Mum: “MLDUK have been given one spot at the London marathon. Do you want it?”
Bean: “no. Nope. No. Hell no. Not doing that marathon bollocks again”
7 months later, I found myself on a Southeastern train to Greenwich with 10,000 other runners, their kit bags and their nervous farts. I stood quietly, chewing on an oatmeal bar while my Painless Performance team mate Stuart shared the intimate details of his body-glide application. We were then shepherded off the train, through Greenwich where the drinking had already begun, and up a “hill” (let’s call it Mount Everest) to the Red Start.
Stuart and I had been tasked with getting a #TeamPainless selfie beside a VLM sign.
We found a sign with VLM on it and so ensued the funniest 5 minutes of my life featuring The Confused Man and quotes such as “yes we really want our picture taken by the female urinals” and “so what actually *is* a she-wee?”
I call this “Kneeling in pee”
We dumped our things at the lorries, Stuart re-lubed by Lube Tree and I queued in the not-terrible queues at the portaloos several times.
The smell of pre-marathon portaloos will stay with me for a long time. (It’s like a music festival but replace beer smell with deep heat and all your usual portaloo smells)
After about half an hour, Stuart and I parted ways. He was in pen 6 and I was right at the back with (literally) the Rhinos and the Jamaican sodding Bobsled team (what a fucking achievement. They were brilliant lads) in pen 9.
Tim “I’ve turned space exploration from death defying to dull” Peake started us off (which was pretty cool) and we slowly edged our way to the start. 29 minutes. TWENTY NINE MINUTES. I was FROZEN.
I listened to the two girls behind me draw up their walk-run plan which consisted of 1mile walk, 5 minute run the whole way. I spotted the 5:15 pacer about 10 miles ahead. That was the last I saw of their flag. Bugger. There goes my Garmin-battery-backup-plan.
We were funnelled through the gate as the Canadian family who live on the corner cheered us tirelessly and waved flags. And there it was: the start gantry of one of the worlds largest marathons. Goosebumps.
The first few miles were unremarkable. Some ace support and lots of high fiving kids and definitely a bloke who I then realised was probably on some kind of register somewhere. But hey. This is probably a once in lifetime event for me so I’m going to go with it!
Everything felt smooth and I quickly got into a metronomic rhythm at around 7:40/km. bang on.
Around 3 miles in, my left knee shouted at me. And then shut up and never bothered me the entire race. It was almost as though my body suddenly realised what was about to happen to it and shouted “STOP THIS MADNESS”.
Running through a-bit-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of-but-it’s-near-the-start, the music pumping out of people’s flats, the guy dj’ing and shouting runners names from his balcony (awesome) and all the happy smiley faces was just brilliant.
Soon we were over the first timing mat and I grabbed a bottle of water to sip. I hydrated well through the race. Every other water station I took a bottle, thanked a volunteer and sipped a few sips. At 10k, 20k and 30k I used water to wash down gels. I like this method.
Cutty Sark appeared after my first pee stop and that was something else. The crowd there was amazing an all through the town people were cheering and clapping. Quite an experience.
My next tick-box was Bermondsey. Mum and dad were there. Just one more 10k to go and I would see them.
I broke VLM down into 4 X 10ks. It worked very well for keeping my pace consistent. The plan, originally, was to build pace. I genuinely think I could have done that if I’d had a little more training.
1 10k down, 3 to go.
The run from Cutty to Rotherhithe and Bermondsey wasn’t terribly memorable. Most of the crowd had moved to their next spot so apart from the charity posts who shouted for everyone and the pissed locals and enthusiastic kids, there wasn’t a huge amount of support.
I was glad to get to the crowded streets of Bermondsey and then mum and dad appeared in the distance. They got a sweaty hug and a kiss and I made sure they were ok before jogging on towards half way.
Almost half way!
Running across tower bridge will stay with me forever. The crowd got bigger and louder until I turned a corner and there it was. Dodging people stopping to take selfies was the main challenge. It became an obstacle course which is just what you need half way through a marathon:
Top tip: it’s amazing what we’re part of but MOVE TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, THANKS.
After tower bridge, it was a right turn towards Canary Wharf. The crowds here were amazing and it was a chance to cheer for the runners that were almost at 23 miles. What we didn’t need, on our side of the road, was the guy on the party bus to shout, “THOSE GUYS OPPOSITE YOU LOT ARE ALMOST FINISHED. 10 MILES UNTIL YOU’RE ALMOST HOME”
What a bastard. That was the first time my head started to object. “No this is too far oh my god they all look fucked and you’re fucked already can we just jump the fence and then go get a burger and be done with this?”
No. We bloody can’t.
