracey to go on, not wanting to hold them back. We only walked for about 15 seconds before I gave myself a serious talking to, stood up straight, held my chin up and continued running. The pain of starting to run again was excruciating, and I knew that if I walked again it would get worse, so this was it; I had to run to the end.
The last 5-6 miles pushed me to my absolute limits of endurance, and beyond. My longest run in training had been 22 miles so I knew I could do the distance, but now I was feeling pain in my hips, my thighs and my left knee and it was gradually building into a dark cloud of misery. Over and over again I repeated to myself (or maybe out loud, I’m not sure) “You’ve got this, you’ve trained for this, you can do this. Slow down, head up, and keep moving!” My mantra found full voice, “Strong, happy, healthy, legs, strong, happy, healthy legs”. And just when I thought I was getting into a comfortable rhythm once again, my stomach lurched and I found myself veering off to a thankfully close toilet block. After 20 miles of very-nearly-consistent running (with a few miles of it in pain), finding myself with an upset stomach in a portaloo that didn’t have any toilet paper didn’t seem to bother me. I did the deed, hiked my shorts back up with a grimace of pain and disgust, and got back on the road.
Helen, my amazing sister and running companion, was still with me. We weren’t speaking much, only the odd grunt of each other’s name to check we were still within ear shot of each other. Lots of other amazing runners had slowed to a walk by this point, and I wanted to join them so desperately, but I knew my knee would seize and I would have to stop altogether, so we plodded mercilessly on.
Mile 23, the finish line was calling us, the crowds were growing larger and noisier, I was crying and laughing intermittently to myself, becoming increasingly delirious, seeing faces in the crowds that I thought I knew, but was always mistaken. Big Ben loomed ahead, and I knew we had made it. After hearing reports that the last mile is the hardest I was prepared to slump again, but no, the beloved crowds wouldn’t let that happen. Helen and I rounded the corner onto the Mall together to a mighty roar of support, and crossed the finish line with our hands joined in the air, just as we planned. It took a moment to realise our achievement as we wobbled uncertainly along to the smiling marshals who were waiting to hang the beautiful and very heavy medal around our necks. Both Helen and I were crying with joy and relief, we just ran 26.2 miles pretty much non-stop, we are marathoners! Will I ever do it all again? Yesterday I would have said never, today I say maybe not, ask me again tomorrow!
So that is my Virgin Money London Marathon 2017 story and I have written it to remind myself of my experience in years to come. Kate and Tracey crossed the finish line just ahead of us in 5.06.01. Helen finished in 5.08.38, quicker than me due to her speedy catch up at the start, and I finished in 5.12.29.
I ran for Dorothy House Hospice Care, a charity very close to my heart. Thanks to my lovely supporters I have raised £1300 so far; another contributing factor to my painfully successful marathon. You can find out more about why I raise money for Dorothy House by reading my previous blog posts. To donate to such a wonderful cause please visit justgiving.com/lornajking.