It has long been an ambition of mine to run the Marathon. I’ve always thought that to complete the gruelling 26.2 miles would be a great achievement, something that I could tell my grandchildren all about in years to come. With this in mind I applied to the ballot soon after the 2001 Marathon.
At midnight on 28th September 2001 I was woken by the doorbell and immediately knew that something terrible had happened. My dad and my older brother, Gary, had come to break the news to me that my younger brother, Ben had died.
He had gone to bed in his flat in Hove the previous evening and had not woken up. He was found by his flatmates at around 7 pm. He was only 24 years old. He was such a charming, caring and funny guy. Even though he was the youngest we all looked up to him. He had so much to life for… why did this have to happen to him?
I will never forget that awful night as long as I live. The shock and numbness that hit me was unbearable. My twin, Cheryl had only married 5 days previously and she was still abroad on Honeymoon. My parents were worried sick that she would not be able to get a flight back and so had not tried to contact her yet, but I knew that I had to tell her straight away. It wouldn’t have been fair to keep it from her, even if only until the next morning. I said that Ben and “died”, I could not bring myself to say the word “dead”.
For 14 excruciating days we waited to hear the cause of death. The Coroner finally said that the Certificate would read Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS). He also briefly mentioned the possibility of Long QT Syndrome. I knew what this meant more than anyone in the family as I have worked as a Cardiac Technician in a local hospital for 8 years. I was able to get my brother and sister in fairly quickly to have ECGs, Echocardiograms and Exercise Treadmill Tests. Thankfully we all had negative results.
Whilst still very much in the grieving process I searched the internet for up to date information and found the CRY website. I was able to find some comfort in other peoples stories of how they have come to terms with such similar losses as mine. I also decided to run the Marathon in Ben’s memory – only to discover that I could run for CRY with a Golden Bond Place. I applied and was accepted; my sister Cheryl had also made a pact to run for Ben and also gained a Golden Bond Place. We thought that £1000 each was a tall order, but we underestimated people’s compassion and generosity. We organised a coffee morning and a charity auction night to help our sponsorship efforts and soon realised that we would exceed the £2000 mark with some ease.
In the meantime I had a very demanding training schedule to follow. My sister and I had both been keen runners at school and college. I was Sussex County Champion in the 400 meters hurdles for 2 consecutive years and Cheryl was runner-up on both occasions. I wanted to do well in the Marathon, completing the course didn’t seem tribute enough to my brother Ben.
The long cold runs on dark, wet winter nights were so hard. A particular low point came for me after the competition of a 20 mile road race in Worthing. I had run a sub 3 hour time – pretty good as you runners will know, but the whole reason why I was running hit me so hard along with the sheer physical exhaustion that I broke down at the end of the race. My Mum and Dad both tried to console me, but for several days after I didn’t think that I would be able to do the Marathon. It was only 3 weeks away but I felt that I would be too emotionally drained to do it. The only thought that kept me going was that I was doing it for Ben and I imagined him laughing at me whilst training in the rain.
The week before the Marathon Cheryl became unwell. She had a virus and was not able to get out of bed let alone train. It became doubtful whether she would attempt the 26.2 miles at all. But the day before we were due to travel she decided that she would be OK.
We travelled up to London together on the train – just the two of us and our giant grinning heart costumes. Our family would travel up on Marathon day to cheer us on. Tears welled in my eyes just saying goodbye on the platform. That night we ate loads and tried to rest. Not easy with all that adrenaline.
Early next morning we travelled on the Docklands Light Railway with many other runners to Greenwich Park to embark on our Marathon attempt. The atmosphere was buzzing and cheerful but one look at Cheryl and I could tell that she too had a lump in her throat when she thought of the one reason why we were there that day.
We donned our costumes, dumped our kit bags and found our zone at the start. We were right at the very back! 20 minutes after the gun had gone off for the start of the race we were still at the back and had only just reached the start line. After only a few minutes of running, nature called and I had to detour to the nearest bush. It was occupied at the time by several other runners who must have done the hydration process as well!
Cheryl and I ran together for the first mile only. We knew that I was a lot fitter and that after her illness she should not push herself at all. I checked if she was OK for me to go ahead and she said that she was. We said in unison, “see you at the finish!”
The race itself passed very much in a blur for me. I was so focused on that finish line that nothing and no-one was going to stop me. I was overtaking people all the way, practically barging my way through when it become crowded. I was running for Ben and my whole family. We had been through so much since September. I couldn’t let then down now. I saw them all at the Cutty Sark – just a quick wave, then again at around the 18 mile mark. I stopped for a quick kiss from everyone and to ask how Cheryl was. They assured me that she was just fine – taking it easy. At 20 miles I had to queue for a porta loo, but 10 minutes later I was back on the road.
I had pictures of Ben on my costume as well as the CRY logo and my name. The crowds were great – just like everyone had told me. They all called my name and cheered me on. More often as “go on the strawberry” though unfortunately!
When the actual finish line came into view I couldn’t quite believe it. My training had obviously paid off because I felt physically strong and was able to increase my speed in the final straight. Not exactly a sprint finish, but very respectful in a heart costume I thought.
My official finish time was 4 hours 48 mins and 16 secs. As I came across the line I held my hands up and I smiled widely for the photos but inside my heart was breaking. Ben had not been there to see me. While other people were laughing and chatting I silently collected my medal and goody bag.
I longed to see the rest of my family but it was another hour before my husband, Shane, finally found me. He had been held up just across the road by the sheer volume of people there watching. The aches and pains had set in and despite what I had just achieved I was feeling really low.
A reassuring hug, (and a cheese sandwich) cheered me a little and I was then able to shout for Cheryl as she came down the final straight. She too was very emotional but I hugged her and with a tight grasp on our medals we both said, “We did it……for Ben”.
To date we have raised a total in the region of £6800 and we’re still collecting small amounts in even now.
My Dad, Tony Thorn, is now involved in organising a 40 mile Charity Bike ride around Sussex, the proceeds of which we shall donate to CRY. My husband and I are both aiming to take part, the rest of the family will be shouting from the sidelines.
Losing Ben has left a huge void in our lives. We know that nothing can ever bring him back to us but my whole family agree that CRY is such a worthwhile cause. The fund raising that we have done so far has given us all something to aim for during the last, long 10 months. We shall all endeavour to continue to support CRY and its aims.