28th April will be a day permanently marked in my memory like a branding iron on the hide of cattle as quite simply, one of the best days of my life - London Marathon 2019.
I know running, the majority of the time is not entirely a sexy subject and is a hobby not everyone enjoys; but everyone the world over understands that no-matter the distance, no matter who you ask they will know how much of an effort is required - Dedicated training plans, nutrition plans and the requirement of copious amounts of discipline to stay on track. These seem to be the perfect mixture to bring people out in their thousands every year to various events all over the world cheering on people they have never even met - London was no exception.
On the lead up to the 28th, I ran the Lincoln 10km which is my local race - as Spiderman, and no matter who was behind the mask, Everyone was screaming for me. The week after, I was Spiderman yet again but this time doing the Boston (UK) half marathon and again (although the crowd turn out was not as big) people wanted this guy dressed as a superhero to get to the finish. But in costume or not, everyone was cheering for all runners - no matter their race, size, age or ability - Everyone wanted everyone to succeed; okay maybe not to win the 10km or half marathon, but to achieve the goal of completing the course.
(Sorry for the huge build up - Now to London!)
The day of the Marathon - a distance I had yet to achieve and the nerves were setting in. I kept telling myself I was okay and that there was nothing to worry about while triple checking all my gear making sure everything was in order and that I was ready to walk out of the hotel. On my way to the start line, Without warning panic sets in - "Where's my Garmin?!" I sprinted back to the hotel room from the tube station only to find it on wrist, glaring at my like it was mocking me for my unnecessary over-reaction - Okay, maybe I was worried and now it was just materialising.
Re-entering Vauxhaul tube station now thinking to my self "I really hope I know where I'm going." I bumped into two people patiently waiting for the next train to arrive, noticing their red drawstring bags and the kit they were wearing it was obvious their destination was common to mine - Insert Social Anxiety Disorder here.
I wanted to say something but the back of my head was yelling - no, screaming - not to get involved. I was expecting the outcome of any conversation would be me just shunned out like my clouded past with initiating conversation. Since the event of the whole cyber bullying episode a few years ago my confidence around total strangers was shaky at best - I could only think that the same outcome would happen if i was going to open my mouth.
<Deep Breath> "come on Tom, water off a ducks back...." I thought to my self.
"Ah I'm going the right way then?!" I stated - expecting the glare of two other runners looking at me like an alien in the London Underground.
"Ah! we thought you were running too with the colour of the string on your bag!" as they greeted me with smiles - and like that, the anxiety just melted away.
We made a plan on how to navigate the network of trains and tunnels and we eventually go to our destination (After bumping into even more runners) and I learnt both their names (Tim and Vicky) and before we went into our start area, as if the world knew I needed it - a coffee van.
I got my drink and as I turned around, my new friends were gone. I did'nt expect them to stick around really, I barely knew them. It is something I'm used too though in my everyday life (You could say its why I don't really see people in my social life.) I do my bit, I exceed my usage and then just discarded like a used up, dead battery.
I walked, coffee in hand to the start line where, lo and behold. My new friends were quite literally waiting with open arms (Above their head) trying to get my attention! I don't believe it! they've actually stuck around for me! We stood and chatted for the first hour and a half and then it was time where I needed to find my own clan. I got my bags in some kind of order and that was it, time to get the gear on the baggage truck and be on my way. I said thanks for your help to get here and to my absolute surprise "Lets get a photo quickly!"
Thank you so much to you both. Not only calming my nerves, but making me feel accepted! It was the first moment of that day that I felt like we were all in this together, no matter who we were - we were all the same.
Bag on the truck, Met with various different people running the same charity I was and then it was time. Start line opens and the longest twenty minuets of my life! Eventually we were under way! and the real battle started.
To my amazement, the roads were packed with people. people screaming everyone's names - it wasn't even 10 km into the race yet!
Training was definitely paying off! 10km in and I was loving it - Everyone was loving no matter what part they were playing! Supporters, runners and even the volunteers - Smiles all around!
The miles came thick and fast, this wasn't like any other training long distance run I had ever done. Time was flying and I wanted to savour every moment I could!
A few times I could do nothing but run and cry because of the sheer volume of support from absolutely everyone involved in some capacity. In a divided city because of various politics and ideologies, it was the one day where I felt like no matter who we were, everyone was together and showed just how amazing we are as a collective society if we just let go of hatred. Mile 13, Tower bridge - I Cried like when my first pet had just passed away. I couldn't control this overwhelming emotion of just pure love everywhere I looked.
I stopped still at one point, no more than a few seconds. Frozen to the ground as an old friend stared back at me. Will - My brother who passed away ten years previous was staring at me from the top of tower bridge - but this was different unlike the times where he would be staring at me with a blank, judging expression; he was smiling as if he was proud. I was just a mess.
All honesty, for about a year and a half I've seen him but its always been like the corner of my eye - but this was different. He was staring back at me. I blinked as I was frozen and he was gone. the "paralysis" alleviated and I had to continue - It would have killed him to admit it when he was still around, but for the first time - after all I've done with this blog, my running and the mental health work I'm doing; I actually felt like he would finally be proud of who I have become.
I continued on my way trying to figure out in my own mind of what was going on? - I was getting tired and that's when my head starts to wander, its definitely a trigger for me being tired, so this must have been it.
My running started to struggle at around mile 14 - Cramp. The furthest I got in training was just over 20 miles and I didn't have any issues with cramp. Yeah my legs hurt, but this was different. I buckled in, this is where the head games would come into play, for me anyway - Mental Resilience.
Mile after mile, the pains tarted to get worse. I stopped to stretch and that helped massively, I was away again but with a moderate, tolerable pain - I needed salt. Most the spectators were handing out sweets such as jelly beans and jelly babies and although I was thankful, I prayed for something with some salt and something hopefully savoury - I was answered a mile later with someone handing out tiny pasties with a St.pirrens flag raised above her head. THANK YOU!!!!!
I was starting to feel better and buckle in further, I was starting to smile again and then this leads me to miles 17 - 19. Canary Wharf.
I eventually got to mile 25, the last mile as I was coming down Birdcage walk, The final Km until i has reached my destination and my goal for the past 7 months. Cramp was now really starting to kick in again but this time I was starting to loose my footing. my legs were weak and starting to kick out from me.
I saved my self by slowing down and stretching again. A supporter reached out and touched my shoulder - "Go get it. We believe in you" and just like that my legs came back to life. My heart starting beating stronger, my breathing got heavier and I just knew that my body was now throwing everything it had to give some power to my legs and off I went. Strong, In pain, but happy that I'm nearly there.
I DID IT!!!
I was in total disbelief - I had conquered the biggest marathon in the world and I was bringing home the metal work!
I crossed the line and i just became a husk of emotion. Before getting my medal I just burst into tears in sheer awe of what I've accomplished - I battled my mind, I battled my body and I battled the London marathon - And in all those three; I won.
The London Marathon experience is something like no other. The amount of love, support and good wishing of everyone is just incomparable to any race you will ever run. The noise is deafening but covers you in love like the comfort blanket to a new-born.
The event teaches you so much about yourself, what you can achieve and how to go about it. Looking back on the not so many years ago where I would do anything i could to get off this planet and not to be around anymore, and I'm now this person. Suicide is never, ever the answer no matter how easy or the only way out it may seem. Your story can help prevent the loss of life of many other people and no matter how bad it may ever seem - there are people out there who love you.
Thank you for a journey I will never, ever forget.
Stay strong, Stay safe.