Sunday will see 39,000 people don their trainers and hit the streets for the London Marathon. With marathon fever in the air we catch up with Richard Greenwood who recently ran the Paris Marathon in aid of Sported.
If you’re taking part this weekend you might want to look away now!
“I never thought I’d run a marathon. I almost didn’t. As the Parisian sun began to burn my pale, British chops I began to give in. Paris isn’t a city that gives in, there were numerous reminders of that throughout the French capital, so as I staggered past every tempting boulangerie, bar, and ambulance I was one step closer. Twenty-six miles later I was there. I am a marathon runner.
Naturally, it was a long time coming; I signed up to the marathon and began training last September and couldn’t think of a better charity to run for than Sported. I’ve seen the work they have done and I really do believe in how life changing the power of sport can be. In fact, the Paris Marathon epitomised this before the start gun was even fired.
My first full day in Paris was spent at the Salon du Running where I had to pick up my race number. It was awash with runners wearing t-shirts dedicating their marathon to loved ones and charities, each person having their own story, their own reason for being there. For me, it was simply to prove I can do it.
The expo was incredible; like a Toys “R” Us for runners. Lines of trainers and clothing, socks that guaranteed to keep you blister free. It made you want to run, and less than 24-hours later there I was, on the start line with tens of thousands of others packing the Champs-Élysées.
I’d figured the Paris Marathon was the best option for me. Filled with landmarks, I thought they would be a chance to take my mind off the miles. And with the Arc de Triomphe the backdrop to a sea of runners, it was picture perfect.
The first few miles under the glorious sunshine were a joy, passing the Louvre and its beautiful gardens, Bastille, and the Chateau de Vincennes. By the time I’d realised I was 10k in and feeling pretty good.
Pre-race I’d been targeting anything under the four hour mark, but more specifically around three hours 45 minutes. By 10k I was progressing nicely and looking very good for that. 10k turned into the half way point and my target was easily manageable.
Well, I say easily. As the sun moved higher in the sky and the miles were passed, my hopes of achieving my target sank lower and lower. By 16 miles the midday sun was approaching and, as the pale Mancunian I am, I was beginning to wilt.
The miles became longer and as I approached mile 18, my landmark theory was not working. Despite having arrived on the Friday, and it now being Sunday, I’d not yet seen the Eiffel Tower up close and personal, and there it was, stood there in all its glory. This was the point I was meant to savour.
They say that Paris is the most romantic city in the world. With just eight miles left I felt nothing but contempt for it as I staggered past one of the most masterful manmade structures in history.
The iconic landmark had been trumped as I took one sharp look at it and then continued to scout out front for the great beauty of a large Vittel sign noting that water was just 200 metres away.
From there on in it was tough. The sun was sky high, and despite it being a lovely day, I hadn’t exactly been warm weather training. My regime had involved 20-mile runs in between rain and sleet along the canals of Leeds and Manchester so it wasn’t just the love of snails and frogs legs that were a culture shock.
By 20-miles my target was just within reach. And then it hit me. I don’t know if it was the wall because let’s face it, until you hit it you don’t exactly know what it actually is. But if the wall is the point where your knees give in, you’re melting under the sun, and you’re telling yourself you can’t do this and should just jump on that Metro to the finish and pretend you actually ran the last six miles, I had hit it.
Not long after then I suffered my first stoppage. My left knee was feeling incredibly sore and without my Mummy being there, and me now being a 27-year-old man, I had to take a break to give it a good rub. “Allez, Richard!” was shouted and with that I did.
Within a few minutes my target became simply to finish. The kilometres started to feel like miles and the miles like 10ks. At 21 miles, I entered the Bois de Boulogne, home of Roland Garros and the famous Longchamp Racecourse, but again I didn’t care. In fact, if I was a horse, I would have been shot.
I was so close but it felt just so far away. All I could think about was my body. There were further stoppages, rubs of knees, and the occasional hogging of a water station. I was in that park for just five miles but in my mind it felt like much longer. My training plan recommended to never run beyond 20 miles, so I was in unchartered territory.
Twenty one miles felt like the full marathon was five miles too far. Twenty two felt like four more was beyond me. That continued until the final mile. My target had long gone and despite four hours still being a possibility until mile 22, it wasn’t going to happen.
I wanted to give up at every moment. It probably sounds overly dramatic when I say I thought about why I needed to finish. If this was a movie there would be some kind of montage going on inside my head that would inspire me to speed past everyone and high-five the crowd as I finished. And that did happen, albeit a million times less Hollywood. I thought about the money I’d raised and why I was actually doing this in the first place, for me. So in a way, Sported massively helped me through the means of sport.
There was no high-fiving though, and there was no speeding up. I staggered to the final kilometre mark; out of the park, I’d made it to the cobbled streets surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. And triomphe I would. A new lease of life came over me in the final 2 kilometres. The pain of my knee was manageable and I began to pay attention to everything but my body. The music that had been playing in my ear since the start gun kicked back in and, almost like a movie montage, the Stone Roses came on – one of my favourite bands.
I sprinted to the finish; well I thought I was sprinting. To be honest an old-lady with a shopping trolley would have probably passed me, but it felt like I was going faster and I was giving all I had. The final stretch left me filled with emotion. As Sally Cinnamon played, the final drops of water that hadn’t already been sweated out of my body began to dribble from my eyes. I was going to finish.
Running that final kilometre made it all worthwhile. Everything lifted. The landmarks were once again beautiful and the sun shining down felt the perfect conditions to sit, relax, and mull over perhaps the toughest challenge of my life. Within ten minutes I was sat on a patch of grass with a beer. Never again, I said.
Reflecting on it now, it was 4 hours and 8 minutes of challenging work. In fact, it was perhaps only the final hour and a half. Putting it into perspective, that’s nothing. People face challenges every minute of every day, but sport is such a fantastic outlet to escape. To improve your life.
I’m so glad I chose to do this for Sported. For the two days following I walked like a cowboy and my marathon experience definitely did showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly. But looking back now, would I do it again? In a heartbeat.”
If you have been inspired by Richard to fundraise for Sported, whether it’s doing a marathon or a 5K, we’d love to have you on the team! For more information about fundraising challenge events for Sported, please contact Charlotte on firstname.lastname@example.org.