The training is done. I couldn’t eat another bowl of pasta. I’ve answered question after question about Vaseline, nipples and blisters. I’ve put in the miles at Monday night running club; faster shorter runs on Saturdays; up hills and down dales on Sundays; and long rainy runs on the windy Norfolk coast.
It’s the London Marathon this Sunday, and I’m ready.
I’ve had 71 people so far support me by putting their hands in their pocket for the Pattenmakers Charitable Foundation, and have less than £900 of my £3,000 target to go. If you wanted to sponsor me but haven’t got round to it, please, please do it now if you can: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/LookSharpInLycra.
The focus for months has been on me, my training, my body. I’m very much aware how supportive my wife Val has been, how much she’s had to put up with, and how much I’ve been writing and talking about ‘me’ and ‘I’ for months.
Yet all around, there are reminders that the Virgin London Marathon is about anything but me. The 35,000 other people who all have their own story, their own motive for taking on this challenge, their charity that means so much to them.
For Paula Radcliffe, it will be a hugely emotional day as she seeks to overcome injury, the last time she runs the event for which she became famous and for which she still holds the women’s world record by some three minutes.
For David Weir, aka the Weirwolf, already a six-time winner in London, it could be a record seventh victory, one he says would mean more to him than winning Olympic gold at Rio 2016.
Visiting DMRC Headley Court was a great way to direct my focus outwards in these last few weeks, and a great way to see first hand one of the causes that will benefit from the funds raised through the Pattenmakers Charitable Foundation: wounded soldiers, some of whom have endured life-changing, if not life-threatening, injuries; all of whom need our support to be rehabilitated back into what passes for ‘normal’ life.
Val’s been a tonic as ever, ribbing me yesterday with her surprise t-shirt – doesn’t look like she’s going to let me back down on Iron Man South Africa 2016, does it?
That just leaves the one question I’ve been asked that I haven’t answered, and it’s the question I’ve been asked more times than any other: ‘Why are you doing it?’ That’s such an easy question to answer that it always amazes me why anyone would need to ask! But ask they do.
And I imagine when they ask that question they’re probably thinking about standing on the start line with 26.2 miles of road ahead of them on a wet / windy / rainy / hot day. They don’t necessarily think about what I gained from what it took to get to that starting line in the first place, and what I will gain by finishing.
So here’s why I’m doing it:
- Because to get here, I met a wonderful bunch of people at our start-up local running club, who’ve been inspirational, great fun, and great friends to have made. I’d never have met them without the marathon, our friendship will last long after it’s over.
- Because to get here, through them I learned how important it is to do the basic things right, to avoid injury, and to help me enjoy my health long into the future, not just for 26.2 miles. Who ever learned how to run, I hadn’t realised how important it was.
- Because to get here, I’ve somehow ended up with a swimming coach (the irrepressible Tanya Bartram!) who’s going to help me get where I’m going next. We didn’t plan it, a door opened, but it wouldn’t have opened without the marathon.
- Because when I’m older, I won’t be physically fit enough to run a marathon, and I don’t want to live my life regretting what I didn’t do (I’m trying to get my ‘bucket list’ in relatively early!).
- Because by raising money, I’ve not only helped a good cause; I’ve also got back in touch with or heard from people who’ve been on a different journey from me (former workmates, people I don’t see very often), some of them who’ve had challenging times of their own, and I’m genuinely pleased for all of them at how things have gone for them. My life has been far richer for these insights and reconnections.
- But most of all, because when I take something on that seems much bigger than I am, and I prove I’m equal to it, then that makes me powerful – not in an arrogant way, in fact in a humbling way – because it becomes self-affirming – it gives you a quiet confidence that you can take things on and win. (And if I’m not equal to it, then I learn from it and I come back and try again.)
Seems obvious to me, anyway.
Like everyone does, I started this particular journey wanting simply to be able to finish a long race, but eventually you end up wanting to hit a target time. Mine is five hours – ambitious given that I’m probably on track for 5:15 if things go as planned (6:00 if they don’t!), but I’m going to give it my best shot.
If you want to track me on the way round (I’m runner No. 44721), you can do it in two ways. If you have an iPhone, you can download a new app that lets you track runners live (there’s no Android version yet). If you don’t have an iPhone, you can use the live tracker that appears on the Virgin London Marathon website on the day of the race. It’s a bit more limited I think: whereas the iPhone app gives you a minute-by-minute position, the website app only shows when runners reach a limited number of points along the route (5k, half way etc.).
Thanks to Cat Cameron, one of those running friends above, I’m off to read some final words of advice and inspiration.
As I seem to have found myself saying quite a lot in recent years: I’ve loved every minute – especially the ones I’ve hated! On Sunday, it’s time to take that hate out on the tarmac of London’s streets.