Sunday April 15, scheduled to begin at 9.30 the third Brighton Marathon was just minutes away. Some fifteen to twenty thousand runners had already descended on Preston park. I got there with my Armour in hand accompanied by my race day mechanics Kol (my partner) and my wing man Matt (fight club) Stapleton, a compatriot from martial arts training who’d agreed to carry the water supplies and help collect on route donations.
A few heads turned amid the crowd of pale legs and brightly coloured trainers. One man even said to another runner ‘there’s that guy doing it as a knight’. All we needed was Sid James to pop up and we’d of had all the elements for a cracking carry on film.
There was a carnival atmosphere at Preston park as I headed to the main stage where we had agreed to meet the fourth and last member of team full-metal-jacket-Dad. We found him as planned hopping with cold from one foot to the other trying to fend off the worst of the chilly wind. I had arranged to meet some ‘important people’s’ from the press before hand but I only managed to find the Brighton and Hove Football team manager Gus Poyet. Not being much of a football fan I wasn’t as excited as my companion Matt but I still know a quantifiable celebrity when I see one so we gravitated toward him until he had no choice but have a quick chat and photo. I consciously delayed being show horned into the Armour until the last-minute enabling me to show him the 30lb breast-plate. ‘O my god’ was his response in a sharp Dutch accent, ‘you mad man’.
Looking around I could see thousands of people of different ages, representations of social groups, all stretching their Achilles and ham strings as one. A bit like a flock of neon coloured flamingoes deep in the throes of an unusual mating ritual, pulling strange poses, contorted expressions as they pushed against trunks, balancing on one leg or groaning in the last leg lunge. Underneath the excitement there were countless personal stories leading these people here, motivating them to undertake the months of gruelling training through the coldest months of the year. For some it was the understandable wish to complete a marathon whilst they still could but I’m sure for many maybe even most this event had a far deeper meaning. The relentless pestering of friends and family to support they’re chosen good cause was to every-ones relief over and these people (like myself) had finally arrived at the beginning of a testing climax to many months of preparation.
Loud music pumped out from the main stage that Heart FM had erected. Carrying the sounds of pop pesticides like JLS and ‘The wanted’ over the multitude of confined runner’s heads. The music was a deterrent for all those thinking of bailing on the marathon by staying behind at Preston Park. At this early hour it could be reasoned that 26.2 miles was an attractive prospect against listening to 103.4 heart FM for another hour.
I was slow to realise that people were already gathering at the start line which lay far off to our left and I hadn’t even begun the tedious process of putting the kit. It normally takes a good twenty minutes to complete, luckily my girlfriend’s recently acquired diploma level knowledge in fourteenth century Armour assembly came into action for the last time and with the help of a carefully concealed small bathroom mirror I was successfully assembled .
From this point on there would be no way back, to remove the Armour before reaching the finish line would be to signal defeat. A failure which for many reasons was unthinkable. I was now strapped in (literally), encased in a steel roller-coaster from the top of my head to my upper legs. A sixty pound meat grinder that would cut, bruise and crush my spine, limbs and anything else it could rub against with all the weight of a working washing machine.
At least the weather was promising. A weak Sun obscured by hazy cloud, with a noticeably chilled wind fresh from its transit of the North sea. In past years it had been twenty something degrees already by mid April, toasting to a twiglet many a marathon runner but this year I’d be fortunate to avoid rain or overpowering heat.
The main bulk of the runners had bolted before I could even see the start line but I wasn’t the only slow coach. Quite a number were undertaking an unconventional marathon. Notably Danny Miller, a thirty-four year old all round cheeky chappy Essex lad who’d set himself the incredible task of moon walking a marathon on behalf of his close friend’s charity; ‘The legacy project’. Another guy who’d run seven consecutive marathons and this would be his eighth. Plus someone in a full size Rhino costume who’d go onto climb the tallest mountain in Africa (Killamangiro) returning to do the London Marathon one week on from the Brighton Marathon. Surprisingly I hadn’t heard much about his epic feat in the Press build up where as I’d become familiar with the other nut balls like myself about to spring a marathon man trap on their unsuspecting bodies.
