Monday, 18 May 2015

128. One foot in front of the other

In the end, my son's advice was the best.

Just start and keep walking.

So that's what I did, one foot in front of the other, ignoring the urge to sleep and the aching hips and the cold and the mile marking posts that seemed to be appear at, oh, about two-mile-intervals. (Except at the end, bizarrely. You'd think the distance would start to stretch like elastic, but no, after 20 miles they seemed to jostle for attention.)

This was definitely not a night to Listen To Your Body, as my consultant and countless concerned friends had urged.  I wonder how many of the 17,000 Moonwalkers would have made it to the finish if they had all listened to their bodies? Just saying. It was not only recovering cancer patients who qualified for a Pure Madness Medal.

"I'll see how far I'll get," I had told everyone beforehand (including your good selves, reading my blog). Covering my back in case I'd had to chicken out halfway through.

Of course, they all said. No shame in giving up when it gets too much. Listen to your body. Etc.

Except my Best Friend, who had arrived to cheer us on, welcome us back and fry our breakfast in the morning. She was having none of it.

"I think you are going to make it," she said confidently.

"You are not going to give up. You'll be kept going by the adrenaline from the event and by sheer determination."

We both knew she was right. Deep down, I've always known it. Barring a catastrophic physical collapse, there was no way I would stop. Sore feet? I'd crawl.

Best Friend's statement gave me just the confidence I needed. Of course I'd make it. Was it ever in doubt?

Determination abounded among Moonwalkers. Towards the end, people hobbled along clutching friends' shoulders. Some dispensed with their trainers and walked in their socks. I was full of admiration for the Moonwalkers carrying excess body weight or pushing a friend in a wheelchair.

But collapse was a possibility. In fact it happened to one of the Night Owls after she'd got to the finish: shivers, nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting.

It was obvious that Owl would have to come along. (If you haven't met Owl, read about him here.)

Isn't he too heavy? people wanted to know. The answer is: no heavier then a prosthesis!

My younger daughter insisted that Jokery (remember him?) should be carried on the other side, but it felt like too much of a sum total. I did like the idea of taking him though. Whilst Owl represents the entire sorry saga of my cancer year, Jokery represents the support of family and friends. The solution came in the shape of four safety pins and a hat. This proved to be a stroke of brilliance, as he acted like a beacon for other Night Owls. It can be quite hard to identify your friends in a sea of pink hats.

Love the outfit! I heard people say throughout the night. Best effort I've seen so far!

Effort? You can say that again. The effort Owl and Jokery have made this year is beyond words.

The theme of this year's Moonwalk was A Night At The Movies. The idea was to make your bra decorations reflect this theme, so there were plenty of spotty Dalmatians and Cruella De Vils.

"Owls!" one woman exclaimed as I emerged from a loo break. "Love it! What film is that from?"

"It hasn't been made yet," my friend replied.

We all gathered at my house, conveniently situated just 5 minutes' walk from Clapham Common where the event started and finished.

Nothing like seeing friends and strangers in their bras in the kitchen to break the ice and get into the spirit. There was a surreal moment when I came down the stairs to find a perfect stranger (friend of a friend), scantily clad, standing in the hallway fiddling with her bra and looking completely at home. Fabulous.

By the time we were ready to set off, we were in high spirits. I had been worried about being too tired in the evening, but I'd spend most of the afternoon in bed, and there was nothing else for it. Don't Listen To Your Body must include ignoring any urges to lie down and sleep.

We gather at our house for last minute preparations... food, fingernails and frilly bits

14 Night Owls, ready for the off!

Some of the 17,000 Moonwalkers...
Let's gloss over the wait before the start.

We got to the Big Tent around 9.30pm and finally set off just after midnight. It was a bit too long, a bit too noisy, a bit too crowded. But never mind. We knew all along that this would be one of the harder parts.

...and we're off!

The first few miles are rather slow...
What I hadn't reckoned on is how hard the first 5 or 10 miles would be.

The crowds made it slow. We passed Big Ben at the stroke of 2am. Two hours gone already? We barely got going! We went on to Tower Bridge, back along the north of the river, and By the time we passed Big Ben again it was well after 4am. Dawn was breaking. Less than 12 miles covered. Blimey, such a long way to go still.

Walking in the dark was not as magical as experienced Moonwalkers had said it would be. London is lovely and quiet! they'd said, but that isn't true. London is never quiet. Plenty of cars at 3am. Plus, it's cold.

...but by the time dawn breaks, the crowds have thinned
Never mind. Keep going, one foot in front of the other. Ignore body screaming for sleep. I may, just may, walk another marathon again one day. But never, NEVER AGAIN at night. That is just a ridiculous thing to do. Other Night Owls agreed that the nighttime business was one of the hardest parts.

Soon after the start, one pair and one trio of Night Owls had gone ahead, as we knew they would and should do. Impossible to walk with such a large group where everyone has a different pace. Others disappeared gradually, doing their own thing. For a long time, there were seven of us, catching up with each other regularly.

After half a marathon, you begin to recognise others who walk at your pace. You begin to greet each other.

"Ah, there's the owl again!" one Moonwalker cheered as we passed her for the umpteenth time.

Another came running after me as we were about to leave for home, having finished."I just wanted to thank you!" she said, "you kept us going all the way."

How, I didn't ask and can't imagine (our Beacon Owl? Our cheeriness?) but it was nice to hear.

It's getting light and it's still freezing!
Halfway at Marble Arch. Definitely going for the Full Moon!

Hot chocolate at Sloane Square (22 miles) beats hot chocolate on the cancer ward!

For the last ten miles, it was just my friend Louise and I, bringing up the rear.

(I might as well name her, as she's got her name scrawled across her chest in the pictures, so no point trying to keep anonymity.) 

We always thought we'd be last in the team, and it suited us. I needed to stick to a strict regime of 60 minutes walking, 5 or 10 minutes sitting. They advice against stopping, but I knew it worked for me. The few times in training when I'd gone on for over an hour, I'd felt faint and weak. But some of the remaining seven Night Owls were struggling with the cold and couldn't bear stopping, so we waved them on.

In the end, it wasn't that hard. We laughed at our weaknesses and our struggles to get up from the floor, like old ladies. We smiled and waved at anyone cheering us on. (Mostly, the Moonwalk volunteers. Londoners are rather blasé about people walking around London in a bra on a Sunday morning, although the vicar on her way to church did a double take.)

We were amazed and delighted when we realised, around the 20 mile mark, that we were really going to manage this.

Those last six miles? We grinned and giggled all the way through.

The emotions hit me at the final mile. That last bit, between Battersea Park and Clapham Common, is my stamping ground. I have walked and cycled it countless times, always on my way home from wherever I've been.

But this time I had 25 miles behind me. And behind that, a rather demanding year. This was no ordinary homecoming.

"I can't talk now," I had to tell Louise who was chatting pleasantly. "Oh dear, I'd better keep hold of this hanky."

Later, I heard from other Night Owls that they, too, had cried. Even the younger ones. But their tears seemed to be miserable I-CAN'T-walk-those-last-miles type tears. One Night Owl, who is super fit and runs half marathons, said that this was much, much harder.

"I am not alone!" she told me today. "I have a friend who ran the London marathon last month and who did the Moonwalk this weekend. She said that the Moonwalk was the most difficult challenge she has ever done!!"

I don't quite believe them, but still, hearing it gives us a pleasantly smug feeling. Because I cried only with the emotion of it all, realising that I am on my way to recovery.

Effort? This was nothing, nothing compared to the effort of chemotherapy.

This has been a challenge for all 14 of us. Most of us have slept and slept and slept. I am hobbling around the house in a state of pleasant exhaustion.

But this, my friends, is a lovely kind of tiredness. This is tiredness that gets better with rest. This is CHOSEN tiredness. 

This is nothing like having cancer. Marvellous.

Arriving back at Clapham Common. Need I say more?

Welcomed by faster Night Owls, friends and family

About to cross the finishing line...

...and look, we can still dance a jig!

You can still sponsor us! Here is the link again... THANK YOU!


  1. Lovely account, tears in my eyes reading it. Know that emotion crossing the line. I think your friend is right. Walking through the night, being on your feet so long IS harder than running, as you have so much longer to keep going. Well done and here's to better years ahead.

  2. What a year and what a way to beat cancer! X