Grab everything you can
The medal. The glorious, hard-fought medal is handed to me. I thanked the helper, and kiss its metal surface hard. If I die now, this is coming with me. I stumble towards a small stage and get an official photo taken. Not particularly photogenic at the best of times let alone physically wrecked, I just hope it captures the moment. I thrust my hand forward and grab a silver blanket wrap. After missing out on one in London, I may well have killed to get my hands on one this time. Shifting slowly forward, I remember my friend, and move to the side. Within seconds, I see Steve plod through. I shake his hand and give him a half hug. No elation, just exhaustion. I begin to feel my chest tighten again, and I say to keep an eye on ourselves, just in case. I down some more Gatorade and chew on a horrid bagel. The other various snacks taste wonderful though. For the first time in six hours, I take a leak at one of the portaloos. Barely able to stand, I wonder how on earth not only my stomach held out but also my bladder, given the tremendous amounts of liquid and energy supplements consumed within the last few hours.
We move towards the baggage reclaim; I’m desperate to put on something dry and warm as the temperature begins to fall. A kind helper zips off and comes back with my bag, and I find a seat. My calves love the seat so much it’s unreal. I look towards Steve and see him almost catatonic. He talks to a few friends but he’s not really home. I try to take a photo of him with his medal but he doesn’t want to know, such is his state. I get him to take one of me anyway, even though I know I must look a mess. I put on as many layers as I have and a hat, and then I’m ready to go.
The bridge of sadism
The crowd of runners and supporters thread their way through from the baggage area to the exit. We get directed forward and told to cross the iron bridge that runs over the finished runners. I look up in disbelief. I have no muscles to traverse this bridge. The ones that you need to step up and then step down the other side are simply no longer working. The most stupidest post-race design decision in the history of sport was there looming above us. Cursing the whole way, taking ages and most of my remaining effort, I somehow cross it to the other side.
We slowly limp back down alongside Central Park to our meet up point. Seeing every day folk pass by I feel a sense of being special, but really I just want to be home. Finally, we make it inside a building to familiar faces and warmth.
A short break after meeting a few other finishers, taking a some photos and generally collapsing. We need to get a train back, so we limp along to the station. We see a hot dog vendor along the way and decide to stop. It’s a typical New York hot dog stand on a street corner, of the type I haven’t touched for years. Right now, it seems like a mini gourmet restaurant. Steve’s dad buys a round and we tuck in. Mmmm feels good.
The unkindness of strangers
Scientists should really get their act together and invent a teleportation device soon, I decide. The journey back home takes a detour via Hell – a place full of stairs, crowds and not a spare seat in sight. My calves are cramped beyond belief, I’m switching between boiling and cold wrapped up in my fleece, flag and foil, and clinging on to my marathon bag with what energy I have left. We negotiate countless flights of stairs which promise – and deliver – pain with every step. I try forwards, sideways, leaning on the rails, slowly, quicker but it all ends in hurt and a hint of embarrassment at my lack of mobility. Suddenly, I am at one with pensioners. I make a mental note to be more patient the next time I’m stuck behind a slow-mover. We get on a tube train but then have to exit when its driver loudly announces its new destination. Trains come and go but not the right one. I begin to lose the will to live. Drop me here and pick me up in the morning! Finally, our ride appears and my calves excitedly get ready for the relief this will bring. To their and my horror, this vision may not come true as the carriage rolls up near-full. With my mate, his wife, their son, the grandad and a buggy, there is standing room only. I cling to a pole as the train judders forward, sending a shooting pain down one calf. Twenty six miles and then this. I look around at the faces of those seated, praying that they will give up their seat. We’re the only ones dressed in marathon foil, pain etched on our faces – surely someone will have mercy? No-one returns my stare, they just carry on looking into space, pretending to doze or listening to their music. Their ignorance, my pain.
I don’t want to know but I ask Steve how long we’ve got to go on this train. His answer of “A while” kills a part of me inside. My sweaty hands slip down the pole as I lurch from one agony to another.
The rest is a daze. I jump into conflict with Steve’s dad over Paula Radcliffe. Right now you don’t want to argue with me. Reluctantly, he backs down. Soon we’re back and the mother of all showers gets closer.
Keeping old promises
After changing, and severely limping like two war veterans, we somehow make our way from the car to the restaurant. Grateful for the seat, I pick up the menu and remember the promise I made myself many months ago. I order the beer and burger I’d dreamed about for so long, and capture the moment to keep. The wait was long, but in success it was as sweet as I had dreamed about it on those long painful training runs. We continue to share our stories with Krista and it seems like this will be our sole topic forever. The buzz of pride and accomplishment lasts long into the evening and eventually filters into my dreams as I settle down, absolutely contented.