Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Go the extra mile, your legs will forgive you

Running the marathon was almost the way I dreamed it would be. Some parts surpassed my every expectation. The cloudless blue ‘Auckland’ sky in Greenwich Park at the start felt like a gift. The atmosphere in the starting pens: pure carnival, helped perhaps by being just one pen in front of fancy dress costumes including two people running as a Bactrican camel, a man encircled by the Blackpool Tower and a runaway bride. It's true too that I felt a little less celebratory at mile 17, when they had all overtaken me, but being beaten by a Bactrican aside, this was a day of dreams and achievement.  

The moment I decided to run the marathon was 11 months ago. I had a three day old baby and could barely walk. After hobbling into my local park, I decided that it was time to follow that long cherished aspiration. 
And yes, I’m glad that I did. I’ve learned so much about friendship, about being flexible without getting too far off course, about the small steps that close the distance between where we stand and where we want to be. 

Aside from the buzz in Greenwich Park, other highlights were: crossing Tower Bridge, passing the Cutty Sark, the first glimpse of Big Ben, and going over the finish line without blisters. Getting my medal was an amazing moment: one I can neither describe nor forget.
Many, many people went ‘the extra mile’  so I could run 26.2 miles. I won’t do a ‘Gwinnie”, you know who you are, and I would like to say thank you to everyone who sponsored me, sent encouraging texts, phoned with the latest nutrition advice, cared enough to worry, looked after me, gave me somewhere to stay when the tube lines were offline, and cheered me on. A special thank you also to my family, whose love, encouragement and practical support are simply incredible. The kind lady in Narrow Street, who gave me a banana when I was suddenly starving was like a longed-for angel. Never before has a banana been so luscious and alluring. Bless you.
My post-run celebrations were a little clouded by collapsing on the underground, and spending the evening in A and E at St Thomas’ Hospital, but even there, I felt I couldn’t have been among nicer, more interesting colleagues. A huge thank you to the team who sorted my sodium. 
I did this run for the Merlin doctors who are more altruistic and brave than I could hope to be. Their work inspired me throughout my training. Their brave example, and the courage of so many helped by Merlin, got me through the tough moments in the race. 
As I write this, three parakeets of the same vibrant green feather that I spotted on my first long run around Richmond Park back in December, are trilling in the tree outside my window. 
Seeing them reminds me of how far I’ve travelled on this journey. Of the many thoughts I had during my training, along the marathon course and in the days since, three have been loudest and most persistent. I’d like to close this blog with that trio: Don’t limit yourself.  Go as far as your mind takes you. Your legs will forgive you. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Virgins and veterans or lights, camera, podiatrist

This week has had three high points: lights, a camera and a podiatrist. 

Firstly, the 'lights'. I've been to register at the Marathon Expo in Excel. What I thought would be a tedious day of queuing and waiting, was in fact a well organised, slick event; not just painless, but rather party like. 

After registering, I had a meander around diverse stalls and met several other 'first timers'. This Expo seemed a celebration of many types of people running a marathon, from virgins to veterans. It really was much better than any registration event has the right to be. Over a bowl of pasta, I was privileged to listen to former boxer Michael Watson. 

Michael Watson completes the London Marathon

Watson completed the London Marathon in 2003 just 12 years after he’d recovered from a 40-day coma and been told he would never walk again.  He spoke about feeling focussed, staying in the moment and always being a fighter. When I saw him on the stage, I didn't see the fighter, I saw a man full of light, despite being faced with so much darkness; I was inspired.

My journey home was marked by forked lightening blazing across Dockland skies. Although I've been back in London for a while, I am still mostly in denial about the weather, and had been ignoring the possibility of rain this Sunday. The lightening brought an epiphany, a flash of practicality: I have now prepared for a downpour, although I'd still prefer to run in my Merlin 'white van man' singlet if I can. 

