My fourth 26.2 mile race of 2014 was the iconic Virgin Money London Marathon and I was buzzing for it. London 2013 was my first ever marathon and where my love for running and fundraising began. Given some of the circumstances of the other races I’ve completed this year (a solo race around a 17-lap course, a 30-mile cross country race with just Brian and a cross-country race alone and very unwell) I knew London would be something else.
I spent the week pre-race in Manchester, driving all of my lovely colleagues mad with race talk and at one point making them all gag as they watched me pour a banana protein drink (that allegedly resembled a bodily fluid) down my neck. By the time Friday came around I was bouncing of the walls with nervous energy.
I jumped on a train from Manchester Piccadilly early on Friday morning and had a second interview with BBC Radio Kent (click to listen – thank you Ben Croucher!) as I stood up to get off the train a man behind me grabbed my shoulder ‘YOU’RE RUNNING HOW MANY MARATHONS?!’ he asked, I looked a bit puzzled before remembering that the back of my t-shirt read ’12 marathons, 12 months. Call me crazy!’. I was stopped over 15 times en route from other runners, wishing me well and asking for advice, it made me begin to appreciate the volume of the challenge I’ve taken on.
Race day came around quickly, I was carbed-up and extremely over excited for the race. Standing outside Greenwich train station I inflated two banger sticks and was having a little bit of a party on my own, it was only as we walked in to the park, following the enormous crowds that the nerves started to kick in.
I hit 5km in 31 minutes, a pretty steady speed and bang on target for my desired 4:30 goal. Everything was feeling strong, my legs were moving like clockwork, nothing hurt. Result!
At around 10 miles I noticed that I was over-heating pretty badly and taking on too much water. I ran up to someone who was walking and asked her to help me. She looked at me like I was crazy as I threw my armband and phone at her, then my vest, pulling my base layer over my head and discarding it on the side of the road. I redressed myself, thanked her and ran on.
I called mum quickly to find out which side of the road they were on. Right hand side at the entrance of tower bridge... 'I'm not going to see you' I told her. As you arrive at Tower Bridge, the wall of noise hits you, it's like nothing else on the course. SOMEHOW I spotted my amazing Team Run 12 entourage screaming and waving on the side of the road, I had a quick cuddle, another handful of jelly babies and felt giddy with excitement at the prospect of actually achieving the time I wanted so badly.
I felt like I was flying as I powered across Tower Bridge. Then it all went wrong. Tower Bridge is VERY uneven, I misplaced my footing and twisted my knee as the road dipped underneath me. I hit the ground pretty hard, the crowd around me went 'OOOOOO' (luckily the BBC didn't capture that for the live TV stream). A kind runner picked me back up and I smiled it off, brushing myself down and waving to the crowds to let them know I was okay. As soon as I was off the bridge I stopped. I wasn't alright. My knee wasn't alright at all.
For the next mile I was very stop/start, passing under the half way marker at 2:26. My time was slipping away from me and my inability to run more than 500metres meant my goal, that had been just in sight, was now a dream. Tears welled in my eyes. I'd worked SO hard for this, this was MY race, I was doing it for ME. Frustration really took over and I contemplated pulling out.
As I continued to limp on, trying to run half a kilometre at a time, I spotted the Sun Newspaper bus covered in Coppafeel banners. Coppafeel is a breast cancer awareness charity, founded by Kris Hallenga, a young woman who was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer aged just 23. Kris was RAVING on top of her bus with her twin sister. That moment changed my disaster race in to something special.
I said before the race, in a multitude of interviews, that this race was for me, to prove to myself that I can do this and to satisfy my desire to be proud of myself for once. Looking at Kris dancing, waving and cheering the runners, with a huge smile one her face, I remembered why I'm putting my body through this gruelling challenge. It's not because I need to prove anything nor do I need anything to be proud of; I'm running 12 marathons to give people like Kris a chance, to find cures, to find more treatments, to prolong people's lives, in a comfortable way, to allow them to LIVE. Whilst Kris's cancer will not be cured, it WILL continue to be treated and in that time, she will not have to suffer, she can just enjoy the time she has. This wasn't about me, and will never be about me. A little bit of pain in my knee wasn't going to stop me, I was going to finish this marathon, and I was going to finish it smiling.
I powered on, setting myself small challenges to try and distract my mind. A man in a 7ft womble costume overtook me at one point, 'I can't have that' I mumbled outloud, breaking out of my walk, I sprinted past him as fast as I could singing 'The Wombles of Wimbledon' in my head as I went.
By Mile 20 I was struggling pretty badly again; 4:20 hours passed I felt pretty low and was struggling to hold back tears. I was trying to convince myself that I was over my unachieved goal but the truth is I'm still pretty sore about it now. As mile 26 appeared, tears started to well in my eyes again, the volume of people shouting 'COME ON BEXX YOU CAN DO THIS' just pushed me over the edge, a lady ran past me and grabbed my hand, dragging me along with her, as I struggled to keep my pathetic sobs in. She left me with about 600 metres to go, I crawled for a little while before picking my pace up again encouraging a man to run with me, I waved at mum and Meg as they cheered from the grand stands. The man high-fived me as we crossed the finish line.
Feeling the weight of the iconic London Marathon medal around my neck set me off again. The lady who gave it to me hugged me and congratulated me on my achievement. I was disappointed with my time but relieved to have finally finished. I collapsed in to a chair at the St Johns ambulance tent, needing some nasty blisters bandaged up and waited for hugs from my amazing support crew.
It's taken me a few days to pick myself up - worrying and beating myself up over it won't change the outcome. Whilst I cannot change the result of the 2014 London Marathon with determination and hard work I can power through the remaining eight marathons (and other races I've added to my list) and achieve an even better time result in the 2015 London Marathon - yes, I really am thinking that 13 marathons aren't enough for one little person!
This challenge isn't for me. This is for each and every one of you and every person you have ever loved who has been affected by cancer. Together, we can win.