My Marathon Journey
Last Sunday, I ran the London Marathon. And I still surprise myself with those words. Around 10 years ago, I planned to run but I had to pull out before the training really kicked off and somewhere over the last 10 years I decided I wasn’t that bothered about ever taking it on. Then, at Christmas, I was approached about running in London, a race that my boyfriend was already running and in a bid to support him in his fundraising efforts I found myself just saying yes without giving it much thought. A few days later as I opened my training plan with 16 weeks to go, I couldn’t quite see how I would ever run the whole way round. But I put on my trainers and took the first step.
The scale of the whole thing aside, my biggest concern as I entered this process was the risk of injury. So I had a firm word with myself before I even started and decided that the only way for this to be feasible was to take it slow. I had done a little running at times over the past 10 years or so, but never more than 12km and never consistently with a goal in mind. So the build up to 26.2miles (42km) seemed like a very unfamiliar process and a little daunting as I ticked off the first run on my 16 week plan. The plan I chose was the ‘First-Time Finisher’ plan from the London Marathon website and was aimed at someone with a base level of fitness with little running experience. I suppose I probably exceeded the ‘pre-requisites’ for this plan but in my quest to make the journey as injury free as possible, it seemed like the sensible option. Over the 16 weeks I got into the swing of things, with 3 runs a week that built in length, with the longer runs on Sunday mornings. It built at a good pace, setting the foundations first, allowing my fitness and endurance to build gradually without too much strain on my body.
I managed to stay injury free all the way up until my 15mile run. That day I ran and felt really comfortable, until I got home and realised my foot wasn’t so happy! I spent 2 weeks thinking my training would be ending here at about 8 weeks in, that I had given it a good go and telling myself not to be too hard on myself that I didn’t make it to the start line.
Impact on Other Exercise
At first, I was able to keep up with other fitness practices and in fact they really supported my running. But over the course of the programme I found myself less and less able to do both due to the increased time commitment and the mental aspect of wanting to preserve my energy for the running (which probably wasn’t totally necessary).
And it impacted my yoga practice too. The more time I was spending running, or thinking about it, the harder I found it to carve out the time to get myself to my usual classes. But not only that, I also found that my practice changed a lot. Over the winter I had been doing a lot more ‘yang’ and stronger yoga asana practices which no longer really served me as the running seemed to take that role. I noticed myself slowing down, getting much more mindful in my movement, and adapted my yoga practice accordingly. The asana became slow, conscious deliberate movement, and the breath and mediation took more and more of a lead. Movements and flows became simplified with a lesser focus on more advanced asana and more concentration on refining transitions to get completely connected to what I was actually experiencing. And this flowed into my teaching as well!
My staple became pasta (chickpea or brown rice), tempeh or tofu and veggies. In fact, I think I must have eaten that more than 50 times in the 16 weeks of training. But it did the job and once we had found something that worked, it seemed silly to mix it up too much.
I also ate a lot of cake. And for everyone that kept asking me if I’d lost weight (which was the last thing I was doing this for), the simple answer was no. Because somewhere in my subconscious, my 3 runs a week meat I had no reason for concern over keeping my sweet tooth hiding away. I fully indulged it and created quite the habit for anything sugary, particularly in weeks 8-14! While it wasn’t perhaps the best running fuel, I tried not to think about it and in stead just let it be!
In terms of race fuel wanted to avoid taking gels, so I stuck to fruit jerky (I preferred it to dried fruit as there was less chewing) and towards the end I found some vegan gummy bears!
6.30am Alarm went off, hopped in the shower as the kettle boiled. Water, coffee, and porridge topped with PB and ½ a banana was my tried and tested pre-run breakfast. So far, just another ‘Sunday Runday’. As we tied our timing chips to our shoes and pinned our numbers to our shirts, I realised that this might be quite a big deal, but instead of nerves, I felt excited. And I had Will there, so I felt relaxed. And then we set of on our journey to the start line and every time we saw more runners I could feel myself getting emotional. No tears yet, and still not too scared “just another Sunday run”. In fact, I think I was excited. We split ways as Will headed to the Red Start. I was lucky – not only was I at the Green start with just 3,000 of the 50,000 runners but I also was running with Virgin Money Giving so I didn’t have the concerns over well timed queuing for the porter loos to worry about!
