I signed up to the VLM with a charity place in October after raising £6,000 for the same charity climbing Kilimanjaro. Up until this point I had run 1-2 miles at a time as part of a general health and fitness program. I have never been able to run and always thought it looked wonderful for those that effortlessly run along the beach seemingly enjoying this activity. So, I started a frantic Google of training plans and signed up to the various running Apps onmy phone. I certainly had sufficient time to get training but all plans recommended not even attempting a marathon unless you were putting in >30 miles per week!
Anyway, ever the optimist I visited a running store to have my gait analysed and spent a small fortune on various running attire, GPS watch etc and off I went. I made the rookie error of doing too much too soon, the first run was 6miles and then I couldn’t walk for a few days afterwards! I soon got into a regular routine aiming to run 4-5 times per week (and only ever managing 2-3). I joined a running club which was really great and the members were all incredibly supportive. That said, it’s brutal getting up super early through the winter and braving the elements to get your runs in before work. A good friend of mine was also running the VLM and it was great sharing training tips and keeping each other updated on progress. I certainly think having a training buddy or even posting on Strava can help considerably!
I even entered my first ever race, a 10K at the London Olympic Park that my friend Matt kindly agreed to run with me as Helen unfortunately couldn’t run post hip surgery. I was so happy getting my first ever running medal!
So things were going ok, I was really slow but getting up to about 8mi when disaster struck and I got a tendon injury and sciatica over xmas. I was seeing a Physio and was told not to run at all. This was horrendous news and really frustrating. Over Christmas I found a training facility with a hypoxic chamber which simulates altitude and went to visit the trainer there. We ended up working together doing lots of strength and conditioning work, almost a deconstructed approach to running, strengthening those muscles without the impact. This also served as great preparation for Kilimanjaro which we were due to climb in March. I owe a huge amount to Dave and Barry at Sportesse-PT and Emma the fantastic Physio who without which neither challenge would have been possible.
So February came around and I had already entered a half marathon in Blackpool (the Great North West Half Marathon) so despite having done very little running and nothing near that distance I went along with my fantastic friend Charlie as support team. It was incredibly windy, so much so you could hardly walk, let alone run. I was surprised how running in a crowd made it feel easier despite battling the wind. Half way around and several gels and jelly babies later I made it. Legs were in agony and stiffening as soon as I stopped running but I felt euphoric having completed my first ever half! Certainly couldn’t walk for a few days afterwards evidencing my lack of running training but I didn’t care.
Shortly afterwards we were flying to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro. What I hadn’t realised was the effect altitude can have on your joints, causing incredible pain. We knew lots of athletes trained at altitude so expected to come home running a 6min/mi but that wasn’t the case! Our bodies were incredibly fatigued post Kili and that meant a further delay to training!In a panicked state two weeks before the Marathon I attempted my longest run to date, 18 miles. I knew this would be the last opportunity before tapering and my favourite part of endurance running (carb loading) would begin! Typically I was incredibly ill that weekend with flu and chest infection so could hardly breath being stationary yet felt weirdly determined to get this long run under my belt. Thanks to my fab friend Charlie accompanying me en route (on a bike) providing snacks, hydration and story telling I made it. Feet covered in blisters and exhausted but I did it. That was a bitter sweet experience as the thought of running an additional eight miles in a fortnight felt impossible.
Fast forward to marathon day and my friend Nick and I had visited the expo to collect our numbers and pick up last minute compression socks and gels. We had a big pasta meal and tried to have an early night. Of course, hardly slept due to a mix of excitement, fear and anxiety. The following morning we nervously made our way to Greenwich, the atmosphere was electric and it felt surreal to be taking part in this world famous event. I had raised an additional £3,000 for my charity and felt so happy about the good that money would do. So the race begins and I soon realise that my rather unrealistic predicted time had put me in a wave with much faster runners. I kept telling myself just run your own race, take your time but I got carried away using the downhill sections in particular to increase pace. The crowd were sensational and really made such a difference but I struggled to see some friends I knew were waiting at markers to cheer me on, frantically scanning the crowds for familiar faces. You can’t underestimate how wonderful it is seeing your friends in the crowd, it makes all the difference!
The half way point over Tower Bridge did not feel as euphoric as I had imagined. I was tired and knew I just wasn’t having a good run that day. So much of running is mental and I’ve always struggled with my running demons. I certainly feel that the body is capable of so much more than sometimes your mind allows. I even visited a hypnotist before the marathon because this worried me so much. At mile 18 I saw a few of my great friends, Helen included and that was lovely, especially as that was the furthest distance I had ever run. The last few miles were torture, my legs felt like concrete had been injected into them, I felt sick from too many gels and not enough proper food and had torn a muscle in my thigh which made me limp badly. Embankment arrived and I knew it was almost over, the relief I felt crossing the finish line was intense!
My friend Nick had finished an hour before me and had already started seizing up so we hobbled back to the hotel before heading out for celebratory steak and champagne. I vowed I would never run again and here we are with only a few weeks to go before Chicago. History is repeating itself as I’m not getting the miles in at all. Time to up my game for sure!!