What an amazing day yesterday was. I know this because not only do I have an awesome finisher’s medal in my possession, but my legs are screaming. That’s a sign of a good race.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I woke up at 6am, got dressed and packed my “kit” bag. My husband and I had breakfast in the hotel with all the other marathon runners. I was told by my good friend Martin (who ran this previously) that the coolest thing about the day is that there are marathoners everywhere and you meet so many awesome people. He was right. After breakfast, I walked to the tube station with one of the men I met and he helped me get on the right train to the start. Unfortunately, transport got their wires crossed. Whereas everyone who was in the “Red Start” needed to get off at Greenwich, the train actually took hundreds of us to Blackheath. So we were crammed like sardines on a train, it’s hot, all of us nervous and then to find out that we have to walk almost 2 miles to the start. Luckily I had plenty of time.
The runner’s village was massive. The Red Start was full of the regular runners which meant that at least 90% were running for a charity. I instantly met 3 others from the Parkinson’s UK (PUK) team. We shared stories, laughed at our tutus and through conversation, helped calm each other’s nerves.
My game plan was to take the race 3 miles at a time and only focus on the 3 mile chunk I was presently in, rather than the finish line. The race was insanely crowded. I can’t really describe the kinds of congestion we ran in but for those that have run the Mini Marathon, imagine that amount of runners, crammed into a small space for 26.2 miles. It opened up occasionally, but there were times it was all one-lane. I bobbed. I weaved. I tripped on people. I was elbowed multiple times. The really frustrating parts were the downhills. This is known as a flat course, but I’m convinced only those of us in Indiana really know what flat means as there were a couple challenging hills and plenty of gradual ones. But anytime there was a downhill, I wanted to unleash the speed. However, I couldn’t because of the crowds in front of me. It was exhausting having to mentally plan out your running path just to get through the next 30 feet, and equally frustrating.
Throughout the race, there was plenty to look at. I couldn’t get over how many people were in costume. I passed Elvis. A man dressed as a flower (with green tights). Two men in full Rhino costumes (massive!) A banana. A penguin. Many in tutus. A man with a 7 foot stuffed tiger strapped to his back. People in full body paint. SpongeBob. And 3 “Borats” (yes, mankinis – I can’t imagine how someone would run in that!) It was so entertaining and really impressive. I get annoyed running in a fuel belt and these people were running 26.2 in full “fancy dress!”
At mile 6, I saw the first PUK cheering section. I can’t tell you what it meant to see a sea of blue, balloons, noise makers. When I put my hands in the air as I ran by them, they screamed so loudly for me – as if they knew me personally. It was amazing.
PUK spectator section
Speaking of cheering, I put my name on my vest (well as much of it as I could fit – Meg) and I loved when people would cheer for me. You see, this course is lined with people the entire route. There were sections that had people 4 deep on each side, up on building balconies, across skywalks. You would have thought we were in a parade. It was unreal and truly fantastic. However, unlike running in my hometown, I knew I wouldn’t know a soul out there. So having a family of PUK supporters in 4 different spots really motivated me. I counted down the miles until I could see them.
Before I even began the race, I had to use the “loo.” And given how warm it was, it was important for me to drink lots of water. Yet how could I when my bladder was bursting? This was going to be a big problem. The toliet queues were extensive and I refused to lose time waiting in line. So mile after mile, I worried about what I was going to do. I watched men duck off the course to “wee” (as the Brits call it) and I was insanely jealous of their stand-up ability. At mile 9, I finally saw my opportunity. We were running by a section of bushes and one woman had ducked behind a shrub. That’s all I needed to see. I knew it was my only option. I ran over a little hill, behind overgrown vegetation, using my tutu to shield me. I was certain that no one saw anything of interest until I turned around and saw 3 men standing behind me, relieving their bladder as well. Oops! Oh well, it was what had to be done and I felt like a new person.
At mile 12, I turned the corner and had my breath taken away. The site of the Tower Bridge approaching was so gorgeous and surreal, I ran the entire length of the bridge with a massive smile on my face. I knew JD was waiting for me at mile 14 with the PUK team and I was desperate to see a familiar face. But as I approached, I scanned the sea of blue and didn’t see him. I slowed down, begging and hoping he was there. Nothing. I was gutted. (Turns out he was there, we just missed each other.) The ball of emotion in my stomach started to grow and yet I really didn’t want to cry. But I had waited 14 miles to have someone I know cheer for me. It shook my mental confidence. And then I saw a man, walking down the street in his PUK shirt. His gait was all too familiar. I didn’t know him, but I knew he had Parkinson’s. That ball grew bigger and bigger and tears formed at my eyes. I forced it back down and told myself that I was running for that man. And for my dad. And my grandpa. And for all the others that have PD. For all those that donated money to this amazing cause. I had 12 more miles and I was going to fight through every last one.
My pace had been fast the entire time. Up until mile 9, my slowest mile was a 9:36. However, at mile 16, things got bad. It was getting really warm. The sun was beaming and the course was the most congested it had been. Not to mention, a lot of people had started walking which only made it more difficult to navigate. My left knee and hip were hurting and I was just plain tired. I ditched the tutu. I ate another pack of Spider Man Fruit Snacks (I had a total of 4 of them throughout the race) and kept on.
At mile 19, I stopped to take some IBprofen for my knee and stretched my hips. At mile 22, you’d think that mentally, having only 4 more miles to run would power anyone to sprint ahead with a huge smile on their face. But not when your legs are dead. They had nothing left in them. Every single minute, I had to fight the voices off telling me to listen to my body and let myself walk. A lot of people did just that. I saw as many walkers as I saw runners. But I kept telling myself that I was running for all of those who can’t. I couldn’t stop. There was no way.
