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Retirement - Who Said That?!

Actually I did, at 8 45am on Sunday 31st October in Marathon, 42 km from the Athens Olympic Stadium. I was with one of our trustees, Richard Allsopp and we were about to run the Athens Marathon, said to be the most difficult marathon on earth. Joe Healy, from New York, was in the wave behind us and like the three musketeers, we nervously agreed to run together in 4 hours 20 minutes - all for one and one for all, no matter what!

I ran with Richard for the first 10 minutes and when he declared that an 11 minute mile was too slow to achieve our goal I let him run ahead and never saw him again until the end. Joe, who crossed the starting line a few minutes behind us, must have passed me at some stage but I never saw him.

Richard ran a 4 hour 28 minute marathon, Joe a 4 hour 44 minute marathon and me a rather slow 4 hour 55 minute marathon - my slowest time ever. It was tougher than we imagined - hillier, steeper, hotter and more challenging. That said, I did enjoy it and it will be forever in my memory. After all at 8 45 that morning I was planning to retire from marathon running and therefore it was important to enjoy this one, as my last.

20,000 runners jostled for the first few kilometres, every runner trying to find their own running space. It was already warm and the smell of rising body odours was not reminding me of roses! But there was a breeze and as the runners spread themselves out the climate made for very pleasant running conditions. The locals were fabulous, shouting "bravo" and "thank you" as they sang and danced to loud motivational music, some of it almost operatic. Even the school brass bands were out in full uniform. There was an enormous sense of occasion and it was difficult not to feel part of it.

The first 20km were fine. I loved it. I heard a voice at 19 km shouting "Okay folks, here comes the first big one!" and a steep hill loomed ahead. I had made a promise to self that I would power walk the steeper hills and I did, only to sprint down the other side. It was exhilarating and it felt wonderful to be passing everyone but there a price to pay, as I soon discovered. My heart rate was all over the place. It wouldn't settle and every time it exceeded 170 beats a minute my heart monitor bleeped at me. More than anything it was embarrassing, as runners all around me checked their watches to see if it was theirs that was bleeping. I had to resort to a regime of power walking and jogging for the next 10 km. 

At 27 km I saw my son Rory and my husband Jonny and feeling no pressure of time I stopped for a brief chat. It was wonderful to see them, so uplifting at a stage when it is just you against the race. I had resolved to walk and jog up to 30 km. My leg muscles were tight. We had been climbing up hill for almost 19 km. Runners everywhere were stopping to stretch and relieve their cramped muscles. Many were walking.

At 30 km I resumed my race and maintained a respectable race pace for the next 12 km. It was all down hill to the Athens Olympic Stadium. I was determined that my time would be under the 5 hours. In the end, I sprinted into the stadium which was filled with literally thousands of people all cheering and clapping. Amazingly, amongst them I spotted Rory and Jonny and other supporters of our MoM team. I waved furiously at them all and ran even faster. I thought of Muir and children with epilepsy and their families. It is truly a fantastic way to support a cause. I was overwhelmed by the occasion and the sense of personal achievement is special too.  My time was 4 hours 55 minutes, by no means outstanding but the experience was worthy of every single minute it took to complete the race. I was still very much in one piece and that had been my single biggest objective.

Catching up with Richard and Joe and other MoM runners (250 in total) there was a great sense of camaraderie. Amongst the group inevitably were some very competitive runners finishing in under 3 hours and some of them joining the ranks of the elite runners - hardly surprising when our team was made up of members of the private equity and infrastructure community.

Back at our hotel my in laws were waiting with champagne. They had arrived in Athens unannounced the night before the race to support me and brought with them £7000 of sponsorship from their friends - to say I was speechless would be an understatement. Thanks to them and all my other wonderful sponsors, I picked up MoM's award for the most money raised by an individual fundraiser.

And the fundraising goes on. Every one of the 250 MoM runners is required to raise €10,000. My fundraising page remains open at bmycharity.com/annmaxwell. Every penny I raise over the €10,000 goes directly to MMT and at the same time underwrites a share of the bigger pot of €2.5 million euros which will be shared between 10 children's charities, including MMT and also UNICEF.

Whilst the moment is still with me and the memories are vivid, I am determined to raise as much money as possible. Please visit my fundraising page with your credit cards at the ready. Even the smallest amount will help make a difference to children with difficult epilepsy and their families who are struggling to cope.

With heartfelt thanks to all, always.

Ann Maxwell
Mother of Muir

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