25 April 2015
A few years ago I made a cock up of monumental proportions on the Twilight Race For Life. Basically I turned up on the wrong night, one day after the race, dressed in bright pink, with my race number pinned to me and covered in glo sticks. As mistakes go it was a big one and embarrassing but, to put matters right, I walked more than the distance involved, dressed in my stupid pink costume, all alone, at night and feeling like a total idiot. On Saturday we discovered someone else had made an error that made mine look like a tiny faux pas. Let me start at the beginning….
We were up bright and early on Saturday morning to catch a train to London. Bags had been packed the night before, we had healthy snacks, chocolate milk and I had my pacamac because the forecast for Sunday was rain. We got the train, we got a taxi from the station and we checked in at our hotel near Tower Bridge. The next item on the agenda was going to the expo at the ExCel Centre, where Commando had to check in for the race and pick up his race number.
We took a bus and then the Docklands Light Railway and found ourselves at a very crowded expo. Given my absolute horror of crowds I said I’d go for a wander while he did his thing and checked out all the running related exhibits. Let’s face it, running gear doesn’t interest me. There was a lovely sculpture outside in the Victoria Dock. Sculpted by Les Johnson, it is dedicated to the dock workers from the 1800’s and shows three figures, John Ringwood, an ex seaman turned docker, Patrick Holland, a stevedore from Custom House where the ExCel Centre is and Mark Tibbs, from Canning Town.
Not so very long ago this area was bustling east end docks and, close to the statue, an old warehouse caught my eye. You know how much I love old buildings and this one was beautifully restored. Built in around 1860, is is called, simply, Warehouse W and appears to now be fancy apartments. Then there were the giant cranes, what can I say except stunning, they reminded me of home too.
The Victoria and Albert docks were built to provide berths for ships too large to go further up river. In the early twentieth century they became London’s principal docks. They specialised in importing food and there were huge warehouses like warehouse W all along the quays. Finally, in 1981, they closed to commercial traffic, leading to unemployment and social depravation in nearby areas. Now they have been regenerated, they even have their own light railway, marvellous little red trains zipping about taking people wherever they want to go and running like clockwork. Where warehouses once lined the quayside there are now rows of swish apartments, designed to look a little like rows of warehouses, at least I think so.
So I strolled along past fancy waterside restaurants and pubs enjoying warm sunshine when I’d expected rain. Across the water the dome of the O2 made me think of a balding hedgehog, but maybe that’s just me. Little pod like cable cars were swishing across the sky, the latest way to see London by air. For a second I considered getting on one because I quite liked the London Eye when I went on it years ago and these looked like they’d be just as good. The queues were long though so I didn’t.
Wandering a little further I spotted water skiers flashing across the river. Then I realised I couldn’t see any boats. Puzzled as to how that could be working I went for a closer look. Maybe they were somehow motorised, like jet skis, or magnetic? Perhaps it was some kind of sorcery? It turned out they were being towed on wires across the water. Ok, I’m still not exactly sure how they do it but at least it wasn’t magic.
After a bit I started to feel hungry so I made my way back towards the ExCel, not wanting to go too far because I didn’t know how long Commando was going to be. Typically, I’d no sooner sat down on the steps by the dock workers statue and started eating my sandwich and drinking my first coffee cooler of the year, when Commando rang. It was too crowded in the expo and he wondered where I was. He found me just as I was finishing the last bite.
He was talking on his phone as he came towards me and I could see from his face that something was badly wrong.
“I don’t understand how there’s no entry booked,” I heard him say. “I mean, Southampton Sight said there were two London Marathon places, they put it on Facebook. What about all the sponsorship money?”
My heart didn’t just sink, it plummeted. It sounded like something really bad had happened. In fact it sounded like a monumental cock up on the London Marathon entry front. Commando sat down on the step, still talking to someone, still grim faced. Suddenly, all the enjoyment went out of my coffee cooler.
Eventually he put the phone down. I braved myself for the worst. He’d been talking to Sarah, the other Southampton Sight marathon runner. The two of them had never met but had been in touch by phone and email throughout their training. In fact they had a long, last minute, pep talk the night before we left home. Like us, Sarah and her husband had booked a hotel in London for the night before the marathon. They’d arrived at the expo to pick up Sarah’s race pack not long after we had. The difference was, when Sarah went up to the desk they told her there was no place booked for her. Not only that, they said Southampton Sight had only ever been offered one London Marathon place and that was Commando’s.
Of course, quite selfishly, my first feeling was relief that it hadn’t been Commando getting such terrible news. If it had been I think I’d have been looking for tall buildings to climb with a view to jumping off. That it wasn’t Commando, doesn’t actually make what had happened any better though. Poor Sarah had run all those training miles the same as he had. She’d spent months preparing for this race, not to mention a lot of her own money on hotels, travel, sports equipment and even a sports physio appointment the day before to help with a nagging Achilles injury.
Commando still hadn’t had any lunch so I went off to get him something and, by the time I came back Sarah and her husband had met up with him on the steps outside the ExCel Centre. It was not exactly the first meeting they’d planned. She seemed to be taking the news remarkably well. Her main concern was all the people who had so kindly sponsored her for a race she would not now be able to run. Then again, I think she was probably in shock. To be honest, we were all in shock. When we left her, she hadn’t decided whether to stay in London and get some use out of the hotel room she’d booked or go home. Staying and watching all the other runners preparing might have been like rubbing salt in the wounds. Going would be a waste of the money spent on the hotel. What a terrible decision.
All the way back to our hotel, despite the sunshine and the famous landmarks we passed, despite seeing race preparations as we crossed Tower Bridge, we couldn’t stop thinking about her. Every few minutes it seemed, one of us would say, ‘I don’t understand how they could have made such a mistake,’ or ‘all those hours of training for nothing.’ Neither of us could really imagine how she would be feeling but one thing is for certain, the person who made the mistake is going to be feeling a whole lot worse.