Don’t Stop Me Now, I’m Having Such A Good Time (I’m having a ball) at the London Marathon
I have no idea if I will be able to run the full 26 miles and 385 yards. The most I have done in my training is 18 miles; after that I shall be entering the Great Unknown. Have I eaten enough carbohydrates? Will my body cope with the stress of long-distance running? Will I hit the dreaded runners’ wall and collapse? Will I finish within 4 hours – the goal I have set myself? These are some of my thoughts as I stand close to the starting point of the hugely respected and much-loved event that is the London Marathon 2013.
While waiting for the race to begin, I find myself gravitationally pulled towards a secure base, as a way of coping with the demon doubts. Security for me is a wooden hut with benches running along all four of its sides. Sitting on these benches are predominantly the old timers, sunning themselves as they wait patiently for these final fifteen minutes to pass before the start of the Marathon. Like at a saloon, the older guys are sitting and rested, exchanging the odd story about previous marathons they have run. They remind me of hardy and toughened sheriffs of a frontier town. They have seen and experienced dozens of marathons between them and they knew how to prepare themselves. There is an air of quiet calm, the men chewing on the roots of what is to come, contemplating a distance that has to be travelled both mentally and physically.
With five minutes to go before the race begins, I enter the starting zone. After a minute’s silence to mark the horrific bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon a few days before, we set off. We stampede through the streets of London. No traffic: we were free to run riot and party on down. And boy, do Londoners know how to throw a Marathon party! ‘Welcome to Woolwich,’ a DJ cries out through the sound system he has set up outside his local pub, the theme music from Rocky playing in the background. There are brass bands and steel bands a-playing, and at one stage, as we run beneath a concrete bridge, it feels like we runners are the music, the maracas reverberating sound at 360 degrees. Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen makes me speed up; Benny Hill’s theme tune makes me laugh out loud. So as well as energy gels and drinks, sweets and water, we runners are running on emotional and psychological fuel.
My dad told me not to run any marathons. At home my dad has an article about how running is bad for your joints. My mum doesn’t like me doing anything really, because for her the world is a scary place. Understandable, I suppose, since my parents come from war zones. So, somewhere between my dad’s depression and my mum’s anxiety, I was created. I ran the London Marathon for me, for I needed proof that I am more than just the product of depression and anxiety. I am resilient, strong and self-compassionate. Having overtaken Runners World pacers and a guy I nicknamed Robocop for his amazingly steady and assured pace, his strong and upright torso, his dark sunglasses and black leather belt carrying water and other essentials, I could believe in myself. This was my emotional and psychological fuel.
Other runners at the London Marathon were propelled forward by bereavement, illness, loss, even change – I witnessed that from the running shirts they wore bearing the logos of various charities – action against leukaemia and other cancers, hospice care, mental health support, suicide prevention, action to prevent child cruelty, the list went on and on. This crowd of people taking part in the Marathon in central London was not engaged in any form of political protest, but they were there to express their existential dissent through the art of running! People ran with their own personal stories and sets of experiences; running can be a marvellous act of defiance, resistance even. Running is about embracing life and surpassing your own expectations, regardless of any pain you may be experiencing. There is no rationale behind running a marathon, and yet it is inherently meaningful to those who take part. We are rebelling, having fun in a troubled world. I high-fived the children who lined the route cheering us on. I want to say to the parents whose 8 year old son was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing, please, please, do not feel guilty. Your son was doing that day what hundreds and thousands of children do – they stand as close as they can to the Marathoners, smiling and waving them on. Children have such amazingly open hearts.
At mile 22 my training kicked in. Running past exhausted people who were walking or lying down because they could not continue, I knew at this stage that I had enough in me to get to the finish line. I began counting from 1 to 10 over and over again, even shouting it out loud at times. This helped me to stay focussed and keep my pace up. Four miles later and the finish line was irrelevant to me now. As I approached the end, I knew I could continue past it; I was ready to go on and on, and the steward even had to tell me to stop running as I crossed the white line. Tears were in my eyes, for at that moment I realised that I had become a MARATHONER! The 3 hours and 50 minutes journey had transformed me and how I viewed myself. An inner calm took hold. There was no triumphalism or competitiveness, no jealousy that other people had finished before me. I was simply a Marathon Runner, and I felt as though I had returned from a long meditative retreat. Interestingly, beyond the finishing line I felt no connection with the spectators. Unlike during the marathon itself, when the crowds were part of the carnival, after the finish line the crowds were mere onlookers and I had entered a different bio-physical realm. It did not matter to me that I was covered in sweat and grime, that my hair was a mess and that I had no make-up on, and it did not matter to me what the spectators thought about that either. There was nothing and nobody stopping me now, for the London Marathon had made me into a supersonic woman!