running blog

Clive Whaley

Unfinished Business

The End or The Beginning?

2 Days after the Marathon - Walk to West Bay

"At any point in our lives we find ourselves somewhere between the beginning and the end … the charm of the game of life is that we never know where we are along that voyage."*

The whole body is stiff and sore. My legs are particularly bad but it did help to walk and the further I walked the more they freed up. I walked down to West Bay, one of my favourite training grounds and, although dressed in my 'civvies' this time, recreated 'that pose' for one last photograph. And I also spent time reflecting on the marathon experience.
I got round in 3 hours 33 minutes. I managed to hold roughly 8 minute mile pace for the whole course until about 20 miles but I just couldn't maintain it right to the finish. I was slipping to 8 and a half minute miles and, although I was working much much harder and digging in all that I could, it wasn't having much effect. Of course it is in those last few miles that you find out what the marathon is all about. I DID find out what it is all about and, although it hurt, I'm sort of glad that I did. I was tested like never before and yet… I got through it and I'm SO proud of how hard I was able to run right to the end. With so much unfinished business at stake, it put a lot of pressure on me but I was able to handle it … just. (End of "I'm so proud" section.)

I experienced very little euphoria or joy on crossing the finish line - just a minor wave of relief that it was over and then major waves of pain - pain that somehow I had held back for the previous 3 hours or so. I staggered through a group of well meaning officials and volunteers who gently steered me in the right direction and one of them smiled and put a medal round my neck. I think some of them said, "Well done".

And then I headed for the medical tent.

The tent ran for what seemed like half a mile and was staffed by vast numbers of young men and women in green uniforms. The environment was not far off what I imagine a field hospital in a war zone to look like. I was led past other suffering runners, either laid out on stretchers or vomiting into bags. I then spent the next 20 minutes or so having two extremely painful toenails patched up. The fourth toe on each foot was a funny mix of red, purple and black colouring and the toenails were excruciating to the touch. They padded and patched them up so that I could hobble away to find my family.

I didn't think that my surname would add in any way to the pain of taking part in the marathon but it did. Having a name beginning with 'W' meant that I had the maximum distance to stagger and limp towards the family and friends meet and greet area in St James' Park. I had agreed to meet my wife Maia, and youngest daughter, Hannah by the letter 'W' but it felt like a letter too far. After leaving the medical tent, my feet were so sore I was not able to pull the laces tight on my trainers. This meant that amongst the throng of runners shuffling towards their loved ones, someone inadvertently stepped on the back of my right running shoe and flipped it off. I couldn't bend in any normal way to put it back on and I half collapsed onto the tarmac path, with people stepping over me, while I struggled on the ground to get it back on again. I honestly don't know how I got back up again without any help, but I do know that the effort involved set off the worst cramps I have ever experienced all down one side of my abdominal muscles - the weirdest and most intense pain. I just stood there in agony, breathing deeply and bending in different ways until eventually it subsided. This whole performance took place only centimetres away from a large crowd of anonymous (to me) friend and family supporters who were the other side of a temporary barrier. I didn't get any offers of support, thank god … I was embarrassed by my agony and just wanted to get away.

I wanted, more than anything, to see Maia, Rebecca and Hannah - to put my arms around them, to gain their approval and then I could allow myself to say I had finished.

And at that point I started to get emotional, very emotional. I knew that I wanted to share it with them. The whole stupid venture is absolutely pointless if you have no-one to share it with. What if I had crossed that line after ALL that training and ALL that hard work during the run itself and I was on my own. I would have felt suddenly very lonely and thought 'What the **** was all that about?'.
"Once we have built our secure egos, we have to learn to dissolve them and live from deeper selves"*

I think I have deluded myself for months now that this is a little story of personal pride and unfinished business and it is … but crossing the line just put the whole thing into perspective. The pointlessness and selfishness of it all came home to me in the recognition that all I really wanted was to have the respect and love of those closest to me and then to lie down and somebody say, "Rest now … it's all over."

I hugged them both and had a small sob. Maia had even bought me a present of a specially wrapped Mars Bar - something I had been denied by the sponsors in 1986 when I failed to cross the finish line. And now, 31 years later - a finisher's medal and a Mars Bar - life doesn't get much better than that!
Later that evening we met up with Rebecca too (my eldest daughter) and enjoyed a lovely family meal and the most amazing cold beer I have ever tasted. I ran a long way for that one.

