The Marathon after the storm

22 April 2018

Sleep didn’t come easy last night. I stayed up far too late writing about the peculiar storm and flood while it was fresh in my mind. When I did go to bed it was hard to sleep. The lightning was still flashing like a manic disco ball outside the bedroom window. My mind was racing, filled with images of those huge tubs floating across the garden and worries about what the water was doing outside. It really did feel as if we were in a Winnie the Pooh story and, at any moment, Pooh and Christopher Robin would come to rescue us in an upturned umbrella.

This morning the rain was gone and so was the floodwater. We had a cursory look at the garden before we headed off to town for the marathon. Commando, went to the far end while I stood looking in amazement at the jumble of tubs that had desposited themselves near the end of the shed. Before the rain began they’d been neatly lined up on the opposite side of the garden. According to Commando the wall at the end of the garden had collapsed and my summerhouse was damaged. Everything not above three feet inside the shed was sopping wet too. There was no time to look any closer or to worry about any of it. It could have been worse, we are insured, water didn’t come inside the house and no one was hurt.

It was only half past seven but already the temperature was beginning to rise and all the standing water we saw on our journey to town meant it was going to be a stiflingly humid day. These were not marathon running conditions by any stretch of the imagination.

After a brief stop to dump our bags and use the loos in the VIP changing room it was time for me to get to work. My job for the day was taking photos starting with an official pacer team photo in Guildhall Square. The square was already crowded and there were so many pacers squinting into the bright sun it wasn’t an easy task. Somehow I managed to fit them all in. Taking team photos always feels a little like herding cats. There is always someone dashing into shot at the last moment, blinking, scratching, falling over, or turning around to chat to someone. I always take several shots in the hope of one good one.

By the time I’d got what I hoped would be at least one useable shot the area around Guildhall Square was heaving with runners and spectators trying to find good spots on the start line. Commando had disappeared with the other pacers as had my chance to find a good vantage point to take photos of the race start. The runners were beginning to head for the start pens but spectators were three or four deep all around them. All I could see above the heads of the crowd were the pacer flags. There was no way I was going to get any useful photos.

From the moment I got out of bed I’d been dashing about one way or another and, with start line photos out of the question,  I had  a brief lull between photographising duties. Suddenly I found the events of last night catching up with me. The noise and heat of the crowd was too much. I needed to get away and find a few moments of peace in this manic day. Turning my back on the race I headed for Watts Park.

There were marquees and stalls set up at the edge of the park selling all sorts of running gear or advertising upcoming races. With barely a glance, I passed them, heading for the middle of the park where I hoped it would be more peaceful. On the way I almost bumped into Andy who’d been warming up and was dashing for the start line.

The further I got from the race the quieter it became. Even so, the benches were all full. This was probably a good thing. If I’d sat down I might not have got up again. Slowly, I walked a circuit of the park, stopping briefly at the Enclosure sculpture, then crossed the road and headed for London Road.

Once I passed the Titanic Musicians Memorial I headed towards Starbucks. The humidity was making me thirsty and caffeine might help me stop feeling so tired.

With a takeaway coffee in my hand, I pushed my way back through the crowds to the finish enclosure. This was off limits to the general public but I took advantage of my high vis jacket and sneaked in to snap a few shots of the finish line marshals guarding the medals, water bottles and race packs.

By this time the race had begun and I knew I’d soon have to think about finding a good place to take finish line photos. As I wandered up and down scouting out likely spots I caught up with race organiser Nicki and my friend Kylie.

Eventually, after much going back and forth, I settled on a spot right at the bottom of London Road just before the point where the 10k, half marathon and marathon courses divided. Then it was just a matter of trying to spot pacer shirts amongst the throng of runners whilst cheering madly. Rob was the first I spotted, running with Gerry, who was running his first marathon. It didn’t bode well for Gerry that he was running at more or less his usual pace. Finishing a marathon, especially your first, is all about pacing yourself, especially on the hottest marathon day on record.

At this stage the runners coming past could have been running anything from 10k to the full marathon. The former would be heading for the finish line, the latter for the start of their second lap. In the background I could hear a marshal shouting “Marathon keep left,” over and over. The only thing to distinguish one set of runners from the others was the colour of their bibs but I barely registered anything but a blur of different coloured shirts and the odd interesting costume. Luckily I did spot John with his 1:45 half marathon pacer shirt. He looked hot but happy and gave me a smile as he passed.

Seeing John reminded me that Commando would be along in around fifteen minutes and I probably should be concentrate on orange pacer shirts. It took all my concentration but I did manage to spot pacer Luis and Massi. Going by the time on his shirts I knew Commando would be the next pacer I saw.

By this time a steady trickle of 10k and half marathon finishers were making their way up London Road. Although they really should have known better, several thought it was ok to walk along the course against the flow of runners. A couple even became abusive when asked to stay off the course. I’m fairly sure none of them would have been happy if they’d had to swerve around inconsiderate finishers while they were running but some people seem to forget the race keeps going even if they have finished.

Then I almost got taken out by a Deliveroo cyclist. Although the road was closed and the wide pavement relatively clear at this point, he was cycling on the course head on into the runners. He came up behind me and was within a millimetre of clipping me as he passed. A marshal yelled at him through her megaphone but he just ignored her and kept on going.  He was the first delivery cyclist to do this but, sadly, not the last. Through all this mayhem I kept trying to capture runner friends and pacers but I was beginning to feel like I needed eyes in the back of my head. When pacer Abbie came past I almost missed her. In fact I only managed to capture half of her. This was when I realised Commando must have already gone past, probably when I was almost being run over. Of all the people to miss…

Along with the marshals, I’d been standing on the baking hot course, cheerung yelling and taking photos for over two hours by this time. When a race organiser came past and gave us all bottles of water it was more than welcome. Of course it could have been worse, I could have been out on the course with one more lap to go.

Not long after this the first of the marathon finishers began to trickle past. This was when I began to worry about Gerry. He’s one of the faster runners and, in normal circumstances, he’d be one of the first to finish. When I saw him at the end of his first lap though, I was sure he was going too fast and there would be trouble ahead.

More and more marathoners came past but there was no sign of Gerry. Right when I was wondering if I’d somehow missed him I got a call from Commando. Gerry was in trouble. He’d had to stop at Riverside Park because of the heat. Commando and Rob were running out to meet him with extra water. They were worried his wife, Teresa, who was also running the marathon, would catch up with him and abandon her own race to help him.

Although I kept taking photos I couldn’t stop worrying about Gerry. In my head I’d been calculating distance and time and waiting for him, Commando and Rob to appear. Then I got another call. Gerry had collapsed on Highfield Lane and was being loaded into an ambulance. Commando and Rob were now back at the VIP suite waiting for news. This was when I abandoned my photographer duties and went to join them.

By the time I got there all three were there waiting for me. Gerry had been suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion and, after a rest and some fluids,  was slightly sheepish but otherwise unharmed by his ordeal. Teresa arrived shortly afterwards. She’d knocked a huge chunk off her marathon PB and was torn between being delighted and being worried about her foolhardy husband. She hugged him tearfully, then gave him a good talking to. Hopefully next time he tries to run a marathon he will go a bit slower and maybe drink a little more.

The day after the storm had turned out to be anything but calm but it had at least stopped me thinking about the devastation in my garden. In fact, after a couple of well earned drinks in the pub, I’d more or less forgotten about it. Now it was time to walk back to the car with all the tired runners and go home to face the music.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

2 thoughts on “The Marathon after the storm”

    1. Gerry made a full recovery but he was lucky. A runner actually died during the London marathon on the same day.

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