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Training for the London Marathon helped Gail 'feel' again

After the death of one of her closest friends, Gail Deayton decided to run the London Marathon to help her cope with her grief. Here she shares her Marathon journey.

Gail Deayton, London Marathon 2017

“If you'd told me two years ago that I was going to run a marathon, I would have howled with laughter. It was never in my game plan or on my 'bucket list'.  

“Sadly in August 2016, one of my closest friends, Darren, died of cancer. He was my brother, or at least as good as. I flew back home and he died an hour after I landed. 

“When I got back to Hong Kong after the funeral I was not coping well. This went on for a while until I realised that it had to stop and I needed to sort my head out. I needed something to give me  focus and help me feel again.

“A marathon was the only thing I could think of that was big enough to absorb everything that I was feeling. I announced to my family that night that I was going to run the London Marathon.

“I contacted a few different cancer charities. For some reason when applying for the ICR my form didn't upload properly, so I called the head office. I was lucky enough to speak to Heather (Supporter Events Manager) and it was this phone call that started our friendship and a series of emails. It was late October, so in terms of the marathon (held in April), really late in the day.

“At first, I didn't make it into the team, but luckily for me in November a spot became available and I started training.”

I am not a runner… if you’re not running after a ball I struggle to see the point

“I'm telling you all this to show you that my journey wasn't easy and even though I am sporty, I am definitely NOT 'a runner', and I certainly don't look like one. I play lots of hockey and squash, but I hate running – like, really hate it!

“If you're not running after a ball then I struggle to see the point. However I am also incredibly stubborn, and all it took was a couple of surprised people (with an undercurrent of "you're doing a marathon???") and I was good to go mentally. It was my body and fitness that was years behind.

“When I started I couldn't even (without a hockey stick) run more than 300 meters. I would be so bored, and any twinges I had became tidal waves of pain (all mental of course) – but I persevered. I’d run 300m then walk 200m; the next day I’d run 350m and walk 170m,and that's how I continued.

“At first I was crazily running every day and not giving my body a rest – in the end I pulled my Achilles. That forced me to stop and take stock of what I was doing. For the next six weeks I concentrated on spinning – some days I would plug into Netflix and spin for over two hours. I figured that it was good fitness,much less pressure on my Achilles, and was training my body into doing something for long periods of time.”

The whole process was very emotional… a release

“Some days were easier than others, but I never leapt out of bed ready to start the miles. I started with 5km runs and slowly built up. My longest was 34kms, slow and steady, but I didn't stop, I was consistent. The whole process was very emotional. I cried constantly, which was a release, after all that's why I wanted to do it in the first place.

“When it got hard, I was boosted by the support of my family and friends. People were sending me messages all the time, it was incredible! In addition, my JustGiving page grew and grew. Donations were coming in thick and fast, sometimes from people I'd never met.

“Another friend of mine, Ben, was running for Parkinson's UK for his dad. The four of us (us and our spouses) organised a big quiz night – so many people very kindly donated prizes and we had almost 120 people come. It was a great night, which was a huge boost. We raised £2,000, which Ben and I split between our causes.”

The kindness and positivity was overwhelming

“We flew back to the UK a week before the marathon. We took the kids to the museums and theatre. Watching all the barriers go up for the race was surreal.

“The morning we went to pick up my number from the Expo was a bolt of lightning. I suddenly realised the enormity of what I was doing and I bawled! I continued to howl as I picked up my number, went through the turnstile and activated my chip, and still as I bought my girls T-shirts.

“The kindness and positivity was overwhelming. I found the Expo incredible. I can't explain the buzz that was there – prepare to spend  more time there than you think. As well as all the stands, there were experienced runners, course specialists, games and challenges.  

“The best thing for me was the keynote speakers on centre stage. Martin Yelling was incredible; although he was 'a runner' (at this point, in my mind, everyone was categorised into being a ‘runner’ or ‘not a runner’), his level of belief was amazing. He made me know that I could do it; his advice, enthusiasm and confidence was a gift – I actually felt like he was talking directly to me.”

It was the most inspirational thing that I’ve ever experienced

“It was the first time I really understood that the vast majority of the participants were like me, they weren't runners, they were fundraisers all running for different reasons and causes. Everyone was raising money and we were all there for each other.

“Hearing some of the stories from others, I couldn't understand how some were getting out of bed, let alone undertaking the training that they had; it was the most inspirational thing that I've ever experienced. For me that morning was crucial for my own self-belief.   

“TfL put on free transport for all runners. Once again, the level of organisation and the slickness of the operations was incredible. The atmosphere at Cannon Street station was electric, the vast majority of runners were like me, in an excited petrified state.

“My phone was constantly buzzing with good will messages, there was music and people were singing. Bumping into Ben and his wife Kat was a highlight, the three of us screaming and jumping up and down, we would've looked ridiculous in any other situation. We hung out until we had to go to different pens and wait for the bell.”

I’ve never experienced or witnessed the breadth of humanity like it

“When it did finally go, I started jogging at the exact pace that I'd trained at. I thought ‘I'll walk when I need to’ but I never needed to. I ran the whole way and didn't stop once, finishing in 5 hours and 53 minute.

“For sure my training had put me in a good place, but I'm sure  it was the crowd that made all the difference and spurred me on, especially through the hard times. Media said there were 1.5 million people on the streets watching.

“Along the course there were rock bands, jazz bands, steel-bands, brass-bands, bagpipes, and DJs from start to finish. People were calling out your name, high-fiving you, offering you food, drink, at one point a toilet stop in someone's home!Anything that you needed there were umpteen people ready to help you.  

“I’ve never experienced or witnessed the breadth of humanity like it. It's only the runners that get to fully experience that, spectators don't, not in its entirety. Along the way all my family and friends were there. My children were loving every minute, and finally understood what I'd been training to do. For them the experience was amazing, for me having them there made all the difference.

“I feel utterly humbled to have been given a place and experience London in that context. From the moment I got a place to the moment I finished, the process was inspiring, slick and superbly organised. I have tried to think of a single element that could be improved – and I just can't.

“The amount of volunteers, the positivity, the crowds showing us how much humanity is around. One day, if I don't run it again, I would certainly love to volunteer and give something back. I am the biggest advocate now, encouraging everyone to do it and I thank Heather and the Institute of Cancer Research for giving me the opportunity and the place.

“A marathon is a huge commitment, I didn't realise how much. It impacted not only me, but my family. Luckily I have a great husband, who really supported me and took up the slack with our girls. I was either training or recovering – I wasn't spending much time with anyone. In the end it was totally worth it. If I can do it, anyone can. You can do it!”


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