Saturday, 27 April 2013

Alison's Marathon

A week ago today Iain and I were pacing around the living room, alternately dashing off somewhere to obtain the 'essential' race item we'd just remembered to lay out in our neat, Marathon Stuff display. Both of us had cold, sweaty palms and burning brows - I've not felt nerves quite like it since my A-Level French speaking exam! Day-long email correspondence with the rest of TEAM! confirmed we weren't alone in our adrenaline-fuelled over-preparation, but that didn't help us get any sleep on Marathon Eve either: the alarm was set for 6.30am on Sunday and we were up and about well before then. 

Making our way to the Red Start from Greenwich station I was starting to regret my choice of long-sleeves as, with little wind about and sunny clear skies, it was surprisingly warm though once we'd stowed our kit bags, met some of TEAM! and queued for that last-minute panic wee, I had to stick with it. The silence to remember the victims of Boston was one of the most astounding things I've ever experienced. Although we watched the marathon footage on tv when we got home, the noisy hubbub of 30,000 people anxiously gathered on the start line disappearing immediately on the sound of one whistle such that you could have heard a pin drop on such a still day, was something that couldn't be conveyed in the footage. I felt united with the global community of marathon runners at that moment - it was quite unforgettable.

Some start-line faffing with my Camelbak tube not delivering water and panicking that my Garmin watch wasn't detecting satellites melted away when Teddy and I started across the line and on our way. Those first 12 miles were dare I say it, enjoyable! I kept to my planned pace and merrily checked my mileage times off on my pace wristband and all was going swimmingly (runningly). There were so many people out supporting us with music systems and bands by the side of the road that my ipod music (especially with rubbish Apple headphones) was but a whisper in my ears. I kept them in though just in case the action of unplugging somehow scuppered my race - sad but true, such is the level of paranoia which develops in relation to a marathon! I spotted Mum just before Tower Bridge waving a purple TEAM! flag and then gave my most enthusiastic whooping and waving to the Diabetes UK (DUK) cheering squad and our friends Toby, Rachel and Emma before the iconic river crossing and before I knew it we'd made halfway point. So far so good. By far one of the hardest things to see up to and at that point is the field of runners heading in the other direction who'd already done 22 miles and all of Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. I silently cursed them.

The second half of the race was where things started to deteriorate. The roads really narrow down and given I was aiming for the popular 4.5 hours, I was running in the most congested part of the field. In between the sheer numbers of people, the crowds encroaching on the roads and the runners starting to walk, I became frustrated trying to get past other runners and weaving in and out and on the pavement. It was feeling hotter, I started losing time mile by mile and upon reaching Canary Wharf at mile 18, I was at quite a low ebb and running slower and slower (despite my parent's friend Wayne on seeing me there apparently turning to Dad and saying I looked really good - I must have hid it well!). It was around this point I found myself not wanting to eat or drink, feeling a bit shivery and nauseous, not really sweating and a horrible image flashed through my head that my finish might be with St John's Ambulance rather than on The Mall. I grabbed one of the Lucozade drinks and kept it with me from that point on, taking a few sips every now and then though I couldn't stomach my last Go Go Gu. I must have just nipped that developing heat exhaustion before it took over as I managed to grit my teeth and carry on despite the waves of nausea, making use of the roadside cold showers (covering Teddy with my hat as I went under). I had tried not to think too hard about why I was running the marathon at all up to that point as I knew it was going to be a huge emotional experience but I allowed Emily in at mile 20 and I knew there was no way I could stop running. I wouldn't permit so much as a limp - there was to be no walking, I was going to run all the way. On reaching mile 21 I knew I could do it, whatever happened I could jog five miles. Exiting the road tunnel on the Victoria Embankment I convinced myself that I had a long way to go to reach Big Ben and that mental trick plus seeing our neighbours Andy and Paul just before 25 buoyed me to that longed-for Westminster right-hand turn and the second DUK cheering brigade. In the photos of me at that point, despite exercising hard in the sunshine for over four hours, I'm looking distinctly pale but at least I'm smiling!

And then it was done - Teddy jumped out of his pocket, as planned, to beat me to the line and it was all over and done with a few tears in 4 hours 40 minutes. I'd lost 10 minutes off my planned finish time but I'm so pleased that my second (and oh so definitely last) marathon knocked 1 hour 12 minutes off my previous best time!

