As I am sure most of you will agree, every April when the London Marathon comes on, I used to sit in awe and watch the thousands of people run for charities, some dressed in amazing outfits and some not so much. I always had a desire deep down to run the London marathon but never got around to trying to train for it or even trying to enter it. There are a lot of things you have to give up to do a marathon and I just couldn’t be bothered – not even going to try and make excuses.
So obviously I did the London marathon otherwise this would be a pointless blog. Back in 2016 I remember watching the end bits of the general mass marathon and thought it’s now or never. I had to keep my fitness up as I had booked to go on trip to Kilimanjaro, so I entered VLM ballot in May. I also decided that the odds were slim, so I entered in for a couple of charity places close to my heart. One being Cancer Research – though the amount required was a lot more than others, I have a close friend who has suffered with cancer, as well as other people I have known at work. The other charity was Stroke Association in memory of my Grandma.
To get a charity place it seems the biggest sob story wins. It’s sad but true I’m afraid. I think the basis in this is if you are emotionally attached to the charity you will do your upmost to raise as much money as possible. As I said, Stroke was a charity which did mean a lot to me as my Grandma suffered a few strokes in her life. The first one I remember I was in high school and she phoned me mum up in the morning to say something wasn’t right. She was as good as she could be and was refusing to go to hospital. From that day she was on stroke medication, there were a few lapses, but she never let it slow her down and stop her. My Grandma was a massive part of my life, she was there from day 1 and I saw her almost every day. When I went away to University I called her almost daily and when I went backpacking around New Zealand I was on the phone to her weekly and sending her gifts and photos back. She was my best friend, someone who was always there for me whenever I needed her, someone who wouldn’t drop me as soon as a better thing came along. I went off to Australia for a year and telling my Grandma she wouldn’t see me for a whole year was heart-breaking, we were both upset but she encouraged me to go and live my life. Unfortunately, this would be the last time I would see her. My Grandma passed away in February 2013 while I was in my final months in Australia. It has been almost 5 years and it still hurts as if it was yesterday. I want to call her and tell her everything I have been up to. The idea of running in memory of my Grandma was because I knew she would find it funny, me trying to run 26.2 miles when I have never been a runner, and I knew she would support me all the way.
Anyway, moving on. Stroke Association liked my reasons for wanting to run for them and I was selected to be a part of Team Stroke in July 2016. I was shocked at first, I didn’t know what the hell I had just signed up for and I was also excited. I told my parents and my Uncle and got onto booking my hotel in London before the prices shot up.
First things first, I had never run before, never even tried that hard to run, as I used to get really tired very quickly. I started with 0-5k concept but in my own way. I had a stretch of quiet road I could run along with my dog where I felt like no one could laugh at my pathetic attempt at running. I started with running 30s and walking for 1min over 5k distance. Over time I reduced the walking time so that I was running 30s walking 20s and then one day I more or less managed to run the full 5k, with a few little walking breaks in the middle. My trainers were not the best that I was running with, so I went out and got a new pair from a local (ish) running shop. The guys in there were great and really helped me out. I knew I was an over-pronator, but they advised me to get a neutral shoe and some insoles. I went with Asics Nimbus 18s which were a fantastic trainer, wide fitted and unbelievably comfortable.
Team stroke set up a Facebook page for all its runners which was a really good source of information and encouragement. There were a lot of amazing people on that page, all running for the same charity but for very different reasons and one of the best things we did was to share all our stories on why we are running. I asked permission to share these stories on my Facebook page, as I found it hard to get donations in from friends on Facebook. I thought that sharing other people’s experiences with stroke and how the charity helped them might show people how amazing the charity was. It didn’t work but at least I showed people anyone can be affected by stroke.
I continued to run every weekend slowly increasing my distance and occasionally I did the odd 5k during the week after work, but it was getting dark and as usual wet in the North of England, so I tended to shy away from training. The more I trained I started to get excruciating pain to the side of my knee. I went to the doctor to get referral to physiotherapy where they diagnosed me with ITB syndrome and I was told to stop running for a while. It didn’t help that I had a sprint triathlon to do and a total warrior. I still did these, and I don’t regret doing them, but it did push my recovery back as I seriously messed my leg up. The physiotherapy was OK, but I didn’t seem to be getting any better with the exercises. I continued to get as much mileage as I could under my belt without hurting myself, and continued to do the exercises given to me.