The sun always shines on TV

Speaking of attire brings me to the camera, as I shall be wearing one on my head. BBC Panorama are making a programme about the science behind marathon preparation, and I've agreed to help out by providing some views from the track. I've broken my own rule of not trying anything for the first time on race day, but it's 'only' from mile 23 to the finish line. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I'm grateful to them for allowing me to take part in this way. 

From head to toes: earlier in the week, I saw a podiatrist for the first time, on the advice of a good friend, and was pleased to be told my feet are more than up to the task ahead. 

I won't write again before the race, but will be carb loading and aiming to get two good nights' sleep. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Baby love: be a 'lave save'

Two things happened this morning.

I didn't run, in fact I'm not running again until the marathon. This meant I was home when the post arrived. A letter that stood out was from Dr Samson Agbo, Merlin's Head of Health.

He writes:
"If the people we've helped in Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan knew your name, they wouldn't call you Dr Dosani. They'd call you a 'lavi save'. In English, quite simply, a lifesaver."

A Merlin Baby

Immediately I wanted to send that thought out to all those who have sponsored me, and to all those who are still thinking about whether to.

This time last year I was regularly cancelling social engagements. It was hot, much hotter than this Easter, and I was heavily pregnant. 'I just can't walk that far today,' friends became used to me saying, and many kindly came to me, where we sought shade and chatted. 

Dr Agbo's letter also tells me that in Afghanistan, expectant mothers can walk up to 20 days to see a qualified midwife. More women die in childbirth there than in many other countries worldwide. Merlin's birthing teams travel by any means necessary, including on horseback to reach remote areas, to reach these women.

So please support me in running, so that they don't have to walk and risk not only their own lives, but that of their unborn child as well.

£20 provides Merlin mobile birth attendants with two delivery kits to give these mothers and their babies the best and safest start.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Final countdown

I've got to admit, running hasn't been much of a muse recently.
Same runs, same tunes: what to write?
I'm feeling glad the marathon is just days away, as I'm excited about taking part, and giving it my all.
This week I'll do a couple of 'shorts' but no more 'longs', and then rest up until the big day.
My plan for the week before is to make a big playlist, clean my kit, go to the Expo to pick up race number and chip and - on the advice of a friend who has 'been there, done that', go and see a podiatrist.
On your marks...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Got the t-shirt

Most of my runs recently have been short, fast bursts, and this blog entry is in that same staccato rhythm. 

My official t-shirt from Merlin arrived a couple of days ago. It's a bit 'white-van-man': a loose fitting singlet with lots of green writing. Nevertheless, it's exciting, and marks a final countdown to the 22nd April. 

Not my Merlin singlet

My motivation has been dwindling a little. A minor health niggle put me back for a few days, and although I'm back on track, in every sense, it has been more difficult than I'd expected. I'm managing this by focusing on each small step, and am now also resting for at least three days a week.

I'm enjoying running by the Thames, which always feels like the heart and soul of London. One of my 'weekly favourites' at the moment is running from the London Eye to Putney. The London Eye is a great place to start a Thames path run. It's easy to walk there from Waterloo, and the post card vista of Parliament is a fantastic motivator. The prospect of leaving the crowds behind also means the run is destined to start well.

detail from a painting by Samuel Scott, mid 18th Century

Just before Lambeth bridge, there is Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the past eight hundred years. It's worth spinning around for a moment here, and looking back on the route to the Eye, Parliament and the Thames. In these recent blue-skied Spring mornings, it's been easy to think this is the best river view in London. 

Next up are the spooks in their cream anti-palace that houses MI6. It's said to be an incredibly ugly building, but for my money there are worse offenders.Beautiful Vauxhall Bridge more than compensates. You need to cross up and over the bridge itself, but stay on the Thames South Side.

Best view in London?

The old towers of Battersea's Power station are visible from some distance and are brilliant to head towards, as they appear closer than they are. After Battersea, there is a lot of riverside visual treats. Chelsea Bridge is as elegant and gracious as the Albert Bridge is sweeping and majestic. 

Battersea Power Station
Between these two, you will pass the Peace Pagoda, which was a gift to London from a Japanese Buddhist Order. 

