“This is not the end. This is not the beginning…”
I’m all alone in the flat. Looking up at my London Marathon bling, I have to fight back the tears. I can’t believe I have fluid left within my sockets. Every time I think I am done, another text comes though and I am back to base. I want to have a soak in the bath, but fear I wont be able to get out without aid! I try not to drop things because bending down is not a strong point. I completed 26.2 miles.
I was alone in my pen. But there was a calm about the atmosphere. None of that useless fidgeting I normally conduct while in lockdown. I was just there. Staring into the beautiful landscape of Blackheath. I had not run in over a week. But my foot and knee played up still. I had a plan; ride until the wheels fall off. That was it. I looked down at my two pace bands and knew that if my leg held up; I could rock them out with ease.
Beneath the sun, I saw two familiar figures. Clutching onto the cold metal railings, I pushed myself up
“Nathaniel! Darren!” I wailed
Spotting me, Natty ran over
We embraced like we were both desperate for physical confirmation that we would be ok.
“I love you.” He whispered.
“I love you too.”
Then I watched as he and Darren made their way to a pen behind me.
Then we were moving. Being thrust forward on a wave of human limbs, I made a sign of the cross and I lunged over the start mat. Sticking to the red lines of the road, I made it my business to keep myself to myself. Of all the races I’ve ever navigated, this was the tightest. There was no point in speeding up. Looking down at my watch, it was reading 8’53min/miles. I didn’t even notice. I have always been warned about starting too quickly in the Marathon.
Eager beavers sped on but I soon found a 10:30 pace next to a Grandad who clearly done this often. Fuck following a young buck. I was all about sourcing the OAP pacers. The streets were thick with well-wishers. The sun was hot. By the time I made it to 5k, I welcomed the water stand. Sipping while listening to Bon Iver, I smiled. I felt a touch on my back and it was Sami, swiftly followed by Robin.
“You ok hun? Want company?’
“Nuh uh!’ I spat.
“Go ‘head. I got this.”
I watched as they slipped under the current and I sat back into my stride. Miles three to ten flew past in a blur. I stopped to pet a pug. Slapped every kid’s hand. Posed for a pic with an auntie who was clearly overwhelmed, dapped the hands of all the hood man and just remained thankful for the opportunity.
I had been running near a father and son, when it was clear that the father’s knee could not continue.
“Go on, Son. Go get your time.” He ordered, while fumbling with his bandaged knee.
“No. We walk together.” The Son shot back, while scooping his Dad under his arm.
I let the salty tears roll beneath my RayBans. That was the first of many signs of undying love, I would encounter.
I let thoughts of my own father swim through my mind as I reached into my fanny pack for another gel.
Ten minutes later my iPod shuffle declared it would soon die. Normally I’d panic but for some reason that wave of clam prevailed. I reached for my phone and rang Charlie.
“Hi Charlie! I am approaching Tower Bridge and my iPod will not hold up. Please have one ready!” I shouted
Within minutes he text me back to let me know all would be well. Bless that mans heart.
I continued on. Approaching Tower Bridge, I slipped my headphones off and soaked up the well whishes. As if God himself had orchestrated it I heard ‘Candice!’
It was the confident tone that made my head snap round. It was Melissa! I screamed. She screamed. She grabbed a picture and sent me off with a kiss.
Coming over Tower Bridge, I turned around and ran backwards. Punching the air as I went. This was my fav bridge and part of my most precious memory with my Dad. It hit me then. I was running the London Marathon. As I hit the middle of the bridge, I saw Denise Lewis. She outstretched her hand and put jelly babies in mine! The moment could not have been more perfect.
Charlie had already instructed that if your not prepared, this is where the race would get you. Naturally coming off Tower bridge, your body wants to go left but the course forces you to head right. I was prepared. My body followed the course with ease. And I marveled at the runners already hitting the mile 23 mark on the other side.
Onto magic mile 14! My fav number, I recognized this as the beginning of the route Charlie had guided me down weeks previous. Locked in the zone. A figure stepped out in front of me!
Uncle Ian. We embraced and I admitted that I was feeling tired. The sun was beating but I had fuel left and was still running strong. I took this as the opportunity to have a cigarette break. Smoke in hand; I overtook a fair few people. The gel seemed to be kicking in. The support was immense. Coming to mile 15, I felt a twinge in my leg but ignored it.
‘All you have to do is make it to mile 21’ I looked down at my knee, begging it to listen.
The darkness was looming. Mile 15 gave way to a tunnel. People were on the floor. Some were urinating. Others simply had no energy left. Running past, I was quickly stopped in my tracks.
As if scaffolding had been holding up my left leg, it buckled. Someone had taken a bolt out. I collapsed. My wails echoed and bounced off the tunnels walls. I rolled back and forth on the pavement. Begging the pain to stop.
Three runners came to my aid. Helping me to my feet, they alerted a member of St Johns Ambulance.
The black man on my right looked down at my shirt
“Candice. You do not have to go on. Do not break yourself.” He ordered while helping me to the medics.
‘Mile 21.” I cried.
He let me get snot all over his vest. I never got his name.
Much respect to SJA they do not play. Physio was on me in a flash. Asking me questions, rehydrating and beating the shit out of my leg. I rang Charlie from the back of the van.
