The whole marathon thing

Flora London Marathon 22nd April 2007


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It's the most famous marathon in the world.  When I dreamed up this fundraising idea last year, I had no idea what it would entail, and could only run/walk/limp about 5 miles.

I knew I was going to be slow.  I trained, and stamina is not a problem, but my right leg is.  I bought a knee support and developed coping strategies to deal with problematic legs and the fatigue linked to my Multiple Sclerosis. I have a walker to help support me on the 26.2 miles and Celestine of Pepperton uk stayed with me the whole of the way.

Not only did I attempt this task for me, but for all MS sufferers. Hopefully, to encourage them and anyone else who has a disease or disability to push the boundaries of what they think they can achieve. The MS diagnosis was a shock but since then I have been able to help and inspire many others, so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.

Here's the story of my training, and the events of the final day, the Flora London Marathon 2007...

You can click the photos to see them larger.

The "After the Marathon" blog is here.

Sunday, 22nd April: Flora London Marathon 2007

It was a party atmosphere in the morning. We collected around £65 in donations from the public who were out to support the runners.

About noon I reached the 8 mile mark. This was the hardest part for me as my right leg had given way which also affected my hip and back, my balance was non-existent and I was quite woozy. A lady called Deirdre, who we'd met earlier, was quite despondent at this point and almost at the point of giving up, so we encouraged her to join us.

(left) 8 miles in, Deirdre has joined us, & I hate the heat! 
Tanith Bunce had been waiting at the 23 mile MS point to cheer me, but realised that we weren't going to be there any time soon. So she tracked me down at the Isle of Dogs, and stayed with us till the end.

(right) wobble...buckle... break time!

At about 9pm at 21/22 miles, Hubby Gary and the MS running support team joined us. It was a nice time to re-motivate me to push my limits that bit further. The MS team left us half an hour later but Gary continued with me to the end. 
At 10pm we reached the 22 mile mark at London Bridge. Deirdre, with great regret, could not go on any further. Still 22 miles is an excellent achievement considering she had almost given up at the 8 mile mark.

We encountered so many good people along the way. One lady, who was having a street party, gave us iced water and let me use her loo, which was upstairs & so a real challenge for my by then very dodgy legs! I have "Karen" & "Keep Smiling" on my tee-shirt and quite late on I was still getting people shouting and calling my name. At Embankment we passed a woman who congratulated us when she realised we were still en route, and that had a ripple effect on people further along. It was becoming a struggle but I knew I could, must, do it... after all my husband had said that he would do the marathon next year if I completed it this year! 

(right) At Big Ben at 11pm

We reached the finish line at 11.20pm; having passed the starting line at around 10.15am, that would make my time around 13 hours. I was still smiling, but hurting and absolutely exhausted. I needed support but was not strong enough even to push my walker by now, so thank heavens for Celestine Agbo. I could not stand unaided, let alone walk.

We were very disappointed that the only evidence of the finish were lorries for clearing away the fences, but we fell, literally, upon a car marked with the Flora logo and even though we haven't got an official time - because they'd removed the equipment - we do have our photo finish!

Finish: 11.20pm Sunday 22th April 2007

Apart from the man completing the marathon in slow motion and Indiana Jones with the boulder, the Karen team were the last runners to finish.

As stragglers it was quite disappointing that we didn't benefit from ANY support past the 5 mile mark.  Despite the heat, there wasn't any water, the showers had been dismantled, and the directions were non-existent. But we had the official map so we DID COMPLETE THE COURSE. Hence 13 hours!

Saturday, 21 April 2007

OMG it’s tomorrow. I’m not nervous... Just completely panicking!

I've been reviewing the London Marathon website to see if it has any last minute support... of course it does!  I checked:

  • a break down of the course,
  • the MS viewing points (see 16th April entry below),
  • the BBC viewing points (ditto), and
  • where I'm going to be handed my balloons - probably the MS viewing points.

The walker is being decorated as orange as I can! Now I just need to finalise tomorrow's get together. I'll do that at Pepperton where Celestine is putting on a pre-marathon “Pasta Party” so that we can stock up on carbohydrates. Off to that now.

Marathon advice, and my comments:

Don’t overdress
It’s going to be hot - any ice-cubes to put down my bra?

Think on your feet
Stay focused on your race target
My target is to get to the end!

Chunk it
Break the distance down into manageable ‘chunks’ and congratulate yourself when you finish each one.
Well I'm going to collect balloons.

Keep your head up
Protect your back, neck,... & confidence, by keeping eye contact with the crowd.
It’s all in the mind.

Work the course
There'll be a line on the ground for the perfect marathon route, but it's a much better idea to stick to the shadier parts of the course if the sun comes out.
Yeah right!

