4 hours, 11 minutes and 47 seconds of pain, exhilaration, agony and ecstasy!

700 miles training, 6 months of going to running clubs religiously twice a week, hundreds of pounds spent on physio, sports massage and chiropractic, two pairs of trainers, countless Saturday mornings spent plodding the roads for hours on end, all summed up in just 4 hours, 11 minutes and 47 seconds on Sunday 22nd April 2012.

Imagine me looking delighted, drained and delirious all at once!

Inside I’m thinking “I’ve got the medal and I didn’t even mug anyone. Or buy it off eBay. Result!”

That’s it! I did it, I really bloody did it! On Sunday I ran 26.2 miles, something I was never sure my body was truly capable of! And in a fairly respectable time too. The time is almost irrelevant to me – I ran the whole thing, no walking and as I was told last week, “you want to look yourself in the mirror and know you ran a marathon and not that you ran 20 miles and walked 10km.” I wasn’t sure whether it was possible, but those words echoed in my head every time I considered walking and they drove me to keep going.

Last time I blogged, my training was coming to an end and all I had to do was chill out and stay injury free. Not so easy! I’m still not sure what caused it, but I started to getting severe pain in my piriformis (a muscle deep in my glutes), which made running very painful. So I put myself on self imposed box rest, took tablets and got utterly depressed that all that training had been in vain. Giving myself a whole week off, I went to run again and whilst the first two miles were ok, I limped tearfully round the final four. Knowing that I’d never get round 26 odd miles unless I sorted it out, I did nothing but swim and spend an extortionate amount of money on physio and sports massage in the run up.

Traditionally you do taper before a marathon and cut your training right down, but just three days before I’d not run in over two weeks, which was so hard for my brain to take. I was terrified that it was going to hurt from the start line and that the endless swimming and stretching had been for nothing. On the Thursday, I went for a slow 2 mile jog and nothing hurt, which did wonders for my confidence. Suddenly I could get excited about it again – ok I knew it would hurt before the end, but if I could start fresh, it wouldn’t seem so bad. I had my race number, my vest and even more importantly, John, who had taken up the role of my personal pacer through our training, had magically found himself a space to run on Sunday. Well, he’d suffered all those long weekend runs with me; it only seemed fair that he got the medal and glory he well deserved too. Suddenly the anticipation was all a bit too much to cope with. Friday and Saturday were nervous affairs marked mainly by over eating pasta and drinking litres upon litres of water.

We headed into London on Saturday night and walking back across Tower Bridge to our hotel, we saw the mile markers being built and it got even more real. Dinner was a quiet affair with Zizzis filled to bursting point with people carb loading, drinking water and generally looking pensive. As I was fundraising madly, I’d barely let a day go by without reminding everyone that I was running the marathon, which meant that all the good luck messages started flooding in on Saturday evening. It was quite simply amazing – I had no idea that so many people cared so much. It seemed that people thought I was either brave, mental, amazing or amazingly mental. The nerves kept piling up and Sunday morning finally dawned and despite the weather reports forecasting wind and rain, it was a beautiful morning. Breakfast was a sombre affair of bananas and porridge, then it was time to put the gear on and get going. For 7.30 on a Sunday morning, the city was already buzzing and full of people setting up for the day’s excitement.

Once we got to Blackheath, it was usual race procedure; we stripped to our running gear, John made the two minute trip to the urinals whilst I queued up for fifteen minutes for the ladies! Then it was time – when I collected our numbers I was delighted that in some twist of fate we were in the same starting pen (out of three start lines with 9 pens each, I was quite amazed!) However, we were in pen 9, which is designated for the slowest of people. So, surrounded by three hippos, two wombles, two stilt walkers, two naked men (except for their aptly placed toolboxes), and a guy carrying a massive metal tower, we made our way to the start line.

