Bangs Runs a Marathon
At 6am on Sunday morning, I found myself in Union Square in San Francisco with 20,000 other women, about to undertake the massive challenge of the Nike Women’s Marathon. Months of training and the day was finally here. As I stood in the starting pen full of lycra, flood lights drowning the area, a girl on stage sang the national anthem and the entire crowd fell silent. Then Joan Benoit, winner of the 1984 women’s Olympic marathon (and a huge source of inspiration to me during my training) gave a short speech. That was all I needed to get me more than ready to do this damn thing. There was a countdown and then, we were off – and I took my first few steps on my 26.2 mile journey.
I spent the first couple of miles settling into my pace then San Francisco wasted no time letting us know what it’s all about, peppering mile three with a few hills. I powered up them with no problem, adrenalin storming through me. At mile four, I realised I’d forgotten to tape up my toe blister which had started to hurt – not ideal when you have 22 miles to go, but I blocked it out and focused on the task at hand.
Probably the most significant hill came at mile six – a steep, winding hill that seemed to last the whole mile. As I started it, I figured my only tactic was to get on my tiptoes, lean forward, head down, pump my arms and deal with it – just don’t look up. I didn’t want to see how far I had left. My breathing became heavy, but as runner after runner dialed it down to become a walker, I made sure my legs didn’t lose pace. Reaching the top was just a brief victory as we were greeted with another hill instantly. This one shorter, I breezed up it and my reward came in mile seven as I realised what goes up, must come down and was greeted with the most glorious downhill that lasted the whole mile. I let the momentum carry me down, feeling free and light and happy.
Then came mile eight, the mother of all hills. The further I got up it, the more my glutes cursed my name. Large crowds on each side of the road willed us all to keep going. Miles nine and ten ran through an area that was a crash course in how the other half live – superb huge San Francisco houses, absolutely beautiful. That’s a good way to take your mind off such a long run.
At mile 11, my legs were hurting. Knowing I had so many miles left, I didn’t want to let the thought of pain take over, so I changed to thinking of it as just mile by mile. I thought of it as just a regular Sunday run, down the canals in London, with my crew. Just don’t stop moving, I thought. This, coupled with some great tunes on my iPod, seemed to do the trick.
I battled through to mile 17 where my fella was waiting to give me some encouragement. By now, I was acutely aware of how much my legs hurt and how heavy my body felt. I got to mile 20, the furthest I’d ever run and it started to feel like I was running underwater. Time wise, I was stunned that I was actually ahead of schedule for the time I was trying to achieve. My body just felt like such a weight.
At mile 21, the course took a turn to run around a lake and from there to mile 24 were the worst three miles I’ve experienced on any run. Visually, it was awful (you couldn’t actually see the lake we were running around and we were running on one lane of highway, with fairly sparce cheer support). Not once did I doubt that I would finish the run, but on those three miles, I won’t lie – I just couldn’t be arsed. I was having some real existential conversations with myself. My legs hurt so much I was almost on the verge of having to lift each one up with my hands to take a step. Couple this with the fact that inside my trainer was soggy so I had the distinct feeling that the blister I’d forgotten to tape up had burst. I had slowed to a walk. I was getting frustrated. I just wanted to finish.
Then Paul Simon, ‘Graceland’ came on my iPod – a song that reminds me of my parents, and I pretended I was running with them. They were right there with me. Thinking of them made me smile. Then I thought about what this journey means. Two years ago, I was depressed to the point I wouldn’t leave my house. I found it incredibly difficult to be around people and would avoid any circumstance that required me to be so. And yet here I was, on mile 23 of a marathon, running with 20,000 awesome women. Women who’ve overcome illnesses or are running in memory of those who didn’t make it – I’m still standing and my legs are still carrying me.
Mile 23.2, the awful lake stretch of the run came to an end and we came over the crest of a small hill to see the waves of the pacific ocean crashing against the shore. At this exact moment, ‘Far Nearer’ by Jamie XX came on my iPod, a song that never fails to make me feel good. I threw my hands in the air. A massive smile spread across my face and tears welled in my eyes as I realised, I was actually going to finish this thing.
