In January 2017 I stood in a chilly park and wondered why I decided to start a beginner running course in the winter!
When Andy asked if I had a goal in mind, I felt that a parkrun might be too optimistic and that a mile might be more realistic.
Little did I suspect that just over 2 years later I would be running the London MARATHON!!
When I first joined RUN Harpenden I did not find the running easy at all and usually positioned myself at the very back of the group. I always felt I was slower than everyone else and I struggled with the idea that I had to run 2 further times a week as part of our homework! But I was also afraid of being left behind, so I persevered each week until we were ready to enter our first parkrun in the April. I slowly plodded round and was very happy to be rewarded with CAKE afterwards!!
5K was still very challenging for me and I really found it difficult to increase the distance, until I was fortunate to be the only person in the group to turn up during a summer session and Andy took me for a run without saying how far we were going , and he taught me how to “ease off” and stop talking (!!) to help me control my puffing and panting. Before I knew what had happened we had run 10km!
This gave me some confidence to keep running slightly further and keep up with a few others in my group when we met for a regular Thursday run. A year after starting I entered the Fred Hughes 10 MILE race which was terrifying as it had a 2 hour cut off time and I had visions of being scooped up by a “child catcher “ style van for being too slow! I managed to scrape through and complete it in 2 hours 8 seconds.
Next came the Harpenden half marathon and I was so pleased to have managed to run for almost 3 hours continuously but was also slightly disheartened at being last and so much slower than everyone else. Once again, Andy came to me rescue and we did a training session together where I just had to follow his pace. He taught me lots of different strategies to cope (breathing, counting, distraction, not talking!!) and I knocked 10 minutes off my Fred Hughes time. This gave me confidence to run the St Albans Half and I managed to knock about 15 minutes off my previous time.
I then made the mistake of not having a goal to work towards over the summer and found myself really struggling to run more than 6 or 7 km and lacking motivation. So it was a relief when my marathon ballot commiserations magazine dropped through my letterbox! Somehow though I was encouraged by Andy and Graham who said “you never know what’s around the corner”, to find a charity place in the hope it would motivate me to get myself training again.
My charity place meant fundraising.
As soon as my Virgin marathon place was confirmed I was totally terrified!! What on Earth had I done?!! Not only did I now need to raise £2000 but I had to somehow increase my distance from about 12km to 42 km! I don’t think I slept for about a week afterwards.
Fortunately, Andy came to my rescue once again and I was lucky to be able to employ his services as my 1-1 marathon coach. Andy devised a plan for me, including gently encouraging me to add in an extra running session to make that 4 times per week!! My training plan didn’t actually start until January but I wanted to reach a half marathon distance before Christmas, in addition to a couple of “marathon“ bag packing days assisted by all my lovely RUN Harpenden friends. I was very fortunate to have managed to drag my running partner in crime, Cheryl into the marathon too (plus Liz , who had by then had completed a couple of marathons) so luckily then had a training partner to run with and the three of us could share fundraising ideas and running routes.
The programme included a weekly long run of increasing distance at an easy pace (which never felt easy ever !) from about 8 miles to 21 miles plus a couple of shorter runs and a harder session of hills or sprints during the group. Although I never found any of the running very easy I did like the structure of the plan and really enjoyed filling out the ever increasing mileage on my weekly chart as well as rewarding myself with some new Sweaty Betty running gear!
With marathon expert Martin Yelling.
Somehow, I started becoming more obsessed with all things running related, including reading several “how to“ marathon books and even subscribing to runners world! The months very quickly passed by and before I knew it I had completed the whole training programme and was “good to go”. I can’t actually say that my running felt any easier and I sadly didn’t lose any weight at all, but I felt as prepared as I could possibly be and I think that helped give me confidence that I could possibly run that far. The week leading up to the marathon was hectic; going to London to collect our race numbers, plus getting to meet marathon expert Martin Yelling and seeing Mo Farah (although we missed him falling off the treadmill).
Waiting for the bus.
Arriving at the start.
Not following Andy’s advice, I was still flapping and packing my bag the night before. I woke up at 4am on marathon day to find water pouring through my ceiling! Sorted the plumbing emergency, then quickly shovelled down a bucketful of porridge and arrived early to catch the bus. Luckily Liz and Cheryl soon arrived plus Leanne and Sarah from other RUN Harpenden groups and then Andy looking all calm and collected! We tried not to get too freaked out by the other runners’ conversations on the bus about sub 3 hours and tales of 100 Mile ultras etc. Soon we had arrived in Greenwich and made our way to our respective starts. It was so nice being with Liz and Cheryl, so we could all share the nerves and excitement and queue together repeatedly for the toilets!
Then almost an hour after the official start, we set off from our pen and luckily I was so distracted by everything around me that I was less nervous than I normally am on a parkrun!
Cheryl, as planned went on ahead and Liz and I ended up running close to each other for the first 8 miles, so that was great having someone to share experience with including the Cutty Sark. I lost Liz whilst stopping to queue for the toilet and put on my music for a while. Going over Tower Bridge was just fantastic and then mentally trying to prepare myself that I still had another 14 miles to go. Fortunately I managed to find myself a pacer called Harminder (who had done over 150marathons!) around Mile 15 and I worked hard to try to keep up with him. I soon realised I was the only person in his group and decided to try and stay with him for as long as I could (although I was worried that I might crash and burn later on). It was the closest thing I could find to running with Andy! He even gave me a bottle of lucozade when I was really thirsty and couldn’t find any more water stations.
Seeing my husband Dan and daughter Lily in the crowd (about 5 times on the course) waving giant inflatable unicorns was such a boost as was seeing various friends along the way and then Andy and the RUN Harpenden cheering crew was such a highlight for me and gave me more energy to keep running.
What was unbelievable to me was that my pacer told me we running too far ahead of his set pace and he would eventually have to let me go to run on ahead without him! He eventually sent me on my way at the London Eye and I ran alone to the end, smiling constantly (another Andy technique).
It was just an unbelievable feeling to be passing Big Ben and Buckingham Palace and then see my husband and daughters Lily and Alice in the grandstand madly waving the unicorns was such an amazing feeling. I was so overjoyed and slightly tearful once I received my medal, I didn’t really care what my official time was, but I was overjoyed that I had run about 40 minutes faster than I had predicted.
It was great fun to catch up with Andy and Cheryl and the RUN Harpenden cheering squad in the pub afterwards and just enjoy wearing the medal that I never thought would be possible just 2 years earlier.
”Enjoying wearing the medal that I never thought would be possible just 2 years earlier