“It had taken me nine hours and 11 minutes, but I’d done it, I had completed the London Marathon on the 28th April 2019. I may have been the slowest time that year, but I’d done it and I felt pure relief (and pain) wash over my body.
I’d dream of this moment during my months of training. I envisaged loud cheers, a photographer snapping as I made it over the finish line and an official eagerly waiting to hang my medal around my neck.
Instead, the finisher’s line had already been taken down and I was forced to run on a side path through a sea of unamused tourists, where my medal was handed to me in a plastic bag.
I knew I was a slow runner and at only 4ft9, I’m hardly your stereotypical athlete but the London Marathon advertised itself as everybody’s race. This was clearly not the case.
The beginnings of a runner
I’d gotten into running on New Year’s Day 2018 – I woke up with a hangover, and had an epiphany that I should try to improve my fitness. My goal was to do a three mile Race for Life. At that point I could not even run for the bus. In fact, even walking hurts my lower back.
I was really unhappy with myself. I had everything I’d ever wanted. I was happily married, I had a job that I really loved as a Social Worker, and my little boy Osian. We’d experienced four miscarriages, so I was grateful to finally have the family I’d dream of. However, I was overweight and my little boy was starting school that September – I was bullied, and I did not want them to pick on him for having a fat mummy.
To my surprise, I got through the Race for Life with relative ease that summer and got a real taste for races. I completely fell in love with the sport.
Shortly afterwards I got chatting to a friend who’d done the London Marathon, and she told me I’d love it. I did not take much convincing – I’d grown up watching it on TV, and always secretly wanted to do it. I’d just suffered from another miscarriage, and I needed something postive to focus on.
I knew I wanted to run it for the Miscarriage Association, but I’d never told anybody that I’d lost children. It’s also my husband Darren’s story so I wanted to know if he was comfortable with it. I was so nervous to approach him about it that I text him even though we were in the same house. I was downstairs nervously waiting for his response, while he was doing the bathtime routine with Osian. He quickly replied with, “I can not think of anything better, just do not expect me to do any running with you!” It felt cathartic to finally be able to say out loud that I was a mum of five angel babies, as I fundraised for the cause close to my heart.
In my training I’d either go really early in the morning or late at night and wear dark clothing. I felt like a bit of a fitness fraud, like I should not even be trying, and so did not want anybody to see me running. I never had a buddy on the run for the same reason.
When the day arrived I’d completed 17 miles so I felt fairly confident in myself. I always knew nothing would stop me from completing it, but I’d just be slow. I was told I needed to do it in eight hours, and thought I could just make it but race day had other ideas…
The big day
I was very tired on the big day as I’d spent the whole night before tossing and turning, not really getting any sleep due to my nerves but I soldiered on, and said an emotional goodbye to Darren and Osian. I’ve never admitted this before but I worried that I would not return home. I’d read about people dying on race day, and thought that could be me.
Pretty soon after I started running things started to go wrong. From the three mile point I started to feel the pressure. I kept seeing vehicles driving close behind me. They were really trying to get us to move on quicker. I tried to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, but it felt like there was a ticking time bomb.
Even worse they were packing away the arrows and mile markers directing me, before I’d even got to mile 10. I do not often find myself in London, so I did not know where I was going and most of the stewards had gone home, and a lot of the ones who remained were judgmental. I found them looking me up and down, and even laughing at me. I was having to use my initiative and follow the discarded water bottles. From six miles, there were no water stations. I was told by a marshall to drink from one of the half emprty disposed bottles scattered in the drains.
My phone pinged at 13 miles, and it was a friend asking, “Are you okay? You have not moved since 10k. ” They’d turned off the tracking and in the moment I felt truly alone. Darren, Osain, my best friends and sister were all dotted around London but they had no way of finding me. The only thing I could think to do was post a video on Facebook to let people know I was okay. I said through tears, “I’m halfway. The sweep truck is in front of me but I do not care, I’m going to keep going. Thank you to everyone who’s supported me. I’m going to do it, I promise. ”
It was recorded at London Bridge, which is a defining moment in the marathon. I’d been told by many people that you’re greeted by a wall of sound, but it was complete silence. My heart broke in that moment. I get emotional whenever I think about it.
Although my experience was not what I wanted, it had moments of greatness. I became friendly with the cleanup team, who became my support crew. They’d go ahead of me and then clap as I went past them. They would shout up to flat with their windows open and tell them to cheer me on.
I met a woman at mile 17 who told me she’d had a miscarraige. She hugged me and said do it for my babies too. She may have been a relative stranger, but we had this unspoken bond.
At mile 17 I finally saw Darren and Osian and I broke down to them. Osian told me, “Don’t worry Mummy, Mo has had a bad day too.” Mo Farah had finished fifth. I’d made my husband buy a photo package, and had been too slow to get a single photo, so I was really apologizing to him for wasting his money. He told me to stop being silly, and off I went again.
I finally found my best friends in the last miles, and they ran with me. The roads were open again so we were having to run over bridges, and climb stairs adding extra distance onto the already long challenge. It was hellish, but I think my whole negative experience happened for a reason. I crossed the line and discovered my video had gone viral. Kind people who’d seen it, helped to double my fundraising total and I’d now raised over £ 11,000. That made the pain worth it.
Making a change
My day was horrible, and I would not want anyone to go through what I did so I made it my personal mission to have the marathon changed for the back of the pack runners.
I poured my heart out in an open letter to the Event Director, Hugh Brasher. It ended with, “The real reason for my letter is to ask you from the bottom of my heart to listen to the back of the runners and learn. Please keep the London Marathon the people’s marathon I grew up loving. Stay true to the “Everyone’s Race”. For the sake of my little boy and other children growing up I hope it stays inclusive. ”
They apologized, and gave me a place at the next marathon so they could show me how things have changed.
I did not want the 2019 experience to be my lasting memory of marathons. Plus, I’d started attending a gym for the first time in my life so I could not turn down his offer. I ran two marathons virtually in lockdown, and then returned for the physical event on the 3rd October 2021.
It was like a totally different event, with friendly faces at every mile, supportive marshalls and loud cheers as I crossed the finisher’s line. I had the proper experience, and it was amazing. I finally knew why people love to run marathons. People recognized me around the course, and were thanking me for what I’d done for slower runners. Some people told me that they’d only signed up because of me, which was humbling.
It felt beautiful to be back, and for all my dreams of what it could be coming true. I managed to complete it in seven hours, 56 minutes and wearing the brightest leggings I could find. I could not be prouder of myself. And yes – I’ve signed up to do it all over again this year. Little old me who just put one foot in front of the other was a celebrity for the day. I’m certainly never going to be the World’s fastest runner, but I’m a runner. “
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