Peace Pagoda

There are several statues along this stretch of Thames, which instead of enthusing about, I will encourage you to discover. The plain blue and white bridge is Wandsworth Bridge. There has been a bridge here, ever since 1873, when a toll bridge was built in anticipation of a railway line that ended up not being built. From here, it's a short run through the park, and then into Putney where there are trains, buses, tubes and many lovely cafes. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Excitement and trepidation

I haven't run for a little while.  Couple of health issues, nothing major.
Am hoping to be back on the pavements at the end of this week, and can't believe there are just six weeks to go. Excitement and trepidation.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Pride comes before it all

I had the worst run of my life, and it’s taken me over a week to write about it. 
Previously, the ‘worst run of my life’ was a 16km Leppin Auckland Off Road series run, that I did on a whim. I say on a whim, but actually I was signed up to the whole series in 2007. Egged on by a friend, I completed a succession of short distance bush runs, through the most beautiful countryside I had ever seen, and learned to love mud, but not hills.

Where's the finish line?

The Leppin series was set up with three distances, short which was a 4-6km run, mid wich was 12-16km and long, which from memory was marathon distance. After a few short distance events, my chickismo got the better of me. Suddenly I was doing ‘mid distance’. On all these runs there was a ‘tail-end-Charlie’, whose job it was to make sure that all the runners completed the course, and that he was the last in. 

Spot the English Girl

10km into the ‘mid distance’, the tail-end-Charlie overtook me. I spent an hour stumbling around in the bush, going over repeatedly on my ankle, feeling sick from the too-strong Powerade in my Camelbak, and having an anti-epiphany. There’d be some elegance in this story if I could write about crossing the finish line, but it, and the last 3km markers and directional arrows, had been taken down before I made it back, and I was collected a few hundred metres from the finish line by concerned friends. So I stumbled over what was once the finish line, a line in the sand, on what I still consider one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. My friends had drunk all the beer. My ankle recovered faster than my pride, and the event became known as ‘the day you thought you could run in the bush’.

Next left, or right

So that’s my gold standard of a ‘bad run’. And last week I bested it. 
A good friend works in the House of Lords. Wouldn’t it be magnificent, I thought, to run along the river, passing London’s glorious landmarks, and meet her at the Lord’s for some light post-run refreshment. 
First day of Spring

Despite seemingly perpetual ‘first day of Spring’ weather of late, my planned run coincided with the greyest, wettest day last week. I made the error of crossing the river to Southside too early, and then discovered that the Thames path along great screeds of South West London is being repaired, in patches, with abysmal sign posting. There can be few things more demoralising than running in drizzle with a buggy, only to find sudden blockades, and arrows pointing me back to non-river backing suburbia. Had I ever wanted to intimately know the backstreets of Putney, Barnes, Fulham and Hammersmith, this would have been my moment in time. Snug in the buggy, under blankets and secured by a raincover, Baby B slept soundly. 
Now you see it...now you don't

I was wet, cold, lost, miserable and chaffed. The vistas I’d hoped for were elusive. Everything was hazy and blurred and there were several times I ran in such big pointless loops, I wondered if it would be better to get the bus home and admit defeat.
In the end, we did make it to parliament. Quite how a drenched running woman with a sleeping baby can look like a security risk is beyond me, but after being scrutinised, scanned and snapped, I changed into a dress and heels (nappy bags are fabulous for so much more than nappies). Was it worth it? Probably not, but I’ve learned a few lessons:
  1. Don’t cross bridges on a whim, follow the map
  2. Getting cold and wet is horrible, but foreseeable. Take a change of clothes other than an evening dress and heels. 
  3. If you’re going a long way along the Thames in the rain, the best place to be is in a buggy with a raincover.
  4. Turning up at our awe inspiring Houses of Parliament chaffed, wet and in running gear is every bit as embarrassing as the finish line being dismantled before getting there.
  5. Nothing ventured...
Over these past few days, I’ve rediscovered the short, fast dash. Necessity more than anything, but I tell myself it is all miles on my cliched clock.