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My London Marathon Journey. Walking football, Covid, Caravan parks and ABBA. By Jason Putterill.

Back in 2018 my brother-in-law Jamie introduced me to walking football. At the time I was 46 years old and spent the best part of the previous 10 years on the sofa gradually feeling my backside increasing inch by inch. I was instantly hooked on the sport. I’ve always loved football, I watch, read, and listen to everything and anything about football. In my younger days I played quite a bit and did some refereeing. So, the chance to play again was great. I went every week played my heart out and enjoyed every minute. There was just one problem. I was very unfit and overweight.

I wanted to address this problem, so I started doing the usual, hard dieting and exercise. The weight started coming off slowly, mainly because I was eating less, going on long walks around the factory and offices where I work and of course football twice a week.

One day at work I was searching my desk for a folder when I came across my Skegness to Boston Marathon medal from 1988, a colleague made a remark about it and asked me if I still went running. My answer was obviously no, I then regaled him with my Marathon experience and my school county competitions I ran in as a teenager. He suggested to me that running would be a good way to lose the weight and get fitter for football. Great idea I thought.

So, a few days later I laced my trainers and off I went. My run turned out to be about 3km, which I was very proud of. It wasn’t long before I was running 3 to 4 times a week and working hard to get my 5km and 10km personal best times down.

A few months passed by and in late April 2019, The London Marathon held. I was a good weight and feeling nice and fit. I was also feeling very pleased with myself because I had just managed to break 25 minutes on a 5km run. I sat down to watch the Marathon on TV. I was amazed at what a great event it was, the atmosphere, the fun, and the stories that were told by people doing the event were just so great. I made up mind, I was going to enter the ballot to run it next year. The following week the ballot opened, and I submitted my entry. I remember saying to people that it would be great to do but the chances of getting a place was slim because of its popularity. Results would be posted in October.

Ballot result day came, and I had spent most of the morning at work pressing refresh on my emails waiting for my answer. Finally, the email came and as I opened with anticipation, to my delight I had been successful. I rang home to inform my Partner Louise that I was going to run the London Marathon. I was so excited that I started training almost immediately, running almost every night doing a lot of long distance of 10+ miles, I was in great shape.

A couple of weeks had passed and I played in a football match against Holbeach on an indoor hard-court pitch. I was having a great game, playing well, and scoring a few goals. Towards the end of the match a teammate put a pass through to me, but it was a little in front of me and I had to stretch out my leg to trap the ball. As my leading leg stretched outwards and touched the ground, my foot landed on was a very big wet patch. My leg slip forwards while the other leg was stationary, I ended up doing the full splits. The pain shot straight up my leg and I was in complete agony. I was helped up and carried off. I had a severe pulled hamstring, my leg swelled, and the bruising looked horrendous.

I couldn’t take part in any kind of sport for the next 6 weeks. When I finally got jogging again it was another 6 weeks before I was able to get anywhere near to the distances I was doing before the injury.

It was a setback but in February 2020 I was slowly getting back on track. I was almost ready to run the Marathon in April. I went with my family on a trip to Strasbourg France to see my sister in-law Bec and her children. We had a great time, I even carried on my training whilst there, running in the Forest on the edge of the Maginot line and running across the River Rhine into Germany and back into France. In the news we had been hearing about a virus that had gripped China. Covid 19.

Soon we were getting reports of people infected in Europe and then eventually in the UK. It wasn’t long before sports events were being affected and in March 2020 it was announced that the London Marathon had been postponed. Obviously, I was disappointed, but an email came from the organisers to say that my place was safe, I would be able to run it in the provisional date of October.

Not long after the announcement the whole country was in Lockdown. My beloved football had to stop. The only thing to me that was keeping me happy with sport wise was, I was still able to go out running, so I could keep my Training up.

The virus seemed to be around much longer than anybody thought. In the summer some of the restrictions were lifted but large sporting events with spectators were still banned, which meant that there would be no London Marathon in October and no new date was given. The organisers did though invite us to do a Virtual London Marathon on the original rearranged date of October 4th 2020.