Marathon Pace
Nobody but me cares about this stuff. My dream target of 3 hours 30 minutes would have meant eight successive 5K splits of 25 minutes plus a final 10 minutes of running. (A marathon is 42K). My actual 5K splits were:

The last tick on the 'To Do' list
I have put the final tick of 'Done' on my Training Plan but contrary to my blog entry of 6 Feb, I did not savour the moment at all. In fact I had to make a real effort to go back to the damn thing and do it. My 16 week spreadsheet suddenly had no meaning to me and I just opened it up and put in the last tick, simply because I said I would. It really worked for me while I was training; It was interesting and motivational but now … now I don't care.
Having studied the Guinness World Records that were set on the day, I feel somewhat ashamed that Mr Potato Head was nearly 10 minutes ahead of me. Although I am mightily relieved that Ben Blowes (great name) who broke the record for "Fastest Marathon carrying a Household Appliance" - was over 2 hours behind me. It did set me thinking, if I was anywhere near him as he approached the finish on The Mall and his legs started to give way - would I have been noble and selfless enough to help him carry his Tumble Dryer across the line? I hope I would do the right thing but until you are actually at that moment - faced with an exhausted man and his appliance, I don't think any of us can honestly answer what we would do.

*Quotes above from Anthony Seldon, "Beyond Happiness" published by Yellow Kite.

Finished Business

Day 111 - THE LONDON MARATHON - 26.2 miles

3 hours 33 minutes 41 seconds



Unfinished Business Part 4

Day 83 - Marathon Training - 50 mins with progressive pace increase

The clocks went forward last night and this was the first proper Sunday Spring run with fellow club members. A lovely day but …

Back to the story about my ill-fated involvement in the 1986 London Marathon, that resulted in this undignified posture somewhere around mile 21 …
The words are from a diary account written soon after the day. "They took me from the wheelchair into another ambulance. It was an effort for me to turn over onto my side, so that they could pull my shorts down and push a thermometer up me bum - it gave a reading of 103F. An hour and three readings later and after several moppings down with a tepid sponge by Pat (St John's Ambulance worker) it was still 103. A doctor spoke to me and reckoned that I must have been running with a fever "Did you have a sore thoat or a cold in the last week?" (Well, sort of … could it really have done this to me?) The doctor said if the temperature didn't come down soon I would have to go to casualty.

It seems odd to say it but, for a while in that ambulance, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was so relaxed and still a bit crazy in the head. I felt really happy and I think I may have even said so. I mentioned that all praise for the St John's Ambulance service was thoroughly deserved. In fact they were the best organisation in the world.

Eventually, as I started to cool down and It became clear that I was going to be stuck there for some time and that I may not be able to stagger into the Founders Arms as the wounded hero, my mood dropped. The only thing that kept me going was Pat - my large, jolly ambulance volunteer - who kept up a running commentary on the race outside, "Oh look there's Emu … that must be Roy Hudd …. Ooooo there's a crocodile, Oh my goodness! No! … there's six of them … there's a doctor friend of mine running, I must have missed him."

They brought another guy into the ambulance who was shivering - at times it was confusing for Pat because she couldn't remember which of us to heat up and which to cool down. He had a rich Welsh accent and didn't want to be there, "How far are we from the finish?… How far! … Oh God! I so wanted a medal … I really wanted a medal… I think I'll carry on … How far are we from the finish?"

I think it was a couple of hours before my temperature came down to levels where they felt it was safe to let me go. At first they suggested I catch a tube to Westminster and then walk across the bridge (where the finish was in those days). There was no way I was going to do that. They wrapped me in a silver Mars space blanket and pointed me in the direction of Monument underground station. I hobbled very very slowly and some cheeky kid shouted "I bet your legs are tired!" A few steps further on a well-meaning young woman said "Well done!" It was cruel and painful going down the steps onto the platform and once I'd slumped into a seat on the carriage I noticed that it was full of tourists, most of whom seemed to be taking photos of me. I closed my eyes and leant against the window.

In a thousand to one coincidence of timing and circumstance, as I stepped off the train at Embankment, I was staring Maia* in the face. I leaned on her wearily and rested my head on her shoulders. There was someone to lead me out of hell and take me home."

*Maia was my girlfriend of about one month's standing at the time. She helped me find the finish area and the bus containing my bag of clothes. I got changed on an almost empty bus with a guy that had taken 6 hours to finish. Three years later Maia and I got married. It still bugs me that, because I didn't finish, I didn't get a Mars Bar.

Unfinished Business Part 3

Day 70 - Marathon Training - Rest
Just resting today, so time to continue with the story …

I started but didn't finish the 1986 London Marathon. In earlier blog extracts I have explained the lead up to the moment in this photo - Yes, that's me looking completely spaced out, being helped along by a thoughtful fellow runner near the Tower of London. The extracts which follow are from a diary I wrote a few days after the event …
"I can remember feeling tired, VERY tired and feeling as though I was leaning forwards, as if I was perpetually running uphill. I was aware that a lot of runners were passing me and was vaguely aware of some people walking and thinking how nice that looked - what a comforting thought, to be walking rather than running. I remember at one point seeing things blurred at the side of my vision. But I feel as though I went on for some time after that …

I have a vision of running in blackness with a runner either side helping me and trying to kindly persuade them to carry on without me, "I'll be alright". I remember going down twice - once on hands and knees and desperately groping onwards and another time just sitting down like a baby with reassuring voices around me telling me to stay as I was for a while. I thought that sounded like a good idea and I nodded. I don't think I'd given up at that point. It wouldn't be long before I'd be off again. I had to be sensible and take a breather, although I hadn't wanted to stop…

I came round in an ambulance. I was home. For a few moments there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be - reassuring words were floating towards me, I was resting flat on my back unable to move but it was over.