After Christmas I was struggling to do anything passed 10k which is not great considering I was going to have to run over 40k. I decided to ditch the physiotherapy and go to a private sports therapist to try and sort my issues out. I ended up black and blue in my first session as I also had Piriformis syndrome which can cause ITB. I was given stretches and massage techniques to do before and after exercising and told to go easy on the foam roller as it can cause knots as well as release them.
I seemed to improve a lot under my sports therapist, and my mileage started to increase again, but then I had another setback and had to return to treatment. My sports therapist was not convinced that it was just piriformis causing my ITB and started to look for other causes and found out that I had flat feet, more so on the right then the left and gave me a company near me to go and see to have specially made insoles to correct the pronation and flat feet. After I put these insoles in I had no issues at all with ITB and to this day I am still ITB free. However, I do a lot of stretches before and after running.
The longest run I did was just over 13 miles and that was in March. With all my injuries and time off etc I should have been up to at least 18 miles as my longest run, but I was far off that. However, I was determined come marathon day I would push myself and get over that finish line. What was a bigger motivation as well was the fact that my parents were coming down to support me and my uncle and his partner were also making the journey to cheer me on.
The night before I was due to leave for London we went to visit family friends as it was their youngest daughters 18th birthday, unfortunately I over-indulged a lot and was a tiny bit ill that night and the next day. I woke up drunk still and had to get to the train station which was a 50-minute drive away – enter super dad who I had to wake at 6am to drive me to the station, drive back and then drive himself and my mum there a few hours later. Getting drunk was not the greatest idea I have ever had but I was enjoying the night.
I was staying in Greenwich as it was close to the start and easy enough to get to (once I had figured out the tube system). I had to go to the VLM convention which was on the other side of London and grab all my gear. It was a nightmare, there was so many people trying to get there the trains were rammed and getting into the hall to get your stuff was not great for someone who doesn’t like large crowds. The convention itself was very good but I didn’t stay too long as people were pushing and shoving, and others were just stopping mid walk.
I did get to meet one of my fellow team stroke members in the convention which was great, it was really nice to meet someone I had been talking to on the Facebook group for months. After here I went back into the city centre to meet my parents and grab a bite to eat before I went back to my hotel for a goodnights sleep.
The next morning, I was a nervous wreck, I got up early and went for breakfast at the hotel, it wasn’t the best breakfast, no cereal, no porridge, so I ended up with just toast. I headed back to my room put the news on to watch the build-up, I managed to eat the porridge I got free from the convention the day before. I started stretching and foam rolling to do everything possible to make sure I made it through the race in one piece. I checked and posted an update on my fundraising page this morning and shared on Facebook, I had almost reached £2000 by the start of the race.
I headed towards the start, the energy in the atmosphere was amazing, everyone was in a great mood and you could see people start to make the way to line the streets. At Greenwich park I met up with fellow Team Stroke Runners, I handed my bag into the coaches and went to queue for the toilet with my energy drink, met some really nice people in the queue all running for different charities. It took almost 20min to get to the toilet and when I left there were still lots of people queuing and it was 9:50am. I headed to the starting pen and met up with Mark a fellow Team Stroke runner who had lost his running partner and also a rhino and a guy running in heels.
The buzz in the pen was fantastic I was nervous and excited at the same time, over 30,000 people were running with me to complete one of the best-known marathons in the world, I just couldn’t believe I was there with them. Mark and I agreed to run with each other until he could find his running buddy which was good for me as I had someone to pace with at the start to make sure I didn’t set off too quickly. Ten o’clock approached and we could hear those at the front counting down as it started to filter back, then a loud claxon and we were off – kinda. We were at the back of red start, right at the back. It took us 35 min to get to the start line where we had to step on the starting mat to activate our timers.
