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Running the London Marathon, an experience I'll never forget

LONDON MARATHON RUNNERS: Yemi, right, with his wife Afua

IT’S RACE day and all the training and sacrifices have culminated to this very moment. You can feel the adrenaline, anxiety and excitement as you head towards the start line in one of many waves. The MC adds to the atmosphere with great one-liners and words of encouragement to settle the nerves of some 42,000 runners.

This is the London Marathon – one of the most famous and most popular in the world. Each year an estimated 400,000 people enter the ballot to run the streets of London with only around 40,000 places up for grabs. My wife, Afua, and I were lucky enough to gain our places through a wonderful charity, Farm Africa.

Make no mistake, 26.2 miles is not a joke but everything seems impossible until you put in the work and training to achieve that daunting task. Running has never come natural to me. In fact, I despised long distance/cross country running at school.

My genuine belief at the time was I wasn’t built for long distance running. Yet here I was on a cold Sunday morning about to run the furthest I’ve ever run in my life. The London Marathon takes you on a scenic tour starting off around south east London running through Greenwich, Cutty Sark and Canary Wharf.

ON COURSE: Yemi and Afua were among around 40,000 runners who took to the streets on Sunday as part of the marathon

Throughout the route, supportive spectators and water stations are positioned to keep you moving. This was one of the highlights of race day for me - the fantastic support and encouragement from the crowds. Both young and old, from all different backgrounds, you definitely felt the love whether it was a young child holding out a hand for a high five or an adult screaming out your name from your running top to “keep going” cause “you’ve got this”.

I distinctly remember mile eight around the Deptford area where we noticed a larger congregation of BAME supporters. Strong efforts have been made to diversify not only runners at these races but also those spectating and I for one was proud to see this.

Running teaches you about yourself in terms of resilience, patience and perseverance. We were definitely tested for all three of these traits at mile 17 when disaster struck.

No matter how well you train or plan for race day, you may be thrown a curve ball that completely knocks you off your stride. My wife picked up two serious injuries that limited her to slowly hobbling half a mile at a time. The medical staff members on hand were fantastic at spotting a potential serious issue and came to our rescue. Against the strong advice to pull out of the race and go straight to A&E, we decided to push through to the finish even if we had to crawl the last nine miles. After all, we had made it this far, and it would have been a shame to stop now.

WILLPOWER: Afua persevered to finish the race despite picking up two serious injuries

This was extremely tough but something interesting happened that we didn’t anticipate or predict. We were met with much more support and encouragement from spectators who had stayed on, fellow marathoners who came back to encourage the final runners, random members of the public who were going about their normal Sunday business (including a group of tourists who clapped and cheered us on). It was truly an emotional experience and one I will never forget.

Before long we were at Westminster at mile 25 and the tears had to be fought back. It’s amazing how far grit, willpower, adrenaline and support can carry you when you feel there is nothing left to give. With the end in sight at Buckingham Palace, which was mile 26, my wife (obviously on more adrenaline than myself) suggested we sprint to the finish line. We did it! 26.2 miles completed.

The biggest lesson I learned from this whole experience, especially coming from a BAME background, is nothing is impossible. I used to think people who ran marathons were crazy, but if crazy means you persevere and push yourself to your limits to achieve something remarkable, then I’m happy to be seen as crazy.

To donate to Yemi and Afua's fundraising page, click here.

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