Full Circle – London Marathon 2023

Ever felt like you’ve come full circle. Like there’s a pattern to life and no such thing as coincidence. You’re on the cusp of understanding why things are the way they are. How things have changed but they’re still the same. Back where you began but the players have shifted slightly armed with wisdom. You are beginning again but with the power of experience.

I’m at London Bridge Train Station and its swarming with excitable Marathon participants. Banners indicating which train to get on for which wave you begin the run. I shuffle my way toward the blue wave sign when a lady shouts ‘hey’ and points at our matching running vests. We are both running for the Lullaby Trust and introduce ourselves. The Lullaby Trust supports families impacted by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The lady mentions her son whom she’s running for and I recognise the name from an email the charity sent. We share our stories and we sadly have much in common.  He was her first baby and she went on to have two more. But the incident had shattered her. She spoke of a 3 month stay in hospital. Yet here she was running a marathon. We agreed that losing a child changes your perception on what you can cope with and had both become black belts in survival.

Our marriages had broken down because we dealt with our tragedies in opposing ways to our spouses. I said I’d just got into flight mode. Running marathons, training for hours every day, leaning on Ironman. My husband had become stationary. Not moving off the sofa. Going to work and sitting in his vehicle all day. Her experience was the opposite way round. But they’d taken different journeys. Both our partners escaping their emotions in whatever way they could.

It felt liberating in a way that I could talk about Leo now although still dangerous. Like it could unleash unspent emotion. But I felt in control. Seven years experience as a grieving mum under my belt.

As the crowd moved forward and on to the trains we were separated. At Blackheath I see a picture of a baby on someone’s running vest and tears prick my eyes. So many people are running this event motivated by bereavement. I walk across the grassy common to lorries to drop off my gear for the finish and I let more tears flow. Not losing control but allowing myself to think about Leo and to miss him.

Loo queue stresses me out as it nears my wave start. Then I’m in the wave. Rudimental blasting out from the speakers taking me back to nights out with my best friend who was there so much for me during the dark days. Grounded hot air balloons blasting fire. Drizzle falling on us. Excitement building.

Then the crowd starts moving. Then we are off. I’ve got a really quick (for me) time to try for off my coach. And as I bound off I’m running faster than plan. The wave is for a 4 1/2 hour finish and I’m overtaking everyone. Its really busy so I swerve and hop to get through gaps. The side of the road free as its full of puddles and pouring water so I splash onward.

I feel amazing as I dart around the runners. We come past a junction and an irate driver is shouting at a marshal trying to drive onto the course! The marshal stands his ground in front of the vehicle asking if he intends to run him over. I shout over ‘there’s a marathon on’ at the driver… He seems oblivious to his idiocy.

My time is on fire as I overtake a rhino!! Then a dog and a pair of scissors. Defo not exercise induced hallucinations for once. The outfits people run in are crazy! Lots of super heroes about and I spend a few minutes trotting behind batman. His cape billowing.

Mile six is particularly busy and I do a lot of spurts to get by people. Then mile 7 and I am tired and I start slowing down. Each mile after that I get progressively slower and I start to feel like I’m running through treacle. Not even halfway.

Getting to 13 miles is surprisingly tough considering my training and I feel like I’ve hit a wall early on. I start to feel dizzy and wonder if its electrolytes or anxiety. I struggle to eat energy bars I’m carrying and my pace drops further. I think of my daughter and start to feel like, as she eloquently puts it a ‘good for you pal’. The less athletic participants who get around these challenging events.

The crowd cheer me on shouting go Lorni. I think its very overfamiliar and its not until after the race I realise the A in my name has peeled and it looks like my name is Lorni not Lorna!!

I get to mile 18 by counting through some miles in my head but I’m really trudging now. There are no food stations, just water. Lucozade at the odd one. I swig a cup of Lucozade and immediately regret it. I almost instantly have dreadful stomach cramps. I feel sick and I need the loo. But I keep going.

I recognise the skyscrapers in the City and look around me to take my mind off myself. I can’t stomach my energy bars anymore so I take sweets from strangers and trot on.

As we edge nearer to the finish the crowds get louder and busier and start to carry me along. We hit pride mile and rainbow flags adorn the route and I run through clouds of bubbles. There is a singer on a stage and I begin smiling.

I’m worried about mile 23 as this is where I had a meltdown the first time I ran the London marathon when I was 17 weeks pregnant with baby Joel. My rainbow baby who has given me so much joy. But this time I’m starting to buzz. Nearly home. I look at my watch and my time is great!! I start to speed up.

The road goes underground and there is a group drumming loud. Its amazing. I’m on top of the world beaming. I run alongside the Thames and I can see Big Ben. This is nearly it. Then I’m on the homeward straight bounding home. Then I’m over the line in a fantastic time for me! Four hours twenty six minutes. Smashing my four and a half hour target. Medal adorned around my neck.

And I think about Leo and what started my crazy endurance adventures. And I let myself cry. Warm good tears. Tears of love for my beautiful baby boy watching down on me from heaven.

I walk through Trafalgar Square then to the Lullaby Trust after party. Greeted to a massive round of applause  and I feel like a celebrity. Then I have what feels like the best shower of my life!! Then a 30 minute leg massage off what I can only describe as my Guardian Angel. Then a dry lukewarm jacket potato that again feels like the best thing I have ever tasted. Dopamine flooding my brain.

Then I reflect on my journey. Completing the London Marathon again closes the circle. The first time I ran with my brother, 17 weeks pregnant with acute back pain. We’d raised £12k for the Lullaby Trust. It was a saving force that gave me a purpose during the early stages of grief. I remember being too scared to cry that day as I knew I’d never stop. This time was much easier. I felt strong physically and emotionally. A warrior returning home from war.

Losing Leo was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. Yet that loss triggered a wild adventure all over the world from the deserts of Utah, through the icy Welsh seas to the Hawaiian tropics. And whilst I’d never wish to go through it again, let me meet the most incredible people and experience the highest of highs and the lowest lows.

I have found that with darkness you appreciate light and you develop gratitude. I am grateful for everything I have and all that I am.

My future now is uncharted. Like a scene from Terminator. The female lead, so strong mentally and physically who I aspire to be like. The Terminator has been thwarted so the future is no longer predetermined.

There is no longer a set pattern. I will make my life whatever I want it to be.

If you’d like to support other families impacted by SIDS please head here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/lorna-hopkin1

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