Beat by beat: the race of a lifetime

On Sunday 13th April I completed the London Marathon in support of Jubilee Action. I have now raised £4,735.99 so far and there are still sponsorships coming in. Here are the highlights of the day I achieved one of my biggest dreams.

So the first big question first; what time did I do it in? 3 hours 57 minutes and 28 seconds. As much as I pretended getting under 4 hours was not important, it really was and I am therefore absolutely delighted and can now hang up my marathon shoes. As I came round the corner by Buckingham Palace and saw the finish line with the clocks showing 4:05 I knew I would make it under 4 hours and managed to trudge out the last 100 metres. It took me 8 minutes to cross the start line in case you are wondering about my maths.

I went up by train with two ladies, Ali and Katie, who were great company and between us we keep our nerves under control. The whole journey to the start line was so easy and went according to plan. Image

I was in the Red Start and pen number 5, about half way back. As we counted down to the start my nerves gave way to a calm resolution and quiet focus on what I knew was going to be a very long day. Despite the fact the race had started I remained stationary for some minutes and eventually got to the start line at which point you can start running. Needless to say this was very slow to begin with. From the outset there were crowds of people calling out encouragement and looking for their friends and family. Great cheers would go up when they saw someone they knew and also when the crowds spotted those in fancy dress or in Mankinis!

My GPS watch showed a pace of 5:30 per km which would bring me in just under 4 hours. As my friend Steve had said before the race; “you have a plan so stick to it”. I decided not to go any faster or slower but hold that pace for the entire duration, thinking that if I had anything left in the tank at the end I could dazzle everyone with a sprint finish! Throughout my training I had three mental strategies for running long distances

    1. To begin with I would constantly say to myself that I was a river, moving smoothly and calmly along the track dealing with obstacles without drama. This really works and keeps you light on your feet.
    2. As I get more tired and the pain starts to kick in which is the point at which one’s pace normally starts to slow I then go into machine or robot mode. I drive out all thoughts, feelings, pains etc and pretend I am a machine that is simply designed to run. Very effective and keeps your pace consistent.
    3. The final stage is rather odd. This is the “Captain of the Star Ship Enterprise” phase and is only used right at the end to complete the last half mile or so. It can only be used once! In effect, I am Jean Luc Piccard and call down to Scotty in the engine room and insist that he fire up the dilithium crystals and give me Warp Factor 4. In theory I then abandon all care and throw myself at the finish line (metaphorically). Unfortunately, on the big day, when I called down to Scotty with 800 metres to go, I got his “answer phone” which was thoroughly disappointing!

Back to the race. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the race, running very steadily and remaining in my “river” state. At 6.5 miles, I rounded the Cutty Sark and the noise and crowds were fantastic. I wished I was in fancy dress! At 9 miles I caught a glimpse of my friend Adrian, which was wonderful. What a lift it is to see people you know! At 13 miles I was due to see my wife, children, mother and charity officials. I did not and had to take on the East without this boost. I was rather sad but knew I would have another chance to see them on the way back at mile 22. The Isle of Dogs was tough mainly because so much of it is narrow. As I was holding a constant pace (still at 5.30 per km) I was having to weave and very gently push through other runners. The support was fabulous though and the party atmosphere was in full swing.

In the tunnel at Canary Wharf two things happened that really threatened to de-rail me. I lost my GPS signal; I could no longer monitor my pace accurately but thankfully it kept the distance and time going. Also, the pace runners showing 3 hours 56 minutes went past me. I had a third of the race still to go and my finishing time of under 4 hours had just taken a massive blow. Sod it, I would simply have to follow them home! At 20 miles, the furthest I had run before, I became a machine and with the 3:56 boys still in sight I had a grim determination to keep them there. I knew that my supporters were two miles up ahead and I was looking forward to seeing them.

I had, up until now, been eating my Jelly Beans and drinking my nuun water, but was getting seriously thirsty. So I started taking water from the water points and trying to run into the showers on the side of the road to cool down. It was getting hot and a blister was showing signs of becoming a potential problem. Also the sweaty belt had turned the beans into mush. Not nice. At 22 miles I briefly saw Anna-mai the lovely lady in charge of Jubilee Action. She was a sight for sore eyes. I did not see my family and as I entered the Embankment with 4 miles to go I knew I would not see them. Highly emotional moment!

From this point on, my memory is less sharp. A tunnel of people and noise greets your every step and I started to notice people walking and some receiving treatment. I had lost sight of the 3 hour 56 boys and now just wanted to finish. Dare I say it; my objective of coming in sub-4 hours was getting less and less important. I just wanted to finish. At the 24 mile marker I told myself in no uncertain terms that this was a running race and not a walking race and therefore walking was not an option. “Keep your pace” and “nearly there” were my two phrases in my head along with a lot of swearing.

It was with only a mile to go that I looked at my watch and noticed that I had run 42 kms! It was meant to be over? Unfortunately I had not religiously followed the blue lines on the road and therefore had added 1.5kms to my distance. Gutted.

Within moments I could see Buckingham Palace at the end of the road and knew it was all going to be over soon. As I rounded the corner leaving the Palace behind me I saw the famous finishing line / lanes and saw the 3 hour 56 minute boys smugly standing by the finish. I looked at the clock, it read 4:05. My brain made a slow but deliberate calculation that as I had taken 8 minutes to cross the start line I was going to get under 4 hours. My heart leapt and I called down to Scotty in the engine room for Warp Factor 4. Nothing. Just keep going…………………

I was vaguely conscious that my in-laws, Mike and Irene, were in a grandstand somewhere overseeing the finish. Would they see me? See picture. Thanks Mike!