Get some support
Know where your supporters are, and put your name on your t-shirt.
Done that. Karen, Keep Smiling!

Monday, 16 April 2007

5 days to go... Argh!

Yesterday, Celestine put on a fantastic spread. A shame the sunshine kept everyone away. I did get some support - 8 people stayed for the food and there were a couple of customers who came for a take-away. Maybe an evening event would have been better?

The nerves are starting to activate and the adrenaline is flowing and today I am starting to feel the fear. Thendara, my yoga teacher, has been talking online with me and gave me some exercises to practice before her class this evening.

I definitely feel strange, kind of in limbo, not knowing what to do with myself. So today I've been looking at the London Marathon website, and at advice videos.

Masquerade, who always support the Croydon Branch of the Multiple Sclerosis society, have donated orange hair spray and 27 balloons for me on Marathon day.

I've been reading marathon goodwill messages.  I'd love to read your message, either on that site or direct to me.

I’d also love to see supporters on the day.  Here's the best viewpoints for watching the London Marathon and there are cheering points organised by the MS Society at:
Mile 7, Creek road,
Mile 19, Canada Square at Canary Wharf, and
Mile 25-26, Birdcage Walk at Westminster.
Each will be manned by MS Society staff and volunteers and all my supporters are welcome!

Saturday, 14 April 2007

I’m on auto-pilot now. 8 days to go and already the adrenaline has kicked in. I don’t want to burn out too quickly so I'm making sure to continue with my Yoga, Pilates and meditation classes along with maintenance walking in these last 8 DAYS!

I’m doing my best to eat healthily & I'm drinking Lucozade Sport, prepared in the morning when I take my meds and eat breakfast. Plenty of fluids and enough rest.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow.  As well as the buffet at Pepperton, we'll be having a sweepstake - guessing how long I'll take to do the Marathon.  It'll help raise funds, and motivate my supporters to watch me on the day, just like the Grand National!

Tuesday, 10th April 2007

Oh dear, my right leg is injured, but Matt, my chiropractor, has advised me to: ice it 3 times a day, drink Lucozade isotonic recovery drink, take glucosamine, do plenty of stretching (with my love of yoga that's not a problem!), BUT only take ibuprofen on the marathon day. Yes it hurts, but then it normally does and I definitely can manage a twinge in my knee. I just have to accept that I won’t be breaking any land speed records!

Matt thinks that the knee is just reacting to all the stress of my training and it's probably a good idea to rest over the Easter period. I should be able to collect my letter from the GP tomorrow confirming that I'm able to do the marathon. It's a bit late to suddenly get this request from me, but such is life.

I think I've had enough rest now. Tomorrow is yoga, and I might take a nice walk around Lloyd Park. It is sunny after all.  11 days and 16 hours to go!!!!!!!

Thursday, 5th April 2007

The fundraising side is kicking off now. How useful that I've been nominated as Croydon's Charity Volunteer of the Year and now have lots of press interest.

Adrian, who works for the YBS Charitable Foundation, is working really hard to get all the documents and posters he can to help me in my charity efforts. A new fundraising idea is to guess my marathon time. The prize for the closest guess is “A special edition (adult's) Mickey Mouse watch” from Disney World. It was a timely donation, given by Joan Burford, my very good friend and colleague of nearly 17 years.

Training and Fitness:

In addition to the fundraising - but not as much as I would like - I'm making sure that I'm doing some maintenance training, although I do need to get some “rest”... hmm... ok.

Today I visited Dr Matthew Rabin my chiropractor, for a general MOT before the marathon and to nip any niggles in the bud. Unfortunately, it wasn't good news. I've damaged the tendon in my right knee but I should be fine. Ice packs 3 times a day, and I must do all my stretches and drink even more liquids.

Ok... Stop the nagging ... I’m off to stretch and ice my knee!

3rd April 2007: Parchmore fundraising event

The Croydon Hearing Resource Centre (CHRC) and Parchmore Community Centre (PCC) held an event to help raise funds for my effort.  I arrived straight from work but luckily I had some "goodies" with me, including the tee-shirt that I will be wearing on 22nd April, Marathon Day.

Groups from both the CHRC and the PCC enjoyed:

  • Bingo with call Keith Stanley from CHRC.
  • A raffle draw with a large selection of prizes.
  • Another raffle for a hand crocheted blanket that had been kindly donated.
  • "Name the Star": a prize for putting the most correct names to photos of classic screen stars.
  • Complete the Catchphrase quiz.
  • Yummy food & refreshments.

