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27th July 2012.

7 years in the making.

The world watched as London got ready to perform during the Olympics & Paralympics. And perform it did.

I adore athletics. And the Olympics. Proud of being a Londoner born and bred. Having the Olympics in my hometown is a dream come true.

Everyone has their personal experiences of loving the Olympics, so I won’t share all of mine.

As 2012 draws to a close, here’s some of my highlights. 🙂

Me top left, blue jacket and glasses!

Me top left, blue jacket and glasses!

Olympic Opening Ceremony Volunteer Performer

It was a difficult few months trying to fit work in and to begin with my London Marathon, but from being cast this January, I was ecstatic at the chance to perform at London 2012’s opening ceremony. The days leading upto showtime were highly pressurised, trying to juggle my paid job with the ever-intense weight of opening the show and the rules and regulations we had to abide by…it was all I could do to not want to go in a cave until the 27th July. But, WOW, what an experience! Truly proud to have performed in ‘Thanks Tim’ in a tribute to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world-wide-web, dancing in London throughout the ages. This pic was minutes from bursting through trap door 10 below the middle of the stage, and reminds me of making friends with the other lovely volunteers who alos worked so hard, and how exciting it was to perform to billions…London, the hub of the world right then!

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Doreen Lawrence

Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony attempted to tell the story of Britain revealing a country forged in the actions of ordinary people. Carrying the Olympic Flag to it’s pole, the traditionally symbolic bearers included Muhammad Ali, Ban Ki-moon (the UN secretary general), Ethiopian athletics veteran Haile Gebrselassie, Shami Chakrabati (director of Liberty), Sally Becker (known as the Angel of Mostar), Marina Silva (who has fought against the destruction of the rainforest), Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee (who has worked to try and end Liberia’s civil war), and musician Daniel Barenboim. But the most emotional moment was seeing Doreen Lawrence. Her son Stephen was infamously murdered in 1994 by racists, the investigation of which was heavily flawed and full of difficulties, leading to the first time reports labelled much of the police as ‘institutionally racist’, setting about key changes in the way crime was reported and significant areas in the judiciary system. Doreen led much of this change, campaigning tirelessly so that her son’s death, something that could never be equalised, was not in vein and so that his memory lived on, in the Stephen Lawrence Foundation and beyond.

Doreen Lawrence - bottom  left.

Doreen Lawrence – bottom left.

Super Thursday Paralympics

It’s difficult to say my favourite part of the Games. The ticketing purchasing was genuinely designed to be fair and give priority to Londoners, but the overloaded servers turned it a nightmare. Having got nothing the first time round, Greco-Roman Wrestling & Beach Volleyball in the second chance window, I was delighted to get a the Gymnastics All-Around Men’s Final a few months before the Olympics. But my ‘holy grail’ was getting the Men’s 100m Final. I couldn’t rest until I did! And finally, and with days to go, albeit through an expensive hotel package deal with Thomas Cook (although 50% cheaper than a few days before!), I got 2 tickets. Seeing Usain Bolt, Christine Ohurogu, Robbie Grabarz and more were awe-inspiring, as were the other events and also the many free events like the Triathlon. But I wanted to share a Paralympics moment. I got tickets to the Opening Ceremony and an Excel Day pass for power-lifting, boccia and more, but delighted to get 3 different athletics events…and way before the bandwagon jumpers during the 2 weeks! Including on Super Thursday 6th September, ParalympicsGB won silver (*just* pipped to gold in the last minutes!) in the discus with Dan Greaves, and gold for sprinters Hannah Cockroft & Jonnie Peacock and long-distancer David Weir.

Closing Ceremony

From the epic, fantastical wonderland of Danny Boyle’s Great Britain, to the Olympic Closing Ceremony musical jamboree. Showcasing the best of British talent…One Direction, Jessie J, Kate Bush, David Bowie, George Michael, Tinie Tempah, Taio Cruz, Annie Lennox, Spice Girls, Pet Shop Boys, The Kinks, Emile Sande, Elbow, The Who and many more. Some thought it low-production value, but it was unashamed pop at it’s best, ‘A Symphony of British Music, the party to end all parties after the greatest Olympic show yet.

Spice Girls

Spice Girls – Hi, See, Ya!

Liu Xiang’s Tragedy

China’s premier track and field athlete won gold in Athens 2004 (China’s first ever athletics gold), but was cruelly denied a chance to defend his 110m title title on home ground in Beijing 2008 when he pulled out due to an achilles injury. London 2012 and the pressure was on. Weeks before, he had pulled out of the Diamond League London Grand Prix which was on his 29th birthday, due to muscle pain. During the London 2012 110m heats, he sadly crashed at the first hurdle due to the achilles injury. But rather than pull out, he was determined to finish the race. Hobbling along unhelped, he hopped all the way the final hurdle, kissed it, and then crossed the finishing line, being met by fellow athletes. Leaving the track in a wheelchair, Feng Shuyong, the head of China’s track team, was quoted by state media as saying, “What Liu Xiang did today reflected the true Olympics spirit…winning is not so important, participation is what matters.”

Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar makes history

Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar made history in the 800m heats by becoming the first woman from her country to compete in athletics at the Olympic Games. Though finishing last 43 seconds behind the heat winner Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei (although 1500m is Sarah’s forte), the 80,00 strong crowd cheered her finish. Attar, who holds Saudi Arabian and American dual nationality, told the BBC that she competed “to make a difference” and hopes “it sparks something amazing”.

Friendly Passengers & Selfless Volunteers

Forever seen as an unsocial passage through the rat-race, commuters and more revelled in the Olympic spirit, and one of the enduring memories of London 2012 were all and sundry socialising with those from all over the world about winning, losing, origins, opinions…and sharing in the human spirit. Even the train drivers were full of joy! And the games wouldn’t have been the same without all the friendly games makers, many of them volunteers, in their tell-tale uniform, helping make London 2012 the success it was.

The Armed Forces

Although G4 security staff did their bit as well as they could, the shortfall resulting in the unfulfilled promises by management meant there was a huge last-minute void. The armed forces kindly stepped in, and the gents and ladies proved how serviceable they were by being the perfect hosts to the world, making GB proud. Bravo them!

On Her Majesty’s Service. ;-D

Team Heathow

One of the many volunteering opportunities was to welcome the Olympians and their teams to London Heathrow, London 2012’s official airport. After a few training sessions including being informed on different terminal’s structures and being issued an airside security pass, shifts to welcome the arrivals ranged from 6 hours to 8 hours, starting from 4am up to midnight! It was great to meet the different athletes from different countries. I was proud to volunteer, in spite of trekking over 2 hours from one side of London to the west! All volunteers got this lovely official regulation IAAF momento baton from the government too.

P&G’s ‘Thank You Mum’ campaign
Olympics have to be corporate to be funded, unfortunately more than perhaps some people are comfortable with. But this is a necessity for the most part. One of enduring campaigns that struck a cord with many and for me was P&G’s tribute to Mums…most of the athlete’s would not be where they were today without the loving support of their Mum. A Facebook wall by P&G was set-up inviting everyone, not just athletes, to post why they loved their Mum’s so much. The TV campaign was very touching, and the moment sponsors P&G got Michael McKillop to be presented with Paralympics gold in T37 1500m by his mother on the podium – a first in the history of the Games – was beautiful. I thought of my Mum during being on stage on the Opening Ceremony, as I did and others too I’m sure during the P&G campaign and Michael’s presentation.
London 2012 Paralympic Games - Athletics Monday 3rd September
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BOOM!

It came. You saw. We (mostly) conquered.

Weeks of charity-requests and months of training now over for everyone, after 2012’s Virgin London Marathon took over the streets yesterday on Sunday 22 April, and my first ever marathon. 🙂

Laying shattered on t’sofa on St. George’s Day (wanted to go out and celebrate this!…my leg’s had other ideas), here are ten thoughts summing up what I thought of the whole rollercoaster, surreal, life-encompassing experience!

WHISTLESTOP LONDON SIGHTSEEING…BY FOOT!

‘Twas a beautiful morning yesterday, and heading out to Greenwich Park, one of London’s best viewing-points, was a sight. Thousands of runners…and what a way to see London! From the park, to Woolwich, through Charlton, around The Cutty Sark ship back in Greenwich, onto my home in Bermondsey, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf & Docklands, back to the Tower of London, then the City of London, past my old school, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Embankment, Waterloo Bridge, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and The Mall.

Phew!

26.2 miles…! 42 kilometres! Until you do it, you can never appreciate the enormity of the distance covered as you take in some of the world’s most iconic structures. All while running! Nuts!

36,705 PEOPLE

This year was (I read but cannot find the source!) the THIRD biggest turnout for the London Marathon. 36,705 is nearly twice the capacity of the O2 Arena. Running with so many people, publicly pounding the London roads, like being on some mass exodus. It’s an army!

Copyright of EPA.

FANCY DRESS BRIGADE

Running a marathon’s tough. Running a marathon in a costume?! This year’s marathon didn’t fail to deliver on ‘wacky race’ attire. From banana-men, super-heroes, firemen (phwoar), rhinos and more, they were awesome. My favourite, Bagpuss!

Copyright of WEINN

CHARITIES

It seemed the vast majority of runners were running for a cause. When you zone out and forget what you’re doing running down the street, looking up and seeing heart charities, cancer charities, and other’s all being represented in earnest was impressive. My favourites were the kid’s charities and the hospices, especially those running in memory of loved ones.

The London Marathon holds the Guinness World Record as the single largest annual fund raising event in the world, with an estimated almost £50 MILLION being raised for the day. Since 1981, the 1st London Marathon, an estimated half a BILLION POUNDS has been raised for good causes.

INJURIES

From hamstring injuries, blisters, subungual haematomas to tarsal fractures…and that was one leg! I’ve never needed so much physio! And on race-day it was evident others had also suffered, with compression tights, taping and bandages in abundance. And still all soldiered on to the finish line!

HITTING THE WALL

4 hours, 9 minutes, 10 seconds. Finishing in 13,213 place out of 36,705 runners. The top 36%. But I didn’t reach my goal of a sub-4 hour marathon!

A good (slowest time) estimation in the runner’s world is that your marathon time can be gained from your half-marathon time doubled, then 20 mins added. I ran the Silverstone Half Marathon in 1 hour, 46 mins and 45 seconds, so by that equation I would finish in under 3 hours and 54 minutes at the latest.

Obviously not an exact science, but combined with finishing a 21.5 mile training run in a good time and not seeming to ‘hit the wall’ ever, it seemed definitely possible yesterday.

Plagued by injuries in training, I was well equipped with analgesia along the route and amongst all the many bits of advice read over the months, the most important is to NOT RUN TOO FAST to begin with, the most common cause of ‘hitting the wall’. It’s not the first 6 miles of a marathon that are important, it’s the last 6 miles!

What is this wall? Simply speaking, your body’s fuel is glycogen. Your muscles store glycogen but have a limited supply, and when this runs out (e.g. during running) your body is forced to convert fat stores to glucose instead, a much slower process…and resulting in suddenly not being able to move a muscle. There are other aspects too such as your CNS response, your psychological strength, etc.

You store glycogen after you eat complex-carbohydrates like potato, pasta, rice etc. So it’s important to saturate your body’s reserves prior to a marathon.

Starting out, I made sure I didn’t run too fast, kept hydrated but not too much, thought I consumed enough sports-drink throughout, and reached the half-way mark at a respectable time of 1 hour 54 mins and 13 seconds…enough to keep energy in the bank for the final 6 miles.

Mile by mile, keeping my pace constant. Getting knackered / bored (and desperate to see some supporters!) after mile 14, I kept going. Then mile 18, started feeling sick. ‘OK, you’re just tired, keep going’. Mile 19, still felt tired. Mile 20, legs starting to burn. Mile 22, the realisation I’m losing the sub-4 hour goal. Mile 23, foot fracture starting to hurt. ‘These analgesia tablets are taking ages to work!” Mile 24, just wanting to stop SO badly, legs desperate to plod. The finish line taking AGES to come! Every part of me struggling, until finally crossing the finish line.

