Friday, 22 April 2016

The Marathon Mile.

I am the furthest away from being a morning person. I am especially fond of doing absolutely nothing on a Sunday morning; a slow rise with a nice coffee and the thought of a gut-busting feast is usually the catalyst for a good, lazy day.

Except on one Sunday of the year; Marathon day! Not that I’m running or taking part but I have always been a supporter, a flag waving, balloon holding, big mouth. And that’s exactly what the participants need; it’s one of the few times in my life that using my loud, vocal ability is welcomed.

There will be around 38,000 runners doing their best to raise between £45,000,000 and £50,000,000 for so many worthy causes. After months of training it all comes down to one day and 26.2 miles.

This year I decided to ‘Move a Mile for Muscles’ to many different sporting events or iconic sporting arenas to raise funds and awareness for Muscular Dystrophy UK (MD UK). The reason for that is I have a condition called Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy myself and need to try to help those that are trying to help me and thousands of other people in the UK with a neuromuscular condition.

I have great difficulty walking but I still can, so I will, I’ve always been that way; very fortunate to make the best out of a bad situation. Besides, all these miles, all these mountains I’m climbing are actually helping me to keep moving and to stay as fit as I possibly can be whilst being a positive role model for those around me. It’s been a tough year but I’m loving it, I keep repeating all the clich├ęs in my head “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever” , actually pain lasts for ages in my legs but, you see, there is always people worse off than me and I’m very grateful to be able to move as much as I can.

Another thing I’m grateful for is my family and friends. One friend who I met through MD UK is Bernie Henderson; Bernie is a legend amongst the marathon circuit and is rightfully the Ambassador and the go-to-guy when in need of advice for long distance running. Earlier this year Bernie joined me at the famous Iffley Road track in Oxford where Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. We were joined by other members of ‘Team Orange’ and it gave us a chance to chat and talk about many different things including the importance of supporters at the London Marathon. Bernie has since put pen to paper and here is what it means from a runners perspective…

The Importance of the spectator.

“The London Marathon holds a special place in my heart since I ran in the first race in 1981. In those days very few people ran and observers would give you very strange looks as you trained along pavements and I'm sure many thought I must have be escaping from a crime scene. I was keen on all sports but was not a runner and I was inspired by Chris Brasher, along with 7000 others, to take up the challenge. I was supported, despite very wet weather, by my mother-in-law, my wife and my 9 month old daughter and a huge throng of Londoners. They were brilliant and I loved it.

Wind forward 25 years to 2005 and that baby had grown up and was a lawyer in London. She challenged me to try again with her and asked me to choose a charity. I spoke to Muscular Dystrophy UK (or Campaign as it was then) as I had worked with many young people with the condition. Little did we know that somebody very precious to us would be diagnosed with Duchenne's three days later.

That race took on a particular significance as we raised over £8000, but injury struck a few weeks before the race. Dreadful pain in my knee told me I couldn't race but there was no way I could back out. Time for fancy dress I thought ...... and the charity's mascot Rupert Bear. The crowd loved the outfit more than me. From the moment I got on the train my photo was taken by everybody (in the days before selfies). During my run (and walk) I was surrounded by enthusiastic fellow runners and the air was filled with the song, "Rupert, Rupert the Bear". At each drink station I'd stop and give my head to a nearby police officer. Most took this is in good spirit but some were unsure quite what to do with it.

That was the day I realised the power of the crowd. It took me over six hours and the route was lined throughout with people staying to encourage us back markers to keep on going. Spectators hung out of windows on high, stood on roofs and sheltered under flyovers where the noise echoed around to create a wall of sound.

This year, at the age of 61, I hope to start my 12th London Marathon. I've raced it in 3hr 7min and experienced a number of slower runs in fancy dress. I've run through to the finish in some with nothing more than tiredness, while I've hobbled in others after picking up some injury or another. I've run it on cold, wet days and, after training throughout the winter months, I've run it in heat waves!

The one constant is the support provided every year by thousands and thousands of fabulous supporters. I defy anybody to fail to be motivated by the generosity of spirit shown at each and every London Marathon. Normally quiet individuals shout and scream names of people they will never see again as if they were their best friends. My favourite place and the star of the marathon is Tower Bridge. As runners, we pass the mile 12 marker then quickly turn right and are confronted by the iconic structure adorned with colours of every hue. Home to supporter points for many charities, the crowds can be 10 deep in places. The noise is incredible and you'll see runners pick up their pace and smile like never before.

After circumventing Canary Wharf, runners come back to the bridge and on to the Embankment. Once again, at the point where you may not know how you can keep going, you are lifted by the crowd. At best you will be tired but at worst you'll be nursing some injury. They appear to have a sixth sense of knowing who to shout for and what to say. They drag you along until you hit mile 25. A mile to go and nothing will stop you now. The final mile passes quickly as you are immersed in the shouts and calls. Finally, you are upon the long, long bend in front of the Palace and then… the finish line. There is a strange hush after you cross the line. Everyone is breathless and, as often happens, after running miles with a 'new friend' you've met along the way, you shake hands and go your own way.

This year will see the one millionth runner cross the finish line for the London Marathon. Many wouldn't have made it without the millions and millions of supporters, who have helped them, year after year, every step of the way. I love and thank them all.”

Myself, Bernie and Mark Sammon - Team Orange. Iffley Rd, Oxford

As well as others, I cannot wait to cheer Bernie on when Sunday comes around. I mean absolutely everyone that passes me by, it doesn’t matter who they’re running for I will shout my loudest and support them, I will look for the name on their vest to give them the recognition and support they deserve. These people are the selfless ones, these people are the ones that have given up lots of hours to be on the tarmac in front of us.

All the runners on Sunday will be cheered by ‘Team Orange’, it’s what we do, and we’re famous for it. I hope that I never know anyone that will need these charities, they are all amazing and the jobs they do are priceless, but if nobody needs them it means my family and friends are fit and well. Cancer charities, Stroke, The Heart Foundation, Alzheimer’s and the list goes on, I do hope we never need you because that means we’re ok.

What about me and my miles? Well like I said, it’s been a tough year but the adventure is real, exciting and also exhausting, but I’ve learnt it’s not all about me. When I feel like stopping I can’t, I have to think of others, there is a much bigger picture. It would be easy to stop but then that becomes a habit in life. I realise there are shortcuts out there, easier roads I could travel but that would never inspire anyone. Not that I’m inspirational, that’s a word that I shy away from. Inspirational people are the ones that didn’t need to get involved, inspirational people are the ones that pull on that vest and run. Inspirational people are the ones that say I’ll just keep going for you and all the while they spread the word about it and get more and more people involved. I’m just trying my best to keep moving and I’m having fun along the way.

Thanks to everyone that has helped me so far this year and thank you to the many thousands of people that are running to help someone on Sunday. Soak it up, it’ll be one of the best days of your life and the admiration, respect and jelly beans people will have for you along the route will be thoroughly deserved.

Many thanks Bernie and also to the thousands of others taking part on Sunday.

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