At about 10 to 10, we lined up and by 10:04 I had crossed the start line. In that 14 minutes, I had spoken to those lining up next to me; a 99-time marathon runner, a lady who had raised £30k for a small fertility charity and another woman running for Breast Cancer after losing her baby during pregnancy as a result of radiotherapy, and never conceiving again. I was stunned, and after a morning of excited babbling, I was reduced to a humbling silence in those moments before crossing the start line.
And then it began, already 18 degrees, and within 45 seconds I had stitch. Cool. I knew I should slow down because of the heat and I tried, but I found a comfortable pace exactly where I had trained so I let myself stay there. I had discovered during my training that I should take on sugar early so I did that and was mindful to drink a little more to adapt for the heat. The first 16 miles were all smiles. I had the biggest uncontrollable grin on my face, in awe of every other runner, the crowds, looking up at Tower Bridge against the blue skies, spotting friends and family and being cheered by strangers along the way. I settled in to the heat and felt comfortable. But as I went on, it got harder and harder to take on the sugar and I just felt pretty sick. And I’m pretty sure that was my downfall. At mile 21 I could still smile when someone cheered my name or as I spotted a funny sign or a familiar face in the crowds but by mile 22.5 I could smile anymore. I felt sick, and the 4 miles to follow felt longer than the first 20! All possibilities of speeding up at the end were rationalised by a fear that I wouldn’t make it to the end and I let myself slow with every step, knowing I wasn’t in this for the clock watching.
The last 1km is marked in 200m intervals, each feeling twice as long as the last, but when the finish line came into sight, the relief through my whole body let me take the last few steps. I crossed the line in disbelief, as though I’d spotted a mirage in a dry desert and I fumbled my way to find my friends and family.
It took me a long time to eat, I tried an apple, water, Lucozade, but I just couldn’t face anything until we found an ice cream van and a lemon icelolly suddenly called out to me. That was the turning point – from then on, my stomach slowly settled and I could manage some bread, then some lentil chips and eventually a few hours later I was ready for a long awaited vegan burger at The Vurger Co, complete with Mac’n’cheese and sweet potato fries of course!
I had run faster than expected, fuelled much less than planned and threw all expectations out the window. But at the toughest moments I knew why I was there, and that kept me putting one foot in front of another, mile after mile.
My recovery has been magic. I am amazed at my usually injury-prone body in its ability to bounce back after such a big feat. I had a 90 minute sports massage to drain my lymphatic system the same evening and I think this and sensible training made all the difference. I also couldn’t face the G&T I had been looking forward to post race, and that probably did me some favours too! I woke up on Monday morning so comfortable and able to walk and so now, two days later, its hard to remember that last weekend was the biggest physical (and possibly mental) challenge I think I will ever undertake. But the memories of the incredible day, the inspiration, the crowds, all of it, are still going strong.
I’m no pro, but I learned some things that worked for me along the way.
· Don’t underestimate the need to fuel en route. It might not feel natural, but it’s worth practicing, as the routes get longer.
· Everyone tells you to get a running buddy, but I enjoyed going solo. Go with what works for you.
· Follow a plan, but don’t worry if you need to adapt it. Injuries, life etc happen. Make it work.
· ‘Race’ day might not go to plan. If you’ve trained well, you can’t plan for the conditions, you will be able to adapt.
· Everyone will talk about time. “What are you aiming for?” “What time did you get?” – if it matters to you that’s cool, but if that’s not your goal, don’t get wrapped up in the numbers game!
· Mobility during training is key for injury prevention. It’s not just a quick stretch, schedule this in to your training plan and make rest and mobility a priority.
· No your ‘why’. It’s as simple as that. If you know what you are running for and really feel it strongly, some how it doesn’t seem so hard!
Born to Run
Will Pullen – Running Therapy
I fundraised with Virgin Money Giving for MIND. You can still donate via my fundraising page. All support is received with huge gratitude.