Reader, I did it. I completed the Shine marathon on Saturday in 8 hours and 55 minutes. I didn’t really have a ‘time’ to target before I set off but I thought somewhere around the nine hour mark would be acceptable.
The O2 was buzzing with people on their way to watch Lee Evans perform and to take part in the marathon and half-marathon. Cancer Research had set up a rest area for the competitors and there was a stage with some people yelling encouraging things on it. The encouraging things were fine for about five minutes, but we had been advised to arrive 1.5 hours before the scheduled start time of 8.30pm so people being UNBELIEVABLY SHOUTY AND UPBEAT started to grate after a little while.
My sister (J) and I were in the middle group of competitors (the ‘Striders’) so although the race started on time we didn’t actually cross the start line until 9.06pm.. Our parents, J’s boyfriend and one of her cricket pals had come out to cheer us on and we saw them at 2, 7 and 9 miles before they (with the exception of J’s boyfriend) did the sensible thing and went home. Dh was tasked with putting a very lively and slightly confused R and G to bed (‘Why are Nanny and Grandad here?’ ‘Why are Mummy and Aunty J going for a long walk?’) so he kept the home fires burning and I occasionally updated him via text or tweet.
The route was reasonably scenic, apart from the bit near the Blackwall Tunnel and the stretch from Deptford to Southwark. None of the roads were closed (lots of signs everywhere telling us that the roads were ‘live’) so at various points we had to wait for red lights and green men. It took a good 5 minutes to cross one road near the start due to the sheer volume of walkers seeking to do the same thing.
I think a lot of people underestimate the toll that distance walking takes on the human body. Before I did the walk I got a lot of comments from people saying that they wouldn’t bother to do any training if they were walking a marathon and that they would complete the course in eight hours if they were doing it. I wish I had videoed the feeding and toilet station at the 17 mile mark for these people to witness the sheer carnage.
As J and I queued for the loos, people dropped like flies around us. We heard a groan and a ‘clonk’ behind us as a bloke fainted and his hit head on a concrete fountain on the way down. J, with her first-aid qualification and Florence Nightingale tendencies, rushed over to see if she could help and screamed ‘CHOCOLATE’! at me. I figured that as the poor guy was out cold he probably wouldn’t be in the mood for a slab of dark chocolate and cherry Green and Blacks (which I had finished three miles back) and, in an unthinking tribute to Saving Private Ryan, shouted ‘MEDIC’! instead. The woman in front of us passed out on her niece’s shoulder. It turned out that they were related to the knocked-out man and that a medic was already dealing with the girls’ mother.
I’d heard all about ‘Hitting the Wall’ from my Dad, who did some distance running when we were children. Basically, the human body can store enough glycogen (energy derived from eating carbohydrates) to cope with 18-20 miles, at which point extreme fatigue sets in. That’s ‘The Wall’. To be honest, I didn’t expect to experience it in a walking marathon but after the short break at 17 miles I found it incredibly hard to get going again. My sister and I had (mostly) walked together up to that point but she left me for dead as my body screamed at me to stop walking and rest and I started wading through imaginary treacle. A wheedling little voice in my brain started saying ‘No-one would know if you stopped now…you could just hop on a bus for a bit…just have a little sit down over there for an hour or two…’. The only way to drown out these feelings was to turn the volume on my iPod up to 11 and listen to lots of music with a high beats-per-minute ratio. I also (teaching grandmother to suck eggs) kept putting one foot in front of the other.
At 19 miles something happened. I felt better again. I not only caught up with my sister, but was able to match her pace again. I think we would have walked the last 7 miles together if she hadn’t stopped to chat with a marshall that she knew. My body was telling me to keep going, so I motioned to J’s boyfriend that I had to keep walking, turned my iPod up to 12 and marched on.
The last few miles of the marathon were pretty lonely. The field of participants had thinned out hugely at this point so I could see people walking in front of me, and sensed that there were other people walking behind me, but I was alone apart from Keith Flint from the Prodigy screaming in my ears.
Miles 20-25 were reasonably good, but I knew that I was developing blisters on my heels. I saw the 25 mile mark and almost wept with relief. The last mile and a bit seemed to go on forever and it felt like a century had passed before I saw the finishing line. I looked up at the clock in disbelief and clamped my hand over my face in shock. I remembered to remove my hand for the finishing-line photo, but I still look rather fierce.
I collected my medal and goodie bag and stumbled towards the rest area. It looked like a Crimean War field hospital, only with fancier trainers. People were fast asleep shrouded in space blankets. I realised that I didn’t have the boyfriend’s phone number and remembered that I still had J’s phone in my rucksack. I used it to phone him and he sounded surprised to hear from me (clearly not a phone person). I managed to glean from him that J was about to finish and staggered over to the waiting area. On the way, I was waylaid to take a photo. I managed to catch up with J as she posed (still in most of her cricket gear) for the photographer. Her thighs had given up the ghost at 23 miles so she had to take the pads off, but otherwise she looked great.
Despite the early hour, I phoned Dh and told him I’d finished. At that exact moment, the enormity of what I’d done, coupled with relief and happiness hit me and I started sobbing. J isn’t great with crying people and was knackered herself, so could only manage a ‘You alright?’ by way of comfort. I eventually arrived home two hours later (long story) and fell into bed. I woke up five hours later just in time to have a bath before our friends came over bearing champagne and cupcakes. Their daughter and R and G (great nursery friends) played together and I sat with my feet up.
To start with I couldn’t walk properly, mostly due to the water blister on my left heel ,the blood blister on my right heel and sore ankles, but I’m recovering nicely now and taking the opportunity to have lots of long baths.
R and G were spectacularly unimpressed by my exploits. I explained that J and I had walked a long way and raised lots of money for people that weren’t very well so that they could get better. G peered up at me with a puzzled expression and simply said ‘Why?’.
p.s. You can still donate here
p.p.s. I got a message from Cancer Research today which said that they’d had to change part of the route at the last minute and we had actually walked 27miles, not 26.2. I thought that last mile felt bloody long!