Iain met me at Horseguards and after a few weepy hugs (me not him) we made our way to the conference centre where DUK had their Cool Down Party. We got a little cheer when we walked in which was superb and immediately signed up for a much-needed leg massage.
ElliotJamieMarkDarren and Adam were already there having given superb performances and I was so overwhelmed at the friends and family filling the room having been out on the course cheering us on - thank you all so very much. Jamie had even calmed (?) his pre-marathon nerves by baking us all a spectacular TEAM! cake at 1 AM. The next hours were a blur of chatting, hugging, photos a DUK post-marathon interview and welcoming TEAM! members as they arrived. Finally Jamie, Darren, Iain and I were the last to leave and kicked out by the cleaners at 7pm to make our ways home, trying not to get run over crossing the roads as any movement over a shuffle was impossible. Thanks to the extremely lovely DUK staff especially, Lou, Joe and Britt for your support, encouragement, fab Cool Down Party and for being awesome individuals.

Despite the leg pain that lasted until Wednesday it all seems quite surreal that it's over and in some ways that it ever happened. 32 weeks of training and an emotional journey has been condensed into a lump of metal on a red ribbon. As I've mentioned before, the journey has almost been more important than the achievement for me: the training schedule and targets kept my head above water when I wanted to give up and wallow and I've been fortunate to have met some of the people in Emily's world who I'd very much like to remain in mine. The members of TEAM! are all total legends for committing themselves to this journey and to have done it with such good humour, tenacity and, well, love, I feel exceptionally lucky to have been part of it. We have raised (and still counting) an amazing sum for Diabetes UK, we did ourselves proud and we honoured Emily in the best way we could. She would have been so, so proud.

Iain's Marathon

And so, after 6 months training, 95.5 hours on the road and 658.03 miles, it was marathon day, yet even with all the preparation - and with two London marathons already under my racing belt - I had no idea that the three days leading up to the race would present a far more challenging feat of mental endurance than the big day itself.
Initially, I had managed to keep my mind calm, but by Thursday lunchtime I was well on the way to becoming a nervous wreck. By Saturday, my body had been replaced with a mishmash of uncoordinated limbs, badly held together with buzzing wires and fuelled by pure adrenaline. I had developed numerous aches and foreboding symptoms, every one of which heralded a run-stopping disease. Saturday itself was filled with extraordinary displays of OCD behaviour - laying out kit, neatly, in rows, making lists, making new lists, creating playlists, editing playlists, moving something from the geometric kit display and then putting it back. On Saturday night, I managed about an hour of sleep. 
This race, the preparation, the reasons for it were so important to me that I have truly never felt so wretched for so long and it will therefore come as no surprise that as I stood in pen 5 of the Red Start on Sunday morning, with nothing wrong with me whatsoever, the most salient emotion was utter relief, with extreme excitement running a very close second.
Before the Mass Race got under way, there were 30 seconds of silence in memory of the victims of Boston. You have no doubt seen pictures of the mass starts - there are an extremely large number of people involved and you could have heard a pin drop; it was extraordinary and extremely moving. After the applause, with the claxon echoing across the starts, the race was very much on.

Putting an unfortunate kibosh on a exciting reportage, there is not much to say about the race itself. As usual with London, I was completely nobbled by the volume of runners, and try as I might to find space, over the full distance the congestion cost me between 5-10 seconds per mile. However, that said, I followed my race strategy to the letter: my pacing was excellent, I smashed my goal of sub-4, producing my first positive marathon split (halves of 01:57:07 and 01:55:09), and I finished with enough strength over the last 7km, that I passed a further 1451 runners with just 15 passing me. I finished hydrated, I was focused and in control for the whole course, I did not end up in the company of St. John's Ambulance and for these things I am very proud of myself.
That said, there was one whoopsy which is funny in retrospect, but not quite so funny at the time. As I crossed the finishing line, I stopped my watch which read 03:49:47. I was delighted as I thought I had recovered a chunk of the time I had lost to the congestion, but unfortunately, I had actually completed the course 2 minutes slower. It transpires that while running through the tunnels in Canary Wharf and along the Embankment, my watch - losing GPS signal - decided that I was standing still and activated the auto-pause. Arse. Note to self: turn off auto-pause for a race.
Time compresses when you are so focused, and for me the day went by in a blink. I can remember most of the course and I certainly remember the finishing line, but even at this monumental point, thanks to a highly conscious effort to prevent my collapse in to a weeping heap, I simply felt numb. As  a result, my abiding memory of the day comes courtesy of the endless and legendary crowds who were utterly cacophonous and to the absolute heroes who came to cheer us on, and to Diabetes UK who were tremendous hosts a most sincere THANK YOU!

