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London Marathon

By Fred Kimpton

22nd April 2012

Everyone’s London marathon is different and everyone runs it for different reasons. I was running for Cornwall Hospice Care and so, on a crisp and clear Sunday morning in April, I joined a crowd of charity runners in a leafy park in south London. There were runners loading bags onto lorries, queuing for toilets, idly chatting among the trees, or listening as an announcer bellowed out interviews on a huge platform. Most had their names on their vests. Some wore the names of loved ones too, often with a printed picture or the date that they had died. Matching the names with the charities, you couldn’t help but read a whole series of stories, all of them sad. Of course, no-one looked sad right then. Just ready. Like me, they were focused on the Big Race.

With the marathon about to start, I gladly ditched my ill-fitting bin bag and placed myself in a pen next to a spectator with a Cornish flag. A good luck sign, I thought. Eventually, the mass of runners began to move and we were on our way. I had been warned that it would be slow going at first. But in fact, everyone started moving quite quickly. I had also expected to see a handful of spectators in places. Instead, from the very beginning the streets were crammed with people, urging you on. There were bands outside pubs and well-wishers hanging from balconies. Banners and flags were everywhere. Especially St Piran, who seemed to be present at every corner.

The miles ticked by. I passed the Cutty Sark. I crossed Tower Bridge, swung round the Isle of Dogs and turned towards the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. At mile 15, I hugged my wife. “You look strong,” she said. I felt strong too. I had a time in mind. Perhaps I’d make it.

Thinking back on it now, it’s difficult to say exactly when I hit “the wall.” I didn’t so much hit it but slowly ground to a halt, like a car that had run out of petrol. By mile 20, with the City ahead, I had virtually stopped, wondering whether I could reach the next lamp post. The next six miles became a blur. The crowds melted away and the landmarks disappeared from view. I could have been running the Camel Trail on my own, except that by then I wasn’t running. I was crawling.

And that was how my London marathon ended. Twenty minutes or so later than I had wanted. My feet barely lifting off the ground. I was glad, but only because it was over. The wheels had come off and the axle too. Still, after months of training and fundraising, I finally felt liberated. I was definitely not doing THAT again.

Among my colleagues, there were many memorable performances. Dan Alsop again was lightning fast at just 2hrs 38mins. Two others that stand out are Duncan Oakes, who dipped under 2hrs 45mins for the first time, and Catheryn Camborieux, who ran in 3hrs 53mins. Tim Adams, Tom Howell, Holly Patton, Jackie Chillingworth and Michelle Lobb all managed PBs. Andy Trudgian and Jackie Chillingworth put in runs that were particularly brave, for very different reasons. For many including Viv Venning, Shawn Ferris and Lyn Hawkins it was their first ever marathon and that, in itself, is worth celebrating. A special mention must also go to Geraldine Alsop, who for years has been so generously supporting others, and now has a medal of her own.

Although I was disappointed, my London marathon was still an awesome experience and one that I will never forget. It remains by far my favourite sporting event. It’s the only one I know that is not just about the elite athletes but about the everyday club runners and the charity runners, whose achievement in finishing is every bit as great (if not more). That’s why the streets were lined five-deep at times with spectators, who didn’t drift away once the leaders had glided by but stayed on to cheer and cheer and cheer. Watching people run it, so often for deeply personal reasons, is inspiring. It was an honour to be part of it.