So how was it for you? Part 3 - The 26.2

So how was it for you? Part 3 - The 26.2

So we come to it... All the preparation has been done and I'm feeling physically spot on to take on the challenge. The five of us are in the starting pen (Blue start - wave 7), we're still for a few minutes so take a few photos and the Dream Team do the last of their prep. Steph takes off what can only be described as a fisherman's jumper, she then looks immediately freezing. I on the other hand have enough layers on to successfully lag a 1950's hot water tank, and am also receiving heat from foot warmers and an electronically heated gilet. Seeing the Dream Team shivering away I can't help but feel a bit guilty, and a tiny bit smug.

If this post rambles a bit more than others I apologise, but blame it entirely on the fact that I'm listening to Pink Floyd as I type...

The herd of runners starts to shuffle forwards and we roll towards the start line. There's live music playing and Chrissie shouts "let's do this!" as we steadily roll over the timing sensors on the start line. Steph is at the front and she has five jobs today...
1. Run a marathon
2. Set the pace
3. Regularly visually check that I'm OK
4. Stir up the crowd by continually ringing her cowbell
5. Use said cowbell and her impressive shouting whilst running abilities, to inform any slower runners ahead of us that there is a "WHEELCHAIR BEHIND!"

The first few miles go by, Tom and I do a few comms checks with the Walkie Talkies and they work perfectly, which is reassuring. The roads are generally wide and smooth and I'm settled and enjoying myself.

After the first three miles of the route the runners from the three starts merge together and the course gets a LOT busier. I've noticed that my saliva suppression methods aren't working brilliantly, so I give Tom the call and we stop so I can have some suction. Within what feels like seconds we are approached by a marshall to check that everything is OK. This happens EVERY time we stop and is a testament to the organisers, genuinely phenomenal.

The first landmark on the course comes at around mile six at the Greenwich Observatory, followed by the

Cutty Sark. Initially I'm thinking about Thor: The Dark World (because I'm an incorrigible nerd), then one of many little squeezes on my shoulder from Chrissie pulls me back into the moment. I soak up the atmosphere, reminding myself that what the five of us are doing is genuinely incredible. 

My "Miami" neck support is losing more and more of its sex appeal as the miles tick by. It's not supporting my chin properly so I'm losing air from my mouth. I'm also producing a lot more saliva than planned and have

adopted a "screw it I'll just drool like a French Mastiff" approach (remember the dog from Turner & Hooch?)

Somewhere between mile nine and ten I call for a stop, we sort Miami out, clean me up a bit and liberally apply a waxy Nivea lip balm.

Mile eleven sees us pass the Peter Hills Primary School, who have been such great supporters of my challenges. I also did a Q&A with the children back in September 2023. It's a lovely memory but I can't help but be a little heartbroken at the toll MND has taken on me: I wouldn't be able to answer those questions now.

As we approach the half way point it's time for Tower Bridge. Anyone who has participated in this event will tell you that this is one of, if not the highlight of the route.

Chrissie gives my shoulder another squeeze and we take it in as a team.

The next section is of course where last year's attempt buckled, literally. As we pass the points I remember, the pain of that day is replaced by positivity. I think for the first time I start to think about how it will feel to finish. As my Step-Dad Nick would say: "EXCITED!"

We turn towards Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs which is new for me. The roads are narrower and rougher through this section. As we pass over rougher sections I feel Tom lift the handlebars to lighten the impact of the terrain. It feels exactly like when he would do this to preserve what was left of the chair last year, as we limped back to the finish. I am so full of gratitude to this team, we shared that pain together and today is our chance to make that pain part of a bigger story of success.

My one regret. We pass a pub called 'The Ship' and they are handing out free half pints of beer... I should definitely have stopped and had one through my RIG (feeding tube), I mean I'm wearing a nappy, what's the worst that can happen?!

As we return into Canary Wharf the crowd is insane, the team are whipping them into a frenzy, the cheers reverberate off the high rises and the result is deafening. I mean I like movies in the IMAX and Wish You Were Here is currently turned up to Eleven in my ears, but this was above and beyond.

Neil has been pushing the dog trailer at the rear and helping with stops all the way round, he calls us to a stop to check the ventilator as he's seen a warning light flashing. It's a normal 50% battery indicator which he and Tom clear, and we move on. Seriously, two doctors in the team, I feel so much care around me, what a team.

Mile twenty-one and I call for a final stop. I need some more water which Tom duly puts through the RIG, Neil does some suctioning (Nivea has sorted the slobbering issues), Steph gives my legs a stretch (sitting is challenging too you know).

Chrissie is bouncing around excitedly and full of enthusiasm, showing no outward signs of having run 21 miles, incredible. The guys share Neils Mars Bars and off we roll.

We pass through the very noisy MNDA and Pride cheering sections which are loud, colourful and amazing in equal measure. We're then back on the highway which is the section we walked after our abandonment last year. I take one of those moments I talked about before the start. I think of all the people who have helped me be here and how thankful I am. There's way too many to list here, but you know who you are... Just know you were with me in that moment, and thank you.

At some point after we've rolled past the Tower Of London (live on the BBC no less) and amid the wall of noise of supporters, I hear Chrissie and Tom exchange a few words about the experience. Tom tells Chrissie that he is struggling to hold back tears. For me that was a moment where the emotion of the day manifested itself physically. I feel the gratitude and the pride well up within me and fight back tears, not because those tears aren't valid, but because I know if I start now I'll be drowning in snot by the end.

About two miles from the finish there is an underpass with no crowds and the team decide to take one last stop to prepare for the finish. Tom and I share a moment unlike anything that has passed between us in the almost thirty years we have been step brothers. He's an incredible person and has been a support from day one of my MND journey. He brought games (and even had the nerve to beat me a couple of times) as I sat in my hospital bed in the days after diagnosis, he taught me how to play Catan and we even played it on line during lockdown (told you I was a nerd). After London he's not my Step-Brother anymore, he's my brother.

As we head into the last couple of miles Steph has been shouting "WHEELCHAIR BEHIND!" for over four hours and has now resorted to physically dragging runners out of the way. I can't blame her, a herd of marathon runners at mile twenty-five has the collective IQ of a group of pheasants trying to cross a motorway. Most of them look very grateful to be moved out of the way.

With a mile and a half to go my resistance to the tears fails and I start to cry. Steph turns to check on me and sees the emotion in my face, gives a small smile of recognition and turns away. I suspect she had to, before becoming an emotional wreck herself.

Chrissie continues to be a ball of energy and demand vocal support from the crowd.

She's made the journey feel like it's been my own personal event and I am so grateful to her.

We round the final corner, put the Palace to our backs and head to the finish line. We are united as a team and the 12 year old inside me is about to discover what achieving this ambition means. As we cross the line I am emotionally spent and I'm not alone. We collapse together amongst waves of relief, gratitude, pride and joy. In the most authentic of team efforts... Business Finished.

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Thank you so much for reading.

Sam x

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