I’m something of a marathon addict; I feel it’s important to get that out in the open straight away. I’ve written about marathons in previous posts, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. In point of fact, this post will be about marathons as well, so I am certainly fulfilling that prophecy.
The Shine marathon has been going for well over a decade now – I can’t seem to find any precise details as to when it started – and it originally started off in Hyde Park before moving to Battersea Power Station until 2014, when it relocated to its current two homes; starting in Southwark Park, south of the River Thames, and ending at Old Billingsgate market, a lovely building right on the north side and lovingly bedecked with red carpet, glittering entrance hall, and lots of hot coffee for afters.
I’ve got a certain affection for Shine, as it was the first marathon I ever did back in September 2012 after a friend of mine, who knew my love for walking, suggested I give it a go. I originally wanted to do the half-marathon that first year, to build up to it, but the two friends I’d convinced to come with me felt confident enough to do the full marathon, and I was caught up in the excitement.
Looking back, we were very naive compared to now, where Di and I – who have done a total of 14 marathons together now (including 6 Shines) – plan each weekend with something akin to military precision, right down to taking toilet roll with us for emergencies, ensuring we have enough fruit to keep us going, and plotting the distances between pit stops to make sure we’ve got enough time to go to the loo.
The 2017 marathon was wonderfully potent and exhilarating; because Shine was the first marathon I ever did, it’s remained a firm favourite ever since, and it’s also been – in my view – the best organised out of all of them. They vary the route more frequently, and there’s a certain buzz because the event is about the walkers and the volunteers, not about a single figure who presents the evening and seems to seek out a certain amount of publicity for their own personal circumstances.
I still stand by that view, six years on, although a couple of small changes that Shine made this year caught me by surprise and didn’t seem to be made with much consideration for what was actually right for the walkers. Let me say now, I’ve getting this comments out of the way here so that I can focus on the positives later on in the article.
Every walker is always assigned a number, so that we can be tracked as we go round and so that we can be identified in photos. A very good, sensible idea. About three weeks before the marathon, Di and I realised that we hadn’t been sent our packs, which included both our numbers and a t-shirt each. I’d been the one to place the order for both of us, and automatically requested they be sent to my home address – I see Di often enough that I could have easily given her pack over very quickly.
Immediately, we knew what the problem was; we’d booked in December of 2016 (nothing like planning ahead) when I lived at a different address, and I’d completely neglected to ring Shine and change the address. Entirely my own fault, but not insurmountable; I called Shine immediately and explained the situation, and they couldn’t have been more helpful. Two new packs were immediately ordered, and I had a confirmation email the following day, followed by a second confirmation from a member of Supporter Services (a job title I struggle to pronounce with my slight lisp, but there you go) a day after to let me know the packs were going to be sent out asap and we would receive them in plenty of time.
Fast forward two weeks, to a week before the marathon, and no packs had arrived; we were, by now, slightly concerned. I rang, explained the situation to the very friendly person on the phone – they clearly place a great deal of stock in courtesy, which I am very grateful for – and they reassured me that the final packs were being posted out that day, the Monday, so would reach us well in advance of the day.
By Friday, still no packs. So I rang again, slightly tetchy, and was assured that we would be able to pick up duplicate numbers on the night as long as we both had our confirmation emails, which Di and I both did. So, on the night, we trundled up to the admin tent, ready to show our emails and confirm our identity, and we were both then given new numbers without any checks being completed. That alarmed me slightly, although I didn’t challenge it – to my regret – on the night; what if I wasn’t the person I said I was? If I was an imposter, I could so easily have just taken Matthew Munson’s place on the marathon without a blink of an eye, and that concerned me; some more checks really are needed, Shine, and better communication between staff there at the site, and those in the contact centre, as we were told very different things.
My only other annoyance? A change to how the marathon started; in previous years since starting from Southwark Park, a very clever system has been used at the start line. People could identify as being a Strider, a Stroller, or something else, the name of which escapes me, and that means you head off at different times according to your abilities – the fastest ones going first – to avoid too many bottlenecks. Some are always unavoidable, of course, given the number of people involved, but this idea was inspired; you were primarily with people of the same level of ability as yourselves and knew you would have a reasonable get-away time.
This year, however, the system – which worked pleasingly well – was changed for a random system of coloured lights. We could choose to pick up a yellow, blue, or red coloured wristband, and a wheel would be spun to decide which colour would go first, second, and third. I struggle to understand the logic of replacing a system based on skill and confidence level with a system based entirely on chance. As it was, we went through the red portal, and were the first group chosen to go, but delays in actually being given a wrist band meant we left a few minutes late in a bit of a rush – an annoying quirk to the start of an event that we wanted to be fun and exciting. I hope Shine reconsider for next year and revert back to a system that worked well.
Other than that, let me say; the event was wonderful. I like Shine; I enjoy Shine. It’s vivid, it’s energetic, and it’s such fun to do. Di – I’m sure she won’t mind me saying – struggled back in May when we did this year’s Walk the Walk; she hit the wall and still managed to get through the entire thing, so both of us were really keen to make sure she felt better this time around.
As a result, we trained a hell of a lot of harder for Shine 2017, right up to 48 hours before the marathon, and altered our diets even on the day itself to make sure we were able to have enough fuel to keep ourselves going. That fuel involved a very nice pizza at Fire & Stone in Covent Garden on Saturday lunchtime, so there’s definitely some good points to having had a pasta-based diet in the week leading up to the marathon.
When we reached Southwark Park and were waiting for the start, we were people-watch – as always – and saw people of all shapes and sizes, including a couple of people with crutches, and admiring everyone for having the courage and the willingness to take part. The only person I couldn’t quite get my head around was the person wearing flipflops, who seemed entirely set on doing the walk in them; both Di and I were fascinated by her, as we couldn’t begin to imagine why she thought that was going to be decent footwear, and we found ourselves speculating as to how long it was going to take before she gave in with blisters covering her feet,
The walk itself was – I will say – magnificent. I was conscious about walking at a steady but not excessive pace, to make sure that Di didn’t feel overstretched like last time, but I was soon trailing behind her. On a couple of occasions during the walk, she was outpacing me, and I was seriously impressed. At about mile 14 or so, we met a couple of walkers who were taking it very seriously; one of the walkers had a couple of carbon-fibre poles – very posh, very semi-professional – and she was storming ahead of her friend, looking vaguely annoyed that the other, pole-less woman wasn’t quite matching her pace. She also refused to make eye contact with us or recognise the solidarity of so many people being involved in a collective exercise; she just seemed immensely competitive and very single-minded. So Di sped up, to overtake, and we continued on in that vein for a mile or two until the woman was out of sight and we agreed to reign back in to sustain a respectful four miles an hour.
Then, at about mile 20 or so, we met a steward who told us something quite remarkable, that we were joint fifteenth out of the full-marathon walkers so far. Only fourteen had come by before us. We were – as you can imagine – rather surprised by this, and certainly hadn’t expected this pronouncement; we do like to sustain a decent speed, and try to get a good time, but we’ve never done it with the aim of getting anywhere particular in the league table of walkers. However, we were fourteenth at mile 20, and that was rather pleasing; we had six miles to go, and knew we’d be able to do that in perhaps an hour and a half at our current speed, so we obviously did the only thing open to us. We sped up again and continued speeding through until the very end.
I couldn’t have sustained that speed for very much longer, to tell the through; for probably the last three-quarters of a mile, I felt like I was running on an empty fuel cell, with only a few sips of water to keep me going, but the knowledge that there was a finite end was propelling me on, and I know Di very much felt the same.
Reaching that end point is so rewarding and thrilling; you can see it out the corner of your eye as you cross the final bridge over the Thames, but I always avoid looking at it directly in case it’s a mirage and I’m hallucinating somehow; to find out at that point that I’ve actually got another couple of miles would be an absolute killer, wouldn’t it? But, thankfully, that lovely piece of architecture known as the Old Billingsgate Market soon comes into full focus as you descend down a few steps (a cruel addition to the end of the walk if ever there was one, but a necessary evil) and then receive the cheers of the final volunteers who are like an absolute lifeline at that point in the game.
A quick word on the stewards; they fall into two categories. There’s the volunteers, who are doing it entirely for the love of being there and cheering people on. These people are wonderful; some dress up, some are very strict with road crossings (and I can respect it, even if Di and I are rebels and don’t always listen – “Watch out for the cars!” one volunteer called to us as we ran rather provocatively across a busy six-lane road. “We are!” Di retorted breathlessly. “Why do you think we’re running?”), and all are friendly, encouraging, and cheerful. The other group seem to be from a firm, employed especially for the occasions to – I presume – boost up the numbers of bodies available on the route to guide us along. This group seem less keen to be there; some are friendly, but a number are … quiet, happy to sit in the shadows, and not really do anything unless absolutely necessary. We ignore these and focus on the next group of happy volunteers who are wonderful again and raise our spirits just as much as we need. Thank you, volunteers, you’re absolutely lovely.
To then walk over the finish line to a round of applause and loud cheers is such a wonderful feeling, and adrenaline floods over you, whilst exhaustion then threatens to shut down your coherent speech centres in the brain. Thankfully, you somehow get through that and proceed to the medal point … and then you’re free. It always feels like an anti-climax at the end, whilst the adrenaline wears off, but it’s such a wonderful feeling to know what you’ve done for a worthy cause, and to have reached such a personal ambition.
After a sleep back at the hotal – we always stay at the Travelodge in Goodman’s Yard, round by Tower Hill, and it’s lovely – we decided to go and stretch our legs, to avoid stiffening up too much, so walked for about 45 minutes round to the Florence Nightingale Museum at Westminster. We spent a very instructive half an hour there or so, learning about the life of a woman who was clever, brave, and very compassionate, and I was glad to have the opportunity to know more about her by the end – it was £7.50 very well spent.
After that was another Sunday treat for us that we always partake in after a marathon – a substantial lunch. This time, we went up to Camden Market, a perennial favourite, and we found a rather lovely vegan burger place, where we gorged on burgers, sweet potato fries, and vegan brownies, all of which filled a hole and kept us rather energised.
All in all, the weekend was as much fun as it always is; I love Shine, and love spending the weekend with one of my great pals doing something rewarding, challenging, and just a bit different. Will I be doing it again? Why would I not.