I took up the opportunity and at 7am that morning, off I went to do my 26 miles. My location was Forest Park, Cromer in Norfolk at the Caravan Park where my static caravan is situated. In just over 5 hours I’d ran 40 times around the park, in the rain utilising the water taps that are used for filling Aqua rolls for Caravans as my water stations. A great feeling of achievement I was pleased to have done it and got the medal for running the 40th London Marathon.

Another two lockdowns came and went and then with the introductions of vaccines life started to get slowly back to normal. It was announced that the 2021 London Marathon would take place early October. An email was and I was given the option of either running the Marathon in October, April 2022, or April 2023. My decision was to run in April 2022, I didn’t want to do October because I was nervous that it would get postponed again and was not sure if there would have been some restrictions to spectators. I wanted the full London Marathon experience. So, I decided April 2022. Not many weeks after my 50th birthday. I did however do the virtual event again in October 2021, same location.

Disappointingly a few weeks later it was announced that the 2022 Marathon would now take place in October again. Unfortunately, the week before the marathon was due to take place, we had booked tickets to see the ABBA voyage concert at the ABBA arena in London. I couldn’t take the extra time off work and didn’t want to be in London two long weekends in a row. So again, I would have to postpone to the next one. New date was now April 2023, so I had time to relax a bit from training and then get back into it again at the start of the new year.

January 2023 came round and I started my new training plan, all was going well until in late February while playing in a football match in Lincoln, I took quite a heavy kick on the ankle, this caused some swelling and a bit of pain. I lost 10 days training. I decided that I would not play anymore football until after the Marathon.

A week before race day I was feeling pretty good but obviously nervous, I had all my kit ready my shirt from my chosen charity MacMillian cancer support arrived. I opened the package, the shirt looked nice but the iron on letters for my name were missing the letter ‘N’. I had an older shirt with my name from a Mighty hike challenge I’d done in north Norfolk the previous May, so decided I’d take that with me along with my new shirt and decide when I got there which one, I would wear.

The Friday before race day, I headed on the Train to London with My Partner and our son Isaac. We checked in to the premier inn at Stratford. I left my Family at the hotel and jumped onto the tube to the ExCel arena, to register for the race and get my race number and kit bag. There were many things there look at, many stalls and lots of things to buy. I bought myself a commemorative T shirt and I then came across the MacMillian stand. I told one of the ladies on the stand about my Letter ‘N’ problem, she said that she might have one and searched through her bag and found it. I made my way back to the hotel in search of an iron.

The next day my Niece Juliette had joined us and we went up to the viewing level of the Shard, later we went out for a meal, pasta of course for me and just a soft drink. I walked them to the ABBA arena, again as they wanted to watch the concert again but I headed back to the hotel to get an early night.

Morning of the race, I’d had an OK night’s sleep. Ate my porridge and got dressed ready for the occasion, put a rain poncho in my kit bag and headed to catch the train to Greenwich, to my starting zone. I had been worried about getting to the start point but this was quickly forgotten when I realised everyone on the train was going the same way as me. I chatted various people who were running, first to a man and his father in-law who were staying at the same hotel as me, then a young woman from Aberdeen. The Train came to a halt and I got off and followed the crowd to the starting area.

When I arrived in the park, I realised that I was an hour early so had some waiting round to do, it was then that the heavens opened and the rain came down. So, I put my poncho on and sat down taking in the atmosphere. When it was my turn to go through and put my kit on the lorry, I took off my outer clothing trying to keep as dry as possible. After a short while I headed to the start point. A big screen was showing video of various things going along on the course and giving information to everyone when to go to the start.

My time slot came I walked out onto the road with the rest of the crowd, I started walking towards the start line. A man over the speaker did the countdown and off we went. I started jogging about 500 yards before the start line with everyone else but I was off. After 4 years from when I’d first entered the ballot, I was finally doing it.

Immediately I encountered spectators cheering everyone on, calling out your name and giving encouragement. There were people on the side of the road holding out sweets, chocolates, cakes, and other nice things to eat. Some spectators were just holding out their hands for you to give high fives. I took advantage of the confectionary offerings and high fived as many people as I could along the way.