At my final pre-marathon hash, I was told by David (ex GM and 154 times marathon runner) that the first 6 miles will make or break your marathon. London starts downhill and bouyed up by the atmosphere, its far too easy to go too fast. Go too fast to begin with and you’ll crash at mile 22. Take it steady and you’ll overtake hundreds of people coming back at you in the last 7 miles. So with that in mind, we set off at a steady 9 minute mile pace, just soaking up the atmosphere. The first miles flew by in a haze of heady excitement; I remember so many great moments in the suburbs. The guy who stood by the first mile marker, shouting “not far to go now! Just 25.2 miles!” made all the runners laugh. The runners who kept getting the other runners (and spectators) chanting “oggy, oggy, oggy” made the whole thing seem like a big party. The pavements were lined with street parties, barbeques and hundreds of kids holding out jelly babies or desperately reaching out to slap your hand on the way past. All of the pubs were open with big loudspeakers set up, cranking out music with people cheering us on over the mic – it was so surreal to be involved in something where everyone came together for a big party.

We carried on plodding our way to Tower Bridge, where we had stood under the 20km sign the night before and it felt like no time at all before we were at the half way mark. Realistically, it was 2 hours after we’d started, but they flew by in a haze. There was so much to see and I’m gutted that I can’t remember it all already, despite being less than a week ago. There was the amazing moment where we ran round the Cutty Sark and then Dave. We ran alongside a guy called Dave for a fair while. If you saw him, you’d remember. He wore a metallic blue thong and a bunch of balloons. Although running behind him was less than pleasant, it was hilarious watching the crowds spot him and react in exactly the same way for miles.

Up until the half way mark, I’d barely felt my leg at all. At around 9 miles, I’d felt the odd twinge, but at around 14 miles, I started to feel it with every step. It wasn’t too painful at that point, but I was certainly aware that I could feel it. We went round the Isle of Dogs, which is notoriously the hardest part because there are fewer people there. In an organised moment, I had created an itinerary for my parents to follow to try and see me and the Isle of Dogs was one place I’d sent them. Although we didn’t see them, I found looking for them to be a good distraction for a mile or two. As we came out of the Isle of Dogs, we were around 18 miles, which came as such a shock to me. Although I’d been ticking the miles off and counting down to them, I couldn’t believe we were only 8 miles away from finishing.

We were  into the final third and to be honest, I was a little relieved because I could really feel my glute with every step. Stepping down on it sent a shooting pain down the length of my leg and I was glad it hadn’t started playing up earlier on. It seems my swimming and stretching had helped delay the pain for as long as possible. I think it was around 19 or 20 miles where I was just streaming expletives as my glute clutched my hamstring, aductor (and all those other muscles in my thighs that I didn’t know about) and held them tight, making every step painful. It was at this point, John suggested I tried doing the stretches I’d been taught in the last few weeks. Stumbling to the pavement, I did the “pigeon stretch”. (Imagine trying to make your legs into a swastika and you’re nearly there!) I think this photo was taken moments before I crumbled to the pavement as I distinctly remember nearly lying down in front of the photographer by accident. I think it sums up the pain…

Imagine my death face...

The only consolation is that the guy behind me looks like he’s in as much trouble as I am!

Just pausing for 30 seconds to stretch it off made the world of difference, even if it was only for half a mile that the pain was relieved I knew that we were so close to being there and being the stubborn old bag I am, I was desperate not to walk. It was at this point, that I decided to pick up my pace!! Until then, I’d been chasing John and I seem to remember (very temporarily) shooting off ahead and for the briefest of moments, letting him chase me. There was so many little things that kept me going – the guy holding the sign saying “run like you stole something” and another with the classic “pain is temporary, pride is forever.” And it was at this point, I turned to all those messages I’d received telling me what a mad thing I was doing, how mental I was or how amazing I was for giving it a go. Hell if it were easy, it wouldn’t be an achievement would it?

