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Iconic sights, Royal visits and a journey that was so much further than 26.2 miles...

By Chris Wood, 02 May 2017 – 0 comment

Justine Carruthers, CEO of Traybakes Ltd, ran the London Marathon 2017 for Carlisle Eden Mind as part of team Heads Together. This is her story...

When my good friend and fellow trail runner Juliet Grey asked me to do the London Marathon with her, it really should have been a no brainer. We were to be as part of a team of local people hoping to raise £10,000 collectively to provide much needed funding for Carlisle Eden Mind Suicide Prevention.

I have always loved distance running and have run for pleasure and competitively on and off, pretty much all my life. However, I was faced with a dilemma.

My dilemma was twofold. Firstly, I have tried to avoid running on roads for nearly 20 years as I have suffered injury from the concussion of road running and I much prefer the environment of running off road. Secondly, and most importantly, I have suffered all my life from anxiety and panic attacks. Running has become one of the main tools in my toolbox for coping with anxiety, but I have a fear of crowded places.

Juliet Grey is the Suicide Prevention Officer for Carlisle Eden Mind and the training she delivers is invaluable in our county. On average one person a week is lost to suicide in Cumbria. That coupled with the fact that Mind were a charity partner of Heads Together, this years’ London Marathon’s charity of the year, I felt I had to accept and face my very own mental health challenges Head On!

The morning of the marathon, we set off at 7am to make our way to the start line and make the most of our VIP invitation to the Heads Together marquee. Situated very conveniently right behind the start, it was clear on arrival that this was indeed a very special area, as we needed to convince a number of burly security guards that we had been formally invited. On entering, we were greeted by a television crew and lots of excited fellow Heads Together runners. I asked a guy standing next to me if he had run a marathon before and he said he had, but never one quite like this. I took that to mean he had never ran London before, but it turns out he was the trainer for the runners on the Mind Over Marathon television documentary!

We were greeted next by a flush of police officers and sniffer dogs sweeping the area and a fellow runner whispered to me that we were getting some important visitors… Shortly after, Princes William and Harry arrived to greet all the Heads Together runners and wish us all luck. We were then escorted to the start line and set off directly behind the elite men. I was not expecting this; my running number was 14,530 and I fully expected to be right at the back with the fancy dress runners and blimey it was a much faster start than I had planned.

The London Marathon is an amazing experience, but it is an assault on your senses. The first thing that struck me was the incredible drumming of feet pounding the road. I can only imagine that it must be rather like running into battle, every runner charged with emotion and high energy, nobody speaking just a loud drumming of feet. It eventually became quite meditative but initially it made me feel quite anxious.

I had hoped to settle into a steady pace in the first few miles, but this proved to be a little naïve. We were carried along by the crowd with fast runners coming behind us snapping at our heels, but the energy and atmosphere was sensational. Juliet and I ran along with huge grins on our faces. The crowds were amazing - I had been told about people shouting your name and encouraging you, but I was not at all prepared for the passion and enthusiasm of total strangers shouting out your name on your vest, genuinely wishing you well. It was incredibly moving and I found myself feeling very emotional.

The marathon is a great marketing opportunity for brand association, with drinks companies eager to supply the marathon. Water and energy drinks stations are available every few miles which is marvellous, but they are an obstacle in themselves! You need to have the skill of a relay team sprinter to negotiate the crowds and grab your bottle like a baton from the wonderful people handing them to you at the stations. You then need to move quickly out of the way for fear of running into the back of another thirsty runner and avoid the hydrated runners who are running past the station. You also need to avoid the ‘in flight’ bottles that are being discarded and try not to trip over the ones under your feet. I think the bottle collectors deserve a medal never mind the runners!

I was shocked also by the sheer waste of water and Lucozade drinks. Most runners only take a few sips out of each full-sized bottle, to then discard it at the side of the road. The road where the Lucozade is being distributed reminded me of a 1980’s disco - your pace suddenly slowing as your feet stick to the road. I was also not prepared to be completely willing to take sweets from total strangers, not having the slightest clue what I had accepted and shoving it in my mouth in the hope it would magically make my legs run faster!

The highlight for me was running with my lovely friend Juliet across the iconic Tower Bridge and Prince William high-fiving the Heads Together runners on the side of the road about 5 miles in. The crowds are truly amazing and you really do feel as though the whole of London is right behind you, a truly carnival atmosphere.

I found the last 6 miles quite tough going as my legs grew heavier and I felt emotionally and physically tired. Juliet just seemed to get stronger in her legs at this point as she looked totally energised by the atmosphere. It just goes to show that everybody’s marathon journey is different.

I feel very privileged to have been given a place in the 2017 London Marathon, representing the Heads Together Charity. I am incredibly grateful to all the wonderful friends, family, associates and total strangers who donated to our fundraising for Suicide Prevention Training and to Caroline Robinson of Carlisle Eden Mind who worked tirelessly to help us with our fund raising and supporting us every step of the way.

I feel that there has never been a better time to tackle the stigma around Mental Health and make for a more open conversation, really hope we can keep the momentum going.

- Justine

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