Mile 24. I am pretty much at the wall. My legs are not even aware they are carrying me, they are just working on memory from the past 24 miles of the walk.
I see a pedestrian-crossing up front and nearly burst into tears. The light is green. If I can just walk that bit quicker, run even...I may just make it in time.
I quicken my pace and the look of pure sympathy appears on the marshalls face as she glances at the lights. Her hand goes up in front of her to stop me from crossing. "Sorry", she says. And I cry.
Not big heartbreaking sobs. That would be embarassing. But the silent tears that appear when you least expect them. The ones that are normally had when you are alone. Not walking through the streets of London at dawn, along with 15,000 other walkers.
"I'm sorry", she projects again, this time wth her arm softly round my shoulders "I know it must hurt".
"Yes", I whisper, frantically marching on the spot desperately trying to keep my legs from giving up on me.
"I envy you". She whispers back, dropping her hand down to her side.
"Envy me?" I question
"Yes", she continues. "I am physically unable to do what you do, so I am doing this, in the hope that doing so I can contribute in my own way".
My tears stop. My legs march that little bit faster and before I know it the little green man is flashing at me prompting me to cross.
I feel a gentle hand on my back.
"Go", she commands. "You are on a really good time, get there and be proud".
I continue to walk and the tears falls again. This time tears of determination, of courage, of strength. The strength to get through this. To get to the end.
At the weekend I completed a night time 26.2 mile walk around London.
For those of you who have not heard of London Moonwalk, this is an event which in its 15 years, has raised over £75 million for breast cancer charities. I wont go into details, they have a fantastic website www.walkthewalk.org
which will tell you all about the event and the charity. This is to tell you of my experience of the event.
I first took part in this event 8 years ago. Having failed to secure a London Marathon place I was looking for an alternative challenge. I was told about this event by a work colleague who had done it the previous year. I was sold by the stories of the Moonwalks' humble beginnngs, the concept that you do this event in your bra, to celebrate our womanly bodies and to make a point that this is for breast cancer research. So why not? Its a challenge, and ok its not a run like I had hoped, and certainly did not have the same credability of the London Marathon, but it sounded fun. And it was. That first 26.2 mile walk was exhausting, humbling yet gratifying. I was hooked.
I was unable to compete in the years that followed. I moved house and had two children in quick succession. I was running competively and had no time to train for the event.
It wasnt until last year when I was telling a friend about the event that I had the urge to do it again. Which I did. The experience was unchanged. Only that it was bigger, colder and I was able to share this wtih a good friend who could also be proud of herself for taking part.
So you can imagine how gutted I was to have missed the online application spot last year as I was out of the country (residing in a villa in Spain, which quite rightly had no wifi!). So, when the oppurtunity came up to take a friends place and take part in this years event, I nearly bit her hand off (well actually no, it was by email. So I had to fight the urge to kiss the screen!).
But wth this elation was the feeling of panic. I had two weeks notice and that was no way near enough time to train.
I spent the follwing few weeks clocking as many miles as I could on foot. Mostly in my lunch hour and given the state of the British weather recently this was also spent with a large umbrella in hand, dodging high winds and heavy rains. But i did all I can.
But I had a new purpose in mind. This was the first Moonwalk I was doing alone and I had a competitive head on my shoulders this time round. Gone was the usual "lets have fun" aspect and in its place was my "I need to get my best time EVER!" mentality. This was my one chance to get the best time I could - really make the difference and make it as hard as I could for myself. I wanted every mile to be as painful as every chemotherapy treatment. I wanted every step to be as painful as the first time someone was told of their cancer, and I wanted every short breath to be as shallow as those who had lost the fight to this terrible disease. I also wanted my jubilation as I crossed the finishing line to be as close to the feeling a survivor got when they received the "all clear" from cancer. This had to count.
So off I set alone on the train with my focused mindset.
I admit, I was a little lonely. Everyone seemed to be in a team, or with at least one other. And when Nina Brough (the founder) got on stage and asked us to give the person to the leff a massive hug I had an awful "alone" moment until this wonderful lady grabbed my hand and gave me the biggest hug. I was ready.