At mile 23, the woman in front of me was walking very strangely. She couldn’t walk a straight line. As I passed her, I grabbed her arm and asked her if she was ok. She looked at me and couldn’t form a sentence. Her eyes wouldn’t focus. She nodded her head but was convincing no one. I looked to the man next to her and said “watch her” as I sprinted ahead to the nearest policeman. I grabbed him and pointed out this woman. “She needs help. She’s in really bad shape and is about to go down.” He took one look at her and I was grateful for him to take action. Had he not, I would have stopped and taken care of her. But knowing she was in good hands let me drive ahead.
Another mile ahead and a man was laying on a stretcher in the middle of the course. One woman was wrapped in a heat blanket with the medics surrounding her. A pile of vomit was waiting for me at the top of a challenging hill. People were going down. I think a lot of it had to do with the heat. It wasn’t hot-hot. Not like what the Chicago marathon was last year. But it was warm, and sunny, and humid. And for the Brits, who never experience an extreme temperature one way or the other, this was bad for them.
At mile 25, I took my headphones off and looked for the final installment of the PUK cheerleaders. I ran by them and they went wild for me. But once again, no JD. I was so nervous something bad had happened to him. How could he miss me in both places? Then I hear a voice “MEG!” I look over and he’s not with the cheering team, he’s running along the sides to make sure I saw him. Whew. That’s all I needed to surge forward. This was the most beautiful mile I have ever run. On my left was the Thames River with a great view of the London Eye and Westminster Bridge. Then was Big Ben. Westminster. And as I ran along the Mall, trees everywhere, fans outnumbering the trees, I was sure the finish was close and still, my body is telling me to stop and walk. I turned the corner and saw Buckingham Palace. And then a sign that read “385 meters to go.” Finally, I see the finish. At this point, I knew I was going to get a PR. But now was time to see if I could get under 4:20. I ran as fast as those tired, powerless legs could go and when I crossed, the tears came immediately. I did it.
And the person who hugged me? His name is Craig. I met him as I was waiting to get my timing chip cut from my shoe. I looked over, and there he was in his PUK vest. I was already crying and he immediately hugged me and said “how did you get on?” I told him my time and he held me tight as I cried. I didn’t think it would be someone who ran the same distance as I did…and certainly not someone from the PUK team. But he was the perfect person to celebrate our accomplishment and the meaning behind it. Thank you, Craig. You did great.
I was meeting JD and the rest of the PUK team at the Strand Hotel so slowly, painfully made my way there. The walk took at least double the time it would normally and as I labored over there, I thought about how I had been on my feet, nonstop since 8am that morning. It was now 2:30pm. No wonder I was wiped.
Ran a total of 26.47 miles given the crowded course.
The moment I walked into the PUK reception is something I will never forget. I arrived at the top of the stairs and looked down to see all the volunteers in blue PUK tshirts. Balloons everywhere. Runners strewn about. And when they saw me, they erupted in cheers – screaming and clapping as I walked down the stairs. I might as well have been the Queen herself! Instantly, they directed me to another room where I pulled off my sweaty running tights and laid down on a plushy soft towel next to 6 other PUK runners. A physio intern massaged my legs and feet as we all shared marathon war stories. There we were, in our underwear, no shame, with people that were once strangers and now were my UK family.
Afterwords, I went back into the main room and JD was waiting for me. We grabbed a big plate of food (pasta, bread, dessert) and sat down so I could tell him all about the race. Many people came up and congratulated me and I loved talking to the girls I met at the start. They did amazing (Helen wanted a 4:15 and did a 4:05 and Mrs. C did a 4:22!) One of the marketing girls from PUK came up and asked if she could interview me. She said that everytime they saw me on the course, I was so smiley and happy to see them, it made them all really emotional. Apparently they got some great pics and wanted a video to go with it. I had no problem talking about what an amazing experience it all was. From the race to the team to the organization of PUK. I was so unbelievably impressed with how they treated all of us, I honestly didn’t want to leave. There were also a lot of people there with PD. I recognized the symptoms immediately and got tears each time. Truly an emotional day.
Post race meal
And then to return to my phone and see all the messages from people back home!! Tweets. Facebook messages. Texts. Emails. You guys were with me through every mile and I loved reading every one of them. I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude to you. And to those that donated to this cause, I promise you that every penny was worth it. Knowing that such an amazing organization is taking on this disease gives me hope. You guys gave me hope. Thank you to: Mary, Reid, Greg, Josh, Stef, Mark, Kelly, Martin, Carly, Rachel, Shereen, Shannon, Jeff, Sarah, Nathan, Steph, Bri, Laura, Matt, Lori, Jason, Britney, Beth, Ellen, Kyle, Ross, Andrea, Jim, Jill, Brian, Kate, Blake, Steve, Michael, Susan, Katie, Ashley, David, Math, Nicki, Nigel, Jaime, Mike, Bethany, Nathan, Meghan, Carrie, Vogts, Ashley, Debbie, Suzanne, Stacy, Jess, Jill, Adam, Eric, Traci, Caleb, Natalie, Katie, Dayne, Christina, Jim, Nathan, Amy, Jacob, Bert, Laura, Marissa, Dan, Matt, Steff, Dan, Corey, The Hundleys, Liz, Brett, Sarah, Steph, Craig, JT, Emily, Justine, Natalie, Nathan, Michelle, Brad, Amanda, Tracey, Grandma & Grandpa, Mom & Dad, Scott, Blake, Natalie, Jim, Joel, Susie & Bill, Sam, Matt, Kim, Ted, Jim, Adam, Bryan, Molly, Annette, Dan, Mark, Marianne, my Favorite Republican and the 5 anonymous donors. You have no idea how you have warmed my heart.
4:19:50! I was bloody fierce.