After 7 miles just as I passed someone dressed as Rhino, I reached the Cutty Sark. The crowd was huge, the noise was deafening, it was an atmosphere like no other I’d experienced before. Feeling quite good and full of adrenaline, energy drinks and sugar I realised that I’d ran the first 10 miles faster than I’d planned. Something I would later regret. Normally when I run, I have the Strava app playing on my phone with the voice assistant telling me how far I’d run and how fast but because of the wonderfully noisy and brilliant atmosphere, I had not turned my headphones on.

Mile 13 halfway. I was running up towards Tower bridge, just as I was about to cross, I heard my name screamed out loud above all the cheering. I looked across to the side and I spotted an old friend Richard, he had come to see his cousin run but was also following my progress on the London Marathon app. I ran over to see him. He gave me some great words of encouragement, I posed for a few photographs and then I was back on my way across the bridge. It was just the perfect boost and I jogged across the bridge waving and high fiving the crowds it was fantastic.

Over onto the isle of dogs and at Mile 15 I had to stop to stretch my hamstring as I had a bit cramp a likely result of my quick start, I took my time to recover and decided that I would walk a little bit to rid myself of the pain. I walked for about half a mile and then felt ok to start running again. It was at this point when I was overtaken by a man wearing a huge disco glitterball and 2 men pushing a toilet on wheels.

At Mile 18 near Canary Warf, I turned a sharp corner in the road and I heard my name being shouted out again. I looked over and there was my family. My partner Louise, our son Isaac, My Niece Juliette, and My brother in-law Jamie, who come down on the train in the morning. I spent 5 minutes chatting with them, had a drink of water and I was off again. This had come at the perfect time, the massive boost that I needed as I was just hitting ‘’the wall’’.

Mile 21 this is an area of the course which is known as Rainbow row. It is championed by the LGBTQ+ community. It was a carnival of colour, music and hundreds of people cheering us all on, a truly magnificent experience. On a high stage a drag queen who commentating to the crowds shouted out ‘’go on Jason you’re amazing’’, I looked up and gave her a wave and shouted out my thanks. Another perfectly timed boost.

Soon Big Ben was in my sights and I knew the end was near, still the crowds were out in force and cheering out loud, just as I overtook a man with a prosthetic leg and I saw the sign saying 600 meters to go sign, I ran up birdcage walk towards Buckingham Palace and turned the corner onto the mall. The finish line was in sight. I passed through the finishing arch and punched the air with both hands in delight. After 5 hours and 16 minutes, I’d done it and it felt incredible.

Just behind the finish there were people putting the medals around the necks of the finishers. I bowed my head and a lady put my medal on. I felt quite emotional at this point. All the years of training, pain, disappointment, and heartache was all over, I can honestly say though that it was all well worth it.

I collected my kit bag from the lorry and a goodie bag with my fishers T shirt and a few other small things. I did a quick facetime call with my mother-in-law Jennifer and Sister-in-law Bec and headed down the mall, I asked a couple of police officers where the nearest tube station was, they told me it was ‘’all the way down the mall, over Trafalgar square and across the road to Charing cross station’’. I asked them jokingly if there was a taxi close by and then limped off down the road exhausted, full of cramp but feeling on top of the world. Two train stops and a walk through a shopping Centre I was back to the hotel where I was greeted by my family and a lovely cold pint of beer.

This was truly one of the most unbelievable and fantastic experiences I have ever had. I would recommend this to everyone, an atmosphere like no other. After the race day I put my name in for the ballot for 2024, sadly though I didn’t get a place but I’ll try again next year, this is defiantly something I want to experience again.

A Big thanks go to all the members of the South Lincs walking football club, to my work colleagues and all my friends for sponsoring me I raised over a £1000. The biggest thankyou is to my Family not only those that joined me in London but also those that watched on TV and sent messages of encouragement. Once again Thank you.

Good luck to all those taking part in 2024 race, remember you’re amazing!

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