As you know, the new ‘guest blog spot’ on the RST website was kicked off last month by our friend Suzanne. I (Andy) thought I’d give blogging a go too, so here’s my first effort;
I wanted to get something down in words to try and express what an amazing and emotional day the Virgin Money London Marathon really is. I wouldn’t class myself as a runner by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve always considered myself a ‘sporty’ person and I love all those demanding sports like darts, snooker, FIFA and a very taxing round of golf but running, it just sounded boring to me ……. but …… back in 2011 I convinced myself that running the London Marathon is something that I really want to say I’ve done. Seeing all the great, sleek runners zooming by on the TV whilst watching from my couch was one thing, but seeing all the ‘non’ runners of different ages, shapes, sizes and all running for a good cause really hit a nerve. If these guys can knuckle down, train and help a charity close to their hearts…then so could I. I ran the 2012 VLM and after swearing I’d never do it again, I ran the 2013 one too. I’m doing it again in 2015 and this time I won’t be overtaken by a pantomime camel! Simply put, it’s an amazing experience like no other. The crowd make you feel the closest thing to a ‘pro sportsperson’ you’re ever going to feel.
This year I was excited to go along in a spectator capacity, as I’d never actually watched the marathon live before. I was excited because I was going to watch 10 special people who’d signed up to run for TeamRST. A blend of youth and experience, runners and non-runners, our team all had one thing in common… a big heart!
For months I’d been exchanging emails with the team; hoping I was being helpful but in reality I was probably just annoying everyone with my “pearls of wisdom”! Either way, everyone had agreed to meet me at 9am on the day of the event for a team photo before they made their way to the start line and guess what…..they all turned up! We met at the top of the avenue in Greenwich Park, which was just a sea of people strolling towards the start line. Myself and my travelling partners (Andy G and Keith) stopped for a sausage sandwich en-route. The fuel of champions did leave me feeling a little guilty as all the runners walked passed watching us stuffing our faces (they’d no doubt had something a little healthier for breakfast), but I made sure all traces of ketchup had gone from my face before meeting with the team.
All dressed in the RST orange and black, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel proud and a sense of achievement watching these guys pose for pictures – knowing they were running in the biggest marathon in the world representing us. It seems only yesterday that RST was an idea I had whilst Marrianne was fighting for her life in Sheffield spinal unit and now I was watching 10 people head off to help us raise money for a charity we had started. For a second I wished I was running but I think I felt more excited seeing others running for us then I did when I was running. Although we had runners last year, who were amazing and raised a fortune, I think I was too worried about my own run last time to fully take in the excitement of the others (and we didn’t get a chance to meet before the race last year). This time I could wish everyone luck, wave them off and look forward to watching them fly past our cheering points.
A couple of the team looked nervous, a couple were focussed whilst others laughed and joked. Everyone was itching to get in to the start area, get rid of their bags and make sure they were ready. So we took a couple of snaps, wished everyone luck, and let them head off to the start area.
We made our way to the start line which was 3 or 4 people deep and tried to watch the guys shuffle across the line. We managed to spot a couple of the team in the ocean of runners, we shouted some words of encouragement in their direction and then headed for the DLR to make our way to mile 13.
Our supporters always join forces with our friends at Spinal Research and cheer at mile 13 and mile 22. Tower Bridge is approximately where the 13 mile mark is and our first cheering spot is 200 meters after Tower Bridge. As a runner, my favourite part of the race was crossing Tower Bridge; it’s so packed with supporters all cheering your name and really is a ‘goose bump’ moment. Add to that the fact that you are going in to the second part of the race and you know that all your friends and family are waiting for you just after the bridge and it really is a ‘high’ of the day. I was keen to get to mile 13 asap to cheer our guys and the SR team as they came past. I wanted to make sure we were cheering as loud as we could when they came past because I knew what a boost it gave me.
By the time we reached the mile 13 cheering spot it was packed! 3 or 4 people deep and people as far as the eye can see. Happily some of the TeamRST cheerers had been there with Spinal Research since 8.30am, so our banners were up and I could see lots of TeamRST t-shirts everywhere. (Again always a sense of pride when I see people I don’t know standing there cheering in their RST tops)
Across the road is the 22 mile spot (the race double backs on itself) and I could see the second contingent of RST cheerers. They were all basking in the sun while we were chilly in the shade, but we were all beady eyed and waiting for our runners to come past. It’s surprisingly exhausting trying to spot a runner amongst the thousands of people zooming past, especially when millions of other charities appear to have the same coloured vest as you! (I say millions, it was probably 3 or 4 other charities but you know what I mean!)
Across the road amongst the RST crowd cheering I could also spot a little head just above our banners – Marrianne! Hats off to Marrianne. London is a tricky place for a wheelchair on a normal day but on marathon day with 1000’s of people, roads closed, paths closed, tubes with no lifts etc…it’s a challenge on a par with doing the marathon!! Trying to cheer when your eye line is at everyone’s waist height and everyone is standing in front of you must be so frustrating!! But fair play to Marrianne, she cheered every runner we had and didn’t leave until they’d all been past.
Anyway…back to 13 miles. Brian was our first runner past. In the zone, he gave us a wave as he cruised past on his way to a sub 3.30hr time. Impressive! It was so exciting seeing one of your team come past. In front of me at the cheering point was Rob and his two sons Charlie and Harry. They were waiting for Mum/Mel to come past. Busy tracking Mel on their I phones the excitement built as Mel got closer…. and there she was, totally oblivious to us, caught in the flow of runners. “MEL” everybody screamed and just when we thought she’d past, Mel spotted us and double backed to embrace her husband and sons before her smiling face bobbed off into the crowd and headed for Canary Wharf, leaving behind her a very proud and teary eyed family. We managed to spot all of our 10 runners come past; some stopping for a hug, some “high fiving” and some just in the zone but all filling us with a massive sense of pride.
The last, but probably most inspiring, of our runners to come past was Dr Julie Durcan. A self-confessed non-runner, in a few months Julie has turned herself from a racing novice to a marathon finisher. Julie’s partner Tom is injured at the same level as Marrianne and is a stable mate of Marrianne’s at Prime Physio. Inspired by Tom and all the dedication he has shown to his rehab, Julie has always been very open with the affectionate feelings she has for RST and the positive impact we had during the early days of Tom’s injury. Seeing Julie come past was such a great feeling. Knowing we have helped Julie and Tom in the past and now Julie, Tom and their family were here supporting us and helping us to help others. It’s exactly how’d I’d pictured RST to be; ultimately we all want to see progress for people with Spinal Cord Injury and here we all were doing are small bit to help.
Wow… I’m really waffling and getting into this blogging business. I’d better cut it down, otherwise you’ll be here reading all day!!
Once Julie had come past 13 miles we all crossed under the road to join the others at 22 miles and waited for everyone to come by for a second time. I remember that 22 miles was a really tough part of the race, I was certainly flagging at this point so the crowd were massively important. I made sure we were shouting for as many people as we could as they came past – high fiveing too. Some people would acknowledge you calling their name with a nod or a wink, some were just in the zone while others looked like they’d heard ‘nearly there’ and ‘you can do it’ more than enough times already… sheer exhaustion gave them a look on their face as if to say “it’s alright for you standing there watching, telling me to keep going”!. “Looking good’ was a particular favourite shout of mine, particular to some of the elaborately dressed folk who looked great at the start line but were perhaps now regretting the outrageous outfits they were donning.
I missed Brian, Simon and Sath and the 22 mile mark. These guys had whipped past heading for some great times. Juliet cruised past, looking comfortable and giving us a wave. (I won’t mention the little side bet Andy G from Prime Physio had ‘hoodwinked’ Juliet and I into but it involved finishing times and Juliet smashing me!! Hopefully she won’t read this and won’t recall the forfeit!!) Our Britain and Ireland’s next top model star Charlotte was next, dishing out the high fives. Our two Scottsmen Dave and Ewen actually looked like they were enjoying it as they came past, again dishing out the high fives. Gareth stopped to hug his wife and little girl as he came past. Gareth had been struggling with an injury prior to the race but he was determined to finish no matter what and finish he did. I think Gareth’s spirit and determination really does sum up the day.
Dr Durcan nearly missed us all at 22 miles, in a slight daze she did eventually hear the cries and come over for a teary hug with her family. Safe to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, but it certainly gave Dr D the boost she needed and she headed off for the last stretch of the race.
Post Race Reception
Not all Charities have a reception for their runners but I’m delighted to say that Spinal Research do and RST and all our runners and supporters are always welcome. (Thanks Spinal Research) It’s a great way for all the runners, friends and family to get together after the race and enjoy a well deserved drink. There is also a team of masseuse on hand to give all the runners a rub down.
It’s a great atmosphere, friends and family beaming with pride while runners are glad it’s all over but also a little ‘sad’ it’s all over and caught in the ‘shall I do it again?’ moment.
For me, well it was an amazing day. I felt very proud and protective of our team of dedicated runners. They all did an amazing job with running, representing RST, helping to raise the profile of RST, raising money and helping us and the fight to reverse paralysis via our great friends Spinal Research. As I write this blog, the total TeamRST 2014 has raised is approximately £27,000.00. Wow!!
I can’t wait to get my running shoes on again for next year. (and to beat your time Juliet haha…No pressure!!) Anyone fancy joining me and TeamRST 2015?? Never think you can’t do it…because you can!! See you at the start line.