Before the last operation I had been trying to get fit enough to run this marathon. The weather was against me and so was my knee. About 17 years ago I had undergone a couple of operations on both knees to remedy some torn cartilage. A result of being a tall lad and playing sports had done some serious damage, the doctor told me I would never play football again and to look after my knees as the damage done would never repair itself.
This was always at the back of my mind, but I wanted to push on regardless. The sore aching pain was something I laughed off as I hobbled around, but I did begin to wonder if I would ever make it. I had some amazing sponsorship already, which also put the pressure on, and I resigned myself to walking the marathon if I had to. It had taken about 3 months and finally I managed a 13 mile run just before the op and that was it. I was in pain and about to endure a huge operation, with at least 6 weeks recovery after.
The operation is already documented here, so I skip forward some 6 weeks after. I felt good, but not marathon fit at all. I had just over 3 weeks to go until the big day, and I had not done a thing.
“You really need to do something, you’re really running out of time!” Sue said daily, and she was right. I needed more than a positive attitude to get me through this one, and so I tied the laces on my trainers, plugged in my music and headed out. 20 minutes later, I was back, exhausted after barely 2 miles!
“That’s not good enough!” Sue said, but I was spent! She was telling me I needed to go for at least an hours run! I laughed this off but promised to go again the next day, and so it went, next day 5 miles, day off after then 13 miles, I was happy with that, but Sue was insistent I went for an 18 mile run the next day! She does have her head in the clouds sometimes!
So about 10 days to go, my knee problem had vanished, but I didn’t want to risk it. I managed 2 more 13 mile runs before the marathon. They say that it’s a good idea to do a couple of 18 mile runs before a marathon, I guess I just wanted to pretend I didn’t hear that, despite Sue reminding me every minute of the day!
“Dan the man! How’s it going, are you ready?” It was Jim who works on Embarrassing Bodies. Jim and Niall (not my surgeon) had travelled down from Birmingham to film me running this marathon, it was 8am. “Are you nervous? What did you have for breakfast?” They always ask random questions, their inquisitive journalistic minds always switched on to get the minute detail for future reference. “I had a fry up!” I replied, which was kind of true. I stole a sausage and fried egg from the breakfast buffet, which added a savory contrast to 3 bananas and a black coffee! I don’t know if I felt nervous, but I know I felt the sense of occasion and for all the effort, dedication, support, it was here, and I was ready.
JIM AND NIALL
Niall was one of the first people I met at the Embarrassing Bodies “clinic.” Both Niall and Jim has been with me through most of the filming at home and hospital appointments, and of course the epic 13.5 hour operation, which they filmed pretty much all of. They swaggered back to the office as champions as the longest filmed operation any of the team had ever done, technically, because Jim filmed the times on the wall clock, something his work mates had neglected to do on a longer filmed operation, therefore no proof!
Throughout all the time I have spent with Embarrassing Bodies, they have become friends. Niall is the only West Bromwich Albion supporter I have ever known, and Jim is a typical scruffy Liverpool supporter. He may even have a shave for his wedding this year, but I guess that depends on Liverpool winning the league!
Despite their poor taste in football teams, (no one’s perfect) they are both united in loving a muffin with their coffee, and moaning (which is something you soon master when working in TV, apparently!)
READY SET …..
We all met up in Brighton’s Preston Park, where the official race start was. It was a sea of people, all ages, shapes and sizes, and it struck me that the feat of running a marathon is not exclusive to the fitness elite. There was a huge warm up class done in a Mr Motivator style (it could have been him?). The sound system was pumping, the crowd was jumping, and I hopped on the spot like a kid at a school disco. I was in the zone!
There was a buzz of anticipation as it was announced over the tannoy to move to the start position. I was very much middle of the pack, shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers. I spotted my friend Darren who also made the same journey in the distance. I had followed his training progress on Facebook, he had spent the last couple of years losing 8 stone in weight, getting fit, changing his life. He also suffered with bad knees, but was determined, this marathon was his crowning glory. We wished each other good luck, and we disappeared into the mass. We were off!
Paula Radcliffe the Olympic champion started the race and offered a high five and good luck to all that could reach her, I made sure I got there to get my high five, and luck! Despite my lack of marathon distance training I had a game plan. A simple recipe for everything in life:
The road may be long, and the end is no where in sight, but you know where you want to be, so keep at your own pace and avoid distractions, but most importantly keep pushing and you will get there!
I found it very surreal. I was actually running a marathon. Something I had never been interested in, sadly I guess I never had the motivation.
Running through the packed streets with 100’s of thousands of spectators cheering you on, clapping, blowing horns was a great help, and distraction. Many were holding up banners with encouragement, advice and witty banter. Here are some examples:
- “Your legs will forgive you…eventually”
- “Don’t stop — people are watching”
- “I’m sure it seemed like a good idea 4 months ago”
- “Because 26.3 would be crazy”
I had started the race cold, I had kept on my long sleeve top under my vest and now regretted it. The gloom had parted and the sun and its warmth were doing their job. I was looking out for Sue, Jim and Niall who had tried to find a good viewing point. They could be anywhere, but I could have already ran straight past them such was the volume of people and noise. I was about 5 miles in and I was hot, really hot! Out of the din I heard a familiar voice, there they were. Jim was filming and I made the mistake of looking at the camera (it’s a strict rule when filming, never do it or the camera cracks or something), so I looked straight ahead and kept going, then did a u turn for a pit stop to change my tyres (take my shirt off!). What a relief that was! I has sweating so much Sue had to peel it off me, which she loved!