The support along the route was fantastic, live music loads of people clapping, giving people high-fives, it was great. It is hard not to pick up your pace at the start as you’re on a high, but Mark kept slowing us down to make sure we were running a comfortable pace. The amount of people on the side of the roads didn’t diminish much in the first few miles. I started to need the toilet after the first couple of miles but everyone we went past was packed with people and the lines weren’t moving very quickly. Just after a Lucozade sport station there was a single portaloo at the side of the road with just 2 people queuing, so Mark and I joined that. I have no idea what the first person was doing in the toilet, but they were in there for about 5 min. In total I lost 10 minutes waiting for the toilet. The Cutty Sark was great to run past and first time I saw any photographers, it was slightly disheartening as we were still in Greenwich and about 10min walk from where I stayed last night, and we had been running around 45 min with an average pace of 11min/mile. My target was still in sight which was a finish of between 5-6hrs.
We were approaching Tower Bridge which I was really looking forward to, the bridge is between mile 12 and mile 13. We saw Team Stroke cheerleaders at the side of the road which was really great. As I got onto the bridge I did a live video stream onto Facebook to tell people to donate to help me reach the target. As I got half way along I heard a scream of my name which could have only been my parents. I turned and there they were with my aunt and uncle. I ran over and jumped on them, tears in my eyes, I didn’t expect to see them anywhere on the course as my mum hates the Underground, so I arranged to see them at the finish. It was a great boost to see them. Mark had waited for me while I said hello, and I ran to him and we carried on.
This stretch from mile 13 to 24 is the hardest. As you cross Tower Bridge you can see people on the other side of the road on mile 23. It’s a long 11 miles, the crowds dissipated, and my body was aching. We started to walk from mile 13 onwards as it was faster than running, my body was aching. The Isle of Dogs was hard, there’s not much London scenery. My parents and aunt and uncle met me again coming back down to Tower Bridge. The crowds are fabulous cheering your name on telling you, you can do it gives you such a rush, it’s also emotional. The miles seem to be going up slowly. I remember passing Adam Woodyatt as he was running, and we were walking.
Coming into the city centre at mile 24 was great, there were loads of people, all with beer in hand and Haribo which were needed. Hearing “Kayleigh you can do it, it’s so close” was fabulous, I did have a few moments where I had tears in my eyes. Coming down Victoria Embankment was great the London eye was on the left and I could see Big Ben in front of us. As we turned right at the end of Victoria Embankment Big Ben was on my left there were so many people screaming and cheering everyone one, we were still walking at this point and I tried to get into a run, but I was in so much pain. The clock was ticking down we were approaching 5hr50, I started to jog as we started to run past St James Park. I could see Victoria Memorial approaching and I started to speed up around the corner. The finish line was in my sights, I could see we only had 3 min to get to the finish line to finish before 6hrs. the photographers were there, and I put my hands up in celebration of getting there, crossing the line I grabbed Marks hand as we started together we were finishing together.
I was so happy I had finished a marathon, I may not have run it all, but I participated, I raised over £2000 for charity and I loved it. Having the medal put over my head I thought, I am never taking this off. I went to have my finishers photo taken and we went to collect our bags from the coach. I had a message off my dad, he had missed me finish as apparently, I was going faster than they had anticipated and we were going to meet at the Team Stroke after party. In total I ran 27.4 miles as its only 26.2 miles if you stick to the yellow race line.
Mark went off to meet with family and friends and I headed off to the after party which was across the Thames near the London Eye. It was a tad far from the finish line. When I got there, I booked in for a free massage and went and sat down with family and had a large glass of wine, followed closely by another one. We all went and had a nice walk around to London Eye but for some reason it was closed on Sunday in April, so we couldn’t go on it. We had some really nice pictures taken by the London Eye overlooking parliament. My aunt and uncle left to go back home to Worthing and me and my parents had a little walk around, and then I head back to my hotel for a hot shower and a well-earned McDonalds.
The support I had from the Team Stroke Facebook page and family and friends was amazing. I wouldn’t have raised £2000 if it wasn’t for the generous guys I work with at BAE, with them paying for the many cakes I brought in and also just in general donating their money for a great cause.
I would recommend running London Marathon to anyone, it was a fabulous experience, something I would love to do again in the future. The crowds make it extra special.