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On my second week of being an intern at Leukaemia CARE, I was asked if I wanted to spend a week in London in preparation for the London Marathon, the charity’s biggest fundraising event. The week would involve setting up and helping out on LC’s exhibition stand at The ExCeL Exhibition Centre and then come Sunday, watching and cheering on our charity runners from the Grand Stand at the finish line of the marathon. I spent no time processing the incredible opportunity that I had just been offered and agreed faster than I could get the words out of my mouth.
At this point it was still September and April seemed like such a long way off. But before we knew it, December was upon us and I (and the rest of the fundraising team) were packing up and posting out over 120 vests for our runners as a Christmas present.
The following few months flew by. Suddenly it was the 8th April and we were ready to leave the LC office behind for a week as we headed off to London. I had been to London a number of times, but had never had the opportunity to see the O2 or the ExCeL before. Members of the team who had previously worked at the marathon had told me about their experience but I still had no idea what to expect. After a few hours of being stuck in traffic in central London, we finally arrived at the ExCeL ready to unload the car and set up our stand. As soon as we walked inside the I realised I had perhaps been a little naïve as to the sheer size it. Yes I knew that the marathon was one of, if not the biggest, of its kind, but I had no idea just how many people would be in attendance at the pre-marathon exhibition. I hadn’t realised that all of the marathon runners had to collect their numbers by hand from the expo and that from Wednesday through to Saturday; more than 75,000 people would be visiting.
The first few days on the stand were long and very quiet - being mid-week and many people at work, visitors to our stand were few and far between. We would be on our feet from 9am until 9pm. When we weren’t busy we did manage to spot a few celebrities wandering around, from the likes of TV personalities Jenny Faulkner and Amy Willerton to footballer Michael Owen and celebrity chef Michel Roux JR and even a few famous Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
By the time Saturday rolled around, two more members of LC staff came to join us on the stand and we barely had a quiet moment. Our charity runners were popping over to see us on the stand every few minutes. It was truly fascinating to ask the how they were feeling about the big race day – how they were preparing themselves, how much training they had done and what time they were hoping to achieve. But most of all it was lovely to hear their stories about why they were taking part in the marathon and why they had chosen to run for us. We heard stories of people doing it in memory of others or for a close friend or relative who had recently been diagnosed with a blood cancer. We even had runners who had battled blood cancer themselves. Every single story we heard was inspirational and truly heart warming and enough to make you want to run the marathon yourself!
Sunday dawned and race day was upon us, we left our accommodation bleary eyed at 6:30am – early enough to avoid congestion and to get everything set up before the crowds of onlookers took their places around the marathon course. By 10am we had made our way to the Grand Stand to set up camp for the remainder of the day and I can honestly say it exceeded every expectation I had. We were sat among a whole host of different charities; the atmosphere in the stand was incredible. Everyone was waiting for the big moment when Mo Farah was going to cross that finish line and make the whole of the UK proud. He didn’t disappoint – the applause and cheers from everyone watching was electrifying.
It wasn’t long until our runners began to pass us, every single one of them had a sheer look of grit and determination in their eyes, they were so close to the finish line, they had done it, they had achieved something so great and had made so many people proud. Me and the rest of the LC team couldn’t have been more thrilled for every LC runner that we saw, we clapped, waved and shouting as much encouragement as we could.
As exhilarating as the whole experience was, it was also one of the most emotional days of my life. We occasionally saw runners who were literally seconds from the finish line but just couldn’t manage it alone; some fell, some stumbled and some even crawled their way towards the end. The most heart-warming thing of all, was seeing other runners go out of their way to help those who so clearly needed it, to make sure they finished and were given the medal they so rightly deserved.
I will never forget that week in London. I had often sat and watched the marathon from the comfort of my sofa and I’d always thought how amazing these people were, putting in hours and hours of training and doing something that not many of us would even dream of doing. I can honestly say, that being there and seeing it so close in all its glory has been a life-changing experience. My week at the marathon will be something that I endeavour to tell people about for many more years to come.
For those of you running the 2015 London Marathon I wish you the best of luck. I’m so very sad that I won’t be there to experience it with you but I sincerely hope you enjoy every minute of it – from your training to your fundraising to making it to the big day!