One foot in front of the other. Canary Wharf seemed to go on forever. Some firemen had loudspeakers blasting dance music out of their fire station. “KEEP MOVING, BEAN. YOU’RE LOOKING STRONG LOVE!” Was the reply when I thanked them for the boost.
Eventually I got to the curve that heads round to Mudchute where I was hoping mum and dad would be. And they were. Things were starting to hurt. I’d taken Ibuprofen and Paracetamol at half way but I’d yet to walk. At all. I told mum and dad I’d probably need to start walking a bit soon. But I was ok. Just sore. More hugs. More sweaty kisses and off I went.
Mile 17 “I NEED A CUDDLE”
More pee stops (15 minutes was added to my chip time due to pee queues. You men don’t know how lucky you are) and a minute of walking was all that was required to reset my sore pelvis so I could continue.
Before I knew it, 20 Miles came into view. I only had 10k (plus 2.2) left. I AM ALMOST FINISHED AND I HAVEN’T WALKED YET HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?!
The next 10k became a battle of mind over matter. It should have been easy! 10km isn’t far! But in my head it may as well have been another 26.2 miles.
My quads seized as they did during EMF2014 so a stop and stretch was required. I chatted to a young girl called Jess. I can’t remember which charity she was running for but she was emotional and sore from living with and training through an injury. She looked strong though and I hope she made it!
After being in Limehouse for what felt like FOREVER I reached 22 miles and then treated myself to to another quick walk (coach if you’re reading this is was faster than LISS pace) and began overtaking runners.
It was here that I welled up a little when the bastard party bus of earlier was playing Go Your Own Way at full pelt. My very best school chums and I absolutely love that song. So many happy memories. It felt like they’d stopped by to cheer me on. I ran along singing at the top of my lungs. I was running the bloody London marathon. For realz.
At 23 miles, I heard “GINNIE” my *actual* name. And there was my school-chum Robyn. Her bright hair and brighter smiler made my day. I’d really needed a lift at that stage. She got a sweaty hug whether she wanted one or not.
Then on to Blackfriars. I had been warned about this bit. But, disappointingly/ reassuringly there was no crying, puking or shitting. Just a woman over some loud speakers telling us we were amazing. No Somme-like experience. Just a bunch of tired folk having a walk and a bit of a word with themselves.
Coming out into the bright light of day, I clocked mum waving manically from the overpass. Brilliant. They’d made it! (On what was apparently the most horrid tube journey of their lives)
This was it. I was on the home stretch. “Where is Big Ben? I can’t see it. Must be Behind those trees. Oh it isn’t. FECK where IS it. Oh god it’s MILES away”
The Embankment was outstanding. So much support and it was basically like that until the end. As I rounded the corner past Oor Ben, I remembered to turn my cheerful grimace into a smile (thanks for the tip, D) and made sure every photographer got a smiley thumbs up.
There’s a bit after the road from Big Ben that you’re funnelled through onto Birdcage. Some army lads were lined up congratulating runners. Each of them got an enthusiastic high five. They were so lovely.
I am grateful I had sunglasses on. Birdcage walk was the first place I got choked up. I was about to finish the London marathon. I was running. I had run almost an entire marathon. On about 10 weeks of solid training. My battered, broken body and soul have had a fucking tough few weeks and months but I was about to smash this thing in the face. I was DOING it.
I was then brought out of my reverie by a bloke shuffling along in agony telling a photographer who’d shouted “CHEER UP MATE” to “FAHK ORF”. Amazing.
I passed the 800m to go sign and lengthened my stride, bringing my chin up and letting my legs stretch.
I reached 400m to go and started to feel like I may well puke.
I remembered my finishers pictures from Edinburgh. My “majestic sprint” was more of a holding-in-a-poo shuffle and my “bright smile” a twisted look of agony.
Not this time.
I shuffled Edinburgh, injured and wrecked in 5:40.16. At VLM 2016 I crossed the line in a time measured by my Garmin of 5:20.15. (Chip time 5:35. Fuck you, toilet queues) – 20 minute improvement. And no injuries.
Once I checked and revived my phone, I was utterly blown away by the support and encouragement from everyone. Not least my baby sister who went full beast mode and I don’t think anyone on Facebook anywhere in the world managed to avoid a Lissie-Update. Outstanding.
My mum and dad were the best Sherpas. They battled packed tubes with an arthritic knee and a sore ankle and provided endless hugs, kisses and high fives.
Naomi, our friend who let us crash at her stunning Highgate home looked after us lovingly and ensured that carbs and dogs were aplenty.
I could not be more proud. It was a huge experience. I smiled 90% of the time. And, most importantly, I have almost doubled my fundraising target for Lymfund.
London? You rock.