Since the race, I have not been running and on Tuesday I was even off walking after some jester removed my quads and replaced them with lactic-jello, but I will be back on the streets next week slowly building the training back up for my next race - a 10k this time - in 14 weeks. See, if you are not careful, this is what happens and in spite of myself, I will probably run another marathon. What is wrong with me?

Monday, 22 April 2013

TEAM! Marathon Results

57% of TEAM! At The Red Start

A massive, massive thank you to everyone who supported us yesterday, it was truly amazing and hugely motivating to receive so many messages of support throughout the day and we were stunned, honoured and humbled that so many people made the effort to come an cheer us on in person. Each one of you really made a difference and you all have our sincere gratitude. 
While our legs recover, we are putting together a full report of race-day which we hope to publish this week, but as we wait for the pictures to come in for that round up, here are the official results for TEAM!  in the 2013 Virgin London Marathon!

Elliot Nesbitt 03:17:05
Jamie McFarlane 03:25:12
Iain Ager 03:52:16
Adam Caines 04:10:49
Mark Lunn 04:17:52
Darren Lord 04:30:53
Alison Pearce 04:40:18
Bronek Carr 04:46:17
Anna Preston 05:05:05
James Cooke 05:05:06
Alex Jansen Birch 05:29:27
Katie Hall 05:40:43
Rhian Chapman 05:52:30
Stefan Jansen van Vuuren DNF
Jonathan Moore DNS

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Teddy Bears All

At the beginning of April, TEAM! lost a member when Jonathan Moore deferred his place to 2014. At such a late stage we thought it was going to be an impossibility to draft in a replacement, but we were wrong - within an hour of hearing the news, Emily's oldest and closest friend had contacted us to offer his services and so TEAM! was immediately back up to full complement! Given his late entry, we wanted to introduce him to you and he kindly agreed to a rare interview, transcribed below, which took place at the Marathon registration in London's ExCel this afternoon.

Arriving At ExCel      -     Trying New Kit    -   Podium Dry Run

TEAM!: Teddy, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us this afternoon, could you tell us how you knew Emily?
Early years with Emily
Teddy: I first met Emily when Alison and her mum adopted me from the island of St. Michael in 1982. I was drawn to her because at the time she was the same size that I was, but - as you can see in this picture - it was not to last. Even though she became much bigger, we were always inseparable and so when this opportunity to join TEAM! came up, I just had to grab it with both paws.

TEAM!: You have been training now for 2 weeks, could you tell us about your hydration and nutrition?
Teddy: Bears' food needs are different from yours, especially when it comes to endurance sports. Personally, I find that my best performances have come after I have gorged myself on chocolates and tea. In fact the better the chocolate the better the performance and if any one out there wants to witness a bear giving WIlson Kipsang a run for his money, please send a box of Knipschildt La Madeline au Truffe to me, c/o TEAM! - they are rocket fuel.

TEAM!: Amazingly, you started training for the marathon with only 2 weeks to go, what has your average week looked like?
Relaxing in Chocospa™
Teddy: Mondays and Wednesdays are when I work on my endurance, on these days I sit for anything up to 9 hours at a stretch. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I practice sitting in a real pocket and Saturday and Sundays are rest days. Friday is the hardest day, that is when I work on jiggling up and down - I can now manage over 3 hours without bringing any chocolate back up, and I am hoping that by Sunday I may even manage 4 hours. People on the Embankment had better watch out just in case - don't be fooled by my size; I eat a lot of chocolate. 

