Most marathons provide more than their fair share of heroes and heroines who provide great examples. The London Marathon in April 2005 provided one or two especially heroic examples. The competitors have much to teach about achieving goals.
On Sunday 17th April 2005, Paula Radcliffe was running in the London Marathon and had to stop for a call of nature. Instead of running off the course and possibly losing the race, she decided to answer the call close to a drinks table at the side of the road.
She knew that this might well be filmed and broadcast to millions but was determined not to stop for longer than necessary. I am more impressed by her answering the call of nature in public than by the fact that she won the marathon. Her priority was to win and not to save herself embarrassment. Her sheer guts and determination have never been more obvious.
Some really ignorant person wrote in to complain that Paula's behaviour was disgusting. She clearly had no idea what running a marathon can do to your body. The organiser offered the critic a place in next year's marathon to provide a chance to find out!
Paula stopped 5 miles from the end of the race and squatted on the ground. She had endured stomach cramps for several miles before that and was losing 10 seconds every time her stomach cramped up.
Later, after she had won the Flora London Marathon in 2hrs 17 min 42 sec, a world record for a women-only race, she apologized for having to relieve herself in the street. She was embarrassed but was also smiling because she had achieved her goal of winning the race.
She commented: "I've got to apologize to the nation for having to stop but I was losing 10 seconds every time my stomach cramped up. I didn't know how far I was ahead but I felt I just had to stop."
In fact, Paula had more than a two-minute lead over Constantina Dita, of Romania. Paula had joked about finding one of the 950 Portaloos. "That would have been OK but I would probably have had to fight my way through the crowd and then sign a couple of autographs on the way out." That could have taken at least two minutes and stopped her achieving her goal.
"I was annoyed because I was feeling good and looking forward to running faster in the second half of the race," she said. "But my stomach got so bad I thought, why not stop, and then I would be able to concentrate on running properly again."
In 1985, another top runner had felt compelled to take a toilet stop in London. Steve Jones relieved himself behind a sentry box at the Tower of London before going on to beat Charlie Spedding in the 1985 race.
However, he at least had some decent cover available and so I would not rate him in the same class as Paula!
Paula's mind was focused firmly on the goal of winning:
"The main thing was to win the race - when you are in a race all you think about is getting to the line first and that's what I had to do. Everyone is paranoid about it. You try to eat as plain food as possible but you can't get much plainer than plain pasta. It's the first time it has happened to me in a race."
The organizer tried to shed light on the loo situation: "We had every single Portaloo in the country around the start, finish and along the way. The route is lined with houses and pubs so for the average person it's not going to be a problem but there is no way that's an answer for someone running at the speed of Paula."
Paula's call of nature has provided the world with an inspiring example of the kind of determination that might be necessary to achieve a big goal.
Clare Forbes, 10 years younger than Paula at the age of 21, provided another example of ferocious determination. She took 19 hrs and 10 mins together with a 3 hour break to cross the finishing line.
She was moving on artificial legs. 4 years ago she had suffered from meningitis. It was uncertain whether she would ever walk again. She entered the marathon on behalf of the Meningitis Trust to raise money to help sufferers. She must also have inspired many other people with artificial limbs to realize what can be achieved with courage and determination.
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