Mile 24, my fella appeared again. I ran towards him, half delirious shouting ‘I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna do it!’ He ran alongside me for the next mile. Everything hurt, but excitement had taken over. It was a strange feeling. I so desperately wanted to finish, but after the months of hard work I’d put in preparing for it, I was kind of sad that it was ending. It’s like a chapter of my life is coming to a close. A chapter in which I have learned so much.
Mile 25, I made my way to the water station to take in one last cup of that God awful Gatorade and pour some water over myself to cool down. I saw a guy holding a sign that said ‘Cocktails, 1/2 mile’ – I don’t drink so I couldn’t care less about the cocktails part but half a mile? Half a mile?! That’s it?! The crowds were heavy on each side of the street now, encouraging us with every step.
Then, like an oasis in the desert, the finish line popped up on the horizon. I covered my face with my hands to wipe my tears, turned to my fella and said ‘Fuck it, I’m off!’, and I gritted my teeth, sucked up my tears and sprinted like I’ve never sprinted before. The crowd cheered as they watched me pass runner after runner, practically clawing to cross the line. I was running so hard I thought I would puke, but I couldn’t give anything less than every last bit of energy I had.
Then, after four months of training and a whole lot of learning, I finally crossed the finish line in four glorious, grueling hours and 40 awesome minutes. I have never felt a feeling like it. A few strides past the finish line and a San Francisco fireman handed me a Tiffany & Co box which contained my finisher’s necklace. I wandered around the finisher’s village in kind of a daze, then caught the bus back downtown.
It was then that I realised it’s possible to ‘hit the wall’ after you finish a marathon. I don’t remember much about it but for half an hour or so, apparently, my lips had turned blue, I was mumbling incoherently, couldn’t walk in a straight line and looked like I was going to pass out. I just remember I had terrible stomach cramps and nausea and an overwhelming urge to lie down. I narrowly avoided a trip to the hospital, but it was a scary time – thankfully, a lie down, some water and a snack helped get me back in the land of the living.
More than 12 hours on, I still can’t quite believe I’ve done it. In the space of a year I’ve gone from being someone who wouldn’t run for a bus, to running a marathon. I feel that running has quite literally saved my life and brought some of the best people I’ve ever known into it. It takes me on new adventures every day and the one it gave me in San Francisco was nothing short of awesome.
Naturally, I couldn’t have done it without the support and help of the following people:
Nike – thank you so much for believing in me and putting on such a great race.
Simon Freeman – you have been such an incredible source of help, advice and inspiration on my journey. Thank you for being such a shining example and where grit and determination can get you. Everything I’ve learned from you, I used in this race. You are awesome.
My own personal Angelo Dundee – you know who you are. There aren’t enough thank yous. It just keeps getting better.
Run Dem Crew – the best running family a girl could wish for. I was running with you all in my mind. Thank you for every encouraging word, every enquiry about how my training was going, every Tuesday run and Thursday track session. I love you all. RDC fo’ life.
Rhalou – ahh sexyface. Thank you for the long Sunday runs and the laughs that went along with them. I’m so happy to now count you as a friend. When the going got tough in this race, I thought of our canal runs and had a giggle.
Maja – You are the best track partner ever. You believed in me during the moments I didn’t believe in myself. Thank you for pushing me.
Team Bangs on the Run – You ladies have lifted me up and carried me with all your love and support. You already know how I feel. We family yo. I love y’all.
My family – Thank you for listening to me drone on about running for the past few months, for always being supportive, encouraging and most of all loving. You have always supported my dreams and goals, but it means so much to me that you’re supporting this one.
And so ends this chapter. What will I run next? I have no idea, but I’m feeling inspired and recharged. Thank all of you who’ve been keeping up with this journey – your well wishes and support have been absolutely amazing.
Now, I’m off to get some sleep. Turns out, running 26.2 miles is a bit tiring.