The London Marathon is one of the biggest annual running events that make up the World Marathon Majors competition alongside the Boston, New York, Chicago and Berlin Marathons. Usually very popular and oversubscribed, the event’s organisers this year introduced a ballot system for the selection of applicants from overseas. I submitted my name in April 2010 and to my surprise, received a message in October 2010 informing that I had won a slot in this prestigious event in 2011. I knew from that moment that I won’t miss the chance to run in this great event.
Back to the race day, from the moment I got on the tube I knew it was going to be a good day. About half the carriage was filled with marathon runners, all clutching their red kit bags and laughing and chatting nervously. I sat next to a nervous looking gentleman who was running his first marathon. We chatted a bit and turned out that it was his first time doing a marathon. I assured him that he will do just fine as long he sticks to his plan. When we reached at the station, we parted ways with well wishes and shook hands. That was pretty much the sentiment of the day, total strangers became your buddies by the mere fact that you are sharing the experience.
In the previous races, the miles were, quite honestly, a blur; but not this time. One thing about the London Marathon is that each mile was marked with a huge balloon banner and loud music along with the cheering crowd. You can pretty much count on one hand the parts of the race which are spectator-free. Children by the side of the road were hi-fiving the runners. Some of them were sitting on their father’s shoulder. Old and young crowds throng the street loudly expressing their support for their running family member and strangers. Pubs were open and there were DJs and loud music to give the runners boost and energy to run. Some of the DJs were so witty, they made me chuckle throughout my run.
The most feared thing for runners, cramps, happened to me at Miles 15. My hips were locked and I felt the most excruciating pain, a feeling like being electrocuted. I stopped and needed to stretch to shake off the cramps. At that point, I thought, I had better finish the race as I have travelled this far and need to prove myself that I can overcome any obstacles. Hence, I started to run and walk at a slower pace for the last 11 miles with the help of the support from the crowds. The encouragement and cheers from the crowd did push me to the finishing line.
So through the Docklands I trudged, more and more people had started to walk by then and one of the trickiest moves is to weave through between them. I found my legs kept giving up on me, combined with the recurring cramps in my hips. It was a warm day, too warm for the locals, so the showers and occasional fire stations where the fireman sprayed their hoses on the runners were very welcome.
In this stretch I was saying in my head ‘I can run 23 miles’ to get me to that marker. At 23 miles a group of friends, Liza, Azma, Najwa and Intan were waiting eagerly for me. They were jumping and screaming upon seeing me and you cannot underestimate how important it is to have the encouragement of supporters along the way. I kept telling myself ‘you can run another three miles to the finishing line’.
Embankment is amazing. The crowds were huge and I was grinning like a mad man waving the Malaysia flag despite suffering continuous cramps on both of my hips. A lot of the supporters recognised our flag and start cheering, ‘Come on, Malaysia!’ It was such an incredible experience to be running through central London to those throngs.
I looked at my watch and knew I’d be finishing past the five hours. My original — pre hip cramps— aim had been four and a half hours but I did not check my pace after Mile 15 and had been very happy with how it all went. It was a great feeling to know I didn’t care what the finish time was because in the end, for me, it wasn’t about that. I could have ended up reaching the finishing line at a much later time, without the help and support from the crowd. This was accomplished due to a constant mix of steady-paced run and walks strategy, especially in the last 11 miles. I never hit the wall and never thought I couldn’t do it. I had a couple of panics over the pain in my hip and feeling light headed but managed to calm myself down and get through it.
At the end I thought I’d weep and weep but apart from a brief quiver of the lips I was elated.
It was great to see familiar faces at the finishing area. Three of my friends, Azril, Justin and Farhan were there to share my joy of completing the marathon.
London Marathon would remain special to me. It is a sight to behold as you run it. The shouts of encouragement from a total stranger can be a very special thing. For marathon runners do not succeed in isolation and you don’t have to be Paula Radcliffe to have a team behind you. I feel honoured and humbled by the encouragement and support I got from my friends who were based in the UK.
And yes, I would do it again in a flash.
Irwan Anuar, Plus-Sized Marathon Runner
Competition, Category, Timing
Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2010, Full Marathon, 5h12m
Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2011, Full Marathon, 4h50m
Virgin London Marathon 2011,Full Marathon, 5h19m