I made it all the way to 23.8 miles before needing to stretch again. Deciding I needed to stretch again, my leg made it’s own decision and buckled underneath me. I hobbled to the pavement and lay down, legs in the air, eye closed, screeching as I pulled my knee to my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a Medic standing over me, which was enough to get me back on my feet. There was no way I was being stopped now. John pointed at the bridge we were in the shadow of. There was a Lucozade sign saying “2.5 miles until you do something amazing”. It was so close, but so far. We got back underway and soon we were on the Embankment. Hobbling along, I saw a guy that looked even worse off than me, which spurred me on. Knowing that everyone was suffering and that I was pushing myself to the limit was enough to remind me how proud I’d be when I finished. Despite my little stops to stretch, the rest of my body felt fine and I can honestly say, I didn’t notice “the wall”. But I did notice the hundreds of people stopping and walking around us. Everyone was right, overtaking everyone in the final ten miles was the best feeling ever.

Pausing for another 30 second stretch along the embankment – somewhere near 25 miles if I remember correctly, I contorted myself again. Now I knew that I was carrying on and that I wasn’t walking, but the crowd had no idea. I could have been going to give up then and when I stood up and carried on running, hearing thousands upon thousands of people screaming my name and willing me on was the biggest rush of adrenaline ever. I tell you what, it was worth lying down just for that! I remember seeing a couple of girls cheering me on who I’d seen earlier round the course. They had no idea who I was and I’d never met them before. But for that milisecond, we bonded, recognising that we’d already met and I was still going!

The buzz of turning that corner and hitting Birdcage Walk was just unreal. I don’t even remember it – it’s like a dream. I saw the 800m to go sign and remember berating myself for getting excited. Afterall, it was still another half a mile. I’m not sure where that half a mile went though because the next thing I know, I was grabbed by the hand and pulled through that finish line! Stumbling forwards, I couldn’t believe it was over and that was it. All those months of build up and it was done. The marshall put the medal round me neck and I seem to be remember telling her I loved her, but couldn’t she have come to me? – clearly delirium had set in!

Although it’s such a personal battle and only you can face your dark moments on a run, it was just so good to have someone there spotting for me all the way round. Clearly I was a high maintenance running buddy, but I like to think I’d have done the same if it were needed the other way! Just knowing that if you stop, you’ll be slowing someone else up is enough to keep me running anyway!

I think the excitement all got a bit too much for me as I suddenly felt hugely dizzy, dissolved in a bit of a heap and then promptly threw up 26 miles of water. Not my most glamorous moment and certainly not a highlight, but the prompt reaction of those around me was amazing. St John’s were there within seconds, grabbing me and taking me inside to check on me. I was fine once I’d been sick, but the medic (a flying doctor) told me how pleased he was that I’d run for the Air Ambulance, the guys were all super friendly and helpful and wouldn’t let John or I leave until we were in warm, dry clothes and had taken some sugar and fluids on. Their prompt service was amazing and although I’m grateful that I didn’t need serious attention, they were there every time I had a wobbly moment to offer their help.

Clearly this has been a completely personal challenge to me, but I love that I can use something that I can do that perhaps others can’t to raise money for a cause close to my heart. Thanks to your generosity – for it was nothing that I did, it was all you guys – so far, I’ve raised £2305.40 for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance. I can’t believe that I’ve managed to raise so much and I’ve so much to thank you all for. Thank you for putting up with me being an anti social git during my winter training, thank you for letting me come to a post run pub pudding in my lycra without disowning me. Thank you for donating so generously, thank you for sending me such inspirational messages and the biggest thank you goes to John who not only ran every training run with me, giving up our weekends to the cause, he stuck by me at every step and stopped me being squashed whilst attempting the swastika amongst 36,998 other runners. That, and for washing my sicky medal…! Thank you everyone!

I promise I’ll stop being a running bore now – on to the next challenge! Having said that, I’m hooked! Everyone told me what an emotional rollercoaster it was, but it was that, tenfold. The highs (and lows) were so extreme, but the minute I stopped running, I forgot every moment of pain and just wanted to do it again. Bloody endorphines…

If you haven’t donated yet, there is still time – you know the routine, check out http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/bryonyharper and see if you can get my total up to a nice round number!

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