'You must feel incredibly proud' are usually the first words people say when they hear you've completed the London marathon. That and 'What time did you do?' or ' How was it?'. Truth is I don't feel proud.
I feel lucky
I feel numb
I feel frustrated
I feel angry
I feel sad
I feel shocked
I feel confused
I feel disappointed
But I don't feel proud
My London marathon experience is far from the one you see on the TV. The one with happy smiling crowds of people all laughing and running happily together. The one of clean London streets packed full of cheering, supporting people and of nice friendly, supportive runners looking out for each other. As you watch on the TV you feel inspired, feel wonderful and feel like anyone can do this. I mean people complete London carrying washing machines, dressed as crazy animal and other random items, so really how hard can it be? The dream I had in my head of London, the one I had seen on TV as a child, the one people had told me how amazing and wonderful it would be came crashing back to reality on Sunday. I feel cheated that my experience of the London marathon is far from this picture perfect marathon the TV would have us believe.
The route winds its way through the streets of London, and to be honest apart from running over tower bridge and the last mile and half you really could be anywhere in the world. I was too busy concentrating on not collapsing on Sunday to really take any notice of the sights, I mean I saw them, I knew they were there but it was more a survival race. In fact that's exactly what Sunday was it was pure survival.
Problem is when you stick 40,000 people together all with the same instinct of survival, then survival mode kicks in and people get selfish. Not all of them, but the vast majority. I saw people pushing others out the way of showers. People pushing to get to the water stations. I never saw any other runner offer water to another runner. I was elbowed a few times as I approached water stations, I got hit in the face and pushed around. My only experience similar to this was in a mosh pit for Machine Head. I only managed to make it under one of the cooling showers, as either the pushing or at some the queuing just wasn't worth the quick relief.
Water began running out and the survival mode told me not to push any more, not to run because who knew when I would next get any water. The hot air made breathing difficult. At times I felt my throat constricting, the hot dry air making me feel like my insides were in a microwave. Cooked from the inside out. The water that was handed out was warm, which really did not aid in the cooling process. I needed ice but couldn't find any. I just wanted to breathe in some cold air to attempt to cool down. I had taken a litre of water mixed with active root with me but drunk it all. I was incredibly hot. At mile 3 I realised I was hot but not sweating. It was just salt pouring out of me. At mile 5 I had bad chest pains, which I know from experience is a sign I am dehydrated, and had no choice but to slow down.
As water stations ran out of water I saw volunteers pick up bottle from the floor and pour them into each other to make full bottles, to then hand them back out to runners. Volunteers sweeping up other discarded bottles into piles on the side of the route. These made for huge tripping hazards, and I saw one lady fall over a bottle and start screaming in pain as she clutched her knee. Other bottles got kicked around the route. Some flung into the air, catching people on tops of legs and causing pain as they struck. The discarded bottles causing huge tripping hazards as runners tried their best to dodge them. At some stations paper cups were been given out, although I actually never saw them been given out. What I did see was the slippery Papier-mâché on the floor. That got flung into the air as a grey, dirty, wet mass that then clung to the backs of your legs. It looked like wet ash flying through the air and settled like wet concrete on your legs.
I have never seen so many runners in this type of an event walk from as early on. It was necessary to survive. I lost track of the number of runners I saw collapse. The number of runners sat on the side of the road, some screaming in pain. I saw runners just fall down in front of me and lay there motionless in the road. I saw a man with a paramedic on each of his arms, his pale face hung to one side, his tongue flopping outside his mouth. He couldn't hold his head up, the pale skin a strange grey colour. He was been carried to the tent for I assume first aid. A person on a stretcher with only the hair poking out the top of a sheet that covered them. The first aid tents were full. You could see the queues of people. You saw blood on runners, as they tried to push through the pain barrier. You saw clear dislocations of ankles and knees. Each image permanently etched in memory. Each one making you want to quit, wanting the whole ordeal to be over.
At first the crowds are great, the screaming, the cheering, the banging on the fences but it soon becomes too much. Crowds 5 or 6 people deep at some points. All screaming and cheering. The noise becomes sensory overload. Your brain is still trying to process what it's just seen, your body is trying to tell you to survive and the noise is intense. You long for your own head space, just a chance to put into perspective and a chance to zone out. It only arrives briefly as you run under the underpass, but it is too short lived. I struggled to find my children and Mum in the crowd. I slowed down even more to make sure I could find them and was so grateful when I did. That chance to just stop and talk for a few minutes was needed, I did the same at the charity check points. I had to to just try and clear my mind.
The crowds did clearly see how much the runners were struggling and offered water, food, drinks and a few even had ice pops. For that I am grateful, but that's happened on all my runs in the past and not just London.
My children witnessed runners collapsing and my youngest has become concerned about me now running. I feel sad that they had to witness this and am doing my best to reassure them. They have asked about the ambulance sirens they kept hearing. That I kept hearing. Each one I hoped was nothing too serious, unfortunately one of those was for a fellow runner who sadly passed away. My children are not aware of this.
I had gone into London with no specific time goal in mind, simply to enjoy the day and the experience. This wonderful London marathon experience I had seen on TV and heard so much about, but for me that wasn't the case. I feel confused by the whole experience. I feel cheated that I haven't had 'THE' London experience everyone raves about and I feel frustrated that I was no where near any sort of time I wanted or that I didn't get to enjoy it. I feel completely let down. I feel like I have let my charity down by feeling this way. I feel like I have let those who sponsored me down by not enjoying the experience and I feel like I let my children and family down.
I feel angry and shocked that water stations ran out, that runners pushed and shoved each other over the little water left and over the showers too. I feel incredibly sad and numb over the news reports that have followed, especially over a fellow runner who died. My mind cannot process the scenes it witnessed, a fellow runner said at times it felt like a war zone. Watching people clearly in pain at the side of the road. Watching people limping to try and finish. Watching people collapse in front of you. Watching blood pour out of strangers. Watching limbs twist and bend. Scenes I never want to see again.
Despite all of this I feel lucky. I feel lucky that I have made it home to my family and my children. That they didn't receive a call saying I was in hospital or that I had needed medical help. I feel lucky I have completed the London marathon, a race many want to do but never have the opportunity. I feel lucky that I raised a fantastic amount of money for a charity very close to my heart. So right now I am a mix of emotions, my head still trying to figure out exactly what happened. Figure out exactly what I saw and why. Trying to figure out if I ever want to attempt London again should I be able to.
I need time to process it all, but what I do know is I feel a lot of things but proud is not one of them.