Having taken part in a handful of races in the past, mainly for charity, I understand the role that crowds play in spurring on runners, for example, when they hit the wall.
It was never in doubt that I would do my best to cheer my partner, Colin, on during the Yorkshire Marathon. It was, after all, my fault that he was in this mess (his words) as I had bought him entry to the event as his Christmas present last year. To be fair, he had declared his intention to run a 26.2-mile course, but no time aspiration was given.
I drove us up to York on the Saturday. As we hit the city, Shed Seven were played on the Indie Disco and I smiled, reminiscing about the first gig of theirs I was lucky enough to catch at the Barbican in York. How peculiar that Absolute Radio played them just as we made our way into their home city. We finally arrived at Bowen House Bed and Breakfast just before 6pm. We had hoped to arrive mid-afternoon, but we were late setting off as Colin decided to have a last-minute haircut. Well, race photos are important, aren’t they? A warm welcome from the owner and a quick delivery of our luggage to the lovely room then we set off into the city centre in search of an Italian restaurant for a healthy carb-loading portion of pasta for both of us. I figured I might as well indulge too, though I knew I wouldn’t be doing half as much exercise… if that!
We stumbled upon Silvano’s and they were absolutely fantastic. Due to an array of food intolerances, eating out can be a challenge. However, they were so accommodating and went out of their way to prepare the food so that I was able to eat it without worry. We both had a starter and main course. For me, a prosciutto and melon dish followed by a seafood linguine with a chili kick. Mr Marathon himself opted for a selection of cured meats and pickles as a starter with a creamy tagliatelle with ham and mushrooms for main. Since discovering the reason for my ill health over the past year or so, I have taken on a lot less food and so this meal really filled me up. However, I knew I would burn quite a lot of it off on the way back to the B&B.
As soon as we returned, I got ready for bed as I was definitely ready to sleep. I set two alarms, just in case we slept in (again!), and then zonked. Before I knew it, the 6am alarm was ringing, it was race day and I was up, showered and dressed ready for breakfast at 7am. After scoffing down my rashers of bacon and grilled tomatoes, I returned to the room to straighten my hair and put on my face. As a marathon spectator, you really have got to look the part! At just after 8, we left the B&B and made our way to the university. There, I bumped into a friend who I had met on an epic journey from Norwich to Newcastle when I took part in the Great North Run. It was surreal being so close to my hometown, yet someone from Norfolk spotting me. A few minutes later, I wished Colin good luck and left him to take part in the dreaded mass warm up. I weaved in and out of the crowds to beyond the start line to enable me to get a decent view.
My emotions were really getting the better of me now. When the minute’s applause in memory of two amazing local people began, I felt tearful. After the wheelchairs set off, the runners’ klaxon sounded and the elite runners flew past me. I had around five minutes longer to wait before I would catch a glimpse of Colin. “Come on, Colin!” I shouted ferociously as he pounded past me.
Immediately, I began to make my way downhill. It was at this point I realised that I really ought to have formulated some kind of a plan. I had no idea where I was going. Another spectator appeared to have the same thought at the same time. We began to chat and I latched onto her like a limpet. Her plan became our plan: make our way over to Mile 18. She was here cheering on her husband who was running for England. The more we chatted, the more we discovered we had in common: we both live in the same county and both of us work in special needs schools. As we arrived at the last fuel station before space, we bumped into another man who was also aiming for Mile 18. He was supposed to be taking part in the marathon with his son, but had unfortunately broken his ankle during training and had to withdraw. He and his dog had come to spectate. So, two women, one man and his dog all marched over to Mile 18 together. It was a little like ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ at times with a mixture of tarmac, concrete, grass and mud, plus the odd dash across a main road.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached the turnaround point. After around twenty minutes, we began to see some runners heading towards us. It was amazing to see the different running styles, the sweaty and the sweat-free, the seasoned marathoners and the rookies. Yet again, I was becoming emotional. Perhaps that was because my new-found friends had left me at this point and so I had only the actual race to focus on. The Yorkshire Marathon app was great, for the most part, in allowing me to track Colin as well as a few other runners I randomly picked up along the way. I shouted to a runner I knew (the husband of the woman I mentioned earlier linked to the GNR) and then knew it would be Colin I shouted to next, although I continued cheering and clapping for many of the runners passing. My hands were stinging as the wind was so strong and I was shivering. The cow bell ringers certainly had made a good choice as I can’t imagine the pain from that would be quite the same as clapping.
My app told me to expect Colin shortly and so I continued to scan the runners approaching me. Finally, I spotted him with his Benjamin Foundation vest. He seemed to be running steadily and didn’t look to be in any pain. As he got nearer, I shouted his name. He hadn’t seen me prior to this and I don’t blame him. Firstly, you’ll remember that I had no plan. He had no idea where I would be standing. Secondly, I had my hood up, shivering underneath my thick winter coat. I don’t even think a police officer searching for me as Norfolk’s Most Wanted would have identified me from the tiny bit of my face I was showing. Colin’s face lit up when his eyes met mine. He quickly dashed over, gave me a kiss and then went on his way, declining my offer of a fruit pastille.
Now, I knew I had precisely 6.2 miles of Colin running to make it back to the finish line. My maps app said it would be 2.3 miles (a far more direct route than how we got to Stamford Bridge) and so I began to stomp onwards again. Another pitstop at the space-themed petrol station for a protein shake (the one thing I had been asked to source) and then I continued back to the University of York. Weaving through the back streets of York, I was working up quite a sweat. I could feel blisters developing and my bag was weighing down my shoulders. Finally, I stumbled upon a family who seemed to be making their way rather quickly and forthrightly towards the uni, so I knew I was almost there. Lots of cheering, clapping, (yet more) cow bells and announcements of runners crossing the finish line met me as I arrived on campus. The scene was superb: people standing on the steep banks and against the barriers, cheering on everyone.
I managed to secure a spot on a barrier just after the finish line. Perfect. The app told me I had about twenty minutes to wait, so I got comfy. Standing where I was allowed me to see people throwing up, people collapsing, people breaking down in tears, people searching desperately for friends and family members, people amazed at what their bodies had allowed them to do. I was in absolute awe of the achievement of so many. 15 minutes. 10 minutes. 5 minutes. I began to do a Facebook Live video for Iceni Magazine and a few minutes later, my eyes locked on Colin a few metres before the end of the race. “Come on, Colin!” I cheered once again. He spotted me far more easily this time, declared he was knackered and then we met again just after he collected his medal and goody bag.
It truly was an unforgettable experience. I saw some amazing sights and was struck with emotion: sadness, pride and love. Vast amounts of all three consumed me. Wow. Just wow! Certainly, this weekend allowed us to have plenty of me-time, but also the all-important us-time too.
Colin is keen to return to York. Next time, we will definitely ensure we have time to do all the best things this stunning city has to offer.