London Marathon 2019
Mid-November 2018, and a pulled calf meant a less than ideal start to marathon training. It was frustratingly slow to settle. By the time February rolled around, I still hadn’t been able to embark on anything approaching a marathon training plan. Getting to the start line was going to be doubtful if I didn’t get cracking soon.
Fast-forward to now: two days before the race (eeek!). Since February, training has gone pretty smoothly and I’ve been loving it. The overwhelming feeling is one of excitement and gratitude that – barring some random, unexpected event between now and Sunday – I’ll be toeing the London marathon start line for the first time in several years.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience the London marathon a few times. It was my first ever marathon, back in 2007. I was giddy with excitement when the ‘You’re In!’ magazine dropped through the letterbox, on the 5th ballot entry attempt (it also prompted me to join my beloved Valley Striders club, which remains one of the best decisions I ever made). The London Marathon still evokes that same slightly nauseating excitement in me, 12 years on.
In 2011, London saw my fastest marathon time. One of my dearest pals who I’ve known since school, Gemma, was there at the finish. She gave me bear hugs, a piggy back to the pub, and pints. A very good day indeed.
That same year, I stayed with another great buddy from school, Sarah. As she lived in Greenwich, I had possibly the most relaxed journey to the start line of any of the thousands congregating on Blackheath (I’ve just about forgiven her for moving away). She had been due to give birth several days earlier. If the need arose, permission had been granted for an ambulance to cross the course route – the only way of it reaching her home. As you can imagine, she was under strict instructions from me to keep her legs firmly crossed until I’d passed by the 6-mile mark. The pb will always be in part due to her and her daughter’s impeccable timing, for which I am eternally grateful. Happy 8th birthday, Tess.
The build-up to London 2012 had gone very well indeed, but despite buying up and necking the entire contents of Boots, The Cold to End All Colds scuppered that one. My race ended somewhere in the depths of Docklands. I took the DLR of Shame back to the finish line with other crestfallen runners, where we were directed around to the back of the baggage busses to collect our kit, away from the clanking of medals and the distribution of goody bags to the exhausted and exhilarated finishers on the other side.
I’ve supported at a few too, including the past couple of years. It’s an amazing spectacle. Each time, I’ve stored up that feeling of wishing I was out on the course, ready to unleash it when I next had the chance to pin my number on and do it myself. I’ll be honest with you, I would have suffered in the warm conditions last year. I dodged a bullet there.
So, London is a special one for me, for so many reasons. It will be a privilege to experience it, whatever happens on the day.
Just two days to go until this shared experience with 40,000 other runners. 40,000 kindred spirits, in it together. All the things we go through as part of our shared human experience, they’re all there in the marathon. Hope, tenacity, bravery, disappointment, pain, elation, pride, generosity, kindness, support, connection. Not trusting a fart in the latter stages… (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).
It is life distilled down to its purest, rawest form and I love it.
There are only a couple of short runs left to do, one of which will be in full race day kit. I like to imagine that the fancy-dress runners are doing the same, and all around the country there are rhinos, dinosaurs and bananas venturing out for an easy jog around the block.
Any spare time is being filled by listening to podcasts (Marathon Talk tops my list) and favourite music to have in my head as I run (no headphones; just in my head. I always think it’s a shame that runners with headphones miss out on hearing shouts of support, encouraging words from their fellow runners and the full impact of the atmosphere). I visualise running strong, smooth and relaxed whilst I listen. I’d love to know what your top running tunes are too, I’ll have a listen as I munch on my bag of salty pretzels and foam roll my calves.
I’m a sporadic user of the excellent meditation app Headspace. The ‘Competition’ pack in the Sports section is invaluable for finding a calm focus and keeping the nervous energy in check. Now that the physical training is done, all that remains is to cultivate a strong mindset.
All of this taper week activity is punctuated by regular applications of hand wash gel and near-obsessive checking of the weather app (looking favourably cool at the moment). I’m all packed and looking forward to a fab weekend of catching up with friends, a little run, and then meeting up with everyone in the pub afterwards.
Running has been going fairly well recently, but it hasn’t always been this way. Over the past couple of years, my breathing would sometimes get panicky mid-run. My throat would go tight, I’d start wheezing and my lungs felt like they’d shrunk to half their usual size. I told myself that this was due to some physical reason (which it may have been, in part). The truth was that I knew what triggered the breathing struggles. They were usually preceded by negative, anxious thoughts that I struggled to contain before they escalated and ran riot in my mind. It is amazing how the transference of thought to manifestation of physical symptoms in the body can be almost instantaneous. I’d stop to regain my composure and my breath, muttering apologies between gasps to my concerned and endlessly patient club mates. Despite their kindness, I felt embarrassed about it. I loved their company, but I started going on more runs on my own, for fear of it happening again.
A few years ago, my Valley Striders pal (and all-round amazing person) Hannah Corne brought Mini Mermaids Running Club to the UK. I started coaching and was struck by the curriculum’s content. In the beautifully-designed 6-week programme, it taught girls aged 7-11 how to manage difficult thoughts, and much more besides. Every single time I teach it to the girls, it serves as a valuable reminder for me, too.
Through a series of activities, we find ways of flipping the mind/body connection to work for us, not against us. The girls learn to question any message – from their own heads, from those around them, from social media – that makes them doubt themselves, put themselves down or think that they are not good enough (all classic ‘Siren’ voice stuff).
They learn to recognise that the thoughts they have are not facts. They pause, breathe, acknowledge how they’re feeling, stretch. Gradually, the volume on their ‘Mini Mermaid’ voice is turned up. This is the voice that says: yes, you can do it. Just do your best. It might feel hard, but you’ll get there. They discover that their minds can be their greatest ally and are better equipped to realise their full potential and to help others do the same.
As the weeks go by, it’s a joy to see them blossom. By the time they take on their 5k challenge run, they know to run at their own pace, to love moving their bodies, not to compare themselves to others and that they can push through their discomfort to achieve more than they thought they could.
I will be trying to remember all of this myself on Sunday.
I owe a massive thank you to a long list of special people (if this was an Oscars speech, they’d be signalling the orchestra to strike up and escorting me off the stage at this point…).
Friends, family, loved ones. Marathon training means you don’t always see everyone as much as you’d like – I apologise if it’s been a while. I’m looking forward to catching up with you properly, in person, and ideally sat opposite each other with a pint in our hands.
My Valley Striders clubmates, a truly inspiring bunch who have become so much more than just running pals over the years.
The professionals who’ve got me to this point in one piece: Louisa at Coach House physiotherapy, Jim Mason sports massage, Nicky Green at the Running and Movement Studio.
Everyone who has donated. Your generosity has been genuinely touching. You have smashed the fundraising target (the total is £1,335 at the time of writing). Who knows what impact you will have on the lives of the girls who – thanks to you – will be able to go through the programme? And the knock-on effect this will have on the lives of their families and friends? An exciting thought.
This will be at the forefront of my thoughts on Sunday. You will be helping me round.
If you’d like to donate, the link is here: http://bit.ly/2I1lWcK
If you’d like to track me on the day, my number is 28163.
I’ll let you know how it goes.