I should have been more organised. Everything had been last minute as far as the Armour was concerned. I’d even had Kol stressing out till the early hours of the morning after callingn her skills sew chain mail on my combats but then anyone that knows me will confirm that’s this lack of punctuality is nothing new, leaving till the last-minute is written large on the double helix of my Anglo-Irish D.N.A. I’m sure I’d have been the last one out of the jacuzzi in Pompeii’s public baths when mount Vesuvius blew its lid in 79AD and that in earlier generations evolutionary processes would have weeded me out by now but I’d made it to thirty-two and was pushing my biological nine lives once more this day, survival of the thickest perhaps.
The preparations compleated, wayward press interviews were over, every crook and cranny of my body filled with carbs all that was left was to find a start line and someone to point me in the right direction. Around half an hour after the other runners had left team Full-metal-jacket was finally rolling out on the streets of Brighton and Hove.
The first part of the marathon set the rhythm for the rest of the day. We were way behind the main crowd and even the spectators seemed surprised to see me passing. I held what would become the awkward and painful flag pole that depicted how an on looker could text in donations to my sponsorship page. Later I found out that this had been a bad idea as not a single donation came in from the advert where as we did take several hundred from the on route buckets of change through Kol and Matt’s hard graft.
A few inches of visibility through the visor was all I had and I used this to keep dads ankles in sight. That was the only way I knew where I was going. Crowds were welcoming and encouraging and Dad was clearly enjoying the attention, Giving what resembled a royal wave to anyone that cheered or clapped. In classic Dad style he told one pretty volunteer stewarding the course at the old stein that she had ‘a beautiful smile’ as he passed. In fairness to him he is well over twice my age and remains betting looking. A sixty something flirt and yet he would be mortified should anyone describe him as one.
We passed Danny the Marathon moon walker shortly after starting. He had an impressive entourage including stilt walkers and many funky thirty some-things giving stirling encouragement. He was getting into his moonwalker stride and we did a left-handed shake as I over took. (His own mad cap marathon went well and he set a new world record for the longest continuous moonwalk to boot).
The route at this early stages twisted around the centre of town and I had no idea where I was going. Luckily Dad had been up into the wee hours swatting up on the route, without it we would have ended the day in Crawley! The streets were empty of vehicles and roads that would on any other day of the year be packed tight with exhaust pipes and pedestrians remained deserted.
This was the theme of the day, sporadic bouts of applause, beeps and whistles of encouragement followed by episodes where pavement dwellers would seem less than bothered or unimpressed in equal measure as we passed. I was told later that we attracted more attention than I realised, I just couldn’t see or hear very much. The wind was continually loudly whistling through the various orifices of the Helmet and the Armour in motion made a loud rhythmic clank like a belt buckle in a washing machine.
Eventually around four or five miles in the course took us down to the Seafront. A welcome sight on my part, from now on I knew it was my job to head east till we hit Ovendean some five miles away. During most of the next twenty miles the welcome panorama of the sea would be by my side and being a local lad my internal compass or GPS (Grand Parade to Seafront) is orientated according to where I am in relation to the sea.
It was during this eastern sector that one of the most memorable moments of the whole day occured. As soon as our small team turned on to the duel carriage way heading east we were faced by the bulk of twenty thousand Nylon clad runners coming straight at us from the west on the other side of the road (as the traffic would flow with vehicles). There were spontaneous smiles, waves, cheering and clapping. Many holding out sweaty palms for a steely high-five. The pathos was incredible even when I could see the discomfort in many of their faces they still kept the applause up and some even called my name.
Memorably one particularly cool dude with top gun shades and a ‘Apocalypse now’ bandanna quoted Monty Python, yelling in perfect John Cleese English ”K’NIGGETS” (a famous line from one of my favourite scenes in Monty Python and the Holy grail) Bringing a genuine laugh about on both our parts.
I suppose in the run up to the marathon many of the entrants would have become aware of the more psychologically challenged competitors among their ranks if only to know whom on the day to avoid, they could have perhaps seen some bits in the paper or on the news about the guy in Armour and so on the whole I was greeted as a friend to encourage and pity in equal parts.
I felt incredible along Kingsway. I’d expected some support from the spectators but it really never crossed my mind how kind and encouraging the other runners would be as we crossed paths. In my whole life and through out my entire marathon experience this was the hour or so that I will never forget. I can’t imagine many new experiences in my life will ever compete with it, the warmth and good will emanating from the thousands of runners was incredible. I saw no difference in what they were doing and what I was doing. Twenty six miles in Armour or twenty-six miles run, both are arduous challenges of an equal measure which gave a greater resonance to the applause they sent my way on mass. It energised me for at least five miles and for a soppy sod it was really quite moving.
Unfortunately though raising my hand to wave or give a thumbs up became a kind of torture. After a while my arms being clad in layers of steel were growing heavier and harder to raise. The continual lifting to respond to well wishers became like raising a dumb bell over and over, drawing on my reserves.
I reached Ovendean on the far eastern extremity of greater Brighton by twelve. The welcomed companion ship of the other runners dwindled as I headed away in land to loop back on my self, to return along the sea front. There outside the semi-detached family homes that pressed against the road we met many families having marathon day picnics actually using their front gardens for something other than an over night parking facility.
As the course turned I saw some friendly and welcome faces in the shape of my sister Charlie, my brother-in-law Paul and their daughters or as I like to call them ‘my nieces’ Izzie pop and Jessie. I slowed as they approached then I attempted to lower myself down to say hello to the little ones. Not my best idea because without warning I felt like someone had shot a bullet through my right leg. With no control I fell back hitting the lamp-post behind me with some force, ending propped against it, my head now at the same level as my nieces.
They seemed understandably bemused about what Uncle Nick was up to but thankfully they are not quite old enough to feel the full weight of teenage embarrassment to be seen in public with what looked like a drunken extra from a car insurance advert. Cramp had sent my leg into spasm and gravity had done the rest but with over sixteen miles still left on the clock it was the first sign that my body was beginning to react to events but all the same ten miles was done and busted.
After a short while and a few emergency jelly babies later I was levered back to my feet and the day could continue. We took our first break on top of the cliffs on the way back. The road reopened to traffic and we were now moved to the pavements for the first time. Dad was frozen stiff, visibly shaking, as the temp up on the cliffs plummeted from chilly to genuinely cold. Mean while Kol’s feet were starting to really hurt her but at least Matt being the toughest of the lot seemed to be just enjoying the exercise and the numerable chances to chat up the ladies we passed for a hand full of change in the collection buckets.
The white cliffs that begin to the east of Brighton gave me the chance to look back over the city. It seemed from those heights as a very far off place with the spire like chimney of the power station which awaited my arrival at the twenty-mile mark a mere twig in the far distance. My sense at the time was that the marathon was happening down in that town but not here with me. I was a sailor over board watching an engagement take place from a far, desperate to take part in but watching from side lines.
The sun was trying to break through but even if it had the northern winds were hitting our little team with great force driving all the heat out and pushing me back and forth, just holding the banner was an effort up there. In training I’d been dripping with sweat yet now on the day itself I was being air conditioned so well that I was in no danger of over heating any-more, quite the opposite and in the hours to come this lack of sweat was to bite me in the arse big time.
Around two in the afternoon and we were heading back along Kingsway toward the centre of town. On pavements while enjoying sporadic support or more often going unrecognised through the multitudes that had gathered to welcome the bulk of the runners toward the end line. I kept close to dad and called back to Matt and Kol to see if they were all OK but they seemed busy rinsing passers-by for change. Unbeknown to me that would be my only sight of the finish line, by the time I was to return many hours later the entire apparatus had been dismantled with only the empty water packets and a few barriers left to indicate there had even been a race that day but that said things looked up for us as we pasted the pier.
The roads Hove bound were still closed to traffic and a great many people were there supporting the poor runners on their finale leg (in some cases literally). This was the second ‘happy time’ I was back on course and surrounded by well wishers on both sides of the roads. A guy announced my name and my charity over the loud-speaker as I passed the Queens hotel. This was the half way mark for me but for the rest of the runners coming in the other direction on the opposite side of the road this must have been hell.
They were on the last few hundred meters and looked like they had just swam ashore from a sunken cross-channel ferry. Even now when they were clearly in agony many of them took the time to wave and clap, cheering me as I passed. A guy hobbling nearing the end of his mammoth run even crossed the barriers to put a ten pound note in Matt’s bucket. These people were incredible. If your faith in humanity ever flags then enter an event like this.
The adulation was quite intense at this point, I even over heard Kol saying to Matt ‘doesn’t it feel like we’re famous!’ A little over the top granted but after thirteen and a half miles this is what we needed and such lines on her part meant I had plenty of classic comedy material to pull her up on in the preceding days.
I continued back into my home turf of Hove, where the bulk of my friends and family were ready to ambush me on route. I ran into friends of friends as we headed along the seafront toward grand avenue. Friends of my sisters like Joe Fulford who’d come all the way down from Tumbridge wells in Kent just to say Hi. Sadly though the course turned northward at the heels of Queen Vic’s statue at the bottom of Grand avenue, away from the returning runners. From now on it was a three men and one pretty lady race.
I reached the beginning of Church road, which incidentally is where I live. Passing by a steward, he said ‘I think you’ve got quite a fan club over there, they’ve been waiting for you’. I turned semi delusional expecting to see Hugh Hefna in evening gown and pipe surrounded by peroxide blond bunny girls or if not then I’d settle for the Brighton and Hove cheer leaders club. Instead it was two of my three sisters who’d been waiting in the coffee shop for me. In truth they were a welcome sight better than pom poms.
My little nephews Axl and Attlas emerged on scooters in full Knights costumes. A little further on some of my friends from the local Co-op had been waiting for hours to say high and I stopped briefly to speak to them before heading on into the hinterland of suburban central Hove, its private clinics,bowling greens and unaffordable town houses.
Church road leads to the inventively named new church road. A broad leafy avenue of sizeable, desirable Victorian villas. A street straight enough to impress a Roman engineer and long enough to make a marathon runner shudder. We had to go all the way along its length do a turn past the bemused shoppers on the lower end of Portslade high street, past it’s parade of pound shops and cash converters, then come all the way back again to the same point on the sea front where we had turned in land, a real road to nowhere.
In retrospect I was really hurting by now. I’d carried the armour further and faster than in any of my training days. Every tiny sore, cut or ache was becoming magnified. Discomfort in all my senses transmitted through my nervous system to the brain. I had strapped myself into a giant Chinese burn machine.
The highlight of church road aside from the beeping cars (most of which were in support I hope) was the little boy whose parents had dressed him as a Knight and waited all day to see me. I felt like father Christmas, the boy looked at me as if I had stepped right out of a fairy tale. I imagine he believed I was a real knight fresh from a summer season in once upon a time land slaying Dragons and galloping to the aid of distressed dames.
Slowing to a halt like a steam train huffing and puffing, making all sorts of alarming groans and clanks. Using what really felt like the last of the last of my reserves I lowered my frame down to his height so that his parents could take a photo trying not to show the toll the day had taken on me. Thankfully I wasn’t struck by cramp and was able to rise up again. I wish I could thank that family, they came out on the street and greeted me so warmly and I hope the little boy wasn’t too disappointed by the sight of a grizzled groaning guy like I, turning up instead of prince charming.
I may not of been prince charming but Kol was a damsel in distress at this point and on the occasions I looked back I could see her hobbling. She had supported me through all the fundraising efforts which alone were tiresome and sometimes thankless, and now on the day itself regardless of medals or recognition she was not leaving my side despite the pain.
I really couldn’t have been more proud of her or of course the whole team . Like the gentleman he is Matt took Kol under his wing, much to my relief and Dad continued the steady piloting of his offspring with all the ability of a control tower guiding a jumbo into land.
Eventually we made it back to the sea, leaving behind the bemused Sunday shoppers of central Hove to sip cappuccinos undisturbed. By around half-four we began the long trudge toward the power station in Shoreham after turning back to the seafront. This was the last seven or eight miles and by now the experience was one of pure endurance for us all. The waves from strangers given from windows, the beeps from cars and the smiles from passers-by kept me going but we were heading into Shormam Harbour now an industrial no man’s land where we would be lucky to find a drunk fisher man on the side of the road let alone any well wishers. Just before we entered the harbour I was greeted by a welcomed sight. My first cousin Andrew stood in our path. A hard-working and kind-hearted man whom had loved Nan and Grumps (my recently lost grandparents) every inch as anyone in the family.
Since they passed away a distance had developed between the two remaining sides of the family stemming from his Mum and my mum’s strained interactions around the funeral, leading to less contact between his family and mine. I was so pleased he came and we walked together toward the lagoon. I told him in-between huffs and puffs what I could only tell him. That all this madness was for Nan and Grumps and I think he understood. Just the mere thought of them was enough to make me well up by this point in the day and he made some generous remarks about what he believed they would have thought now. I try never to cry and the older I’ve got the less inclined to public shows of emotion I’ve become but I was almost fighting back tears. A cock-tale of physical pain, exhaustion and suppressed emotional pain from loosing Nan and Grumps so suddenly was bursting to be released. I didn’t cry but I could have done. Supposing this marathon was a personal kind of pilgrimage to venerate the memory of two people lost suddenly that I cared beyond words for. Doing for them after death what I had utterly failed to do while they lived.
To see Andrew reminded me of the greater family that they had held together since I was a child and writing this now reminds me of how important it is that our family stay close. Despite the suppressed tensions that erupt in every family it is important to overcome the negatives and remember who we are and what we have. That common past spent together constructed in the company of Nan and Grumps and it is the most precious thing they left us to responsible for.
Andrews company was touching, along with his family who greeted cameout to clap and cheer as we passed the local pub and with a renewed determination I continued into the aggressively baron concrete colder sack, the rusted ring fencing and pallets of recently off loaded commodities that make up the bulk of the Harbour. Don’t let the word harbour mislead you. It brings to mind images of brightly coloured fishing boats, rustic key sides with weathered seamen mending nets and lobster pots aside white washed cottages because you won’t find a postcard of modern Shoreham harbour in the tourist information centre. Shoreham at this end of town (unlike in the older west) has all the rustic charm of a knuckle duster with the words made in china stamped down its spine. Here you’ll only find the detritus of twenty-first century globalisation and the business end of a modern economies appetite. Vast open warehouses and heavy industry, great pyramids of aggregate and sand for the concrete that will underpin the expansions of motor ways and the vast timber stores that fuel the manufactures of furniture and hard wear stores up and down the land.
At this late stage in the day the sun had seen off the clouds and I had forgotten just how big Shoreham Harbour is. I kept looking up thinking the great exhaust chimney of the power station would be just in front of me and yet it appeared no closer. It may well have been as remote as when looking down from the cliffs at Ovendean earlier that day but it was my focus as soon as I entered its long shadow I’d be close to turning round and heading for home. Every step was moving the liquid that had built up under the soles of my feet from one end of my left foot to the other now. A single magnificent blister had taken shape where the skin on my foot once had been. I was moving slower in these last few miles, almost hobbling forward and I felt a sensation that the air was no longer a substance I could pass through with ease but instead it was beginning to thicken, becoming hard to pass, a rubbery air like wading pushing back at me, as if stepping through a liquid. Each and every movement taking a concise will to complete. Whipping a tired animal to keep it moving my mind was now in charge, forcing its will on the rest of my body to keep moving forward.
This was where I knew my eldest sister Emily and my brother-in-law Jim and their two little boy’s Max 7 and Sammie 3 were due to join our marathon experience. They had been on a holiday in Dorset and would be driving back along the south coast all day to meet me. I reached the welcome turning point and the furthest west I would travel. facing my back on the power station at last but still with no sign of the anticipated Cowan Clan. I began to wonder if they would turn up at all until finally we emerged onto the long road beside the beach where distantly I could see a group of four figures. Two large and two small, the cavalry had arrived seeing little Sammie and Max ahead. They began a war like charge at full speed to greet me. I stopped as they neared and began to lower my body once more. Immediately and as if a currant of electricity was passing through the lower limbs killer cramp struck both my legs hard. With the foundations sliced from under me and without a fortunately placed lamp-post to save me I fell awkwardly backwards, hitting the concrete.
Poor Max and Sammie had to see me fall and I began to well up, unable to contain the pain any more being signalled from nerve-ends around my body. If this was Star trek then we’d be at the stage that photom torpedos were striking the Enterprise sending Kirk and Spock in all directions. Little Sammie who’s a gentle soul and only two and a half lent over, reached his little arms over the cold steel breast-plate and hugged me as best he could. I remember looking up at the blue sky then into the eyes of my companions and being unsure if I could continue. Matt took one my legs under his arm and being a trained fitness instructor he began the process of shaking the cramp out of them.
I took a few deep breaths and held out my hand to be hauled up again. I was OK and kept moving accompanied not only by my nephews but also by Jimmy in the car playing at full volume over the deserted industrial dirt way the full cannon of Lennon and McCartney’s CDs. Here comes the sun, a day in the life, Eleanor Rigby winging it’s way from the vehicles speakers. A welcome relief and at least they didn’t play McCartney’s ’Long and winding road’.
I removed the helmet for the first time and held it in my hands. Feeling the wind and sun on the back of my neck as the strong gusts were now on our side and not a hindrance. I had no corners to turn, nothing in my way just the last four or so miles.
ABOUT TO HIT THE WALL.
When we finally found ourselves near to leaving the Harbour stretch I had to stop. I found somewhere to sit on, perhaps just the curve and gathered myself. Others had arrived to join the last leg. Charlie one of my other sisters and her friend Katy. I looked toward Charlie and said what I thought I’d never say ‘I don’t think I can go on’. She understood as did every one that I may have to stop now. Dad was really suffering too, after all he is in his sixties and yet had without complaint led the way for over twenty miles said ‘Well we can get the car, you can stop if you want’ I looked semi consciously at Charlie and she said ‘But your so close’ after a moment I thought about Nan and Grumps, they weren’t there in person but were with me in spirit. I couldn’t let them down more than anyone else.
‘Ok then, I just got to keep going’
Getting up and putting the helmet back on I started the last leg along Hove and Brighton sea front. Little Max had a determination to stay with me to the line now and he became a valuable member of the team. Every marathon participant needs an enthusiastic seven-year old spurring you on. While his Mum ‘Em’ also took on fund raising duties relieving Kol of her duties to focus on just getting to the end. Many members of the public responded putting notes and pounds in the buckets.
I can’t remember much from this point only that I was almost gasping every breath back and forth, in and out. the piers began to draw closer and to my amazement as we entered the last mile a rainbow appeared over the finish line arching out into the farthest reaches of the sea.
It’s plainly irrational but I felt at the time as if that rainbow belonged to Nan and Grumps, that it was their way of telling me I’d done it. I don’t suppose spirits can arrange for rainbows to appear any more than you or I could but it felt incredible to see it after six months of preparation and pain arching over the finish line ahead. Perhaps it was just a coincidence or as I like to think of it a little blessing but all the elements of the past and present and the great unknown over which I have no comprehension came together for a second and the agony lifted.
The rainbow led us into the last mile past the west pier and then the palace pier too was passed until only yards lay between my self and lasting success. In all the confusion the people I was to contact on route to have a photographer meet us and the race organisers had not been done but I didn’t care who was there or indeed whether we got a medal.
I took Max’s hand and as a team with Kol, Matt and Dad we crossed what would have been the finish line. There was no evidence of where exactly the finish was until one of the guys clearing up pointed it out. I stepped over the last yard of empty water bottles and banana skins and fell to my knees with complete exhaustion.
Charlie and Em cheered, some people passing by clapped and yet all I wanted was to remove the armour as if it’s touch was like something hot scalding my skin. I had to get it off, Someone pulled the Helmet off along with the gauntlets. My flesh had swollen meaning the arms were too tight to be remove normally. Matt had to really tug hard to get my arms free.
As soon as I could when released from my Full-metal-jacket I got back to my feet, found my Meningitis Trust t-shirt jammed at the bottom of the ruck sack that Matt had patiently lugged around all day. Put it on, then lifted Max and Sammie up into the air, one in each arm to celebrate. Moments later I was hugging Dad and Matt as if we’d just destroyed the death star and I said how I couldn’t have done it with out them and I mean it. We were a team, I may have started the day looking like Luke skywalker but I ended it resembling Darth vader when they remove his Helmet but together after nine and a quarter incredible hours we had done what a lot of people had said was impossible.
My bother-in-law and best bud Jim was at the finish lineand took some shots of the moments just after I’d crossed the line (below).
I wish this was the end of the story but my night was far from over. Leaving the armour in the care of Em and Jim I didn’t want to go straight home. Kol and I were in no fit state to look after each other, so Charlie stepped up to the plate agreeing that we could come with her. In the car back I could see the sun setting beautifully, my aim was to make it back by sun down and we’d done it. Resting my head on Kol’s shoulder I was out of it, feeling like I’d never had and shortly after reaching Charlie’s home I lay on her front room sofa. She ordered a Pizza, left the room and it was now that I began to feel strange. I knew by instinct that I was in trouble as the adrenaline began to wear off and without hesitation I told Kol ‘get a doctor’.
I could feel myself getting worse, sweat poured off my temple and I began to find it hard to breath. The sensation in my left arm completely went numb. I said get an ambulance and within minutes I was drifting in and out of consciousness. My mind and body were shutting down, I couldn’t breath and I remember not being sure if I was actually breathing at all. I can recall seeing Izzy playing on the floor with her toys, then seeing Kol crying, then Paul pulling Izzy out of the room. Charlie knelt in front of me, with the phone against her ear, the medical staff on the other end whilst the Ambulance was on its way. I started to lose the feeling in the left side of my face. ‘This is it, I’m dyeing’ I thought, ‘my brain is being starved of oxygen’ and I will be like this forever, ‘what a fool’ I thought to myself, ‘taking on a challenge that would take away your life leaving your family to pick up the pieces’ believing that I was in the process of dyeing I simply looked at Kol told her as my voice began to slurr ‘I love you’ and then as Charlie tried to keep my eyes from closing and I drifted in and out of awareness of my surroundings. I slurred the words ‘I love you’ several times to my sister thinking they would be the last words I would utter. I could see her eyes filling with tears but I was helpless now all I could do was be a bystander as my body shut down and hope the ambulance could get here before I had gone.
And that’s it. I remember nothing more until around two in the morning when I awoke in intensive care with Kol exhausted by my bed side her head in her lap. I was naked but for a thin sheet and I was covered in cuts and black bruises in-between a multitude of sticky pads linked up to a beeping machine. I was alive and despite feeling like I had just been chewed up then spat out by King Kong I was thinking and moving again. Still dazed and a little confused I asked Kol what had happened? She said that doctors had diagnosed over Hydration. I’d drunk so much liquid during the marathon that I had diluted my salt levels to a point where my body had stopped functioning and my vital organs had begun to fill with water. To be honest my first thought was of Kol. She hadn’t stopped all day and must off been exhausted on as many levels as I was. Not only that but she had nursed me through the Meningitis and it must have been heart breaking to see me back in a hospital bed.
Many busy nurses passed by. I asked one of them (apparently the ambulance driver who had thoughtfully come back to see how I was) to take care of Kol. He replied something like ’Don’t worry, she’s fine’. I’m pretty sure Kol wanted to bite his head off Ozzie Ozbourne style for that harmless remark. For any guy’s reading (if you didn’t already know) here is an important potentially life saving slice of health and safety information: Don’t tell a woman she’s fine when they’ve, not eaten, rested, just completed a marathon as you may not leave the room with your reproductive organs still operating as nature intended. She felt far from fine and yet it was me getting all this attention.
I asked another nurse if I could go to the toilet? She replied you’ve got a cafeter fitted. I raised the sheets to see the alarming sight (and without getting too anatomical) of a thin clear tube inserted where no man wants anything to be inserted. They needed to remove all the excess liquid from my bladder and as one Doctor poetically put it ‘I’d been going like a horse all night’. Despite me asking in my dazed state if Kol could jump in the hospital bed with me and ‘stay over’ (something I’m sure kept the nurses amused over their tea break) she had to leave as soon as it was clear I was OK. So at two in the morning a taxi was rung and she spent the night back with her Mum.
I felt drained in every sense of the word I’d eaten nothing after the marathon and now I was having all the water removed from me. This of course meant I was coming down with a hang over Oliver Reed and Keith Moon would have winced at but all said and done I was thankful it wasn’t far more serious. The intensive care ward is a strange place filled with electrical noise, staff conversing with one another and the groans of those in real discomfort. A bit like being bed bound in a super market isle. The staff took great care of me and by morning I was ill but not sick which meant I could be taken home. It was a close shave and I was so incredibly pleased when the head doctor told me I could go. Having low sodium levels is a bit like downing a bottle of vodka, your out of it for a few hours, remember very little, and feel like you’ve been pushed by Mr T and followed then by an epic hangover solved by a day or two in bed. How much was the low sodium and how much was the marathon I’ll never know and I hope I never do.
So all in all by the time Charlie had come to pick me up the next morning I’d barely slept, not eaten and was unable to keep down any liquid I tried to drink. My body that was still reeling from what I had put it through and my feet felt like I’d walked across red-hot coals. Soon enough I was back home. Kol hadn’t gone to work and came straight round, curled up in bed next to me and went to sleep. The next day on the Tuesday I had a cup of English tea around twelve. It was the first thing I had consumed since Sunday morning and I felt much better after it. By that afternoon I was back in the front room with the bed covers on the sofa and I still attribute my swift recovery to the cup of tea.
On reflection it was strange and perhaps fitting that my challenge to raise money for the Meningitis Trust began a year earlier when in hospital with Meningitis and exactly one year on I had been given another night in the same building. Also in a peculiar twist I was left with a deep cut by the armour on the inside of my left arm, bizarrely in the exact place that the first blood blister had appeared in the early stages of Meniniacocal Septicaemia (Meningitis). It was that little red mark that probably saved my life I noticed it when coming back to bed whilst being ill and seeing it led me to look for other marks on my body. In turn I was able to get medical advise through NHS direct which went on to save my life. So strangely the marathon has left me with one lasting scare on my body and it is in the exact place that the Meningitis started. I almost feel like I was taken full circle, with the challenge taking me back to the point of death, where I had been twelve months earlier. The many cuts from the Armour like exit wounds where splinters left in me by the Meningitis had been finally removed and after the ordeal of pain and return to the hospital I felt I could finally feel I had closed the loop and exorcising the memory of that illness through the ordeal of the Marathon, coming home from the hospital this time not a victim like I had been one year earlier but as a victor having achieved a resounding positive success bound to stay with me forever.
I and the team received our medals on BBC radio Sussex from Tim Hutchings the man in charge of the Brighton Marathon. I almost felt at home now in the studio, comfortable talking to the presenter in stark contrast to my earlier encounters with a microphone. At home after six months of working toward success for a charity I feel I have repaid my debt to.
Now I’m free to decide weather to continue challenges, after all I’ve got my life back with a renewed sense of how brief the future we take for granted could be, also I’ve got a bloody big suit of Armour stood in the corner of my front room. I better make good use of it somehow.