The one where I ran a marathon

What a couple of weeks for marathons. It’s taken me ages to get this post out – there are too many things to say and too many feelings to try and assimilate and condense them all. The support I got from friends and family in the run up to, during and after the race was completely overwhelming and just amazing in every way. As I said, I was feeling underprepared and inadequate and had absolutely zero confidence coming up to the marathon. The support I got from family, friends and followers was what helped get me to the start line and also made me remember that doing badly wouldn’t be the end of the world. The night before the race I was at home – my Dad cooked me sweet and sour chicken (the brief: lots of rice and nothing spicy – he nailed it) and my gorgeous Mum spent hours taking in my race vest and sewing my name on. The beautiful Maja had been sending me beautiful insta messages/photos and my twitter feed was full of love.

On the start line I felt a strange mix of calm and dread. A kind of silent acceptance that I was about to embark on the most hideous event of my life so far. I ran out the park and straight up a massive hill, which I think was mean! In an effort not to babble on, the key events were:

Mile 2: My hair tie fell out and my waist length hair immediately went bloody everywhere. Shitter of a start. Big shout out to the lovely girl who undid her hair, while running, to give me the extra hair tie she had. Thank you, kind stranger.

Mile 2.5: I see my Mum, my little brother TJ and Dayve, while running alongside said kind stranger, gripping my hair in a makeshift ponytail. They went beserk even though I’d only been running 20 minutes – thanks Fam.

Mile 8: About halfway through the hilly section and out in Ovingdean valley. Sun starts coming out and the scenery really reminds me of home. I finally start to relax here. I’d spent the whole first hour and a bit anticipating the moment where it all seemed impossible. The moment where I felt helpless and overwhelmed. At mile 8 I felt strong and smiled as I realised that it didn’t matter – all I could do, in that moment, was run strong and get home. It was an epiphany and I felt the weight come off my shoulders.

Mile 11: Hilly section done and the sun was really shining. My favourite marathon song came on, I was running downhill (always a bonus) and the pier appears, sea glittering and sunshine bouncing off the water and I felt euphoric. I was flipping running a flipping marathon and I felt SO GOOD.

Mile 14: I see my Mum, TJ and Dayve again, and they’ve been joined by my friends too. I gave big hugs and jumped and waved – it’s so amazing what a boost seeing a familiar face can bring.

Mile 18: Loop back round past the mile 14 mark and I see my friends again! Miles 15-18 were tough, with my calf muscle flaring up and general “bloody hell this is long” fatigue setting in. A long out and back stint in suburbia didn’t help – amazing how your surroundings affect your motivation, isn’t it?

Mile 19: BLOODY MAJA WAS THERE WASN’T SHE?! Just as I was starting to feel really tired I had an RDC cow bell in my face and a hug around my shoulders and I just burst in to tears. I couldn’t believe she had travelled all the way from London to come and support me and I was so overwhelmed with her kindness and support. What a babe.

Mile 20: Stopped and did a wee. Queued for a portaloo and everything. In hindsight I don’t think I needed one, it was just a convenient excuse to stop. Getting weary.

Mile 21: Very weary. Decide to take a wee walking break and then it dawns on me that I only have 5 miles to go. Just 5 miles. Where did the race go?! This was definitely home straight business and finishing was a totally manageable prospect. The moment I’d been waiting for, when the race seemed impossible and I felt helpless, stuck on a course with miles to go, just… didn’t come. The marathon wasn’t impossible. It wasn’t insurmountable. I was going to finish. WOWWEEEEEE.

At this point the bottom of my feet were hurting SO MUCH and it felt like a lot. I decided to run a mile at a time, walk for one to two minutes, and then run another mile. Break the rest of the race down, mile by mile. I figured, with 5 miles to go, 2 minutes between each mile was going to add 10 minutes to my time, which I thought was a 100% acceptable sacrifice to make. So, mile by mile, I finished the race.

Mile 23: Maja round 2! I catch sight of her just as I stop for my mile walking break, and in truth am slightly gutted that she saw me stop to walk…! She holds my hand and walks with me and I am so thankful that I have her in my life.

Mile 26.1: Final stretch. Before the race I’d have a picture in my head of crossing the finish line with Dayve. I don’t know why. I thought I’d be exhausted and unable to cross the finish line on my own and it was such a momentous moment I just knew I wanted him there. I asked to jump the fence and run with me and, true to his word, he did. When I first saw the finish line I smiled and couldn’t believe I’d done it. I then saw my own personal cheer dem crew and before I knew it Dayve was up and over the fence and running towards me. He took my hand and ran beside me, shouting”THIS IS SOPH AND SHE’S RUNNING THE MARATHON! GO SOPH!” while pointing at me and encouraging the crowd, who all roared in appreciation and support as we made our way down the final straight.

Safe to say we both did a little cry on the other side of the finish line. I have never been more proud of myself. I finished in 4:16, which I was really pleased with considering the hills and the walking I ended up doing (roughly about 12 minutes extra in the end). I chilled on the beach with my friends and family and was so happy to have them all there. What total babes.

On the finish line I swore blind that I wouldn’t be running another marathon ever ever again, not never. The day afterwards though the rose tinted specs made an appearance and I started to think maybe…maybe. And now? Definitely. The thing about the marathon is that it had always seemed so impossible, but having conquered it I realised it wasn’t. I was strong enough. Am strong enough. It sounds hideously cheesy, but the spirit of the marathon is truly a powerful thing. Where else do you find strangers standing out for hours on end, willing you to succeed? Where else do you push yourself to your limits and come out the other side smiling?

If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon”

I only found the strength to make it to the start line thanks to the phenomenal support of those I am fortunate enough to have around me. I finished my race to find that my friends had been tracking my marathon, cheering me on from London and waiting to see me home. The fact that anyone would do this for me brings tears to my eyes even now. The fact that my friends and family got up at 6:30 on a Sunday and stood around for 5 hours just to see me run past in a matter of seconds overwhelms me. The fact that Maja would travel down to London just to see me is amazing. Thank you, all of you.

The highs of my marathon came crashing to almighty lows in the shape of the Boston bombings. The contrast between the joy and euphoria of a marathon finish line and the horrific events of Boston struck runners deeper than everyone else. The stories of collaboration and community from the finish line sum up the spirit of the marathon, demonstrated most perfectly in runners seen going straight from finish line to hospital to donate blood to the wounded. There was then more marathon emotion in the form of the second Cheer Dem Crew mile 21 outing.

Photo by Richard Keller

This is the subject of another post, but the spirit of the marathon is so perfectly captured at mile 21 that I can’t help but mention it. There was enough love at mile 21 for the entire world. Every single person who ran VLM13 was cheered, welcomed and encouraged, from the first elite to the very last finisher. That is crew love. Check it out straight from the mouth of the crew at mile21.co.uk and read the words of Charlie Dark, who can express everything I can’t quite put in to words.

Marathons are powerful things. And I feel like a powerful person to have run one. Thank you thank you thank you again, to all of you.