With vague consciousness, my first worries were for those who wouldn't now meet me at The Founders Arms - could these people get a message to them? - Oh and also to my parents who must have seen me collapse on TV - could they ring them? I started reeling out names and phone numbers - I think I was going under again because I couldn't get more than one digit out at a time without a rest. I think they only humoured me anyway.

A doctor gave me a couple of glucose tablets and I was nearly sick - I tried to take them out. They lifted my head and gave me cool, sweet water. There was someone else in the ambulance - she was complaining about mud splattered on her tights.

Three people (I think) lifted me into a wheelchair, wrapped a blanket around me and transferred me to another ambulance. I was conscious enough to quip, 'Isn't there a rule against this … if you start on foot, you're not allowed to finish in a wheelchair'.

Unfinished Business Part 2

Day 65 - Marathon Training - NO RUNNING - KNEE STILL INJURED

As I am on enforced rest, I will continue with my story of Unfinished Business …
So how did I come to be 'dazed and confused', sitting on the cobbles by the Tower of London on Marathon Day in 1986?

It all started with a bet.

I was working in my first permanent full time job as an Executive Officer for The Sports Council at their head office in London. We were offered complimentary places each year in the London Marathon and I took up one of the places, alongside my colleague and friend Nick, who worked in the Research Unit. Nick and I were good friends but we were also both very competitive. One night in the pub we had a very public bet, witnessed by a number of colleagues, as to who would run fastest in the Marathon. Five pounds was a reasonable amount at the time but it wasn't the money so much as the pride and competitive spirit that was attached to the bet that mattered most.

The following extracts are from a diary I kept at the time:

"I was a little worried towards the end of the week - I had a sore throat and headaches - nothing really bad, but not exactly how I wanted to feel a few days before the Big Day. Nick had a bit of a cold too - at least we were both suffering. I put it down as a mild cold, pre race nerves and a couple of bad days at work - and, as I was feeling fine on Saturday, I thought - NO Problem!

The day of the marathon dawned wet, windy and cool but not cold. Blackheath was fairly wet and miserable. The coffee tent was bursting at the seams - a few drinking coffee - but most were sheltering from the rain and the wind. With 5 minutes to go the old track suits, t-shirts and bin liners were flung off. A minute to go and we were released and allowed to walk/jog towards the line. Then crunch … a gun went, everyone cheered and then started shouting "Charlie" (the starter was Prince Charles). I looked to the right and saw him in his raincoat - he looked rather bewildered by it all. He could have been a spitting image puppet - I could swear his ears were flapping.

The first 6 miles at the very least were fine. Although the first mile had taken about 8 and a half minutes, by the 6 mile marker we were on 6 and a half minute mile pace, so we must have 'shifted up a gear' and we were still on that pace at 9 miles. Just after crossing Tower Bridge I had to stop to re-do a shoelace (I got an 'Aah' from the crowd!) and then had to work really hard to catch up again with Nick. We went through half way at 1 hour 26 minutes.

I think the lace incident might have been the starting point. A little after that I think I knew I was slowing. At about the 14 mile stage I started to drop back from Nick. I don't remember anything being severely wrong. I just felt strangely tired. I even thought 'come on! you're on form today and there's only one London Marathon, so you can afford to push it a bit' - but I was probably already losing my marbles at this point.

Looking back it is one of the strangest experiences of my life. I've tried to piece it together from my own recollections and from people who actually saw me over those last few awful miles but I don't think I'll ever know exactly what happened or indeed why."

Unfinished Business Part 1

Day 57 - Marathon Training - 40 mins 'easy'

I have described my entry into this year's London Marathon as 'unfinished business'. This photograph explains why.
For the avoidance of doubt - this is me in the 1986 London Marathon. I didn't expect to get a finisher's photo. In fact I didn't expect to get any photo and yet, a few weeks after it was all over, I got a promo leaflet from Road Runner Photographic Services with a tiny thumbnail proof of this image attached. I bought a printed copy and it has stayed hidden in a drawer ever since.

For the further avoidance of doubt - NO, I didn't finish the 1986 London Marathon. By the time this photo was taken, I don't even remembering entering the 1986 race, let alone starting it. I got to the finish via - a wheelchair, an ambulance and the London Underground - in that order.

I never went near the London Marathon again. That is … until now.

[Did my much needed 'recovery run' today - 40 minutes on soft surfaces. I'm a bit worried that my right knee is hurting quite a bit - a legacy from yesterday's 20 miles. In a day or two I will know whether it is anything serious or not.]