It has to be said I was pretty nervous at the beginning. The wonderful Olivia Belle of Help the Hospices appeared out of nowhere, gave me a hug and wished me good luck. It helped that we were shuffling along next to one of the Save the Rhino International (SRI) costumes - I remember first seeing one of these in the original SRI office near Marble Arch back in 1992 when SRI was just Johnny Roberts and David Stirling. "What are you going to do with this?" I said to David. "Someone's got this rather bonkers idea about running a Marathon it it.." he replied. The awareness created by SRI for what they do by using the costumes in the marathon has been at the back of my mind nearly ever since....but with SPANA the beauty is that the costumes, the straining effort of the weight the donkeys/runners are carrying and the distance they are walking all ties together very neatly.
And then we were off. Although we were at the back, there was still a good crowd as we came through Blackheath, down towards the river and back through Charlton, but by the Cutty Sark it was all beginning to get very quiet. Pedestrians were using the route and as I came out of Greenwich, a long, straight almost deserted road opened up in front of me. The only evidence that a marathon had just swept by was a road covered in squashed jelly babies and discarded carbo gel tubes. And things were closing down - the lorries were out picking up crash barriers and it was difficult to see where they were inside the costume, although you could hear them loudly enough. Water points were packing up, the micro-chip counters rolled away and even the mile counters taken down - it began to get a very lonely experience. But its absolutely true what every participant says about the crowd. I didn't hear one "Come on Donkey!" that wasn't heartfelt, genuine or unappreciative, more so since it had now been some 4 hours since the elite atheletes had passed by. Every pub cheered us on. One, near Tower Bridge, even roared as I stopped to dance to Aretha Franklin's "Respect" which was booming out of loudspeakers - to the amusement (or possibly embarrasment..) of my colleague Jo who was now able with almost empty roads, to walk alongside me. And then once over Tower Bridge, with all the more serious runners coming the other way, all the cheering teams from Shelter, Merlin, and even the runners themsleves (including ex-Eastenders and "The Bill" actress. Lucy Speed..) were clapping and shouting encouragement. This was the best part of the marathon for me...
After this the routes split and with SPANA colleagues Kat and Nicola (who had relieved Jo at Tower Bridge) we headed down into Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs - I hadn't been looking forward to this bit, but once again the crowd was amazing, and in a burst of energy brought on by a cocktail of bananas and Lucozade I did 4 miles in about an hour...before I knew it I was facing home!
But then everything went a bit pear shaped. It became almost impossible in places to figure out where the route was. Roads were variously closed, semi-open or wholly opened. Attendant rather vague policemen unhelpfully waved us off empty roads onto busy pavements with the excuse that "We're just about to open it.." and then no traffic came along whatsoever while we battled with uneven paving slabs, traffic lights, bouncing off lamposts, phone boxes and drunk people.
This was all largely forgotten once the friendly sight of Tower Bridge loomed up again along with the return of car-free, closed roads.
And then it nearly all came completely unstuck.
As I headed into the underpass alongside the Thames something smacked into the costume and nearly bowled me over. Somehow I just managed to stay on my feet and instead knocked down and trampled underfoot a very drunk non-English-speaking tourist. All I saw as I continued on my way was a shocked face looking up from the ground which although its owner could speak nothing I could have understood, still spoke volumes - It said "I am a tourist in this country. I have had way too much to drink. And I am now struggling to understand whether I really have just been run over by a donkey."
Another diversion, but only onto the broad Thames-side embankment all the way to Westminster. Alongside Big Ben, across Parliament Square and down Birdcage Walk. With Buckingham Palalce now on my left, a few yards and I'm into the Mall and then a few yards on and I've finished.
Or I'm finished. Or both. More later.
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Sunday, 26 April 2009
Only, now it’s not a training blog anymore, but the real McCoy. Well, I wasn’t disappointed – it was just as awful as I’d expected.
Starting with Mr. Plod closing all the roads in London before seven-thirty AM, so we had to get the train. Carrying the donkey heads.
People thought we were going to some abattoir training session.
Then, after getting kitted out in Greenwich Park, it took us nearly three-quarters of an hour to shuffle across the startline. I was knackered before we even got going.
And it’s pretty dull stuff, because I was so slow, everyone had gone off to the pub by the time I got there, and all you can see, wearing all that junk, is just a little square of tarmac - covered with empty water bottles.
Apparently, we passed the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Buckingham Palace – me, I saw nothing, just a million plastic bottles.
And let’s just not mention the problems of trying to go to the loo. The Portaloos are not designed for Pack Donkeys. Then at about mile seven, the whole lot fell apart. Nightmare. I had aluminium rods poking into my neck, and all the weight on my head while hips and bum were trailing in the road.
I really thought that was it. The end. Then my daughter’s husband, who happens to be an engineer hove in sight, and with just a bit of pulling and shoving, tying and fixing, sorted it all out.
Then it was just a matter of slogging on. Of course the other two donkeys, aka Simon and Peter were off like whippets – but then I had been chosen especially as being old and worn-out, to represent the worn-out, knackered, geriatric donkeys of Africa and the Third World. A role I was able to take on with no acting ability whatsoever.
Naturally, the BBC weather forecast was totally wrong – overcast with light rain – actually it became the hottest day this year, with a blazing sun on us for the whole run.
But at least that brought out the crowds. A million people on the streets. By about two o’clock, half of them were ratted, and being England, it brought out the best and the worst from people. Lots of people cheering and shouting encouragement – and a few making dodgy jokes about donkey anatomy.
Fortunately Team SPANA realised how knackered I really was, and secretly a group was organised to walk alongside me, beating me with whips and sticks, just like the real thing, whenever I seemed to falter. Actually, they relented occasionally, and gave me drinks of Lucozade and such. But I never ever want to see another blinking Tracker Bar in my life.