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As I crossed the line I made sure my arms were raised (as instructed) so that the camera could identify my number. I think I even smiled but that remains to be seen. I collected my bag, managed to convince a St John’s Ambulance man that I only needed water and not medical attention. He gave me 2 extra bottles of water and told me to drink them slowly. 5 seconds later I was trying to find more water.

I managed to leave my medal and hat on a fence and promptly wandered off to the meeting area. Realised my stupidly and had to persuade security to let me back in to retrieve them. Found my medal but my favourite hat was in a bin somewhere. I finally met my family which was so so wonderful. More girly moments. Walked through thousands of people to Waterloo Station and finally sat down on the train. 

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It was an experience I will never forget or repeat.  I am so grateful to Jubilee Action for the chance to run for them. Special thanks to my wife, Kia who has willingly allowed our weekends, evenings and conversations to be dominated by running. There is no bore like a marathon bore!

Guy Pakenham

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Another week in the field with the Education, Equity, Empowerment (EEE) project in Musanze

We have planned 4 more days to catch up with the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) who failed to show up at previous visits. We will now focus on our target group: young people under 25 with hearing and / or communication impairments who should have access to mainstream education close to their homes. In November, during the school holidays we will start training the teachers on inclusive education and how to take care of the special needs of these young people, so we have to know which of the many schools in the district should be invited.

I team up with Félicien Turatsinze, a physiotherapist whom we are training to assess and handle communication disorders, as Rwandaat the moment only has one trained speech and language therapist! In the 3 months since he joined the EEE project, he has developed to the level where he is now able to do assessments independently. We discuss the diagnosis he proposes and how to counsel the families, in which task he is also growing by the day. Félicien has a very gentle way of connecting to people and sometimes our ‘clients’ leave in tears because they have enjoyed so much the way the child was seen for his abilities and who he is rather than as the ‘burden’ people don’t know how to handle.

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We identify some persons who need to have their hearing tested, to see if a loss causes the speech impairment and again we meet persons who stutter and left school because the teachers failed to recognize they had a speech problem and not a learning disorder. Bullying happens everywhere and persons with disabilities face a lot of it at all levels in the community; unfortunately, for persons who stutter it considerably aggravates their difficulties. For children with this type of impairment the project can have a huge impact.

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Some of the persons we meet have impairments that are too complicated to handle in mainstream education, like those who have a moderate/severe intellectual impairment. Eventually they should of course also be included, but since inclusion is something totally new to the teachers, we will start with students who are a little bit easier to manage in the classroom. As families have often walked a long distance to reach us, we never send them back with only the message that the child does not belong to our target group. Every child is assessed and their families are given advise on how to improve their communication skills. On Thursday we suddenly had 3 young persons with Down syndrome at the same time and decided to counsel them and their families together. It was the first time that both the parents and the children themselves saw someone else who looks like them and has the same condition. It actually happens that all 3 families have done so well at helping these youngsters be independent (self-care, assist in household chores) that we would love to organize a day where families and their children with Down syndrome can meet, inspire and learn from each other. Unfortunately these activities are beyond the scope of the project. One of the three enjoyed the meeting with his ‘fellows in distress’ so much that he preferred to leave with one of the others rather than going home with his mum!

It was again a week filled with amazing encounters with ‘mothers’ who are not related to the child with a disability but started taking care of one where all others had left the child. A community activity where secondary school students presented songs and poems they had composed themselves to get attention for the rights and needs of persons with disabilities. Parents who walk for hours with a heavy child on their back, hoping to find assistance in their task as educators of a persons with disabilities that were never really explained to them. I am honoured to be part of this project!

Segerien Donner, speech therapist in Rwanda

Patongo Prison

Innocent until proven guilty.

To us, this seems like a basic human right. It’s been the standard in legal practice for centuries and 64 years ago was formalised by the UN and acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But sadly there are many people around the world who are held for years in prison without trial or conviction. Through our partner in Patongo, northern Uganda, we have come across some young people in this situation in their local prison. The trial process is so delayed that young people will be kept in prison for months on end, accused but not convicted. Indeed, some of these people will never make it to court at all, but simply be released months after their arbitrary imprisonment.

These young people are kept in the ramshackle prison buildings, thrown in jail together with the guilty; women and men, young people and adults all kept together, crammed as tightly as the London Underground in rush hour. Many are imprisoned for theft, forced by their desperate poverty to steal food in order to survive, or violence stemming from the intense psychological trauma of being abducted and coerced into being a child soldier. The government currently offers them little support, training or rehabilitation, so even when released the young people return to the same patterns of behaviour.

This is why our partner has started a counselling programme in the prison, reaching out to young people directly and training up long term prisoners to act as peer counsellors. Through this counselling and workshops on alcoholism, domestic violence and other relevant issues, our partner has started to support and rehabilitate these young offenders.

We hope in time to be able to expand our programme in the prison to better support the youths there and also to work with local government to speed up the trial process in order to cut down on the number of unconvicted young people held in prison. We know that this kind of change cannot happen overnight, but we hope and pray that with perseverance we will see reforms come.