On Sunday 25th March I volunteered as a massage therapist for Tommy's charity at the London Landmarks Half Marathon. It was inspiring. Here's my story as a vessel for their stories...
I get on the tube at Clapham South and already I am spotting lycra clad runners and numbered vests. The fluorescent trainer count is high. As I emerge from Charing Cross underground the pavements are teeming with runners and supporters, spilling out onto the roads surrounding Trafalgar Square. Looking ahead, there is a group of people surrounding a small stage at the edge of the square where over-enthusiastic presenters shout their encouragement and mini 'warm up' moves through the mic. Most of the people aren't really paying attention as they try to find the right sign to follow and generally look as though they are not sure what got them here...what were they thinking?! You can feel the anticipation in the air - a heady mix of fear and nervous energy.
Meanwhile, I am busy trying to find my bearings. The street layout looks very different when the steady flow of traffic is removed and replaced with thousands of wondering fluoro people. I end up walking down The Mall and getting stuck in the queues for bag drop. I can see exactly where I need to get to, opposite me on Pall Mall, there just happens to be a wire fence in the way. Squeezing through the queues of runners (thankfully they weren't sweaty yet!), I kindly asked a guard by the fence if he could let me through as I pointed to the building literally next to where we were standing. Reluctant at first I think he saw the despair on my face at the thought of navigating back through the swarms of people to go around and he let me through. I had arrived at the Institute of Directors, Pall Mall and wow what a setting!
A grand hallway opened up to reveal a huge central staircase sweeping around both sides of the hall. The room we were massaging in had two fireplaces, not to mention huge windows that gave us a great view of the first stretch of the race. Now came the waiting game...how long would they take to run the race? In the meantime we found our Tommy's t-shirts and FOOD that was kindly provided to us by the charity. I was very grateful to find that a vegan sandwich was one of the options - it's so rare that you are given a fully vegan option when the food is provided so thanks Tommy's! Before it starts sounding like the food was the highlight of the day let me get down to the juicy part: (quite literally) the gorgeous sweaty runners!
They started to filter in slowly at first and then soon we were kept very busy, massaging runner after runner, strictly 15 minutes each and then it was straight onto the next. I think I got a break at about 2:30pm to quickly wolf down the food before it was back to it. I wondered how many more people there would be as my arms and hands were getting tired but we were pretty much finished by about 4pm. It was such a great experience to massage so many different bodies in such a short space of time. I am always fascinated by people's bodies and how they respond differently to different manipulations and techniques. Yes. most people were extremely sweaty...but that just helped with the gliding motions! The focus was definitely on legs, especially calves, hamstrings and glutes - ooft some of those butts were having a knot party!
All the massaging aside, the main thing that struck me on the day was the atmosphere and humility of everybody that I met. Even though these people were taking on a tough physical challenge, the positivity was contagious. It was clear that they felt supported, valued and proud in themselves and their achievements for the cause. Tommy's charity funds research into pregnancy and birth to help save babies lives. Perhaps some or most of the people that I met had had an experience with miscarriage, still birth, or premature babies in some aspect and by running the half marathon they were taking positive action. It truly inspired me. So next time you have an unexpected or challenging experience, you can do something about it - TAKE ACTION. It doesn't have to be a direct action but by doing something like a marathon you are making your experience and the feelings it may hold ACTIVE. And that can help in many ways - more than you might imagine.
Here's to all you crazy marathon runners out there, I salute you! If you're running the Brighton marathon this weekend look out for the massage volunteers and say hi! If you're running the London Marathon next Sunday 22nd April, look out for me! I will be volunteering as part of the NSPCC massage team and I would love to help you out after the race. Either way, a massage can be beneficial to long distance runners at any time of the year. Running is a very repetitive and hard-hitting exercise for our muscles and joints and they need caring for every now and then! Wherever you may be running, and whatever you are running for, good luck out there.