After 8 months of planning and hundreds of miles of training, it was time for us to actually run this thing.
The forecast looked bleak: a 90% chance of steady rain, cold temperatures and a brisk wind. Tough conditions for both runners and spectators. However, by that morning, the chances of rain had faded, and the wind and temperatures were manageable. Mom was looking out for us.
We left extra early to get to the start in Greenwich. I kept thinking about Terri Denning, my friend and running mentor. When she’d run London, her train had broken down, and she’d ultimately had to sprint to the start line. Happily, our travel was uneventful. We met several other runners, many of whom had inspiring stories about why they had chosen to run London.
After a longish wait at the start, Watt and I were ready to hit the road.
35 minutes after the starting gun, we finally crossed the start line and started ticking off the miles. Virtually every runner on the course seemed to be running for charity, which added to the energy in the crowd. We were both charmed and amazed to see the number of runners in ‘fancy dress.’ Many runners chose costumes to illustrate their cause, such as Rhino conservation.
Others were courting Guinness World Records, such as the Ostrich going for the “Fastest Marathon Run as a Three-Dimensional Bird.” (He did it in 5:50:08)
We tried to give the fancy dress runners a wide berth. No one cheers for you when you are running next to a superhero or giant teddy bear. However, those costumes were hard to get around, and we spent the first half of the race trying to escape a woman dressed as an Orca.
Our initial pace was pretty reasonable: slightly fast for me, a little slow for Watt. We weren’t sure if our injuries would give us trouble, so we constantly checked in with each other and then just kept going. At Mile 8, we found our first Merrie Miles cheering section, and we couldn’t have been more excited.
We had picked up our speed along the way, and I was beginning to wonder about the back half of the race. Yet I knew we had an iconic moment ahead: the Tower Bridge at Mile 12.
Packed on either side with thousands of supporters, Tower Bridge was a tunnel of sound. It also offered our first views of some of London’s most historic sites.
We then turned east and were cheered by a Parkinson’s UK group before heading onto the recently gentrified Isle of Dogs. What was once all warehouses and low-income housing is now filled with gastropubs and young professionals.
Our Merrie Miles supporters missed us by moments at Mile 11, so we kept our heads down. At around Mile 16, we were elated to spot them.
In addition to Dad, Sam, Katie, Susanna, Renaat and Charlie, we were cheered by Watt’s amazing friend, Rita. Their spectacular shirts and signs set them apart from the rest of the mildly horrified London crowd, which apparently doesn’t gravitate toward matching t-shirts. They certainly don’t scream as loudly as former cheerleaders like Susanna.
Additionally, I was ecstatic that my dear friend Elaine and her children met us at 3 spots. While they left Minneapolis 10 years ago, it feels as though no time has passed whenever we get back together.
Starting at mile 18, the race started to get tough. My trainer, Luis, had said that Watt and I would lift each other up during the difficult moments, and that’s exactly what happened. Around mile 19, I started to feel ill. While I’d been careful about my fueling, I still was overcome with nausea. Watt slowed with me, and after a few hundred yards of walking, I was able to start running again.
After another mile, I started to pick up speed as I became determined to finish. Meanwhile, Watt was slowing. Determined to stay together, we adjusted our pace and kept on a steady trot. At Mile 23, our final Merrie Miles cheering site, we were ready for the final push.
The final miles of the race are the most spectacular. Running along the Victoria Embankment and passing the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace, you’re in the London of your dreams. We both felt terrible, so the scenery was a welcome distraction. As we ran the final mile, we talked about Mom, and I celebrated my imminent retirement from marathons.
Making the final turn, we recalled the story of the first London Marathon in 1981. At that race, Inge Simonson, a Norwegian, and Dick Bearsley, a Minnesotan, led the race in virtual lockstep for all 26.2 miles. As they approached the finish, they spontaneously grasped hands and crossed the line together.
We were thrilled to continue the tradition. In the pictures, I can see the excitement, relief, love, joy and pride in our faces as we finished, hand-in-hand.
After the race, we were congratulated by Watt’s wonderful friends Linda and Bert, who helped us try to find the rest of our cheer squad. I wasn’t feeling well, so the three of them left me to recover on a curb while they chased down the family. Shortly after, I was rallying, and we were finally reunited with our extraordinary team. As Dad said later, “It was a mountaintop experience.”
While only two of us ran the marathon, it was a hand-in-hand endeavor in so many ways. Susanna, Sam, Katie, Dad, Renaat, and our kids were a critical part of Team Merrie Miles throughout. Without their unwavering support, Watt and I could not have trained, let alone run the race or raised so much for Team Fox.
Also hand-in-hand with us were the 215 supporters who encouraged us throughout our training and collectively contributed $51,350 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. It is an unbelievable sum– close to $2,000 for every mile that we ran. Even better, it will be matched, so the final total will be north of $100,000–Merrie Miles’ first six figure fundraiser for Team Fox.
Mom would be overwhelmed and deeply touched to know that we’ve collectively done this in her memory, and she’d be so pleased that the funds are going to help find a cure for Parkinson’s. We are all so grateful as a family to everyone for the many ways they provided critical support. Once again, thank you.
To learn more, check out our fundraising page