(click for larger picture)

I was touched by all the support and goodwill messages I received. One was from Peter Harding: "May the sun SHINE on you on your [Marathon] day".
A total of £201 was raised, and Gerrie Ozah, from the Parchmore centre said, "It was hard work, good fun, worth doing AND everyone had a whale of a time!"

A big "Thank You" to:
Vanessa Dullaway (CHRC)
Gerrie Ozah (PCC)
Keith Stanley (CHRC)
Carol Dobbs (PCC)
Brenda Wren (PCC)

Wednesday, 28th March 2007

Less than a month to go and I’m in kind of a strange place. I think I’m turning a corner emotionally. The trouble is I don’t know what's around that corner.

Yesterday I had a chat with my friend Jackie who I can rely on, like a lot of my good friends, to slow me down and keep me focused. Apparently occasionally I am perhaps a little over enthusiastic. Hmmm, I do wonder what they are implying.

So I’ve listened and taken on board what all my friends have said. Given that I have until midnight to complete the London Marathon, Celestine and I are going to enjoy the street party... and the party begins NOW!

I'm continuing with my walks and maintaining my fitness but I'm not using up my supplies of energy.  I'm drinking Lucozade Sport to ensure I have the liquid, protein and carbs I need, in addition to my normal healthy vegetarian diet!

Everyone that gives me a good wish message will be with me on the journey and everyone that sponsors me will be entered into the draw after I have SUCCESSFULLY completed the marathon.

From now on I’m going to invite everyone to join me in my party with the help of some pubs. So wish me luck and come join me. My first stop is the Windmill Pub that helped me raise funds for the Sky Dive and where a lot of friends of mine play darts or crib. Start off on friendly ground I think!

Wednesday, 21st March 2007

I went to the gym today, my first walking/running exercise since Sunday. I was just experimenting with my capabilities. In 30 minutes I managed to travel 3 km and it almost killed me. My right leg - I can always rely on it to let me down - lost stability AGAIN!

After the treadmill trauma I attended a recovery Yoga class. For the first time I managed to do a head stand! I held it on my own - if only for seconds - with the help of Anita, my yoga instructor. Maybe this was another of life’s lessons: just because previously you haven't been able to fully complete a task, doesn't mean that it won't be possible at some point in the future.

After yoga, I met up with Ade and she encouraged me to get off the treadmill and out on the road. It’s the only way to get used to the “terrain” of the outside!

Then I met Yvonne, my good friend, membership manager at Solutions and professional masseur, and we discussed ways that the gym could help me with my venture. She also said that I shouldn't “beat myself up” over the previous Sunday. Perhaps I should start to listen to my friends and get my positivity truly back.

After gym, I took to the outside world and surprise surprise I ended up at Pepperton’s to see Celestine. After some discussion Celestine is going to contact the London Marathon on my behalf. I had been fighting the idea, because I wanted to complete the marathon in a normal time. Reality has finally raised its ugly head and it's unrealistic to expect anything less than 8 hours for the marathon and probably more. Celestine is going to find out the implications that this may have.

Since training I have been adding to my fitness knowledge education as part of my ETM course (Exercise to Music) with the various marathon literatures & the pod casts on
I know that I have to increase my carbs and protein, especially being a vegetarian. Yet again Celestine has come to my rescue. He’s been making sure that I'm eating correctly when I visit. Most recently I had two servings - it really is very nice - of Celestine’s West African stew. It’s his recipe. The night before the marathon he is organising a Carbs Fest at Pepperton, but not necessarily pasta. The stew with Yams et al is perfect for carbs and protein. In fact he decided (after much debate - I still think his name should come first if mine is mentioned at all) that after the marathon he is going to promote “Croydon Karen and Celestine Stew – excellent for marathon preparation and recovery!” After much talking and “debating” and, oh yes hubby Gary’s arrival, it was time to go home and update my blog for my readers!

Sunday, 18th March 2007: Half marathon day!

6.37am: It’s raining... really raining. It looks like a repeat of the 4th March when I did the 10Km trek. I have to admit that I'm frightened, nervous and apprehensive. Hopefully later I'll have a success story for you.

6.34 pm: My philosophy is that everything happens for a reason, and there is a lesson to be learned from every experience, bad or good.  So here is today’s story:

After a wonderful week for weather, we woke up to the sound of rain with the forecast of snow. However, weather forecasts have got it wrong before now, so we stayed optimistic.

We wanted to leave home at about 7.30am but for various reasons we didn’t leave until 8.45am.  Needless to say the tension was quite high but I was determined to turn it around. The “Old Skool” music and a little bit of silliness helped to lessen the stress in the car.

