23rd November 2010 New York, USA

Through the Wall

Guest blog: Mike Niles, British Consulate-General, New York

Running from Queens to Manhattan over the Queensboro Bridge was silent – no shouting, no music – just the sound of heavy breathing and quickened steps. Turning right onto 1st Avenue in Manhattan is a daunting prospect; a sea of heads ahead, banners and cheers, and an uphill stretch into Harlem. And when you hit the wall, it hurts! It happened to me at around 18 miles; the muscles in my left leg went stiff, it became increasingly difficult to ignore the pain and I had serious doubts that I would be able to complete the ING New York Marathon.

Getting "through the wall" is a common term among marathon runners; the point at around 18-20 miles when your body decides it would rather stand still and watch the runners instead of being one of them. This being my first marathon (and never surpassing 18 miles in training), I had never experienced anything like it before, and just so you know, it is not a good feeling.

It all started really well – setting out on Staten Island gave runners a great view of the Big Apple’s famous skyline and the first stop was Brooklyn. Without a doubt, Brooklyn was out to party on November 7th 2010.  Thousands lined the streets to watch the runners pass through and I was struck by the range of nationalities and communities on the streets, live bands playing, children and adults willing people on. It was relentless and inspiring. From the Hasidic Jewish neighbourhood to the hipster-hangout of Williamsburg, there were apartment parties overhead, DJ sets outside convenience stores and a live rock-concert in a petrol station. Having lived here for just around 8 months now, New York is a place like no other; it thrives on its ability to inspire community spirit and the ‘Empire State of Mind’ of its residents (to coin a famous Brooklyn tune). This was most evident as I ran through King’s County, named after our own King Charles II.

Friends and strangers encouraged me forward in Queens and it was striking how many British people were taking part and watching the marathon. I saw numerous Union Jack flags along with runners dressed in kilts, British firefighter uniforms and a group of bagpipers – and it was when I saw that group of Scottish musicians that it hit me. When I hit “the wall", I decided not to give my body the option to give up – I had come this far and was not going to stop in Harlem.

As I approached the Bronx, my face probably showed the pain I was going through and hundreds cheered us on our way through, over the bridge and onto 5th avenue.  An avenue, you do not necessarily notice unless you are 23 miles into a marathon, that has a distinct uphill characteristic to it! I was wearing a Remembrance Day poppy on my running jersey to remember those have lost their lives defending our country at war. As I entered Central Park, it was great to see how many people in the crowd were also wearing them and were noticing the one on my chest.

There were a couple of notable onlookers in Central Park – a few British Consulate New York staff members cheering from the sidelines, which really helped with the final push. I crossed the line in 4 hours 39 minutes. It was an overwhelming sense of achievement and relief – and I would like to thank everyone that helped to raise my fundraising target for cancer charity Team Continuum, and for those who came out to support us all on the day. It was an experience I will never forget, not for the pain of walking down stairs in the days afterward, but for the outstanding atmosphere and amazing support and generosity offered to me by the people of New York City.

About Dominic Meiklejohn

I was born in Woking, outside London, in 1967 and attended Merton College, Oxford University, graduating in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. After university, I worked for HM Customs and Excise…

I was born in Woking, outside London, in 1967 and attended Merton College, Oxford University, graduating in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

After university, I worked for HM Customs and Excise before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1990. After working for the European Community Department, I learned Polish and began a posting at the British Embassy Warsaw, where I headed the British Know How Fund for Poland (1993-96). In 1997, I worked for the OSCE Mission in Albania, before heading up the India team in the South Asian Department of the FCO. In 2000, I was posted as First Secretary to the British Embassy Warsaw, with a particular focus on European Union issues in the run-up to Poland’s accession to the EU. In 2003, I returned to the UK as Deputy Head of the Environment Policy Department. From 2004-2005, I led the FCO’s Knowledge Management Programme. During this period, I led two deployments of the FCO’s Consular Rapid Deployment Team– to Sri Lanka, after the tsunami in 2004 and to Pakistan, after the earthquake in 2005. From 2006-2007, I served as Deputy Consul-General, Basra, Iraq. From June 2007 I worked with the FCO’s Change Unit.

I took up my current appointment on 22 January 2008. My wife Joanne and I are the proud parents of Olivia. Outside of the office, I cycle around Manhattan, play soccer (football) and, when parenting duties allow, enjoy the cultural riches offered by New York. I try hard to understand baseball.