“I’m with SJA. I don’t think I’ll make it round.” I sobbed in between wails of my knee being prodded.
“Where are you? Mile 16? Look for Natalie, she should be there, don’t move, we will come to you!”
Once again I was being sidelined in the race of my dreams. I felt like a failure. The SJA wanted me to stop. But I needed to go on. I had to get to mile 21. I had made a vow that I had to keep.
Thanking them and hobbling out of the van, I saw Natalie. Through the tears I could see she was getting ready to roll with me. Putting her backpack on, she put her arm around my shoulders and promised that she would never leave me. That by hook or by crook we would make it.
As the miles went by, I cannot tell you what an angel Natalie was. Because the truth is there are no words that suffice. It was then that I was able to align the physical with spiritual and get to grips with what the marathon means.
Sure for some it’s about time, endurance, VO2Max, negative splits, perfect splits and all the other things that will not care whether we make it round alive.
Love cares. And Natalie had that in abundance yesterday.
Soon we came across Father and Son, who were still arm in arm, walking towards their rebirth. I cried from mile 16 to 20.
Between whimpers of ‘I can’t do this’ and having to stretch my knee out every five minutes, I felt beyond broken.
Natalie was quick in reminding me how far I had come. Not once did she let my self esteem falter.
Rounding the bend to mile 21, I began to shuffle. We could hear music. I knew that was my family. My finish line.
Clinging onto my right hammy, which kept cramping, I pushed. I just had to see…
I am a writer. But what happened next is beyond thesaurus or university education point of description.
Tahirah. Bangs. Dani. Peigh. I felt hands on me.
Natalie would not leave my side.
“Candice, you’ve got this.” Charlie demanded.
“I don’t, I don’t,” I moaned as I shuffled forward.
“Yes you have!” Screamed Tahirah.
I was home.
If I could stop time, I would have.
Who was I? Why did they wait for me? Commercial road had been turned into my homecoming. I could not fail them now. I could not fail us now.
8 miles previous, I’d been hailed up by the hood mandem, taken a picture with a 5yr old black girl, been chirpsed by a black dude and seen the look on aunties faces as I whipped around the way.
Word on the street was ‘Young black girls do not run marathons.’
I was here to change that.
I had to dig even deeper.
Keith ran ahead, camera in hand.
Jeggi, and Denis kept the feds off our case.
Peigh and Chaka took me either side.
Natalie and Angel made sure I was mentally together.
Dani, Tahirah and Bridget kept my mind off the pain.
Dad and Mama Bugg had sent my angels. The battle was not lost.
How could it be?
Some people finished their marathons in 2:20. Others in 8:20
Mine had taken 24 years.
In those last five miles I learned about guts, glory and the maturity of the human spirit. The rain came and still my angels surrounded me, keeping me spiritually dry.
I tried t run at mile 24 and fell. My legs were over it. My angels were not. Peigh and Chaka took my body weight and carried me.
Fuck Twitter, Email and Texts. These people were down for the doing, not the saying. They used their own adversity to esteem my own. I was running a marathon for a group of people who had been forgotten. This was our time to claim back the streets that had once turned their backs on us. The people that doubted. Those that we made uncomfortable just by being ourselves.
Approaching mile 25, I saw my friend Stephanie. Huddled under her Umbrella with her boyfriend, she had waited.
I saw her lips move but was now in a daze. Just seeing her face made me believe that this would soon be over.
Coming through Westminster, the chants of my name froze my heart. This could not be real.
“You got this now, you fucking superstar!” Screamed Peigh.
“Almost there!” Encouraged a police officer.
I could see the finish.
I had envisioned the finish.
Chaka and Peigh let me go.
“Yes girl, bring it home baby!” Screamed Keith.
There was an almighty raw from the crowd. I looked over and noted not an eye was dry. My friends were here. We had made it.
I tried to sprint. My knee and thighs immediately made that impossible. Before I could fall backwards, Chaka and Peigh had me again.
They began to sprint.
With my feet off the ground, we all crossed the finish line together.
We made it.
Once my timing chip was removed and I’d been wrapped up like an xmas turkey, I felt myself sobbing uncontrollably.
Words were exchanged between my loved ones. Photos were taken. I was physically present for it all but my spirit was somewhere else. I still don’t know what to call that place.
A very tired man made his way over to me.
“I’ve been on your case since mile 9. You should be very proud of yourself. You are built for this. You can endure.”
Through wet eyes and a horse throat I thanked him.
And so with that, I completed that phase. I am safely through another level.
But please understand, I have done nothing to deserve praise or esteem. All the credit should be handed to my crew. A group of people who did not hesitate to ensure the journey was completed. I am forever indebted to a million hearts. Every hand that offered a jelly baby. Every stranger who cheered me on. To my mentors Charlie and Bangs. To you, the reader of this space. To Avert, a charity that have supported me in supporting them. My family. My tribe. My crew.
As the sun sets on the most highly anticipated scene of my life thus far, I feel alert. Wise. Sensitive. Making my way around the course. I finally got it. Reading the emails and texts from young women who think this is only a dream, I got it.
I have a plan.
As my body heals, the wheels are in motion.
Remain unrealistic. It will not kill you. It will make you stronger.
“Waiting for the end to come,
wishing I had strength to stand
This is not what I had planned…
Its out of my control….”