Crossing Tower Bridge and beating Jesus - Liz Nice on her London Marathon highs
- Credit: Archant
Running the London marathon has been my dream since the event first began in 1981, writes Liz Nice.
I remember watching it on the television, aged 10, and then trying to go for a run around the block.
Half-way round, I stopped, exhausted.
“That must be nearly 26 miles?” I said.
“Sorry,” replied my mother. “Less than a mile, I think.”
Thirty five years later, I was standing on the starting line of what must be the greatest event Britain holds each year.
“Don’t be nervous,” my friend Sarah said as she dropped me off in Greenwich. “These are good people.”
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She was right.
All those runners, stepping into pain for a cause.
None of them is going to leave you floundering at the roadside, are they?
They’ll watch your back.
And that’s pretty much what the marathon is – a whole lot of watching other people’s backs. Sometimes, when the back in front of you is a minion called Kevin or a man carrying a washing machine, you are furious.
How can they be quicker than you?
But at other times, the backs bring a lump to your throat.
Running for Parkinson’s for Uncle Dave.
Running for ‘Bridie’, with the date when little Bridie left him.
And then there were the four people running side by side for their local hospice – their vests said simply, ‘For our Mum’.
I had chosen to run for the Lullaby Trust, in memory of my brother Mark, who died in 1979, a cot death, aged just three months.
There was solidarity with other Lullaby Trust runners. You’d get, or deliver, a squeeze on the shoulder, or a pat on the back as you passed each other.
One Lullaby Truster, a man with a Scottish accent, slowed to ask how I was getting on. We passed the time of day, and then as he ran by, I saw a photo on his back of the most beautiful baby boy.
Moments like that almost stop you in your tracks.
There is such emotion all around the course, quietly contained in the pure grit it takes to get you over a distance no sane person would ever attempt.
It wasn’t so hard though.
All those early mornings, the quiet slogging away over months and months, paid off. I felt strong; stronger than I have ever felt, and early on I knew I would get there.
I am glad I was able to show my sons that if you set your mind to a goal and put the work in, then you can achieve it, however impossible it might seem when you are 10.
“I’m proud of you, Mum,” said my eldest.
He’s almost the same age now as I was when I first set my heart on running this race. A little seed planted there, I hope.
I flew the first 13 miles, ignoring all advice from seasoned marathon runners who had warned me not to go too quickly early on.
I was just so elated to be there, I couldn’t help it!
And when I began to flag a bit in the second half, where heart-soaring landmarks like the Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge give way to dodgy-looking pubs and Isle of Dogs Asda, I was boosted by sightings of friends and family.
My brother and his partner, my other half and my children, the friends we were staying with, the Lullaby Trust supporters and my friend on the Age UK stand, all gave me a huge lift.
As did the hundreds of people I don’t know and never will who shouted, “Go Liz!” (after reading the name on my vest) “Looking good!” (Generous) and “You got this!” (a ubiquitous Americanism around the course that I came to rather like).
I also loved the woman holding a sign which said, “I love you, Random Stranger”, which pretty much summed up the mood of the day.
There isn’t a moment when you are not surrounded by cheering fans. It is like being a star for a day.
Highlights were overtaking Jesus – a man running barefoot in a loin cloth with a cross on his back – and the sudden blast, at mile 16, of the song, The Eye of the Tiger – just as I was beginning to tire, I was Rocky!
The final few miles were tough. The Embankment seemed to last forever, but seeing Big Ben and the London Eye offer some compensation, a reminder that you really are part of the biggest running spectacle in the world.
The Mall itself feels like the longest distance you will ever travel. Just when you think you are home, you turn right at Buckingham Palace and there are still another 385 yards to go!
But then, suddenly, you are crossing the finish line and a smiling man is saying the sweetest words a marathon runner will ever hear.
I checked my watch and saw that I had achieved my dream in 5 hours 18 minutes and 30 seconds. Faster than I had planned, and, more importantly, 12 minutes faster than the time my boss, and the editor of this newspaper, Terry Hunt, did it in a few years ago.
“Can you beat Terry?” had become a bit of a mantra in our office.
Judging by the messages I received on Sunday night, everyone, including and especially Terry himself, was quite delighted that I had!
Astonishing that you can run 26 miles and then, within moments of stopping, can barely walk a step!
Heading down Horse Guard’s Parade to meet my family seemed endless as I limped through the crowds, stiff and sore, and longing, more than I ever have in my life, for a biscuit and a cup of tea.
But everyone was chuffed with my achievement.
My brother John confessed to having a ‘tear in his eye’ and my sons were even wearing their ‘Our Mum Ran London’ T-shirts which had been pronounced ‘embarrassing’ the night before.
Meanwhile, I had finally achieved the dream I had nursed since I was 10 years old, and raised over £3,000 in memory of my little brother, whose memory I carried with me, quietly, every single step.
My Mum, who had been watching at mile 13 and mile 22, rang me.
“Where are you?” she gasped. “I spotted you at mile 13 but haven’t seen you since! Are you OK?”
“I’m at the finish,” I said.
There was a quiet pause.
Then: “You did it.”
26 miles. 385 yards.
How good it feels to know that I finally did!
• It’s not too late to sponsor me. Just search for Virgin Money and type in Liz Nice. And a huge thanks to all who have sponsored me so far. Every penny was truly an inspiration!