So, I’ve got the first of my marathons out of the way. I ran it in 5hrs35. It was slow, so slow that by the end that my wife, who along with my brother Tom ran along side me and got me to within sight of the finish, said she could have walked. Obviously pace isn’t a huge consideration for me in my situation and especially given my shocking last fortnight of training. I’m grateful to Tom’s physio mate Chris for his advice. Without him, and the foam roller he encouraged me to buy, I would have been walking it. Indeed the most important thing for me was the fact I carried on running and didn’t at any stage walk. This obviously doesn’t tell the whole story, which really for me
was one of kindness, generosity, compassion and camaraderie, but with large helping of determination and utter stubbornness. Beforehand I was a little concerned about my prospects in the race. I had a painful 10 mile training run on the Monday before I ran in Blackpool and ended up walking the last three miles. The day before the race I’d felt tired just walking the 30mins into town and told everyone who’d listen how much of a nightmare the race would be. The day itself was great though. My sister, who’s been handling so much of the organisational and PR side of my fitness challenge picked up me and Pete (my awesome get-things-done buddy). Registration was straight forward and then spent 15-20mins with the awesome David from BBC Northwest Tonight, the regional BBC news programme. I wasn’t very organised, so quickly nipped to the loo and got ready. I got the start line just before the gun fired, but had no time to stretch.
I set off and no sooner had I put in my headphones then a man who was running to the side of me jogged over. He introduced himself as Mike and told me he’d decided to sign up
for the Half Marathon after he’d seen me in the Lancashire Evening Post the night before. I spent the next 10 miles talking to him about faith, running and lots of other things. I had worried about my race, so much and in the end I had Mike to help me ease into the race. The first miles would definitely have been harder if not for him.
After Mike and I got separated (he nipped to the loo and urged me not to stop) I passed a
few back marker half marathon runners and met up with two ladies, Sara and her niece Jodie, who were raising money in memory of Sara’s grandchild who died at birth. I ran with them for 5 miles, but after they stopped for a loo break I ran on my own spurred on by a playlist I spent an inordinate amount of time putting together. I was particularly inspired at around 18 miles listening to the Inches speech from the movie Any Given Sunday. In the movie the fictional Miami Sharks American Football team are a side in crisis. The idea Al Pacino’s coach D’Amato expresses is that the margin for success or failure in a game is small, inches in fact. He tells his team that they can fight their way back into the light, that they can climb out of hell. One inch, at a time. I could definitely relate to that point. Facing a mini wall at 18 miles is like being a one person team in crisis. The body is suffering with pain and in my case a lack of fuel, while the mind is struggling with motivation. A team suffers from discord too. To put things right a team can work and fight harder to achieve victory and I was fighting against the distance and myself to keep going. I dug in, fought harder and just carried on placing one foot in front of the other and eventually climbed out of hell inch by inch, step by step. Sadly, I’d need to do that again at 22 miles and every mile after that up until the end.
One of the things I learned during the race was that Marathon runners are hugely generous and immensely kind. And not just the ones running in your race, but generally speaking too. One such unselfish runner was a man called David who ran alongside me at around 21/22 miles. We got talking and I explained what I was up to and why and I found out he was on a training run for the London Marathon, the following weekend. After a while the run got tough. The route had dropped down right along the sea, the tide was in and the wind got up. Perhaps it was running close to the sea with the wind that made it harder to breathe, or perhaps I was just tired after 22 miles, either way the run got really difficult. I told David that my goal was just to keep going and he told me that while he was running with me, I wouldn’t be stopping. Such kind words and they gave me the courage to push on. He ran with me for another couple of miles and handed me on to my brother, Tom, who had jogged down the front to find me. This fitness challenge has been like a microcosm of life, but containing only the best aspects of human nature. I have no right to expect kindness from strangers, but receive it in bucketloads. People that I have no connection to have heard about what I’m doing, made donations and sent some truly humbling messages infused with such incredible encouragement. I couldn’t expect such kindnesses from fellow marathon runners either. Let alone David who wasn’t even in the same race as me, but he’d run marathons and knew what I was going through and wanted to help. I can say confidently that without that help I wouldn’t have run all the way and I know that I’d have been desperately disappointed if I’d walked. I may well walk in the upcoming marathons, but I can derive a lot of confidence from digging out a good performance in the first marathon, despite the difficulties I had faced in the run up.
Anyway, when David left Tom and I, I still had more than two miles to go and they really were the hardest miles I have ever run. I’ve run two miles or more probably hundreds of times and I was surprised how hard it was to finish the race with such a short distance to go. If David and Mike’s generosity was incredible and unexpected, my brother Tom’s effort was no less profound. My siblings seem to have a habit of being in the right place at the right time. When I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in March 2012 I was on my own. I had been in hospital for days and after number of scans I was still none the wiser. Finally, a doctor and one of the nurses I knew from the ward came to my bed and broke the news. They left and my head was swimming. I wandered out into the corridor in a daze and bumped into Grace, my sister who’d arrived for visiting time. If I could have phoned a friend, or teleported anyone, other than my wife, to my side at that moment then level-headed, practical, lovely Grace would have been it. At mile 23/24 seeing Tom coming towards me was awesome. Not the mundane everyday awe I feel when I see a great goal on the TV, I mean I was genuinely awestruck to see my brother running towards me. In many ways Tom is my hero and if I could have called on anyone in that moment, again other than my smiling Louise, it would definitely have been Tom. I was so glad. He couldn’t possibly have known that I was struggling and that I needed his help so desperately. I was even more grateful to see him as he has had more than his fair share of injury problems and can’t run for much more than 20mins without discomfort. Without any concern for his own well being he set to work boosting my morale, pumping me full of positive vibes and acting as a general packhorse holding my water and getting me food. I’d hugely underestimated how much I’d need to eat
on the way round and had ran out of running snacks some time before. We got to within sight of family gathered at mile 25 and my brother sprinted off to get me something to eat and returned with a protein bar and a banana from Grace. It’s not stuff I usually eat, but I was crashing badly, so I ganneted the lot. My beautiful, smiley Louise joined us at mile 25 and we together until we could see the finish. Those two then left me for dust as they sprinted away ready to see me finish. Inspired by the sight of the finish line I kicked on and sprinted home.
I got such a lovely reception at the finish, not merely from the family there to greet me, but also from the Race Commentator Brian and Organiser Tia. Evidently, someone, my bet’s on Grace, had told them why I was running and they praised my efforts. It was really kind. As I walked with girls in my arms to collect my medal the sense of achievement was immense.
It may be the first of six marathons I’m planning to run but running a Marathon is something
I thought I’d never get to do, so getting over the finish line was a massive achievement! I was pleased I wasn’t in last place and didn’t stop. After the race I could hardly move. While the steep stairs at our new home provided quite a challenge, the new bath, which felt twice as big as the one in our old house, was certainly appreciated and I had a nice post marathon soak. We went for a celebratory meal at our dear friends Jenn and Duncan’s house (my ex wife and mother of my eldest Skye and her husband). Later we watched me on the news, which was an odd experience. Then it was time for a well deserved sleep and prepare for chemo the next day.
Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 marathons in 6 months in support of Cancer charities: