On most bucket list’s you’ll find “Run a Marathon”. I decided I would take this task on as one of my first challenges, setting the standard high from the outset! This therefore makes the perfect first blog entry and links on nicely from the tone set in What is Blog It List? Little did I know that this would be the start of a huge physical and mental transformation for me before I’d even put on my running shoes!
I had signed up for the Virgin London Marathon 2016 through the ballot entry system like thousands of others and also a few charity places just for good measure. Now all that I needed to do was wait for the answer. In the mean time I kept myself busy by implanting changes in my business to make it more efficient. After all I would need the extra time to start Blog It List. I’d also signed up and completed a few Mud Runs. One of which was called “The Ice Breaker” a Dualthon event (I may write a separate post for this one as this was the start of my cognitive reset!). I had a nice holiday booked to Italy and also my wife and I were in the process of selling our apartment and buying house. With all of the above going on what happened next couldn’t have come at a worse time!
On the 25th August 2015 I had an accident at work. It was completely my own fault. I was just rushing and slipped off a ladder. I landed on both feet from a very high position and I thought I had gotten away with it at first. My instantly ballooning left ankle said otherwise! I knew then that something was broken but optimistically thought, it could just be a sprain. With that I loaded my van hopping on one leg and the drove home. I know I shouldn’t have now, but at the time I wasn’t thinking clearly with all the adrenaline coursing through my body. It wasn’t until I got home that the severity of the situation hit me.
What about my business? How am I going to move house? Can I still go on holiday? Oh no the Marathon!
Becci came home from work as quickly as she could and after some colourful language she took me A&E. I reassured her all the way that it’s probably just a sprain and if its not at least you can skip the queues at the airport. Joking clearly not helping the situation! The x-ray confirmed that I had broken a bone but the CT scan showed the full extent of the injury. The specialist said I had a broken Talus (the load bearing bone in the ankle), tendon damage, pulled off pieces of bone fragment and a chipped tibia. Luckily no surgery needed but I will have early arthritis in the ankle joint to look forward to in the future! It was at this point I asked if I could run in the London Marathon. Everyone in the room was laughing, except for me.
I wont bore you with all the details of my predicted 8-week healing time. I hit a bit of a low mentally as I wasn’t used to so much down time. I also hated self administering the daily Fragmin injections the hospital gave me. Becci was very good though. She picked me up when I was feeling sorry for myself and realigned my focus. I used the time to arrange cover for my business and ran it from home; this was perhaps my biggest concern. I stuck to a strict daily routine and ate plenty of high calcium meals too. Our holiday to Italy came just at the right time. We had a lovely relaxing week away although it was hard work getting around. My hands suffered the most because of the crutches but they did come with a few perks. No queuing at the airport, I was always offered a seat everywhere I went and at Pompeii the tourists cleared a path for us to get by. I did get a few funny looks though!
I was now back home and felt refreshed from the holiday. It’s now the 6th October 2015, off to the fracture clinic for a check up. My cast was removed and they asked me to stand on both feet and then switch to just one, the bad one. It was so painful I nearly hit the ceiling! The specialist had deemed my ankle was strong enough not to need a cast. Brilliant! And only after 6 weeks too! They did advise to keep using the crutches for a further 2 weeks but I insisted it wasn’t necessary and left without them. The next day I began Physiotherapy. This was more painful then the break itself! My tendons had healed in a fixed position and therefore needed to be stretched and manipulated back into place. The muscles around the ankle and calve had also deteriorated which needed to be rebuilt. The best way to do this in my mind was to get back to work. So the next day I did just that!
The following week I worked with tears of pain in my eyes. I ignored this because I had to use the joint as naturally as possible. I continued to be strict with myself; setting daily targets and doing all the exercises the physiotherapist had given me. Progress was quick and I was getting stronger with each passing day. Just as well because I was due to move house on the 16th October, only 10 days after my cast had been removed. It was still a daily struggle but I was moving in the right direction. I was back in full control of the business again and the house move was complete. But something was missing? I was keen to keep up the recent momentum so I focused on not just healing back to normal but being stronger then before. My mind switched to the Marathon. I would soon hear if I was successful or not.
I didn’t have to wait long when an email came through one evening from my first choice charity entry, St. John Ambulance. They would give me a place whether I was successful in the ballot or not. I was in! Just the news I had hoped for and something positive to push towards. I would use this to keep focused on my ankle rehab and to put a big tick on my Blog It List. I called them up to accept my race number and explained that I’m currently finding it hard to walk a mile, let alone run 26.2 miles but promised I would raise the required sponsorship and cross that finish line!
This is when the hard work really began, everything before was easy in comparison. I downloaded a training program for beginners but before I could follow the plan I needed to do a little more physiotherapy and ankle strengthening exercises for stability. A few weeks had past and I was given the go ahead to push myself as hard as I wanted. I had regained enough flexibility and strength to try and run. I put on my running shoes and set out for a loop around my new house. In a similar way to going back to work my ankle hurt, a lot. My ankle didn’t respond well to the impact and shock going through it. But I switched off the pain and pressed on regardless. I’d managed a mile. I was very happy with this after all a month ago I couldn’t even walk! I soon noticed that my ankle would swell infringing its flexibility. I was told it could take up to 2 years for this to fully dissipate, in fact as I write this now a year and a half later it still swells when over used.
I built up my fitness slowly, surprising my physiotherapist on each visit with a new and improved Jon each session. I now felt confident enough to start the Marathon training plan. I ordered a Garmin 230 running watch, had my gait checked for some new Brookes running shoes and read as much as I could about nutrition. I knew I could get my fitness back but I most certainly didn’t want to run out of fuel along the way! At about this time my charity running vest arrived. This was really happening! I made steady progress with the plan building up the miles and soon hit the 10-mile marker. My ankle still wasn’t playing ball though. I reverted to using KT Tape and strapped it heavily before a long run for extra support. The swelling would take a while to go so I had to adapt my plan slightly and only do one big run a week. Whilst I was busy training my wife had taken it upon herself to sort out my sponsorship. I had already set up a Virgin giving page and donations were coming in steadily from friends, family and customers. Becci had arranged a dress down day at work, bake sales and raffles! This alone brought in over £1000 in sponsorship. What an amazing women I married! As we had just moved we decided to de-clutter and thought a charity car boot sale was in order. This also added to the total.
It was at this point during the training I felt as though my mental mindset had shifted onto another level surpassing where it was at before I had the accident. This truly was the making of who I am now. I had fallen but refused to stay down! I pressed on with the training, sticking to a strict routine and diet. The 13-mile marker came and went and before I knew it I was at 18-miles. I had now introduced running gels with each run. Nutrition would only take me so far; these give you an extra boost. My ankle was strong and coping with all that I could throw at it. Then the big one came, I can’t tell you how happy it made me walking through the front door after 21.5miles. I had followed the training plan perfectly. Now to start the taper!
The taper also went well and the week before the Marathon I set out for my last training run. It was a short at 10-miles so I decided it was best to test my pace and set off quick to replicate a nervous race day start. Becci came with me that day riding a bike alongside as a pacer but to my surprise she had to keep up with me. This confirmed that all the hard work had paid off! I was feeling great, I was in the best physical shape of my life and the charity sponsorship target had been hit raising just over £1800. Time to rest as the next weekend I was in London running a Marathon!
I had fallen but refused to stay down!
In the week leading to the big day Becci and I travelled to the Virgin London Marathon Expo to collect my race number and timing chip. This helped build the excitement in me. I knew I had put the hours in so all that was left to do was enjoy the race day itself. And being surrounded by others doing the same was reassuring. We travelled down the night before with Becci’s dad and step mum. My brother, his girlfriend and my sister were traveling down on race day. I was flattered they wanted to come and support me. We went for walk to The Mall so I could see the finish line to help visualise crossing it and then to an Italian restaurant to eat plenty of pasta!
The Morning of the 24th April 2016. Race Day! I had slept really well and the morning preparations were much the same as my training runs. Porridge and a banana washed down with a good cup of tea and an electrolyte drink. I strapped my ankle and got dressed as normal but this time wearing my running vest with pride. I was about to run the Virgin London Marathon! Becci and I caught the tube from Kensington where we had stayed to the start at Greenwich Park. I saw plenty of the other runners all going through the same as me, which took away my nerves. We arrived in good time, and then made our way to the Red Start zone, I said my goodbyes and set off to my starting pen. The atmosphere was electric!
The countdown began and the race had started. All the sectioned groups edging forward slowly, its not until you pass the start line that your timing chip is activated. A short distance before the start line Becci now had company, my brother, his girlfriend and my sister had arrived. They all cheered GO JON as I disappeared into the sea of runners. I remember hoping I’d spot them again around the course. I quickly found my pace and stuck to it checking at each half mile. I followed the Marathon marker line on the course for the best route too. The first few miles were fine; I’d always trained by myself so running in a crowd was a new experience. It helps keep pace but you are often cut up by someone, breaking your stride. I had now past 3-miles and the Red start point was merging with the Blue and Green. The extra runners soon thinned out. I had now switched off and was on a mission; it wasn’t until I started seeing significant landmarks that I noticed the crowds lining the streets cheering us all along.
At around 7-miles you reach the Cutty Sark. There were loud cheers, banners and camera booms sweeping across the track. Just as I had seen on TV. After this you have to run for a further 5-miles passing the cheering crowds and picking up refreshments from the multiple Buxton water stations. This is something that you can’t train for either. Most runners would take a quick sip, perhaps splash their face and throw the bottle on the ground. This makes the water stations more like an assault coarse, full of trip hazards. The next landmark was Tower Bridge, you reach a bottle neck and are forced to turn right, it’s at this point you see it. You can’t help but smile running under the arches and over the bridge, it also happens to be the 13-mile marker. I’m halfway through and on target! From miles 13 to 22 there isn’t really much to see as your running through London’s financial district, Canary Wharf. The streets are still lined with supporters not only cheering but also handing out Jellybeans and orange segments to keep us fuelled to the end. Perhaps they knew something I didn’t? I was still focused and making good progress. My pace was constant at this point and I felt comfortable enough to take in more of the atmosphere. I also started reading other runners messages on their vests, like whom they were running for and why? This was very inspiring for me and reminded me of my reasons.
I stopped to use the toilet at 21-miles, maybe a mistake but I was bursting. I struggled to find my rhythm after this and at around 23-miles I hit THE WALL. Sure your body is tired but the wall for me was more of a mental blow. I couldn’t focus on my running strides anymore and all I could think about was how tired I was. I really didn’t enjoy the Marathon at this point but I knew there wasn’t far to go. I would cross that finish line or collapse trying. My pace had slowed now as I was really running on empty. The cheering crowds however help you through this stage, even more so when you see your very own supporters amongst the many faces. I’d spotted Becci, my brother, his girlfriend and my sister all cheering for me! Their excitement lifted me at just the right moment and also reminded me of what I was actually doing; this filled me with pride and brought a tear to my eye.
I was now running down the Embankment, the cheering got louder and louder, drowning out my own thoughts. The landmarks were back in sight too giving me a point of reference. I could see Big Ben and the House of Parliament in the distance. Adrenaline filled my body; a familiar feeling, so I tried picking up the pace. I was completely exhausted so my running pattern had gone and I was hit with stitch after stitch. Great more pain I thought but I’m nearly there so I’m not stopping now! I passed Big Ben and I couldn’t see the finish. Where is it? I pushed on passing Buckingham Palace and turned on to The Mall where I had been the day before. I could see the finish line! I lifted my posture and finished strong taking in all that was around me. I crossed the line and paused my watch. I did it! I actually did it! A bit dazed I was ushered from the finishing line into queues where a medal was placed over my shoulders.
I pushed on passing Buckingham Palace and turned on to The Mall where I had been the day before. I could see the finish line!
In that moment when the medal you have trained so hard to earn is around your neck you are overwhelmed with emotions. This was amplified for me because of the struggle with my broken ankle. Which was hurting now I had stopped. I hobbled over to my agreed meeting point holding back tears of joy and pride. The moment I saw Becci again though they all came out! I had done what was considered impossible by the doctors, and in a time of 4hrs 14mins 43secs. A good time by all accounts. I quickly recovered after the race and followed the advice given to put back all the nutrients I’d lost. We travelled home and that night I went to bed a completely different man. In the morning I woke up and went to work, I was in absolute agony! My muscles and ankle were incredibly sore. I’d only planned to do a few jobs that day as I had somewhere I wanted to visit with my medal. I walked myself back into the fracture clinic hiding my discomfort, with my medal around my neck and showed the staff that had treated me. This time no one laughed, in fact they congratulated me. I thanked them for putting me back together and I left smiling.
Back home my brother could see what it meant to me and decided that moment he was going to apply next year. And it just so happens that my brother and his girlfriend both have places! I’m so happy for them because it taught me an awful lot about myself during the process and I am all the more stronger for it. Something that they will experience for themselves but this time I will be the one cheering in the crowds!
My final thought on running a marathon is anyone can do it. I saw all different shapes, sizes and ages running for different reasons. All you need to do is make a decision, commit to it and you might just end up surprising yourself.