TEAM!: Mo Farah's and Paula Radcliffe's training takes them to the Rift Valley in Kenya, do you do any of your training at altitude?
Teddy: Indeed, don't forget that on race day I will be competing at nearly 5ft above ground level and it is important for me to replicate these conditions in training. When I am not pounding the streets, I do this by completing my endurance sessions on a high shelf.
Mid-Training Run

TEAM!: If all the training goes to plan, how fast do you think you can run London 2013?
Teddy: That all depends on the chocolate and tea situation. And Alison. But mostly the chocolate and tea.

TEAM!: There's likely to be much media focus and scrutiny of your performance in this race. Does it make you want to prove the critics wrong or do you just ignore it?

Teddy: Who are these critics? Give me their names and addresses.

TEAM!: Er... Moving on, we'll ask a few quick questions about you so people can get to know the real Teddy! Property aside, what's the most expensive thing you've bought? Teddy: A 2009, gold leaf-covered special edition bar of Wispa Gold.

TEAM!: What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Teddy: Do you humans really think like that?

TEAM!: Who would play you in the film of your life?
Teddy: Bear Grylls, but he may not be tall enough.

TEAM!: Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? 
Teddy: Yogi, Baloo, Winnie, Fozzie and Paddington. It would be a picnic - old habits die hard.

We welcome this remarkable bear to TEAM! and wish him the very best of luck.
Ever committed to his training, Teddy went off to complete yet another endurance session in the first of this year's sun. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

It now seems a very distant and other-world in which seven people, brought together by the most terrible personal tragedy, sat around a patio table by the banks of the Thames and agreed that they would run the marathon in honour of the amazing friend they had just lost. It feels equally surreal knowing that this is the last week of the resulting adventure.
So much has happened since those pledges were made: seven became fifteen, it all started to get quite complicated and then it all became extraordinarily serious. It is not an exaggeration, or to speak out of turn to say that TEAM! has changed every one of us; this adventure, borne from heartbreak, has left an indelible legacy of personal achievement and of pride that we have done our best for our friend, sister, cousin, colleague and partner. This was for Emily, it was also for us.

2/3rds of TEAM! January 2013
Of course we all still have a marathon to run, but in a TEAM! email this week, Elliot rightly acknowledged that the honour and the praise would be better given, not for the marathon, but for the uncountable and unknowable multitude of personal battles, trials, tribulations and efforts which have taken place silently, diligently and humbly, over the last 6 months.
It is from these selfless endeavours that TEAM! has been forged, muscles built and money raised, and if anything should be lauded, then it should be the indefatigable effort inherent in months on months of running schedules, the stretching, the strength work, the cross training, the constant search for donators and donations, the discipline and the resolve to do all these things and to do them properly. 
It is truly for these things that each member of TEAM! should be lionised.

But we do still have a marathon to run. For Alison and I, the good news is that after 6 months and and over 150 training sessions, the torrent of running has subsided to a mere burble. The bad news is that since tapering, Alison has been to both a doctor and a dentist in order to clear up a mystery infection that has caused her cervical lymph nodes to blow up like little, unhappy balloons - and just to clear up any confusion, the cervical lymph nodes are - rather misleadingly - the ones in your neck.
Alison is now mid way through a course of antibiotic/paracetamol cocktails and fortunately, the combination of the two appear to be working. The two positives are that there is very little training to miss and that the doctor wished her good luck in the marathon!
For myself, as for a lot of people, the last year has been a true tempest and today I feel that I am in the eye of the storm. All the  effort, vision, work, pain, anguish, moments of celebration, the satisfaction of achievement, and the tears have been leading to this Sunday. I can do no more; I have done everything I can and I have left nothing in my heart or on the road. That is what I said I would do on that patio in May 2012 and for that I am proud. 
However, every member of TEAM! should be proud: from the outset, we had a goal of raising over £30,000 for Diabetes UK and although we have not finished fundraising, as of tonight, including Gift Aid, TEAM! has raised an astounding £30,004.25. 
My only wish now is for TEAM! to stand in Blackheath on Sunday morning in good health, and for each to run the races they deserve. The marathon will be a true challenge and a reward and certainly parts of Sunday will undoubtedly be the worst of times, but there will be others, which will just as assuredly be the best.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Marathon Spectator Guide

Emily's Teddy Will Be Running
His First Marathon With Alison! 