We got to Silverstone in time to hear Nigel Mansell of Grand Prix fame - but today just another runner - give the starting speech and then the official launch. But by the time we reached the starting point, my pace group had already gone.

(right) At the start

The whole way I was on my own. It was windy from the very first moment. I had an MS Society waterproof on, but soon ripped that off and with the help of one of the marshals attached my number 6795 to my t-shirt. It seemed to take forever for the first mile to come, but I knew it wouldn't be fast as I was battling the wind all the way.

However, it wasn't far into the second mile that this seriously strong wind was joined by hailstones. I had music on my phone to keep me company but the headphones kept getting knotted so I took them off.

I knew I was far behind the pack but my spirit was lifted when I was “lapped” by the other runners who encouraged me with “keep going” and “well done”. It was only when I went into the pit lane for the next lap that I realised how much I needed those comments.

All of a sudden I was alone. There were no more runners lapping me, no marshals, and even the crowd that were now on the course didn't realise that I was a contestant. I started to get quite low. Then I came to a junction and I realised that I didn't know which way to go and there wasn't anybody to ask. I have to admit that the usually smiley Karen did get a little tearful and frustrated with her rubbish legs!

It was then that a truck came up and a marshal jumped out and asked if he could give me a lift. Poor man... I started sobbing.

It turns out that he's a senior marshal and will actually be at the finish line of the London Marathon. He told me that I shouldn't feel like a failure, and that few others could have covered the distance that I had, in this weather, and with no support. That I really have accomplished something.

I then realised he was walking me to a position where I would cross the finish line with the other runners. I started to resist but he said I deserved my finish line photo as much as any other athlete.

When I received the claps and cheers, despite the pep talk, I smiled but it didn't feel the same. I knew I had to complete the 13.1 mile distance somehow but I was so tired I couldn't think how. 

My photo was taken (left) but I didn't really care. I didn’t feel like I deserved the trophy or goody bag that I was handed. Although I did need the sports drink and granola bar, I didn't take out the medal or “winners t-shirt”. I won’t acknowledge them until I deserve them. That will hopefully be next Saturday.

Then my walker got stuck as I passed over a ramp and I really started to think that I shouldn't be there because I just wasn't capable. When I saw Gary, I burst into tears. I just wanted to get away. 

On the way home I began to look to the future. I know that I have to achieve so much to get through the marathon, but surely the weather conditions will be better, although Gary is joking about going to the bookies and placing a bet that on 22nd April 2007 the Flora London Marathon is going to be hit by the worse tornado in British history!

Along the way we stopped at a service station and I decided to pop in to the ladies. I was very tired and not thinking clearly. I headed back to  the car & opened the door to get in.  Then I heard our car horn and realised that the driver that I was about to sit next to, wasn't Gary. Gary had been watching me walk back but hadn't realised what I was about to do until the last moment.  I looked at the shocked man next to me and blurted out “oops sorry, wrong car” and went to mine where my family were in hysterics, and when I looked to my left so was the poor man who I had shocked just moments before. He would certainly have a tale to tell when he got home. I sunk into the seat and instructed my laughing husband to leave as quickly as he could.

I slept for most of the rest of the journey, but managed a quick visit to my mum on this Mother’s Day.

I have learned:

  • That sometimes assistance can also be a hindrance.
  • I wonder if crutches would be better?
  • Planning and communication are a must. It's important to do as much as possible the night before, and make sure that the whole “team” (i.e. family) know what they can do to help on the day.
  • Even though I didn't live up to my own expectations, maybe they were unrealistic and I should join others in celebrating what I have achieved.
  • Walking or running is NOT FUN when you are being hit by hail stones and battling against a wind.

I’ve just requested online the photo of 6795 as she crosses the line. I hope the marathon photo of me will be of someone who completes 26.2 miles honestly.

There are more fun ways to spend Mother's Day but would I repeat the experience, tears’n’all? Probably, but I would definitely approach it differently.

So what now? Tomorrow will be a rest day I think!

Next Saturday I'm going to walk to the gym. At least I'll have the satisfaction that I'll have completed this distance and it'll give me a greater confidence for the marathon on Sunday, 22nd April. I’ll have Celestine with me then; we are going to chat later in the week. 

Marathon blog: earlier entries here


In the press:

"Karen won’t let MS stop her finishing marathon", Croydon Guardian, 4th April 2007

"MS sufferer Karen is running the London Marathon", Croydon Advertiser, 29th Dec 2006

"Pull yourself together", Chat magazine, 8th May 2003

"On Your Marx, Get Set", News Shopper, 30th Apr 2003

"Mum Karen forgets her illness to help buy ambulance", Croydon Post, 18th Aug 1999

Finishing the marathon, BBC website