By the time I was walking to the start, the nerves had completely vanished and I was raring to go. I couldn’t wait to get moving, lining up at the start line, I started chatting to people around me. For one lady it was her first marathon and I could tell she was excited but nervous at the same time. Another guy was also hoping to get under 3:45 and he was doing London the next week as well. Ten minutes before the start, the heavens opened but luckily it only lasted five minutes – it’s not great being wet before the start of a long race!
There are a lot of out and backs on the Brighton Marathon route and at mile 8 we could see the cavalcade of minis, scooters and mods all hooting and cheering which were leading the elites. They soon came into view and it gave us an opportunity to clap and cheer, and almost marvel at how amazing these athletes are.
At the half way point disaster struck - my hips started to hurt, really hurt, so that each step was agony. My muscles then started to knot and cramp up as well. I carried on but by mile 15 I had to stop, stretch out my muscles, then walk for a bit before carrying on running. The negative thoughts were really creeping in and by mile 17 I was in such pain I didn’t know if I would be able continue beyond the 18 mile mark where I knew Mark was going to be waiting to see me. When I did see him, I stopped for a hug, almost in tears saying things like “I can’t tell you how much pain I’m in!” He gave me the encouragement I needed and practically pushed me away to keep going.
As I carried on I started looking at all the other runners around me, thinking about them, the reasons they were taking part and their charities, about the charity I was running for, my reason for running that day. It was a real turning point for me and I realised I had to carry on and cross that finish line. I couldn’t let anyone down. I had to finish! For the charities, everyone running, the spectators. When someone is struggling during a race, I find they get the most cheers and encouragement, especially if you have your name on your running vest. Brighton was no exception. I couldn’t have done it without the tremendous support and encouragement from all the spectators – yelling at me to carry on, “Go on Shelley, you can do it, you’re nearly there!” Over and over I was hearing that and it really spurred me on. I had to smile to myself a couple of times when spectators couldn’t see the ‘S’ on my running vest – “Go on Helley!” Hilarious!
I carried on in a run/walk mode for the rest of the race. At around mile 21/22 I caught up with the guy I was chatting to at the start of the race. He was also walking, his knee had gone at mile 7! I said to him, “So your sub 3:45 has gone as well then?” I really felt for him, being in trouble from such an early stage in the race. At this point, we both knew the sub 4 hour time had passed for us. But I didn’t care. The last 8 or 9 miles had taught me so much. I realised that it’s not just about getting a good time, it’s about taking part, being part of something so incredible, all for such good causes. Yes, we all want to do well but sometimes it just doesn’t happen, and it’s not the end of the world. For me it was a battle to finish and I was going to do it! At mile 23 a lady with a Breast Cancer Care baton starting running along side me, cheering me on, “Come on Shelley, you’re nearly there, you can do it!” Well, that was my undoing! From then on not only was it run/walk, but it was cry/don’t cry as well!
I finally limped over the finish line in 4:03:30 but I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. I’d done one of the hardest things ever, and I hadn’t given up.
Five days later, I was on my way to ExCel for the London Marathon Expo to pick up my race number for Sunday. My first marathon was Edinburgh in 2010. It’s always difficult to get a place in the London Marathon and I had wanted to do a marathon so I picked Edinburgh. In reality I had no great desire to run London. As a runner, people ask “Have you run the marathon?” As if there’s only one. London. None of the others count. So I wanted to do a different one. When I walked in I was amazed at the number of registration desks, the line spanned the whole length of the room. I was starting to feel excited. After getting my number and timing chip I then walked into the Expo. The atmosphere in there was buzzing, almost electric with excitement. And I got it! I finally understood why everyone wanted to do London, why it’s considered THE marathon.
Sunday morning was an early train ride to Maze Hill Station with Mark, Becky, Meg and Ali. The nerves were back and I had to keep taking deep breathes to calm myself but once I got off the train the nerves were replaced with excitement. Having a “good for age” place meant I was on the Green Start. This one is very small, only around 3,700 runners. On one hand that’s good because it meant we crossed the start line very quickly, but on the other hand we didn’t have the same buzz as at the red and blue starts.
The race got under way, and I felt good, really good. The first few miles everyone is really packed in and you spend most of the time looking down to avoid water bottles and the heels in front of you so it’s difficult to take in the atmosphere around you. It was a lovely day and the sun was out, but it was starting to get a bit warm. I was doing a good time, around 8:20 minutes per mile pace which would have given me a PB, but around 9 miles my legs suddenly decided they were tired, it was like a switch had been flicked and they had nothing in them. It wasn’t painful like last week, my legs were just tired, and obviously I wasn’t fully recovered from Brighton. “Here we go again” I thought! I soldiered on but by mile 14 I was in run/walk mode again. But again, I didn’t care. For me, London had never really been about a good time – I knew I would be tired from the previous week and I had heard that it’s difficult to get a good time because there are so many runners. I was just so happy to be a part of this huge, iconic race. And the crowds! I have never seen so many spectators making so much noise. It was truly incredible. Everyone offering encouragement, cheers, jelly babies, Jaffa cakes, bananas, you name it. One guy even offered me his beer. “I wish I could” I said.
Around 17 miles I saw Phil Jones from the BBC, holding a microphone and standing next to a camera man. I caught his eye and he asked me if I wanted to stop and chat. “Why not?” I thought. I was ready for a rest. So I was interviewed live on the TV!
The London spectators are even more encouraging than Brighton, if that’s possible. As a run/walker it feels like everyone is shouting your name and it almost felt like being bullied (in the nicest possible way) into running, there was so much shouting and cheering at you. One lady, at 16 miles, shouted “Go on Shelley, you’re nearly there!” Er, well actually I’m not, I’ve still got 10 miles to go but thank you. Ha ha!
A mile or so down the line after being interviewed, I heard my name being called again and I happened to look, and saw two of my friends waving frantically at me. Tony Giles, one of the greatest supporters of Team Run 12, and Liz Vassell. I stopped, went back and gave them both a hug and started to get a bit emotional but excited to tell them my news of seeing Mo and being interviewed. I carried on. Then another half mile or so I heard my name again. I looked. And saw 2 more friends – Jill and Gary Oxland. I stopped again, went over, gave them a hug and told them my news. They all said how good I was looking which was fantastic to hear at that stage. I needed every boost.
It wasn’t long before I was at the Tower of London and only had 4 miles to go. I knew I was going to make it. From this point, the crowds were incredible – 4, 5, 6 deep, every inch of pavement was covered with people cheering and shouting. At the Embankment I looked out for the Breast Cancer Care cheering point at mile 24.5, gave them a wave and a smile. Then I was running down Bird Cage Walk, I had less than half a mile to go. I rounded the corner by Buckingham Palace onto The Mall. There’s no way I was going to walk any of that bit! I dug deep, gritted my teeth and ran as fast as I could to that finish line, holding my arms up high and with as big of a smile on my face as I could manage. I’d done it. I’d completed the London Marathon in 4:11:52. Whoo hoo! I can now say I’ve done THE marathon.