As I lined up at the Greenwich Park start, whether or not I'd finish this marathon - or even get to the first mile - was a big question mark. My training went completely off course when shin splints set in about six weeks ago. To keep up my fitness I joined a gym and hit the cardio machines, but I was well aware this wasn't conditioning e right muscles. I was confident about my heart and lungs, but not my legs.
I started off running with my friends Anita, Lyndsey, and Lizzie. They thoughtfully insisted on sticking with me for the first mile but I yelled: "Go, go, go." I knew I had to keep to my pace if I had any hope in this thing. Miraculously, by mile three my shin was holding up, so I was able to turn my attention to the fantastic crowds. They were a bit polite at the beginning, so being the loud American that I am I took to cheering them on instead. I would run to them, yell, and wave my hands to get them going. It worked.
By this point I was running 10-and-a-half-minute miles and was feeling good. So good I was clearly off my strategy, which was to run a mile and walk a minute. But at least I was smart enough to put my other plan into action: a jelly baby every other mile. I carried my 13 little captives in a wrist wallet. I also carried some ibuprofen which I took two hours into the race. Go ahead, call me a drug cheat.
During the first few miles I was being passed by some interesting characters, including a guy in a Victorian dress, curly wig, and parasol who kept squeaking "I'm a lady, I'm a lady!" Thankfully, I did pass the man in the diving suit as well as the caterpillar.
At about mile eight I decided to start on the walking breaks, just short one-minute walks, usually through the water stations. Then I would start up again, just concentrating on the next mile. I couldn't think of the entire 26.2-mile journey, it was one mile at a time. But what really got me going was the support. My favourite cheer was from some blond guy: "C'mon, Jess, make me PROUD!!!!!"
Having friends to look forward to at different points was priceless. I was assigned to forum support team seven, and as mile 17 approached I knew I'd get a huge cheer. I came up to them and was greeted with hugs, dark chocolate Mars Bars (thank you!) and a photo opportunity. They were fantastic.
At mile 20 I thought I was on course for a sub-5 hour finish. But little can prepare you for that last 10K. You start feeling different degrees of pain, and all I could think of was that this is the closest thing I’ve done to childbirth (I might have to eat those words someday). It just hurts everywhere and you want it over even though there’s a nice prize at the end.
At mile 22 I felt my left calf cramp up and stopped at first aid for a quick massage. It was painful, but it did the trick. I knew I had just over four miles to go and well, I’ve run that before.
But I’d never run when my feet felt like bricks and even my biceps hurt from keeping my arms up. I knew I had one more set of supporters at Big Ben just after mile 25. When I saw the buildings come into view, that was it. The tears came. I gave up the walking breaks and resorted to sheer willpower and an incredible hunger for the finish. I came down to Parliament and kept turning my head left and right looking for my friends. Then I heard “JESSSSSS!!!!” – I looked right and there they were: Danielle, Suzie, and Lisa. All of a sudden I got this surge of power in my legs and ran to them, gave them all a hug, and kept going. I hadn’t said a word to them. It’s very strange, how your emotions change from mile to mile. At that mile I was speechless.
Then came mile 26, and that 0.2 felt like a whole other mile. I kept looking for the finish clock, but the course just kept turning. Finally, finally, we arrived at the Mall. I shifted my sunglasses over the top of my head, threw my arms up, and crossed. The timing chip was cut off, the medal was put around my neck, and my picture was taken. I was able to stop the tears just enough.
And today? My usual 10-minute walk to the tube took 25 painstaking minutes. But hey, I’m a marathoner.