Half way through the warm up, I left the tent to approach the start line. There were quite a few others with the same idea so despite my best efforts, I was still at the back of the first group. And I didnt actually cross the start line until 11:04pm.
But I was there. And I was powering my arms up above my chest (which was beautifully presented in a bra made by a wonderful lady I met through twitter - that's another story). By mile 5 I had lost count of the number of walkers I had overtaken, and as I made my way out of Hyde Park I was confident to have made a good start.
I shall digress slightly at this point, because i think it is an important point.
I get VERY annoyed at people who discredit the walk because it is just that. A walk. Because most of us put one leg in front of the other, it is assumed that we are able to do this over a large distance. I am sure most of you have either said, or heard someone say somethng like this "Oh I couldnt run to the end of the road but I could walk for miles". Could you? Could you really walk 26.2 miles over night comfortably? Because I am fit, and I struggled.
When you run a marathon, there is this credablity that comes with it. As running a marathon is hard. But remember this. The only difference in running a marathon over walking it, is that your feet hit the ground that little bit harder. And you move that little bit faster (again this theory can be questioned, as my finishing time walking the marathon was very close to that of at least two people I know to have run the recent London Marathon). You still use the same muscles and your body still requires the same nutrition.
Don't get me wrong. I am no way discrediting marathon runners, I hope to be one next year and intend in training very hard for it, I just wanted to make the point that walking the same distance is equally as hard. I have the blisters and the John Wayne walking stance to prove it!
By mile 14 I could honestly say that I hit that "wall". I could feel the beginnings of a blister on my ankle, my bra straps were feeling very tight and I was beginning to get shin splints and fat-finger syndrome. I had already been groped by a very drunk and disgusting clubber and to make it worse, someone with a limp had over taken me. I was not feeling too good at all.
So I started to make a deal wth myself. At mile 15 I will have my energy bar. At mile 16 I will check my phone. At mile 17 I will have some jelly babies. If I make it that far I will then concentrate on counting my steps. Once I get to a thousand steps I will have my second energy bar. All these little goals helped, but the real encouragers were the volunteers. These wonderful human beings were there for us all at every corner, every pedestrain crossing, every zebra crossing, every water station and every toilet stop. No matter how cold it got, they still clapped and cheered as we walked on (and at one point they were offering free hugs - don't mind if I do!). The poor souls must have been perishing and everso tired but they kept on. And then I reached the mile 24 marker and my inspiring marshall who kept me going til the end.
So as I turned the corner back into Hyde Park I was on a mission. I figured that I really couldnt hurt much more than I did already so I put the pain to the back of my head and marched on.
It was at this point that I was beginning to notice that the sun had had only just come up. Now on previous Moonwalks the sun was already up and rising rapidly in the sky when I was passing the mile 20 marker. So I knew that my time was good.
My phone battery had run very low at this point so I had turned it off some miles before to save it for when I finished. When i passed the 26 mile maker and very much on the home straight, I reached for my phone and switched it on.
I had to look twice at the time. And then I looked again.
It was just past 5am. Surely I could not have done this in 6 hours? Honestly that could not be possible. I'm not a power walker, I am a recreational walker. Yes I was determned but my goal was to finish by 7am. And it was 5am. Really? I shook any pride out of my head, it must me wrong.
But I was here, the end was in sight. As I glanced up at the official clock I could see that it read 5:17am. Mmm, may be that was the hours and not the time then? But then thats not right either!! I was confused.
I crossed the finishing line desperate to ask someone the time. I didnt need to. The lady who gently placed the medal over my head confirmed it:
"Well done my darling, just over 6 hours is an amazing time, you should be very proud of yourself".
And I was. Very.
That evening I bored everyone senseless on my achievemnt. Tellng story after story until my celebratory glasse(s) of wine tired my buzzing head. I lterally (seriously, LITERALLY!) climbed the stairs to bed.
I woke up this morning and I could barely move. But I had a smile on my face.
I did it.
I dedicate this blog post to everyone who has been touched by cancer