Digested read. Phew, that was tough…. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat though! 🙂
To be fair, even the most elite of athletes is likely to pick up a few niggles after a marathon. Kenenisa Bekele himself got cramped up with a hamstring injury as a result of a shoe wardrobe malfunction. Not sure his Nike sponsors will be high fiving him for his feedback on their new shoes though, but it shows, it can happen to the best of us. In the circumstances, I’m grateful that I can report that I myself have got off relatively lightly in terms of physical meltdown post the London Marathon. I’ve really just got a mightily stiff neck from all that craning over the barriers to try to espy Sheffield runners from amongst the tide of participants whilst spectating at yesterday’s London marathon. It was worth it, but it was quite a physical challenge. Cheering on all those 40,000 runners is tough you know, but worth it. Spectating a marathon is not for the faint-hearted Just saying.
The thing is, the extraordinary thing is, that in inverse proportion to the physical challenge of running is the emotional high! The more broken you feel, the more glorious the endorphins that come later. Or would that make it direct proportion. Worse makes you feel better, but then both are high. Whatever… Yeah, yeah, I get that those who actually ran it might have had a tad trickier time of it on the physical side the next day, but then again they also get all that positive affirmation of 26.2 mile long of people cheering their name. It’s pretty much exactly the same as a spectator I reckon. I strained and shouted and clapped for eight hours solid, of course it took a physical toll! But you know what? It was wondrous. Frankly, if you are ever feeling down about all that is wrong in the world, go watch a marathon – or a parkrun if you are pushed for time. It will restore your faith that there is good in the world.
I’m not going to lie though. I found it preeeeeeeeeetty cool this morning. I spent some of it walking through London, ‘the morning after the day before’ exchanging knowing empathetic looks and nods with ‘fellow athletes’ with whom I’d shared the big day. You can recognise each other immediately. The shuffling gate is one clue and the wearing of a completers finish medal another. Or, as in my case, the ostentatious-though-trying-to-look-nonchalant carrying of an Official Marathon Kit Bag of the type you ONLY get as a competitor. You know, the one you are issued with to all you gear in at the start, which gets magically transported to the finish to greet you at the other end. I actually picked this up for a friend, so I suppose strictly speaking not really actually mind. But surely gaining a bit of glory by association is acceptable? If I was a member of Swansea Harriers I’d have made a point of going for a run in my club vest today for similar reasons. Point is, my Smiley buddy is off away today, so I said I’d take some bits and bobs back to Sheffield for her so she doesn’t have to drag it all off on holiday with her.
Fortuitously, (and I didn’t plan this) she spontaneously put all these said ‘bits and bobs’ into her marathon branded see-through bag. You know, the one only competitors get? Oh my gawd. How excited was I collecting it from the concierge at her hotel, and deciding I’d walk back to mine the long way round, just because. Well, needed a bit of a walk before the long coach journey home, it was just a happy side-effect that the good people on the streets of London assumed it was my own. Anyway, I can report that hoiking it around London was actually really good fun. I felt like a minor celebrity, maybe the same experience you have if you wear a back stage pass at a big concert or something. People might not actually recognise you, but they know you have been hobnobbing with the great, and should not therefore be overlooked. Thus my running comrades would recognise me by this acquisition uniquely available only to the marathon participants themselves. Smiles of mutual recognition and congratulation were therefore freely exchanged. I didn’t feel the need to explain to everyone I met that it wasn’t actually my bag, why spoil a beautiful moment? Rather I just enjoyed that feeling of being part of an amazing club. We had shared something extraordinary. We had been spat out the other side, changed, renewed (in a broken sort of way) we had done the seemingly impossible. Now we could do ANYTHING!
Bit of a shame my Smiley buddy missed out on this opportunity for continuing glory, but then again, I’m guessing she did get to wear a London Finishers’ medal for her onward journey. Hopefully it will have got her an upgrade for the next leg of her travels. If I had a London medal I’d wear it for weeks. I met one Shelter runner at the post race reception. He wasn’t wearing his because he’d got really bad sunburn on his neck going round and was in agony. That’s the kind of running injury it’s easy to forget to prepare for. Personally, I think I’d have found a way to wear the medal anyway. At the very least, I’d have found some flunky to follow me round, carrying my medal on a velvet cushion for me. That might work… it would have to be a red velvet cushion to match Shelter’s branding, but possibly would need to choose a supplier wisely. I don’t think ‘The Freemasons Collection’ would be quite the way to go.
So back to exchanging knowing greetings. The thing about the London Marathon is that it really is astonishing to see the variety of people who participate in the event and do well. Whilst watching, you get to see the most unlikely looking physiques breeze by quite comfortably, whilst more conventionally looking athletes can crash and burn before your very eyes. You must assume nothing. Thus, even if only a couple of days before it would have seemed unlikely to the point of impossible that someone who looked liked me could start the London Marathon let alone complete it; anyone watching or taking part in the Sunday spectacular will now know otherwise. Why not someone like me? An extraordinary number of others defied expectations yesterday after all! So it was, that strolling through London, marathon kit bag at my side, I perfected the art of sharing half smiles with the walking wounded. Skipping on by some pretty formidable looking but temporarily hobbling athletes who must have been inwardly wondering how on earth could someone like me look so fresh the next day, whilst they themselves had nothing left to give. I know. A complete mystery. Some mystery in life is a good thing, let’s not disabuse them of this belief. And for me, practise, maybe I’ll be swapping knowing glances for real a year from now.
You might (or might not) be pleased to know that the London Marathon Experience extends beyond the day of the event, not only because of the aches and pains, indeed mobility limiting serious injuries, but because of the rush of ‘human interest’ stories and obsessional posting of images and experiences of the day on-line. That’s fair enough. We all know the first rule of Marathon club I think?
So, for the record, the following day I think there were four main stories doing the rounds.
- The Heart warming one – a finishing runner sacrifices own time to help fellow athlete in Brownlee Brother moment
- The inspirational moment – a club runner is first Brit over the line
- The taboo-busting celebration – in the form of the Head’s Together running team getting people talking about mental health
- The Welsh Tourist Board campaign ‘Visit Wales, land of the Swansea Harriers’ in the light of the above
So first things first. The feel-good viral moment was when a Swansea Harrier runner, sacrificed his own run time in the final few metres to get a fellow runner over the line.
Yep, it was pretty emotional – plus it’s a parkrun run director helping with the heave-ho to the finish for the record.
This action wasn’t without its critics though. There is some talk of the Tories now cancelling next year’s marathon after the chilling sight of seeing a strong runner helping a weak one who really should just learn to pull his socks up and fend for himself. I will admit, the footage does bring a tear to my eye 200 metres from the finish, with the roar of the crowd willing them over the line. However, there were countless examples of this on the course. People jumping the barriers at the 40km mark to walk or run a bit with their emotional runners. However, I also saw a couple of absolutely broken runners, who were practically been carried round by their team mates. They got an extra cheer. It must feel a very, very long way round indeed at this point, but these guys presumably started together, they’d finish together. That’s inspirational too. It’s an emotional roller-coaster out there I tell you. Take tissues.
So to the second wave of viral stories. It was, astonishingly, also a Swansea Harrier who also took the running punters by surprise as the unexpected first Brit over the line. Or, as I saw it ‘a normal one‘ as I shouted out when I spotted him way ahead of the mass starters at the 40 km mark yesterday. An extraordinary achievement. What’s more, as if that claim to fame wasn’t enough, I understand from stalking their Facebook page that he is also the first Swansea Harrier to make it to LadBible. Gosh. He should retire from running now, nothing will ever top that.
Other running clubs are available, and are equally awesome. Well, maybe in somewhat more understated ways.
Thirdly, this year’s marathon became known as the mental health marathon, with the Head’s Together organisation as the nominated charity for the event, and the ‘young royals’ on board as mental health champions. Generally I’m cynical about both the royals and charities. Not that charities don’t do excellent work, but because I worry that responsibility for providing support gets relegated to charities when it should be a core public responsibility, if you rely on charities to do this work, then those in need are at the mercy of whether they are a popular and/or ‘worthy’ cause. A return to Victorian notions of the deserving and undeserving poor makes me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the dialogue around mental health for this event has been really fantastic. The two associated BBC documentaries ‘mind over marathon‘ following a group of ten first time marathoners who were training as part of their strategy for dealing with various mental health challenges were genuinely moving. Here’s hoping the legacy continues.
Fourthly – the Visit Wales campaign by the Welsh Tourist Board. I made that one up. But surely only a matter of time?
One fun activity for me after the marathon was going through my own photos and trying to pass them on to those pictured where possible. This is a great procrastination activity, and also an abject lesson in the power of the internet. It’s alarming easy to track people down if you can be bothered. Note to self and my reader, we both need to check our social media privacy settings. Anyway, although my photos aren’t especially great alas, I figured everyone likes to see pictures of themselves running don’t they? Besides, a blurry freebie than paying £25 a throw for the official ones. Question. Why are so many official photos taken as close-ups? You could be running anywhere, personally I prefer the ones with a bit of crowd and sky line. Then again close ups don’t favour me. I’d feel differently if I was all streamlined and graceful when running. I’m not.
Turns out, the reactions from recipients of these unsolicited blessings I was so freely bestowing were mixed. The WaterAid photographer was genuinely chuffed I’d got blurry action shots of him running his own marathon as he ducked and dived trying to photograph the actual charity runners. Steel City Strider Runners turned out not to be unconditionally euphoric at being snapped potentially in their darkest of moments. Yep, maybe I should have thought of that. However, on the plus side, I learned that even though barely a runner acknowledged my shouts all day (seriously focused lot, Sheffield runners) turns out they did hear some of the screams of support and they did help sometimes ebbing morale. Apparently it was good to hear a ‘Go Smiley‘ or ‘Go Strider‘ shout and know that someone, somewhere in that mass of people was cheering you and you alone. It was not just a random vegetable or guy in speedos that had caught their eye. I didn’t like to explain that I could see the temptation where the miscellaneous plant foods were concerned. Some of them were pretty enticing… How’s this for running eye candy?
I rest my case.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath, the inspirational stories keep on coming. Personally, I thought the best advice given to these runners was by the trainer who said something along the lines of ‘whatever that road throws at you, whatever dark place you end up in, you’ve encountered worse and come through’. Worth remembering, for those of use who have battled with mental health issues of our own.
Hard to know what the runners must be feeling, in the immediate aftermath, and the following days. Probably a pick’n’mix of emotions to be fair:
I did say it was an emotional and physical roller coaster. Everyone does. Entering for a ballot or charity place for a marathon is understandable, but definitely contributory negligence on the part of any event participant. You can’t say nobody warned you.
Oh, and as for photos? They are everywhere, but the official ones are searchable for 2017 London Marathon here. I prefer the more informal ones that keep popping up…
The key point though is this. A record-breaking number of participants, 39,487 runners crossed the finish line at the London Marathon 2017. That’s impressive. That’s a lot of people. Who else is going to be making up the numbers same time next year? For my part, time I dug out those trainers. After this weekend’s trials, I think I’ll start with a gentle recovery run… It’s going to be a long haul. Just getting to the start will feel like victory.