From behind the trees at the end of the straight stretch that finishes off the hardest hill on the course (how glad was I that the 25 mile marker was at the top?), the rhythmic pounding of heavy boots announced the arrival of the team who would shepherd me down the hill the final mile to the end of the Tresco Marathon.
Ahead of me, the organisers raced away on their buggy, whilst a two-man team from Red Shoe, a production company making a running show about the Marathon, sat on theirs waiting for the final push to the line.
As they approached, having donned their famous green berets, my brother called to me.
“Here you go, bro, this is it. Slot into the middle here and we’ll head down the hill at your pace.”
“However fast you want to go,” was the call from Baz, the Sergeant at the head of the second column.
I took my allotted place in the middle of the two columns of hyper-fit, stark-raving bonkers, hard-core Royal Marines and broke into a trot. No sooner was I running than I heard Baz calling the time back to the lads so they could match my step precisely.
I learned afterwards that for 10 guys coming to the end of a marathon, I took off at a Hare’s pace – flying off down the hill carried away by a rush of adrenaline and fear that I was going to cock-up their push for a sub-5-and-a-half hour time. It’s probably fair to say they’re right, as it wasn’t a pace I could keep up and I soon broke back into a walk.
No sooner had I slowed (and, presumably, the lads had caught me up) than I received a chorus of encouragement from the ranks behind me. Even though I had tried to beast them into the ground over the first 200 yards (albeit accidentally), everyone to a man had something to shout to me by way of encouragement.
The whole of the last mile, my bro and Baz talked me down it. Tim spent the whole time making sure I knew I could slow or speed my pace up as much as I wanted or needed to, whilst Baz was a constant stream of advice and encouragement. Quite how anyone can have the capacity and wherewithal – let alone enough breath – to talk a novice runner through the toughest mile of their life when they have just come through one of the toughest 25 mile courses in marathon road-running is beyond me, but it is something I will be eternally grateful for.
As we approached the 26 mile point, having tried another burst of running and returned to walking pace, we once again broke into a trot. With Tim counseling me not to take it too fast we approached the marshaled-turn where the course deviates from its previous 7 laps and heads the last 300 yards to the finish.
The cheer from the gathered crowd and volunteer marshals was amazing and brought a lump to my throat, giving me for a moment something to worry about other than the pain in my legs. As we rounded the corner and caught sight of the finish – rather further away than I was expecting – I may or may not have uttered a mild (ever-so-mild) expletive. From the back of the group a voice piped up, “That’s what we’ve been saying the whole way round!”
Sensing my inability to make it in one go to the finish line, Baz and Tim encouraged me to take another walk to a point around 150 yards from the finish. The below photo was taken as I broke back into my final run to the finish, shortly before the Marines broke their stride, hence the fact that it looks like I’m running and their walking – I wasn’t that slow.
From there, I was determined that I wasn’t going to break my run again until I’d crossed the line. As we approached the finish, the course headed ever-so-slightly up hill and my legs began to protest at a never-before experienced level. After the fact, I reminded myself that 10 Royal Marines and 130 other runners had gone through pain much worse than mine that day, but in the heat of the moment all I could focus on was the sight of K across the finish line, standing out like a beacon in a sea of faces. All I kept telling myself was that if I could get to her, I’d be over the line. Just run to Kati, Just run to Kati, Just run to Kati.
And I did. I got there. I crossed the line and collapsed into her arms amid an ocean of cheers and congratulations. No sooner was I over the line than the tears started flowing – and not just mine, either, I’m somewhat relieved to say.
As I stumbled into the post-race area, collecting my runner’s post-marathon goodie bag of food and energy-goodies, I felt like something of a fraud amongst a group of people who had endured far more than me and for far long that day, but at the same time the emotion of having achieved a mile with the guys all running behind me was overwhelming.
I thanked all the guys individually for putting themselves through so much in aid of such a great cause, but also in helping to push me through the longest mile of my life. Ironically, though, the longest mile turned out to the quickest. After running 14 minute miles on the treadmill in training I had been alarmed as I ran and as I finished by how exhausted I felt from the effort. It wasn’t until my bro came up to me afterwards that I realised the reason – we’d run a sub-10 minute last mile. The Marines had run 26.2 miles around Tresco in 5 hours 24 minutes, beating even their best estimations.
Not five months ago things were looking more than bleak and only a little less than hopeless. With time fast running out, the enormous courage and generosity of one man and one family changed the course of my life forever. From a withered young man in terminal decline with the best years of his life behind him, I’ve become a strong, energetic 25-year-old with his entire future before him and a host of amazing challenges ahead.
Words cannot express the gratitude, admiration and love I feel towards those unknown people who gave me the extraordinary gift of life, nor the enormous swell of emotion I felt as I crossed the line. But I think maybe this does:
Some other posts you might like:
- Nope, we got nada!