Firstly I want to apologise for the lateness of this blog, it should have been ready a while ago because on 21st April 2013 I, Lauren Kocher, 5 foot 1, hater of running, and lover of Haribo, completed the London Marathon (believe me that statement sounds even weirder to me than it does to you!). I think the reason it has taken me so long to write this is because it has taken me this long to get my head around the hardest thing I will ever do in memory of one of the most amazing people I have known.
Now I just want to remind you all again, I HATE running, which is why this was a particularly difficult challenge for me. For someone who hasn’t run for more than a bus since school, the prospect of spending over 5 hours pounding the pavements of London is a pretty horrific one! I have taken part in many fundraising sporting events in the past but anything involving running was never on my radar, so I needed an especially strong reason to even want to think about doing this.
It was 2 days after the London Marathon 2012 when I heard that Khumza had passed away due to a stabbing in his home township of Edendale. It was a shock to everyone who knew him and WhizzKids United will never be the same again. He passed away leaving behind his family who meant so much to him and for whom he was the only breadwinner. He was one of the most incredibly generous, and caring people I have ever had the pleasure of being friends with and thinking about him in the past tense is even harder than running a marathon.
I’m not sure that many of you knew how much his passing affected me, so much so that I stupidly signed up to running the marathon in his memory and to raise money for his family and the charity we both worked for, WhizzKids United. However, I never thought I would actually get a place, I think the statistic is 1 in 4 who apply get in so I felt pretty secure in the fact that I wouldn’t! Nevertheless, in October 2012 I returned home to find a package from the Virgin London Marathon 2013 on my doorstep and knew that this was it and I actually had to do it.
That was the start of an incredibly hard 6 months of training, sobriety, random and embarrassing fundraising events (singing in front of a room full of my colleagues is definitely up there with the most uncomfortable moments of my life but raised lots of money – thanks Challenge peeps!), lack of energy, tearful emotions, and constant hunger, but it was punctuated by beautiful moments when I would get an e-mail from justgiving.com to tell me someone else had been generous enough to sponsor my efforts. The kindness and support I have received throughout this journey from my friends, family, and even people I don’t know has been incredibly overwhelming and that support has kept me going and running for hours in the snowy British winter!
I knew I would struggle on the day of the marathon, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. The furthest I had run before the day was 22miles and I actually felt pretty good during it, but on the day of the marathon is was the first warm, sunny day of the year, turns out running in the cold snowy British Winter had not set me up very well for this and the understandably the heat made everything 10 times worse! I also got pretty carried away with the whole atmosphere and did the one thing people had warned me not to do, I went off too fast without even realising it so the first half was pretty good! After about 2 hours I reached one of the most famous bridges in the world, Tower Bridge. It was meant to be the most exciting moment and I have watched people cross this bridge year after year on TV and always imagined how incredible it must feel to run along it as a small part of London Marathon history. I was wrong, it felt horrible. I was only halfway through and the pain had just reached my legs as the excitement of the start wore off and I realised I was way ahead of my planned time, too far ahead.
The thousands of people lining the streets were just a wall of noise, the support was amazing, but I was just desperate to see people I knew. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who came along to cheer me on, seeing your faces and being able to stop and have a hug, some sweets, and some much needed words of encouragement were the only things which kept me going – even though I burst into tears whenever I saw a familiar face, you are the reason I was able to finish. And finish it I did, it took forever, although 20 minutes of that was spent queueing for the portaloos, so let’s say it took about 5 hours! But reaching Buckingham Palace and realising the adrenaline I had built up was allowing my legs to push themselves quicker and further than I imagined, crossing the line on The Mall was unbelievable, and hanging that medal around my neck was beautiful and emotional.
It is an experience I will never ever repeat (I know everyone says that but I can absolutely categorically assure you in my case it is true!) but one I will also never forget, all the tears, pain and blisters were totally worth it for my current fundraising total of £2,203 which will help thousands of vulnerable children and young people in South Africa, and I thank you all so so much for your kindness and your support, Khumza would be proud of all of you.
My fundraising page is still open until July, dig deep if you are able.