Although I never ran with anyone I knew, I did find myself running in a pocket of runners. A random group of familiar faces or costume. This was always changing, but it was useful to have that visual aid. At about the 8 mile mark, after taking the coastal road that never ended I started seeing the first casualties. Some were holding their legs, others being sick. So early on, I wondered if they would make it. I was doing well, I was taking the water and slowing only to gratefully take a jelly baby or two that were being handed out.
Before the race I had never bothered to look at the route, I couldn’t see the point as I know how long it’s going to be, so why torture yourself before with knowing too much? Most of the route once you got out of the town were long roads, with no end in sight, apart from knowing that at some point there would be a turn around point and I would have to do it all again. I kept pace with a caveman. He had a heavy looking fur like caveman suit on, and a big club. He kept a really good and consistent pace, amazing as he must have been roasting! I saw so many amazing feats of perseverance from fancy dress, to disabilities, all with their own causes and motivation. That is what a marathon is about, you become aware that you are a part of something amazingly inspirational.
It was about the half way point as I neared the pier, the whole area was packed. I had already passed numerous bands and entertainment, but the noise and roar here was overwhelming! I saw the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity’s cheer leaders, they had seen my vest through the crowd. The charities that had runners were camped in this area, with their own teams of well wishers to spur you on.
I had now run as far as I ever had, and I hadn’t paused once (apart from the pit stop). I knew it was half way, and I checked my watch, at the pace I was running I would be looking at a sub 4 hour marathon, which would have been amazing. I always hoped for a 4.5 hour time, but accepted that it maybe 6/7 depending on what happened.
I saw Sue, Jim and Niall again, Sue was holding Harry who was looking slightly bewildered and confused as to why his mum was jumping about, cheering and shouting at his dad. I continued up the hill, this really was new territory for me now, as this was as far as I had ever ran before, so for all I had just done, I would now have to do the same again.
“Go on the pirate!!”
Wearing an eye patch makes you stand out, anyone that does is a pirate, this is scientific fact. Everyone loves a pirate. “Go on/come on the pirate” was a popular shout of encouragement, maybe I should have replied with an “arrrr” but I was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other mainly, but managed a smile and a wave, with the occasional high five.
This day also marked my youngest sister’s birthday, and I still hadn’t text her to say happy birthday. With that in mind, and also needing a toilet break I stopped at the next loo point. 18 miles. 18 miles feels like the marathon is nearly over, only 8 miles left! How easy! But it’s not. Now was the time for me where I would happily call it a day, give me my medal and show me the way to the nearest train home, now! My legs were like granite! As I tried to run it felt like I had lead weights strapped to my ankles. I ran and walked for the next 3 miles until mile 21. I was spent. It just felt like my legs had turned to stone.
What was I trying to prove by running the whole way? I had been really lucky with my knees, I was tired, but I wasn’t breathing heavily. I knew I could make it, but I didn’t need to risk permanent injury at this stage. I had come so far, and so opted to have a walk!
The support from the crowds had been amazing, and the encouragement constant especially along the beach promenade on the final few miles. I could only give a weary smile as they called me to run again, the finish was still nowhere in sight. I would try to run, only to pull up after a minute.
In the distance I saw the pier, and it was all down hill now, and I managed a gentle jog. At the bottom of the hill and around the corner was the footbridge specially constructed for the marathon…. that’s the finish line! I lengthened my stride, and moved up a couple of gears…. I read a banner “half a mile to go!!!” I could almost blink and that will be it! I ran for a few minutes and another banner “1 mile to go!!!” Now this was just not cricket! I don’t know if it was a mistake or a mean trick, but I saw the funny side, and it did help me pick up the pace.
The crowds were massing again, there was no stopping now, I came around the corner and had the footbridge in sight…. I was there, I had made it! Er, wheres the sign that says finish? There was none….. on the horizon, way past the Sealife center was the actual finish line, another quarter of a mile! But I was flying now, weaving through the broken runners towards the line… I felt my face crack with emotion, and there it was! Across the line…. and stop! I grabbed the foil wrapper, and proceeded to receive my reward, my marathon medal, it went straight over my neck. Jim managed to find me, they had been tracking my progress and just caught me crossing the line. I almost fell on top of Sue as I hugged her, I needed to sit down! My time was 4 hours 52 minutes. I was surprised as I had walked some 3/4 miles, but really happy. We all went off and got a drink.
On our way to try and get home I walked up past the foot bridge, watching the runners still pushing hard. I saw my friend Darren, pained and hobbling, heading toward the finishing straight. “GO ON GEDGEY!” I screamed, he didn’t flinch to register me. He was looking at that finish line, and that was it. I later spoke to him and his knee went at 10 miles, at the half way mark he was timed at 2 hours 15 mins. The pain took over and he struggled the rest of the way. His time was 6 hours, amazing. He never gave up despite the crippling agony, which only reinforces the point, that if you truly want something anything is possible.
I raised almost £2000 for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, which is amazing and doubled my target. I could not have done that without the amazing support of my friends and family, and beside supporting me, they have contributed to helping the Marsden save someone else’s life, as they did mine.
Would I do another one? My immediate response was no way! But now the pain has mellowed, and the unforgettable memories are all I really remember, maybe I will!