I sat still for a good ten minutes and watched the finishing line obsessively, expecting Gav to come across any moment. Male in a red vest? Not Gav. Another one? No again. He didn’t show. The marshals were moving us on, away from the immediate finish line area. I creaked my body up to a standing position and inched my way to the tent where I’d collect my medal, water and some food. There were some chairs laid out and I sat down gingerly facing the entrance, quietly sobbing as the relief overwhelmed me. I was still on the lookout for Gav. As I reluctantly nibbled on a banana, a kind man walked past and noticed my tears. He gently put his hand on my shoulder. He didn’t know I was equally upset as the thought of Gav having a hard time as I was relieved that mine was over. I smiled back at him weakly. I moved on again – this time to collect my bag. Maybe Gav’s pulled out! Maybe he’s tried to contact me to let me know! Good plan – get to my bag, and check my phone. Right. Legs, you’re on again. A steady limp this time, that’s all you need to do.
I inched my way slowly through swarms of bloody 10k runners to the baggage bus. Where did they all come from? They were like flies lingering around a discarded old kebab. Shit. My phone has no signal. Shit shit shit. What now? Even if he wanted to contact me, he couldn’t. I went back to the bus. “Has number 387 been collected yet? No? Oh, OK. If he comes for his bag, please would you tell him I’m sitting on the curb just over there? Thanks”. So, at least I knew he hadn’t been for his bag. Bloody hell, he’s still out there. It’s getting hotter and hotter, and he’s still running.
I sat on the curb side for another ten minutes. Shit again. Where was he? Is he ok? What can I do? My bloody phone is useless and I have no way of knowing if he’s alright. As panic rose inside me, I turned to a guy sitting next to me who had a mobile phone. I tried to speak but I couldn’t, so I cried instead. I muffled something about my phone not working, and tearfully pointed to his. He got the message and I called Gav. No answer, so I left a sobbing voicemail message for him instead. Think, Rachel. Think.
Next plan: head across the road to McDonald’s. Surely they would have WiFi (they do in Salterhebble!) From there. I could make my phone work and try and make contact with the elusive Gavin Dodd. On dragging my aching limbs across the highway, there was no WiFi. I stood outside and I cried again. Real, heartbroken, frightened tears. It must have been well over half an hour since I’d finished. Where the hell was he and what had happened? A couple of girls saw me and came rushing over: “Hey, are you ok? What on earth is the matter? Have you lost someone? It doesn’t matter what it is, we will help you. Calm down and tell us what’s happened. We will sort it”. Once I stopped hyperventilating, I managed to squeak out a few key words and show them a picture of Gav in his race vest. “I’ve…(sob)…he’s…(sob)…my phone…(sob)…I can’t…(sob)”. They pieced together the missing details and handed me a phone. I rang Gav’s number. HE ANSWERED! Thank god, he answered…
I’d long since stopped caring about what had happened to Gav’s race plan, and only concerned myself with him surviving to tell the tale. Times and PBs very quickly disappear into the black hole of nothingness when somebody you love has a question mark over their whereabouts, and their welfare. Hearing his voice on the other end of the phone felt like the first gasp of air after an uncomfortably long stint under water. The relief isn’t even conscious: it’s primal. Without wanting to melodramatise the possible horrific scenarios that were whirling around in my head, let’s not forget that I have seen people die in races. And not just once, but twice. I’ve actually run past poor individuals who never saw the finish line. Once at the London marathon in 2012. At mile 25, a girl had just collapsed and was receiving CPR as I ran past. The medics hadn’t even reached her. She was later named as Claire Squires, and she subsequently died. Also during the Humber Half marathon in 2011 again – so close to the finish. At mile 12, I ran past a guy this time who was again on the receiving end of CPR. It was a scorching hot day. After suffering from heat exhaustion, Matthew Good didn’t make it either. So, I’ve witnessed tragedy at races. It’s horrific, and it happens. Sometimes it all just proves too much. Considering the fact that this was a full marathon, in the desert heat, I felt justifiably panicked.
We met up on the same bit of curb that I’d been nervously perched on almost an hour since. He was a wreck. The heat had kaiboshed his marathon, and he’d hit such a dramatic decline in pace by 19 miles that it literally was a crawl home. A lesser man would have pulled out. My ego may well have done the same. He was bigger than that, and he made me the proudest partner in the world by showing me what real guts are all about, and what having ‘inner-strength’ means. As for the training he’d done – without a doubt his form was better than mine. His training had been far more consistent than mine. No illness, no overtraining, well-paced long runs, fast short ones. Remember the hilly 16 miler I’d pulled out of just after Christmas? He hammered the hills; conversely, they ruined me. It was his marathon for the taking. But (why does there always have to be a but) we hadn’t accounted for the heat. We knew it would be hot – we’re not THAT stupid – and there was precious little we could have done differently to handle it any better. We didn’t have the luxury of acclimatising before the race: we had one day – with jet lag. Could we have done any more? No. I genuinely don’t think we could. As with any marathon, on the day, we did the very best we could given the unique set of circumstances and every variable factor possible.
I couldn’t have been prouder if he’d won the bloody thing: it was the lessons he taught me – and others – about having strength, determination and an absence of ego in adversity. I can’t help wondering what the rest of our holiday would have been like if the tables were turned, and I was the one who’d had that same experience? I’d love to imagine that I would have coped in exactly the same way, but I know that’s not true. My ego would have been bruised, my fragile confidence smashed to oblivion. And knowing that truth makes me feel weak and a lesser person than my Gav is.
One day, I may well have to learn the very same lesson. When I do, Gav you will be my inspiration, and I love you for it.