We left the fans (as Dad would have said) at Bermondsey tube station and headed for Tower Bridge, which had definitely been moved. It looked a lot closer on the map.
We met up with Lucy again around this point. I was aware there was a sore spot on the sole of my foot and made mistake no2. Let’s go to the St John Ambulance, we said, because they’ll be able to dress the blister properly before it gets really bad.
Cue five long minutes of Ambulance cadets being trained on the job (Right boys, can you get your gloves on, please. Can we have your name and address? Now then, boys, this is a piece of dressing. How big is the blister? Right, how big shall we cut the dressing, then? Ooh, that’s a bit too big, let’s cut a smaller one, shall we?).
Zoe and I sat there being incredibly British and not saying what we were thinking which was ‘bloody hell, hurry up’ and instead just twitched politely.
We escaped the clutches of the SJA people and decided that we’d walk up the hill (slight incline, actually) to Tower Bridge.
The crowds there were huge. People were screaming our names and cheering us on madly, despite the fact that we were walking and I was limping with my wonky Heath Robinson plaster on my foot.
Once we got to the bottom of Tower Bridge and rounded the corner onto the Highway I sent Zoe on without me. I was feeling pretty dreadful, my foot was killing me, and I was secretly wondering if I’d make it round the remaining 14 miles.
I’d heard all about the notorious Highway, which is the point where for a mile or so you’re running along one side of a road, passing the 13 mile mark, whilst on the other side of the road the faster runners are whizzing past having reached 22 miles. I thought I was ready for it, and that it wouldn’t psych me out.
I was wrong. Richard Branson ran past me in the throng of proper, fast runners and I felt like crying. I was on my own, with only a handful of other people, all looking as despondent as me. I had no energy, I knew that Canary Wharf was ahead and that everyone said it was the hardest part of the marathon.
‘Alright love? Crikey your walk’s faster than my jog’
Smiley. Lovely Smiley with a red-painted face, a little man who used to play football and knew Steve Cram. We chatted and trundled along together until I looked up and there was Lucy – she’d grabbed a couple of gels just as they ran out and had waited for me. What an angel. Smiley trotted off, and Lucy and I settled into our pace.
By this time it was baking hot and I was so glad I was wearing a hat. I was feeling really sick and had to stop and retch a few times. Lucy materialised a bottle of Lucozade from I don’t know where (they ran out of that, too) and told me to drink it, slowly. We marched through crowded Narrow Street where drunken spectators cheered us on
‘Come on Rach, you can do it girl! Come on Lucy Lu!’
And on into the Docklands, where our Garmins went wonky and told us we were doing 2 minute miles. By this point the Lucozade had worked and I was feeling better, and we had a lovely chat. Lucy’s husband James had been waiting at mile 17 and he walked back to join us, promising Lucy that he’d walk the rest of the way with her in his Crocs.
Mile 17. The famous Mudchute Runner’s World cheering point. I’d been adopted by Support Group 7 at the last minute. They cheered us, gave us jelly babies, and sent us on our way.
Lucy and I sat down to do some foot repairs. Both of us had huge blisters on the soles of our feet, and we were giggling at the idea of Paula Radcliffe and Liz Yelling sitting on the pavement having a chat and fixing their plasters before carrying on.
Before we knew it – and it really happened amazingly fast – we could see the archway of balloons which indicated mile 20.
I was so excited, realising that I really was going to do it. Mum called to tell me they were between 20 and 21, so I left Lucy and James and decided to start a little bit of jog/walking to get to them.
I spent all that time working out a running playlist and in fact I didn’t listen to music at all from about mile 4. With people calling my name and cheering me on, it seemed rude to zone out and ignore them. There were a lot of people walking by this point, so every time I broke into a run there was a huge roar. It’s hard to explain how it felt: there were so many people who gave me a smile, or a thumbs up, said ‘come on girl’ and ‘Rachael, you’re doing a great job’. I just kept on smiling and saying thank you, and wondering where on earth my family had gone.
Eventually I saw a little speck running towards me – Mum. They were almost at mile 22, having moved to get a clear space to stand. I ran up to them, gave them a hug, and asked how Zoe was doing. I only had a bottle of water left at this point, because all the Lucozade had disappeared, and I’d thrown away the hat when it got cloudy. Chris gave me his baseball cap and Uncle Stew gave me a cuddle and I trotted off, still half walking, half jogging.
They moved us onto the pavement for a bit because lorries were clearing away the barriers. The whole way round I felt a bit like I’d missed the party.
I was still picking off people but feeling a bit faint, hot and sick. I could see a girl in the distance who was on her own, and I managed to catch up with her and have a chat. Somewhere around this point Paula from Runner’s World appeared with the bag of crisps I’d requested for salt. I grabbed a few, and caught up again with Suzanne, who was to be my companion for the rest of the race.
We made it onto the Embankment (they’d closed the tunnel for cleaning, so we were shepherded onto the Embankment itself and were speedwalking along dodging puzzled tourists). Big Ben and the London Eye were in the distance, but seemed miles away. I wanted to sit down. Our hips were aching, our feet were burning, we were more tired than we’d ever been before in our lives. But we kept on walking, one foot in front of the other. We talked about Eddie Izzard, and how we’d have to do this all over again the next day if we were him.
Then we were back on the road. Suddenly there were crowds of people cheering us on again, and telling us we were nearly there. Big Ben was upon us and we turned the corner to a huge roar.
March march march, and we’re overtaking lots of other runners who are shuffling along. March march march, and Buckingham Palace is on the left. All around me are people who are exhausted beyond belief. There’s a man I’d seen right at the start, with a t-shirt on saying he was running in memory of his dad. I put my arm around him, and say ‘we did it for our dads’ and he smiles at me, unable to speak.
I hear a shout and it’s Mum, Chris and Stewart. From somewhere inside me I gather everything I have and run to them, throwing the baseball cap at them, and race towards the finish as fast as I can. And then I’m over the line, and someone puts a medal around my neck, saying congratulations, you’re a marathon runner.