‘What happened?’. My legs were in pain and I found it difficult to force myself to maintain the modest running pace I had begun at. I thought it was the pain of injury which I was expecting. But I hadn’t experienced this in training. By 1pm I felt boiling, found myself running with my eyes closed, grabbing at jelly-babies and Twix bars from the hands of spectators…not to mention hallucinating!

And then I saw my results on the official page:

My Virgin London Marathon 2012 Statistics

Constant pace until 35 km (21.7 miles). Then bang, dropped. I struggled to run faster than my new slower pace, although it remained constant till 40 km and then the finish.

I heard about serious runners and celebrities hitting the wall, and checking out their times they had the same pattern.

Maybe I hit the wall. Maybe training once or twice a week wasn’t enough? Maybe I didn’t hydrate enough through the race. I won’t rest until I break 4 hours, because I know I can…one day! But until then, for my first marathon I’m chuffed I didn’t stop for a pee break NOR stop running once, from the start till the finish line.

CELEBRITIES

James Cracknell, chef Michel Roux, newsreader Sophie Raworth, chef Gordon Ramsay, TOWIE / The Only Way Is Essex, Ed Balls just some of the celebrities out in force, also raising money for charities. Nell Mcandrew was the fastest celebrity this year with 2 hours 54 (WOW!). And a special mention to Fauja Singh (lives in my home town Redbridge!) for his last marathon, at a record-breaking 101 years old!

Will Young was behind me during the end as all I could hear was people screaming, ‘It’s Will Young!’ every minute. He’s a good guy, but perhaps having enough of hearing that propelled me to race ahead of him and beat him! Here’s his time:

WILL YOUNG London Marathon 2012 - 4:37:23

And I beat Iwan Thomas, former world-class GB athlete in 400m! 😀

IWAN THOMAS London Marathon 2012 - 4:13:18

DEATH

This isn’t a highlight. It’s awful. By now you’ve heard of Claire Squires, 30, who died just minutes from reaching the finishing-line. She was raising money for The Samaritans, possibly inspired by her brother who died from an overdose a few years ago. She had raised £500 until then. With the public hearing of her death this has rocketed, after donating just now I’ve seen it’s nearly at £200,000. Here’s her fund-raising page if you’d also like to: Claire Squires

SPECTATORS

The London Marathon would not be the same without the spectators. That’s half a million of you all out on the streets! When you’re ‘in the zone’ it doesn’t make a difference, but when you need that energy drink, jelly baby, or chocolate, boy does it help. And going through London the regional differences are fascinating, from the well-to-do Greenwich gang, the boisterous Bermondsey boys, the City slickers to the heaving throngs along the Embankment, it’s a lovely thing for people to do. Unfortunately I missed seeing my sister, Royston and Oyvind though, and they tried 3 times as I searched in vain! 😦 But I managed to see a few friendly faces which was a nice surprise. And while the crowd were, shall we say, shying away from pronouncing my name to begin, at the end while I was struggling, it was all I could hear for a couple of miles. So thank you!

MIND

I ran for Mind, a mental health charity. I’ve blogged about them before. They’re excellent. We probably all suffer from mental health issues at least once, but are ashamed to talk about it, unlike heart problems, cancer, diabetes, even HIV these days. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being strong for too long. And thanks to ALL OF YOU, you’ve helped me raise nearly £3,500 for Mind! Smashing my target of £2000. And if that wasn’t enough, gorgeous Stephen Fry himself donated too! (I’m still gobsmacked about that!). Best of all, I’ve met some lovely people while training for the London Marathon, all with their own story to tell, all determined to raise money for a good cause. And it was so good to run with thousands of other people on the day, who all had their reasons for doing it too.

PLEASE sponsor me if you haven’t already done so! Link here: Fiez’s First Marathon

And lastly, I ran for my dear Mum who died a few years ago. Any pain I felt in the last few miles, I forced aside knowing how great and loving a mother she was to my sister and I, and how good a person she was to everyone. My hero.

So, same time again next year…? 😉