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Crossing the Olympic finish line

Story highlights

  • 5,000 runners took part in a five-mile run around the Olympic Park in London
  • Course took competitors past some of the major venues for this summer's Games
  • Spice Girl Mel C, Princess Beatrice, former Olympians among celebrity participants

Elite athletes around the world are currently hard at work, cramming in a final few months of tough training ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.

What drives them all is the hope that the blood, sweat and tears they've invested in their sporting careers over the years will mean that, come August, they are the first to run, swim or bike across that all-important finish line.

I am not a natural sportswoman: I am hopelessly unfit and hate pretty much all forms of physical exercise, from the tyranny of team games, to the solitude of slogging around the park plugged into an iPod.

But despite this, I beat all those awe-inspiring Olympians to it: I crossed that finish line before them, if only thanks to a quirk of timing, and the luck of the draw.

I was one of 5,000 members of the British public whose names were pulled out of the hat to win a place in the National Lottery's Olympic Park Run, a five-mile race around the major Games venues in Stratford, East London.

And so despite my status as a running refusenik, I found myself herded, among a crowd of far fitter, healthier, sportier types, into a pen behind the start line, part of a sea of red t-shirted runners beneath a threatening gray sky.

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    Feeling faintly sick, I joined in as we stretched, bent, lunged and jogged on the spot, wondering why it was that I seemed to be the only one worn out by the warmup alone.

    And then, after some encouraging words from celebrities, and a bit of a singalong, the starting gun was fired and the frontrunners were off, leaving me and the rest of the back-of-the-pack bunch to watch in amazement as they raced away, haring around the course at improbable speeds that brought the fastest and fittest back into the Olympic Stadium and across the finish line before we had even begun.

    "The bad news," joked the compere, as he waited to wave us off, "is that you can't win." However, he assured us, this was bound to be an amazing experience, one we would not forget.

    At that point I would have been happy to forget the whole thing, and slink off home, but it wasn't to be: A rousing chorus of "Jerusalem" from opera singer Sean Ruane, and we too were pouring across the line.

    Determined to run at least a little of the course, I started as I knew I wouldn't be able to go on for long, jogging until the crowd thinned out and I could take up the brisk walking pace I hoped would get me back to the stadium before the street cleaners moved in to sweep the course.

    As we looped around the Velodrome at the one-mile mark, to the sounds of a samba band, the sun came out, glinting on the temporary fences, scaffolding and equipment still being used by the neon-jacketed workmen who waved and cheered on the runners -- and walkers.

    Thankfully, I soon discovered I wasn't the only competitor taking it slow and steady -- there were plenty of us, grinning encouragement at each other as we overtook and then were overtaken, chatting, pausing to take photos of the shiny new Olympic venues we passed along the way, excited to be given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the park which will be the focus of the sporting world's attention in just a few months.

    The miles passed surprisingly quickly, and soon I was heading past the View Tube, waving to scores of visitors who had come to see the park-in-progress, and on down into the undercroft of the athletics venue itself, where yet another broad smile spread across my face at the "Chariots of FIre" soundtrack being relayed on speakers as we circled beneath the stadium.

    And then, buoyed up by the music, it was time for my very own snippet of Olympic glory -- entering the echoing bowl of the stadium, to the cheers of spectators.

    It's the moment every athlete trains their whole life for, and even an anti-sportswoman like me couldn't fail to be thrilled by the sight of thousands of supporters yelling as I jogged, hobbled, and, yes, for the last few hundred yards, RAN towards that finish line, grinning.

    Later, medal in hand, I watched, awestruck, from the stands as the winners were awarded their trophies and the final two competitors -- one using a walking frame, the other on crutches -- made it across the line to the roars of the crowd.

    Come August, this place will be all about who makes it across that line fastest. But for one day only, it was simply about making it across the line -- and I am proud to say that I was one of the (last to be) first to do just that. Usain Bolt, I beat you to it.