My Marathon Journey – SM Russo

“Mamma told me not to waste my time – she said spread your wings my little butterfly! “My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get!” This is sort of what I say to my daughter as well and hopefully she is very proud of her Momma and despite my injury on the actual day.

Reflecting back on the day – well it has been an amazing, emotional and unforgettable journey from when I first applied in June 2018 to the actual day. I am so grateful to Jesuit Missions for giving me the place and for being part of their Team for 2019 – my only regret is that I suffered an injury just over half way and had to continue with the injury only to complete in 6hrs 4mins 16 seconds. Life is a journey, it is the people you meet, and the places you visit as part of the journey that make it so special and some memories never fade.

I have been training for the moment since September and when the day came I was so very nervous but equally excited to be part of this iconic race. I woke at 6am on the day as we travelled as a team from Wimbledon to Waterloo station and this again was an experience – the sheer volume of runners on the station and then at Blackheath where we got off to make our way to the starting area.

There was a buzz in the air and everyone was looking at each other to see what they were doing, eating or not etc as we were waiting around from 7.30am until 10.58am, for me as I was in the Red Zone, before starting the race. It was freezing but the atmosphere and support from other runners was amazing. The organisation of the event is as you would hope out of this World. The marshalls and volunteers are all geared up to help you and in a sense treat you like a star – you are running the London Marathon! I can remember being even more nervous as I left my race bag with my belongings on the allocated security van thinking this is the point of no return. We had pictures taken with the Wombles – the Jesuit Missions’ mascots for the Marathon and at different points we had to say goodbye and good luck to team members as they set off to their starting points which are linked to your estimated time. I had estimated 5.30hrs so was in the Red Zone along with I think 3 other JM runners. It was difficult to know if you should eat or drink whilst waiting – should I have one of my gels or wait. The characters you see in fancy dress are amazing – during the race I took over Jesus and Shrek about two times and they took over me at some point too. The Lady in Pink was my favourite!

The crowds are so supportive – they shout your name out and offer free sausage rolls! I declined the sausage rolls not wishing to be sick. They offer sweets and jelly babies and a lot have put on music and there is an exciting carnival atmosphere.

You are never alone at any point throughout the race apart from a tunnel which was more like an under passage but I can’t remember exactly where this was. I can remember passing the Cutty Sark and thinking mile 6 and then approaching Tower Bridge and this is when I became very emotional and staring crying – don’t know why I just did! Unfortunately it was not long after this at halfway point that my injury kicked in. I couldn’t believe it – all the training and following a strict diet and lifestyle and being injury free even after completing 24 miles in 4hrs 40 – I had to suffer an injury during the actual race. In short my left leg became swollen to such an extent that I couldn’t put any weight on it and did stop as those who were tracking me would remember! I had to stop to take off my knee support which was causing more pain due to my leg being swollen – thinking back I should have put it on my arm as it was very expensive but all I could think of was to get back into the race.

I continued to do as much as I could limping and trying to run but in the end the pain was so intense I couldn’t continue to run and had to speed walk the rest of the race – if you know me and have walked with me you will know how fast I walk! I did consider withdrawing but then I thought of the charity work I was supporting, Fr Victor Luke SJ who was murdered and I was carrying a photo of Dominic McLoughlin, the grandson of one of St Wilfrid’s parishioners who tragically drowned in one of Gtr Manchester’s reservoirs last June, I looked down at Dominic and I told him that we were going to cross the finish line together and we did and I hope his grandad and family will be very proud of him because he and Fr Victor got me to the finish line – they lost their lives – I only had an dodgy leg so get on with it woman!

People are asking do you remember this landmark etc and to be honest partly due to the pain but also the atmosphere I was in a daze for most of it. I do remember getting excited when I saw the London Eye and Big Ben behind the scaffolding – and then the 800 metres, 600 metres markers and then Pall Mall and the finish line in sight. Thank God for this! I had hoped to sprint across the finish line like a true athlete instead of the walking wounded but I did cross it, I got the t-shirt and the medal and millions of memories that I will treasure forever. It is personal now though and I have entered the Ballot for next year 2020 which marks the 40th year of the London Marathon – I hope and pray that I do get a place because I do want to sprint across the finish line!

And finally…. Once finished I had to make my way to Mount St to the Jesuit Missions Provincial Offices where food, support and a sports massage was awaiting me. The only problem was my leg which was so painful and I couldn’t find Mount St even though I have been before and had a map – so some funny anecdotes happened such as appearing to be drunk leaning against shop windows and lamp posts in Mayfair due to nearly passing out with the pain and lack of nourishment! Certainly not alcohol – I had been dry for a month prior to the race! I had to ask an American tourist to open my bag of crisps from my recovery pack because my hands were that cold and stiff I couldn’t open them myself. I must remember to mention the lovely doorman at Claridge’s who took pity on me and gave me the directions to Mount St where eventually totally worn out and emotionally drained I arrived.

Jesuit Missions Volunteers and Staff – you are amazing! You took great care of me and I am so grateful for being part of this Team and I hope the friendships made will continue for many years to come. I am now suffering from post-Marathon blues and looking for my next challenge! Thank you all for your prayers, support and kind words and most important for being part of my journey.

Best wishes Shirls!