Words: Jill Tyrrell
On 7 July 2005, four suicide bombers carried out coordinated attacks on London’s transport network, killing fifty-two civilians and injuring over 700 more. The deadliest of the attacks took place on a six-car London Underground train travelling between King’s Cross St Pancras and Russell Square on the Piccadilly line.
Twenty-six people were killed in that particular explosion. Miraculously, Jill Tyrrell survived the attack, despite having been in the same carriage as the bomber. She subsequently spent two-and-a-half months in hospital as a result of the injuries she sustained but, incredibly, recovered well enough to take part in the 2006 London Marathon.
It was shortly after Christmas that I decided to run the 2006 London Marathon. I had already run it twice before, in 2004 and 2005. I had always enjoyed running and keeping fit, so when the opportunity to run it for the first time came along, I decided to give it a go. The first time, I did it in 4:42:16, which I improved by almost a quarter of an hour in 2005 (4:29:14). Running in 2006 never really occurred to me until one of the directors at work helped to get me a place running for a multiple sclerosis charity. It seemed like a good goal to work towards. Plus, I had the motivation of wanting to prove to the bombers that they didn’t, couldn’t and never would win.
They did what they did for whatever reasons they believed in but, in the end, they lost. They’ll never win. The treadmill of life keeps moving, no matter how many twisted people try and interfere with it. London, in particular, is very resilient. It has a tremendous capacity for bouncing back in the face of adversity and so completing the first marathon after the attacks became my personal mission.
Training went well and the morning of the race was upon me before I knew it. It was Sunday, 23 April 2006 – just 290 days since the bombings. I remember that the weather wasn’t especially great. It was cold, wet and generally quite grotty. As I walked around Greenwich Park before it got underway, I felt as though everybody was looking at me. My arms and, in particular, my legs bore the fresh scars of the attack and that made me feel quite self-conscious. I tried to block it out and just convinced myself that nobody knew why I was there or what had happened to me.
It was when I heard a voice on the loudspeaker saying, ‘This is the Flora London Marathon and this is the Red Start,’ that I started to relax. I felt proud to be part of something important for London, something bigger than me, something that demanded a personal challenge but did not mind how you achieved it – only that you tried. The marathon was my personal ‘Everest’, the biggest physical challenge I will probably ever undertake, and particularly that year.
It was certainly more of a struggle to get round than it had been in either of the two previous years, for obvious reasons, but my legs held up remarkably well. I was very stiff at the end but, under the circumstances, I felt okay and only stopped once because I was tired and a bit emotional.
There was a very poignant moment as I came around the Embankment, about the twenty-second or twenty-third miles. As you take that bend, can see St Thomas’s opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and that made me well up a little bit. The enormity of everything that I had been through came flooding back. I had almost been killed below the streets of the capital just months earlier and yet here I was, running through them in one of the country’s greatest and most defiant sporting events.
Still, it was a relief to finish. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – but the fact remains that I did do it and I’m so proud of that.
Everything I’ve experienced has made me much more appreciative of what I have. It’s changed my outlook on life. I now don’t delay in doing the things I want to do because you never know what is just around the corner.
So, as difficult as it can sometimes be, I try to focus on life’s positives. Things come to you in unexpected ways and from loss can come gain. Some people have said I am more ‘happy go lucky’ than I was before. I hope that’s true.
As far as running goes, it’s still a part of my life and I’ve run the London Marathon again since 2006. These days, however, I don’t run to chase a ‘personal best’; I run because I can.
I can and I will.
This is an extract taken from Running the Smoke by Michael McEwan, a collection of 26 first-hand accounts of tackling the London Marathon from runners of all sorts, published by Arena Sports Books in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity.