I was in a bad way, the euphoria of reaching my furthest ever distance of 19 miles was soon eradicated as the dark grey clouds and the hot, sticky, autumnal rain started to close in on me. It was Mile 21 of the Liverpool Marathon 2011, and I was hurting.
Miles 1 to 15 were a piece of cake, actually enjoyable, big crowds, great spirit, I was loving life, and then bang, the steepest hill in the City literally had people crying and crawling on all fours.
Miles 16-19 were tough, I mean cramp kicking in, feet on fire, back breakingly tough. Every stride was an incredible effort, and the only solitude was that I was nearer the finish than the start.
I got to the water station at Mile 21 and I hit it, for the first time in my life, I absolutely smashed into the mythical and dreaded ‘wall’. It took everything from me, like some invisible energy thief, it took the power in my legs, stole the strength in my back and removed the resolve from my heart. I was done, this was it, I was never going to finish this race, or ever run again for that matter. I crouched down to console myself, and felt the tears starting to well.
In that moment, something reached down and touched me on the right shoulder, a gentle and reassuring touch, I looked over and saw a hand tapping away at me. I couldn’t work out if it was real or not, I slowly looked up and in front of me was a man in red football socks, black football shorts with Liver Bird emblazoned and soaking grey t-shirt, covered in rain, sweat and honest hard work.
“You OK mate?” this kind stranger asked me, helping me back up onto my feet. “Yeah mate” came the dishonest reply, “I’m OK”, another lie. I couldn’t bring myself to tell this guy that I was ready to quit and go home.
“Come with me” he said and I was in no place to argue or disagree. My right foot extended out in front of me, followed slowly by my left, I was moving forward, I still don’t know how, but I was moving.
We began chatting, his name was Stephen, we had similar jobs, had been on similar running journeys to that point, he supported the wrong football team and I moaned about my feet, but he encouraged me every step. He reached into his pocket, shuffled around for a bit and produced a hand full of running drugs…soft jelly sweets. At Mile 21 these things were like mini doses of morphine with an intense caffeine hit, they were like fairy dust.
At Mile 24 I really couldn’t go on, I kept getting told to keep going, “we’re counting down now mate, only 2 miles left”, I started to walk. It was more of a shuffle than a walk, but at least I was still moving. I told my saviour to go on, to keep pushing and do himself proud, I’d be OK. He reluctantly motored away, but he had literally gotten me through one of the toughest moments of my life.
Once I lost sight of him, all of a sudden I got this surge of energy, I looked left and saw the 25 mile marker, I had just ran/ walked/ shuffled 25 miles. I took off, all of the pain, cramp, burning sensations vanished, and I was the strong confident runner I was 25 miles ago. I came steaming down the steep hill which had broken me earlier, and I simply glided along the last mile, it was actually my quickest during the whole race.
When I reached the finish line, the tears returned, my first ever Marathon, the hardest run of my life, but I was an official Marathoner.
When I looked back at the race, I was proud of what I had achieved, but more of the strength and companionship which the running community holds. Stephen could have easily ran by at Mile 21, but he didn’t, he carried me for 3 miles and amplified the whole experience. I’ll never forget the feeling of wanting to quit but not being allowed to.
I never saw him again, but it made me reach out to find other like minded people, and this is when I found the Run Dem Crew.
These guys know how to get people across the line, they literally commandeer Mile 21 at races across the Globe and encourage everyone to keep pushing, keep living, keep dreaming. I’m proud to be a part of the most special running movement out there.
RUNNING SUCKS, it really does, it’s boring, it’s hard, it takes patience and reailience, but if you want to learn who you really are, just what you can achieve, trust me, run to Mile 21.