On 31 March 2012, I made history. Okay, so I made history along with 4,999 other people, but it was history nonetheless. I was amongst the first to cross the finish line of the track in the London 2012 Olympic Stadium.
The five-mile run was organised by the National Lottery via a ballot system, much like the London Marathon (which I ran in 2011). I found out that I'd been lucky enough to have got a place back in October, when it seemed like a lifetime away. In between times, I sustained a back injury and had to hang up my trainers for about two months, but eventually I was back on my feet and raring to go.
My entry pack arrived, complete with bright red t-shirt, timing chip for my shoe, and the wristbands for my guests. The morning of Saturday 31 March dawned grey and cold, but I would not be downhearted and donned my lucky pants (sensitive readers please note: the lucky pants are worn outside of my running bottoms, in a Superman style).
Upon arrival at Stratford station, it all seemed quite well-organised, with helpful stewards brandishing those big foam pointy hands to show people where to go. Unfortunately, we all got caught in a bottleneck as we progressed through Westfield, with a huge mass of people, half-queueing, trying to get where we were going. I have to say that I am a little concerned about how Westfield is going to cope with the sheer volume of people walking through it during the actual Olympics...
The process of getting into the Olympic Park seemed to take an age. Runners were joking that by the time we got to the start, we'd be knackered. Once within the confines of the park's gates, the security process was, however, very speedy and efficient (although please note you will be expected to remove belts, jackets and so on, exactly like at the airport).
It's very difficult to get a true idea of how large the park is once you're on-site. The landscape was a little bit bleak, if I'm honest, but let's remember that it was a grey day in March, and that there is still construction work going on! One hopes that by the time the games arrives, there will be some colourful foliage in full bloom. However, it's quite amazing what has been achieved there - I visited the site about three years ago when there was still a lot of land reclamation going on and it was pretty much a big dirty mess. Now it's about to play host to the greatest show on earth.
The stadium itself is quite something - huge and pristine. There was various entertainment going on on stage that seemed tiny from where we sat - Holly Willoughby trying her best to fill the huge space and an inexplicable (but not awful) Queen tribute band. Probably something to do with Princess Beatrice, who was also running.
Soon, it was time for the runners to assemble. The starts were staggered in order that slower runners did not impede the progress of the faster ones, and rather inevitably, I was at the back! An opera singer whose name I didn't catch was belting out rousing tunes as runners waited to set off. By the time it came round to us in the Pink Wave, he was on Jerusalem, which was a good way to start.
The route took in the basketball arena and went all the way around the impressive Velodrome, before passing the Riverbank Arena and main press centre. It was hard to take it all in, to be honest, and the place seemed oddly quiet, with the occasional construction worker waving cheerily from the side of the road. I've taken part in quite a few running events and it seemed peculiar not to have rows of spectators, lining the route and cheering.
At times, there were long stretches of not very much, for example between miles two and three until we reached the water polo arena and the next door aquatics centre. Basically, I think that once we passed the half way point, we were all gearing up to go back into the Stadium and run round that track.
We entered the stadium from underneath the seating area, so ran round the outside, but inside, if you see what I mean. This was surreal, as you've no real idea of distance or direction. The PA system was playing Chariots of Fire. Honestly, you couldn't make it up. Coming out onto the track itself on the back straight was quite an emotionally stirring experience. I can't imagine how it must feel when the stadium is full and when your entire life's efforts are being tested to the limit. I waved blindly at the area where my fiancé and sister were sitting, but I soon found out that they hadn't seen me (one of the hazards of EVERYONE wearing the same red T-shirt, I suppose).
Running down the home straight, the one that millions of eyes will be fixed on come the summer, I felt glad that I'd got to do something that only a small number of people will ever do. I won't be going to any Olympic events this summer, as the Visa only ticket purchase system precluded me from doing so, but I've seen places that most people won't get to see 'in real life'. As I crossed the line, and grinned for the cameras, I thought to myself (and later Tweeted): "Yeah, whatevs, Usain Bolt. I crossed that line before you. And I ran further."
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