LIKE an oasis in the desert, the “400m to go” sign appeared in the distance, and my legs, aching with fatigue, propelled me towards the finish line of the 2014 Brighton Marathon.
Then, after five months of training, 11 physiotherapist appointments, dozens of High-5 energy gels and hundreds of miles, it was over.
I walked, nay, hobbled, towards the volunteers handing out medals, one of whom hung mine around my neck, and stumbled towards a grassy verge where I lay down on my back and stared at the clear white sky, consumed by 26.2 miles of sheer exhaustion.
About 30 seconds later, a worried paramedic appeared in my line of sight. Thinking, perhaps with good reason, that I had died and woken up in heaven, I was slightly taken aback, but managed to inform her that I was not about to have a heart attack.
Despite the pain, and a temporary inability to stand on my own two feet, it was undoubtedly one of the best days of my life. Hearing crowds of complete strangers shout your name is an experience I would recommend to everyone.
Not for the first time, but certainly one of few occasions on which I have been grateful for a miscalculation, the weather forecasters got it wrong, and the constant, heavy rain they predicted did not materialise. In fact, for the most part, it was rather pleasant.
While training for the marathon, I reached the heady heights of 21.3 miles, which I believed to be “roughly” the distance I would be running on Sunday April 6, and therefore more than enough preparation for the challenge ahead.
How wrong I was. Although I cannot recommend that those following a 12 or 16-week training plan go beyond my practice peak, it should be said that there is a world of difference between a slow, gentle, three-hour jog and an all-or-nothing marathon dash.
After Paula Radcliffe, who deserves far more credit than she is given for her incredible marathon personal best of 2:15:25, had set 9,000 runners loose just outside Preston Park, I tried not to lose myself in the excitement of the first mile and stay focused.
Besides my burning resentment at being overtaken by a man in a giant banana costume, I am still smiling in the knowledge that thousands of runners have raised money for hundreds of amazing charities
Recording a languid 9:00 for the first mile, largely due to the enormous congestion ahead, I settled into what I thought was a modest pace and eventually joined the never-ending road to Ovingdean, whereupon we turned round and came back.
Edging very slowly towards my desired per-mile pace of 7:59, I reached the halfway point feeling, as GoldenEye computer geek Boris Grishenko famously declared before he was quite comprehensively killed: “Invincible!”
Then it happened. My bloody knees, as they must always be referred to from now on, decided they didn’t fancy running 26.2 miles after all, and started causing trouble just after I had been cheered and buoyed by my wonderful girlfriend and amazing family.
I knew at this point that the rest of the marathon would be taking place as much in my head as my legs. As I finally returned to the point where my supporters stood, at the 18-mile mark, I gestured towards my right knee to tell them my race was ruined.
However, for all my pessimism, I was never going to give up. As I mentioned when slightly drunk back in January, I would cross that damned finishing line even if both my legs were broken.
So, given this quite dangerous determination, I soldiered on, ignoring the ever-growing urge to stop, slow down, take a little rest, just stretch a bit, and kept going. This was when I saw the best and worst of marathon running in a single moment.
A man ahead of me, probably not that much older than myself, suddenly collapsed. As he fell, about five or six other people grabbed him, and gently carried him to the side of the road, checking he was okay, before sprinting ahead for a medical volunteer.
We would all like to think that people in the street, rushing to get trains or buses, would stop and help someone if they fell, or were suddenly taken ill, but I am not so sure. Had he not been surrounded, I would have been compelled to stop and help too.
The only problem is, I don’t think I could have started running again.
While I was standing in the starting corral, I asked for tips from those around me. One man, clearly a Brighton Marathon veteran, told me to take an energy gel before starting the loop around Shoreham Power Station, and I am glad I followed his advice.
As my per-mile time tumbled, from a peak of 8:06 at around 14 miles, I resolved to run harder, and try to hold back the tide, on a part of the course where spectators were at a minimum and the flesh was very weak indeed.
Finally, we emerged onto the esplanade, flanked by huge crowds on both sides, and I knew I was close, even with more than three miles to go. I ploughed on, my target of 3:29:59 slipping away, until I passed the entrance to Brighton Pier.
It was not a sprint, in the traditional sense, particularly not by my standards. But with legs like iron girders, I ran as fast as I could, ignoring pre-race advice not to sprint to the finish line, determined to get home in less than 3:38:00.
Which I did.
For a first marathon, I am proud to say that I got round in 3:37:16, but in the grand scheme of things, this did not matter at all.
Thanks to the generosity of my friends, colleagues and family, Alzheimer’s Society, a charity and a cause that is chronically under-funded and only now starting to be taken notice of by the public at large, will be receiving £1,150.
The sum itself, like my joy at beating my initial 4:00:00 target, is irrelevant. If that money goes towards making the life of someone with Alzheimer’s disease better, even for a second, then it is worth every penny.
Hearing my mum say, after I finished, how proud she was of me, and that she knew I would never give up, was music to my ears, because she kept me going when the going got tough. I hope she knows I was running for her.
For anyone that ever doubts the human race, and we all do, we had a man dressed as a telephone, another in a giant shoe outfit, several bears, a tiger, and burly lads in pink tutus, making complete idiots of themselves to help complete strangers.
Besides my burning resentment at being overtaken by a man in a giant banana costume just a mile and a half from the finish, I am still smiling in the knowledge that thousands of runners have raised money for hundreds of amazing causes and charities.
Was it all worth it? Yeah, I’d say so.
Help me double my fundraising target! Click here to visit my JustGiving page and donate to Alzheimer’s Society.
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