I kind of want to do it again. The London Marathon, I mean. I LOVED it. I think I'm still on a high, a whole week later. As soon as I finished I wanted to sign up for next year, and it's not because I'm a super runner or want to get much faster or do it in any way particularly differently, it's just that it was AMAZING.
From Greenwich, where people stood on the steps outside their houses playing musical instruments and families still in their pyjamas cheered as we ran by, to the moment I turned past Buckingham Palace and felt like I was flying down the Mall. (I mean, obviously I was jogging very slowly, but I felt like I was sprinting.)
I had only the sketchiest idea of the route before I went to the Expo. The London Marathon Expo, for the uninitiated, is at the ExCeL centre, where you go to register, pick up your race number and if you're me, begin to think, "Help! There's so much stuff here that I don't have! I am NOT A PROPER RUNNER. I've only just discovered that we cross Tower Bridge at mile 12 and then go back east! That's the wrong way!" I was feeling so calm before, but did get a little bit nervous surrounded by hundreds of other people who clearly knew a lot more about this marathon running business than I did. Still, I just grazed on free energy bar samples until I felt better, bought a belt thing to carry supplies, and then ambled back to my sister's, proudly clutching my kitbag with race number on display. I even used it to carry all my shopping.
When I lived in London I never watched the marathon. I don't even remember it being on, which seems completely ridiculous now. Last weekend I felt as if the whole city was gearing up for the race. I'd spent the week before on holiday in Orkney and arrived back on Thursday night, mainly focussed on getting through the next couple of days without getting ill or injuring myself. I promptly tripped over a foot-high wall outside Dalston Tesco and landed oh-so-elegantly on someone's car bonnet.
Fortunately both the car and I survived, unscathed, and I made it to the start in Greenwich Park. The worst bit was between 10am when the race began and 10.29.35 when I actually crossed the start line; it takes ages. After that, I just had to keep running, and because this time I'd done a 22.5 mile training run, I had a sneaking suspicion I might just be able to do it.
Which is exactly what happened! I just pottered around very slowly (my fastest mile was 11.31 and my slowest 12.01) but I didn't walk, which was my only goal. I did stop twice to go to the loo, so that was a bit of a rest. I feel compelled to tell people this for some reason. It's like when I did the Bournemouth one I couldn't not tell everyone I walked quite a bit. A friend overheard me do this and said, "Kate, stop telling people you walked! It doesn't matter, just say I've done the Bournemouth Marathon", but I can't do it, it feels like lying. And actually the second time I stopped for the loo, I met Bryony Gordon the queue, handing out toilet paper like a superstar. I squealed "I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!" and then couldn't think of anything else to say, like "you're such an inspiration" or "I love Mental Health Mates, I wish there was a group in Staffordshire" (fortunately I was wearing my Heads Together headband, so hopefully she appreciated that). I just took the loo roll and grinned like a loon.
I spent most of the race grinning. I decided as we looped round the Cutty Sark, that I am running the actual London Marathon and I am going to enjoy every single second of this. I felt brilliant. People shouted, "COME ON KATE! YOU CAN DO IT!" (because I ironed my name in giant letters onto my top, not because all of London knows who I am) and gave me sweets and high-fived me, and I truly felt like the RUNNING QUEEN OF ALL ENGLAND, if not the British Isles. If not the world.
When it got a bit more difficult, I think around mile 19, I saw a woman holding up a big cardboard sign that said: REMEMBER WHY YOU'RE DOING THIS (I wish I'd taken a photo) and I thought about Refuge and all the women they help, about the women who've contacted me to say they've experienced a controlling relationship, about every single person who has sponsored me and cheered me on, and my heart felt so full. I just ate another energy bar and kept going. Eating is the key, I have discovered. When people talk about your brain giving up and 'hitting the wall', what they really mean is: TIME FOR AN EMERGENCY BANANA. Then you'll be ok.
And brain-giving-up is basically how I felt for a lot of last year. Like I was just a body, existing, with zero sense of self or quite why I should bother with all this palaver of living. If I didn't have amazing friends and family who made me feel so loved, I would not have survived it. They were my emergency bananas. They were actually like whole banquets that kept me going. There are so many women out there for whom Refuge is the only thing stopping them from hitting that wall. It's the only thing which makes them believe they might be worth something on their own, that another kind of life is possible, the only place they can go for help. So this is my final call, at least for this year(!), for donations. If you have anything to spare for an incredible charity, please donate here.
Seeing my wonderful friends and family cheering at Embankment was the icing on the cake. Or the peanut butter on the emergency banana. It made the marathon feel a whole mile shorter for one thing, because I was so looking forward to seeing them, and when I had, there was only the exciting Parliament Square/Mall bit left to go! Running down the Mall was everything I hoped it would be, and as I ran through the finish arch I thought I might just have sneaked in under 5.15 - and I had! 5.14.37. I very nearly burst into tears. A lovely woman gave me my medal and a hug, and it couldn't have been better if it was presented by Prince Harry himself.
So, THANK YOU. Thank you if you sponsored me, or sent me a lovely message, or bought an Adichie print (still available!), or cheered as I ran past. A huge thank you to Refuge for all their support and the amazing post-race reception. Running this marathon for them has finally given me myself back. It gave me a way to stop grieving and start living properly in this body that can run, in this brain that knows who Kate Slater actually is.
I keep thinking I should stop blogging about the state of my brain and instead talk about... I dunno... illustrating, maybe? I'd better get back to it! I think it will be easier now.
PS. If you're thinking about running, YOU CAN DO IT. You should definitely listen to The Guilty Feminist podcast about Body Capability. Actually, listen to ALL of them, they're brilliant. Just to be clear, I am going to make myself stop telling everyone that I'm not a proper runner. I've been saying, "well, I'm really not a runner, I mean, I'm really slow, I just plod around at the same speed. And I'm not very good at it, and I'm running the London Marathon, but I just want to get round, really. Like, not walk. I mean, if I do walk, that's ok, because I'm really slow and I haven't trained properly... well, I've done 22.5 miles, but I haven't done much in the week so I don't think I'll be very good. I did the Bournemouth marathon last year, but I walked a lot of that so..." and so on. If possible I usually try and shoehorn how I once got a 4D in PE into the conversation and maybe that I have zero hand eye coordination. Sometimes I mime running very slowly, just to really lower people's expectations, so they know I know I am no good. Well NO MORE. I ran the bloody London Marathon. And I'm going to keep running, very slowly, for as long as I possibly can.