I have had a place in the Virgin Money London Marathon for over a year, I wasn’t able to run last year, but this year was a perfect opportunity to run for Plant Heritage. I was lucky enough to get this place through a running club, if I had entered the ballot along with over 125,000 other people I would have had only a chance of getting one of the 35,000 odd places. I have run London 3 times, but never got in through the ballot!
Now if you have ever watched the coverage of the marathon, you will notice that it is a very big fundraising event, in fact it is the largest annual fundraising event on the planet – runners have raised over £600 million for good causes since the race began in 1981. Many, if not most of the charities represented there will have purchased marathon places using the Golden Bond or Silver Bond (£1500 for 3 places) scheme – they then advertise them to runners who have been unsuccessful in the ballot. Most charities will stipulate that runners have to raise a minimum amount in return for their place. Plant Heritage being small, with scant resources does not buy Golden or Silver Bond places. The advantage of this is that all the money given to sponsor me goes directly into the PH bank account, it doesn’t need to cover the cost of a place, t-shirts, supporter gear, after-race parties or training support.
I was set a challenge by Mike Buffin, Chair of the Plant Conservation Committee, that he would only sponsor me if I ran as Pulmonaria ‘Red Freckles’. In the photo below you can see me juxtaposed with ‘Red Freckles’ at RHS Wisley, I am the top one, in case you are puzzled by the resemblance (I made sure to fluff up the bed after I stood on it, promise).
The costume needed to be light and comfy to run in, but also try to get across ‘essence of pulmonaria’ somehow. I ordered some felt from Ebay and dug out the fabric paints.
My training had been erratic, partly because I had only seriously decided to run at the beginning of March, and partly because being very busy at work meant I was having to squeeze a lot into my weekends. The longest I had run before the marathon was about 15 miles, which isn’t ideal but I had completed 11 marathons previously and felt I was experienced enough to pace myself accordingly.
Sunday dawned beautifully – I was worried that it was going to be too warm, but it turned out that there was a delicious little breeze which kept it pleasant.
This is the scene in the morning at Blue Start, one of the three starts that are needed to get tens of thousands of runners off safely.
Bags are carried to the finish for runners in a convoy of huge trucks, you have no idea how desperate you are for a change of footwear and clothing after 26.2 miles. Putting on fresh shoes and socks turns you into a new person.
This is me at 8.5 miles where Sarah, our new CEO was supporting. While it is difficult looking out for one or two people in a crowd, even if you know where they will be; it is nigh on impossible for them to pick you out of the crowd of runners. Everyone is wearing ‘something bright’. Overall the race was good fun, I was struggling from about mile 18-22 as I had stomach cramp and a painful hip, but both calmed down and allowed me to walk-run to the finish in just over 5 hours. Considering that my last time in 2008 I came in at 4.55.56 with proper training, I was very relieved. (My PB was 4.38 in 2003)
It was just lovely running as a Pulmonaria, as I didn’t have my name on my t-shirt (too many awful mercy jokes) people in the crowd called me ‘flower lady’ which was so nice, it made me smile every time. Lucky that Mike didn’t suggest a tree or a cactus, that would have been difficult.
Thank you so much to all my sponsors, I know most of you and it makes such a difference when you are running to be able to think of the people who believe that you can get round. It was brilliant of you to contribute to cultivated plant conservation in this way, we will spend it wisely.