In less than two weeks it will all be over. 
There will be medals for all and a big pile of purple-accented people to be picked up and dragged home for a wash. There might even be some champagne but above all I hope there will be pride that we all did something amazing together for our charity and above all for Emily.
This post is a spectator guide for anyone who'd like to come and watch the spectacle that is The London Marathon and who wants to have the best chance of spotting members of TEAM!.

The Start
Spectators are not permitted into the start areas on race day so runners would do best to get themselves to Greenwich without an entourage and for spectators to go straight to the course.
This is TEAM! Kit -
Look For TEAM! Caps

Start Times:
Elite Women 09:00
Wheelchair Men and Women 09:20
Paralympics World Cup 09:22
Mass Start 10:00

The Finish
The finish is also a spectator no-go area and runners will have to proceed through a secure zone to collect their kit bag before heading out to the Runner Meet and Greet in Horseguards Road and Horseguards Parade. If spectators know when their member of TEAM! is due to finish, they could make arrangements to meet them here under their surname letter and help carry their battered bodies to the Diabetes UK Cool Down Party at The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (details below) where we'd love all of TEAM! to congregate when they have finished, along with their family, friends and supporters. Since there's a large spread of running times across TEAM! with some aiming to finish in 3-4 hours and some in 5, this will give us a chance to share a congratulatory hug as people finish and enjoy some pampering care of Diabetes UK, before everyone disappears off to put their feet up.

Diabetes UK Cool Down Party:

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Mountbatten Lounge (5th floor), Broad Sanctuary, Westminster, SW1P 3EE, 12PM – 6PM. 
Diabetes UK are providing:

  • Food for runners
  • Massage area for runners
  • Exclusive ‘Thank You’ zone for runners, friends and family to use for picture and video taking (including a fantastic view of the London skyline)
  • Refreshments for friends and family
  • Music of your choice
  • Live BBC Marathon Coverage

The closest Tube is Westminster and to get there from the Runner Meet and Greet in Horseguards is easy - see map below:

The All-Important Bit in The Middle
Using this amazing interactive tool courtesy of the Virgin London Marathon website, you can enter your runner's prospective finishing time (see below) and work out where on the course they will be at a particular time for you to cheer them on (do bear in mind it can take 20 minutes for everyone at the Mass Start to go over the start line so the locations and timings you get could be subject to plus up to 20 minutes) and you can also use it to see where likely quiet or vibrant locations for viewing will be to help plan your day.

Diabetes UK are going to have two special Cheering Points at The Draft House pub by Tower Bridge and Big Ben. Their locations and details are in this linked document
The charity have asked that if anyone would like to join them there then we should give them names and details so please ask a member of TEAM! to do this on your behalf. They will have balloon arches, bang sticks and crazy hair (essential cheering tools) as well as a steel band so these two locations should be a fun place to stand as well as being easily seen by TEAM! as we all sail majestically past (dream on). 

TEAM! Running Numbers and Times to Finish:

Spectator Tips:
  • If you are a TV spectator then anyone with Virgin Media, Sky, Freesat will be able to view the finishing line camera live until 4pm by using the Red Button during BBC coverage - this is also available online
  • Make arrangements with your member of TEAM! before the day and don't rely on mobiles to make contact as due to the numbers of people all doing the same thing this isn't reliable
  • Make sure you know TEAM! runners race numbers (see above) so you can check their whereabouts online and finish details
  • Take a packet of tissues - from personal experience watching the Marathon in 2006 for the first time it can simply be overwhelming the displays of human endeavour and triumph against the odds - blubbing at strangers is normal
  • Related to the point above please expect to desire to take part in 2014 and we wish you all the luck in the world with that!
Fingers and toes crossed for a perfect day, please limber up your cheering muscles and turbo-charge your hugging capabilities as there will be 14 purple people and a bear who'll need some support!

Additional Spectator Resources
Course maps and Virgin London Marathon Magazine Spectator Guide:

The First 6 Miles
Miles 7 to 22
Miles 23 to 26

Monday, 8 April 2013

One Year of Remembering

Emily's Own Annotation

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
                                  Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)