What they didn’t realise was that I had secreted away inside the donkey neck a large bottle of gin and tonic – the only thing that really kept me going. Then comes “the Wall”. (Some of you might remember the Jasper Carrot bit about it.) This hits home about eighteen/nineteen miles, when you’re absolutely shattered, and you know you’ve still got miles and miles to go. And you realise how bloody stupid you are to be doing it at all.
Then, after Tower Bridge, the second time, you can just see Big Ben in the distance, and you start to think, ‘I might just make it, after all’. Reeling and staggering, I finally crossed the finishing line in a sizzling, personal best time of ten hours, twelve minutes, five times longer than the winning runner (2hrs05mins). Sores on the sores, blisters on blisters. But, like banging your head against the wall, it’s just great when you stop.
Last thing, and a bit spooky, really:
I had a much loved Uncle, who was killed in the First World War. He had been a marathon runner, and I still have a silver cup he won for it. I imagine he has been looking down at my efforts, and shaking his head sadly.
He was killed in action near Ypres.
On April 26th.
Friday, 24 April 2009
For those who wish to (!) there is a way that as you rise from your sleepy beds on Sunday morning, you can track us going round the London Marathon, thanks to some little microchips we are wearing on our shoes.
Log on to www.adidas.com/running and type in one of the SPANA teams running numbers (Simon is 53896, Peter is 53898 and Jeremy is 53897) – apparently you will then be able to see when we start, and when we pass 5km markers along the route, what speed we are going at (or not..!!).
It doesn't look like the adidas site is live yet, but as we registered this morning they assured us it would be on Sunday....!
Thursday, 16 April 2009
There's no going back now. The costumes have been delivered. We've got our race numbers. Even Jeremy has completed a 20 mile training walk. He may never be the same again but he has done it nonetheless.
Short of something really, really major, I'm going to have to do it now.
So on Easter Monday I set off, by train to Margate. Even a grey Bank Holiday morning was not going to dispirit the throngs of people heading for one of Britain's premier seaside resorts. And as is the custom in these parts, there was a "meet and greet" party organised by the local populace eager to show visitors "dahn from London" a traditional Margate welcome. Although unwilling to miss out on this I had twenty miles to do and so set off, with 20 miles ahead of me and a spring in my step. Only one more training walk after this one.
Beyond Margate there is not a lot to divert your attention - that is to say unless you are easily held enraptured by Lawn Bowling - a local derby was about to take place and there was a certain amount of menace hanging in the air, in clear anticipation of old scores to settle. Some of the players were so obviously pumped up on cucumber sandwiches, Lapsang Souchong and Battenberg that they were undertakening quite alarming stretching exercises. The whole thing looked liked a geriatric haka. I gave it a wide berth.
The stretch between Margate and Minnis Bay is actually rather lovely. There are some stunning cliff-top properties with glorious uninterrupted views out to sea. And at Birchington there is a real curiosity - ask anyone where the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti is buried and nearly all would rightly think Highgate Cemetery - in fact its as Birchington's small and unassuming little church - about as far from Highgate's vast City of the Dead as you could possibly get. And as I swung by to pay my respects I discovered he died 127 years ago last Thursday.
After Birchington, and the small but perfectly formed Minnis Bay which is a great place to get a cup of tea, there is a monumentally long slog down to Reculver. In an effort to while away the time I invented a whole new game. You have to match the people you pass with the celebrity or historical figure they most physically resemble, but the rule is that you can only give yourself 4 seconds to do it. So I had (in no particular order) Hitler, Mussolini (barely 25 yards apart), Tom Hanks, John Major, Janis Joplin, Mr Macdougall from Magic Roundabout, Charlie Drake, and the Andrews Sisters.
Later I was to see Orlando Bloom, but since he was being pursued by adoring teenagers waving autograph books, I concurred that in fact that this really was Orlando Bloom (he comes from Canterbury and is still grounded enough not to wander round Whitstable with a comedy moustache and massive Ray Bans).
All morning there had been a metereological battle going on between the sunlit inland and a haar fog in the North Sea - as I hit the stretch between Minnis Bay and Reculver (fuelled by a cup of tea in the excellent little cafe), the fog began to flow in, so that the twin towers of Reculver looked even more Gothic and eerie than usual (even though they are Saxon..). Beyond Reculver the fog began to clear and above me I could hear skylarks as I climbed up the slope towards Beltinge. In the space of five minutes i saw a little Egret, (more at home in North Africa), a Brent Goose (more at home in the Baltic, although i think thats where he was headed) and a canary (more at home in its cage in Herne Bay probably but had obviously got out.)
And then, before I knew it, I was in Herne Bay. PG Wodehouse in his Jeeves and Wooster novellas decided that Herne Bay was the place where the inestimable Jeeves, armed with a shrimping net, took his holidays. I have always thought that this fact is something hugely underplayed, to their cost, by the local tourist authority, who choose instead to promote the claim (of fairly dubious merit) that Bob Hope (as a child) once fell off its pier.
Barely 90 minutes later and I'm home. Admittedly it is going to be a whole different ball game once i am inside a 17kg donkey costume along with jelly Babies, water and other sunbdry comforts, but I have to say, that after all this training I am really looking forward to it!
Thursday, 2 April 2009
Well you saw them first here - these are the first pics of the costumes the SPANA team will be walking the long long 26 miles of the London Marathon in. All praise to model maker extraordinaire Jonathan Saville - They will be arriving at SPANA HQ this Friday and we aim to have a litle test "run" somewhere the week before April 26 to introduce them to the wider public.
We are already having a fight over who gets to wear the brown one!