by Lisa Ashworth, recipient of the 2019 Club Entry

Come the night of the Dolly Christmas Dinner, there were nine ladies who were ready to take on the challenge of the London Marathon 2019, and it was my name that was drawn. I was still eating my dessert, and for me, everything went still. Did I swear when Kim read my name? Yes! What had I let myself in for? I’d only been running a little over 2 years, and I had only run one half marathon (and that had been at short notice). The rest of the evening felt a bit strange, people saying I was going to do a great job, and the person who selected my name even came and apologised! But it just showed how the runners and non-runners viewed the London Marathon.

Training started 1 January and, other than getting up at 5.45 to get a run in before the kids woke up, generally I was enjoying the training. I was lucky, I didn’t have the Beast from the East (part 1, 2 or 3) like last year, and only had a few days when I had to abandon an interval session due to ice. As the miles increased it really began to hit home what I was going to take on. As a Londoner I had watched the Marathon many times. At times I felt tearful when I thought about it, though funnily whilst running I speed up. Thankfully as the race drew nearer, I had a few niggles but generally I was in good shape and felt calm about the whole thing, and when asked about the Marathon I just smiled like the Cheshire Cat. I was going to run the London Marathon.

Come Marathon day it was an early chilly start, walking to the tube station these words popped in my head “As I wear my number with Pride, Stride by Stride, I pound the London Streets”. It was true, I did feel proud and very privileged to be running, I knew I had done all that I could and had a whole Pink Army tracking me every step of the way–no matter what happened they would either congratulate me, or help me lick my wounds if things didn’t turn out just as I’d hoped. Not only had I bumped into Claire Abel on the way to pick up my number, but she found me in the Blue Start area. She may never fully appreciate how calming it was to see a familiar and friendly face on a cold Blackheath.

At 10.47 I finally crossed the start line; this was it I was running the Virgin London Marathon 2019. The next 26.2 miles were a bit of a blur. People were already lining the streets, London had a Carnival atmosphere, there were people with their own sound systems playing music and singing, pubs had music, numerous drumming bands, one under a bridge where the noise just reverberated, Brass Bands, Silver Bands, Pipers and the list goes on, there were very few points around the 26 miles where no-one was watching. It wasn’t long before I started to recognise landmarks, Woolwich, Cutty Sark which took my breath away, I simply wasn’t expecting it as I turned the corner. Spotting my parents in the crowd was a great boost, and one of the few points when I nearly cried. Tower Bridge, that iconic shot, as you come down over the bridge is when you start to get a sense of how many people are running, before that you can only see those immediately around you, but now you can see a carpet of people before you. Canary Wharf, miles 16-18 where I’d struggled in training went well, I was still thanking the crowd who were calling out my name. At some point near the City, there weren’t many runners around me, and I remember just putting my arms in the air, I was running the marathon and I was feeling good. All of a sudden, I was at mile 18 with the specially designed Stephen Lawrence Memorial Mile Marker, mile 18 how did I get here? Then mile 20, this was the point where everyone had said, this is where the run starts-the first part of running a marathon is getting to the 20-milepoint and then it gets interesting. I’m feeling ok, I don’t feel overly tired, I know if all goes well it would be about an hour to the finish line. During those last 6 miles you pass the iconic landmarks:the Tower of London, the noise going through the tunnels by the Embankment was deafening, it was just a mass of noise, the London Eye, the Palace of Westminster – all those landmarks that you think about and I’m running past them. Just as I’m about to turn onto Bridge Street I heard my Mum and Dad call, they had managed to get by the 25 mile marker, I turn, nearly knocking over three people as I do, I want to go over again but this time I know I can’t stop, getting started again would be difficult, what a difference those last five miles have made to my legs. But its just over a mile from the finish, and as miles go it was a long one! On Bird Cage Walk I see the sign that says 800m to go, I know I can do this, 600m to go, that’s about 600 running steps, I can do this. My watch chimes out-I’ve run 26.2 miles the marathon distance I’d entered in my watch, but my Marathon isn’t over. I pass two runners helping a third,their arms linked under his arms lifting him to keep his legs going, they probably don’t know him, but they are helping someone else to finish. Buckingham Palace, Victoria Memorial, then the Finish Line is in sight,and I pass a second pair helping someone to cross the line, he is in a far worse state his legs are barely moving, yet still the other runners are keeping him moving. For me it’s nearly over, my first marathon experience is near its end. And then I cross the finish line, and I feel…I don’t really feel anything until a lovely marshal gives me my finishers medal, and I take a selfie, I don’t usually take selfies, I’m sweaty and not looking my best but I take a selfie, and call my husband. He had been through the highs and the lows when I doubted I could do this, and joined me on one of the ‘long runs’, I want to talk to him and the kids, he had spotted me running over Tower Bridge on the TV. 475miles or 84 hours of training came down to 4:36:15, but the time doesn’t really matter I’ve finished my First Marathon, the London Marathon. My phone goes crazy with all the messages that I’ve received throughout the day. It all seems surreal, its over but I want the experience to continue, I walk to the lorry where my kit bag has been transported from the windy Blackheath of that morning, which seems an age ago. I stop and have a lovely chat with the marshal, just stalling the moment when I’ll exit the finishing area. I stop, to put a jumper on, as I do I spot a woman with blood stained socks, but she can’t bend down to take them off, I help – this is when I realise I can hardly bend down, but between us we manage. But this is what you do, just like those runners helping others to cross the finish line, you help a fellow runner, you have a shared experience, and for me an experience that will last a lifetime. During those last few miles I knew that my time running the Marathon was ending, but what I didn’t realise that even now I still feel emotional, there are certain songs I can’t listen to without getting goose bumps. I can honestly say I had a truly amazing experience, and when asked ‘Would I do it again?’ My reply ‘In a heartbeat’ Did I enter the ballot for the 40th London Marathon in 2020? Of course I did. Did I get in? No, but that probably makes the experience even more special; knowing that not everyone who wants to can.

And this year its Vanessa’s chance to embrace the experience, and I know she will, and do the Dolly’s proud. Good Luck to everyone who is fortunate to run it in 2020, it is an amazing experience, and one that will last a lifetime.

Lisa Ashworth, London, 2019