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"I didn't stop": how Phoebe Waters ran her first ever marathon in memory of her father

With the 2017 London Marathon safely behind her, #teamICR runner Phoebe Waters — running the marathon in memory of her father who had cancer — has stopped nursing her blisters and found the time to tell us about her phenomenal race day experience.

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Sitting in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow back at the start of March, I ordered a coffee, and a slither of hope in the form of a small piece of paper with a quotation was served alongside it.

Confucius — the Chinese teacher and Philosopher — said, "It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop". Not one previously for mantras or postcard quotes, I was shocked about how much this spoke to me. Having been struggling since the end of January with runner's knee — and a very dodgy patella — I was saddened that my training hadn't gone to plan, despite beginning it in July 2016 when I found out I had the place. It was particularly disheartening because it meant so much to be running for the Institute of Cancer Research, London after we lost my father to cancer almost four years ago. I wanted to run this for him.

On my return from Poland I decided to take a different approach to marathon training and simply do everything that I could do for it, as opposed to what I thought I should be doing (and what the hundreds of sprightly Instagram runners that I followed thought should be done too).

Preparing for a marathon

I did not drink a drop of alcohol from March 9 to after the marathon on April 23 – not totally necessary, but I’m convinced that this helped me on the day. I planned long walks with my boyfriend, and began walking about 8 km home from work the majority of days — even after my night shifts as a Crisis Management Analyst. I swam many lengths instead of beating myself up that I couldn't run far.

I had a physio session with a great Venetian every two weeks to strengthen my knee, hip and ankle. I bought a bright orange foam roller. Slowly, I began to feel like I could run again so I did: 20 minutes at first and then over an hour, building up the mileage slowly, in order to not ruin any progress.

Before the marathon, I had not run further than 10 miles. That was fine right — only another 16.2 miles to add on?!

The fact is, it was fine.

The week before I planned meals meticulously. I printed off a plan for the exercise I would complete and food I would eat until the Sunday morning of the race. I drank cherry juice every day for extra nitrates and wow, did I eat a lot of pasta on Saturday (early I might add for digestion purposes).

My ICR vest was printed with my name on, I had my jelly beans in my little waist pouch ready, and an absolutely outrageous playlist ready on my iPod — 'VLM '17'.  I would do this and I would enjoy it. The truth is the more I told myself and said out loud that I was excited, the less nervous I became, and the more I believed in my own determination. I always kept the cause that I was running in aid of in mind.

The first three miles

And, finally, after basting myself in aloe vera Vaseline, I left for Greenwich.

With the tension building, the smell of deep heat and abandoned banana skins in the air was my first experience of walking up to the Red Start.

The first three miles were great. It's true what they say: the London Marathon is the biggest street party the city has. Little children waited excitedly for the runners to high-five them, and the much older children…well, they drank beers in the early summer sun as we streamed by.

The Cutty Sark was the first landmark we went by, and it was the first time my gorgeous cheerleading team saw me…and I saw them. Eyes stinging from the first large jolt of emotion of the day, I ran past and popped in another jelly bean.

Running over London Bridge was immense, a huge highlight of the marathon. Lined by charities and spectators, we jogged on through as if we were entering an amphitheatre - being cheered on either side with the roars overflowing into the Thames below.

Seeing members of ICR at mile 12 (apparent from the photo captured by the team) put a gigantic smile on my face. In that moment I was even more proud that I could run for a charity that had such a profound meaning to me, along with thousands of other people who have been affected by cancer in some way. I kept on going, another jelly bean in.

Phoebe ran a marathon for us but there are lots of other sporting challenges that we organise that let you support our vital cancer research.

Sports and challenges

Hitting the wall

Between mile 18 and 19 was when it hit me. The dreaded, feared, mythic wall. I had passed my family again but a couple of miles back. The skittles I grabbed like a ravished hyena from them had gone, and I realised I still had so far to go. My willpower kept me going. I told myself I was strong — and I smiled. I smiled because firstly, it tricked my brain into thinking what I was doing was easier than it is. Secondly, it helps with breathing. And thirdly, I was running, still running, and I knew I would finish.

I ran for the next couple of miles with intervals of walking (hobbling maybe?). It was hard but I was still genuinely having a great time. 

I eventually got to mile 23. Everything hurt. I had a monster on the underside of my right foot in the form of a blister, my knees ached, my shoulders were heavy. Then I looked around me (like I had done a number of times during the day) and realised I was one of thousands of people running for something that was profoundly personal and important to them. More jelly beans, (now pretty precious nuggets of sugar — despite the public still handing out sweets around me) and I ran on and off again until mile 25.

It got to just before the Houses of Parliament and I knew I was going to give the last 1.2 miles my absolute all. I gave those metres, those paving stones, everything. I had my daddy in my mind always, the rest of my family, my friends and all of the incredible individuals who had donated for me to run in aid of the ICR. I was absolutely not going to stop once until the finish line. And I didn't.

Final steps

It was tough and those 385 yards until the end (I remember thinking to myself what a ridiculous measurement, I don't even know what that is) drew out like a vacuum of time. I took my ear phones out purposefully in order to absorb until saturation the last shouts of the crowds and I was aware of everyone around me, but I could see nothing but that finish line. I could see the end and it was finally here. I had gone into a very dreamy state and continued to be for the rest of the day.

My younger sister sprinting up to me was one of the best moments of the whole day. I had done the marathon for her too (even though she is very fit herself). Then my mummy, my boyfriend and my sister's boyfriend soon appeared. We had champagne out of pink paper cups — me out of the bottle — and the guys gently prized my pink, swollen feet out of the even pinker trainers. Flip flops were heaven.

Walking out (like I was permanently attached to a pair of skis) of Horse guards parade was amazing. I saw my fantastic group of university friends who had also supported me throughout the race.

It has been [three] days now since I completed the Virgin London Marathon and it is still sinking in. I am really proud of myself for such an amazing achievement, and for running in aid of the ICR.

I entered the race originally, because our father hadn't been able to compete in the very first London Marathon due to an injury (a knee one no less) after retaining a place. We had once talked of running it together but there was no time or opportunity before he was diagnosed. I know he would be pleased that I did not give up on myself. Most important to him would be that I enjoyed it. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey. It has been quite an adventure and an enthralling challenge.

I completed the marathon in six hours and one minute.

As I know now: it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. And I didn't stop.

P.S. For anyone worried about entering due to the potential of chafing — it isn't a given, and I didn't get it once.


Applications for the ICR 2018 London Marathon team are now open. If Phoebe can do it we bet you can too!

Apply for 2018 London Marathon


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