Virgin London Marathon 2018

29 Apr

When I was born, my Aunty Margaret gave my mum a copy of The Golden Treasury, Francis Palgrave’s anthology of English poetry, inscribing “So that Katherine may enjoy the poems that we so loved as children” on the title page. Mum would read the poems to us while we were in the bath, and at bedtime- Blake’s sweet Infant Joy, and impressive Tyger, John Masefield’s haunting Sea Fever, Milton’s On His Blindness, Wordsworth’s Daffodils, Keats’s To Autumn, de la Mare’s Listeners– the canon of our childhood. I’m sure Thomas Hood’s maudlin I Remember, I Remember has scarred me for life, but Alfred Noyes’s Highwayman and Tennyson’s Ladyof Shalott , and the Gatling jammed, and the Colonel dead in Sir Henry Newbold’s Vitai Lampada were more thrilling than watching a film with Mum’s dramatic license in the telling.

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But best of all was If. The da-dum, da-dum of the iambic pentameter, and Mum’s favourite themes of being true to oneself, of being no better nor no worse than anyone else, and of filling that elusive “unforgiving minute/ with sixty second’s worth of distance run”- I knew the poem by heart by the time I was eight years old. And it’s not really surprising, as it appeals to a juvenile ear, especially one like mine, brought up on musicals and hymns and Irish ballads and Motown. Rewards and FairiesKipling’s 1907 collection of short stories that the poem is taken from, is a children’s book. The poem is nursery rhyme-like, it deals with very basic themes, and it does it in such a way, with such a rhythm that it’s impossible to ignore, especially when your mother is reciting it loudly, holding aloft a wooden spoon.

One of the modules of my English degree was on Imperialist literature, and it was not cool to like Kipling, at university, in 1997; he was the “Jingo imperialist” of George Orwell’s critical essay, some 70 odd years before. I would feel like someone was laying into my favourite childhood toy as lecturers would almost sneer when ripping apart If. Admittedly, a collective familiarity with the work has made a cliché of virtually every line, but in my opinion, If  is a rare example of “life advice” verse, neither too ranty, nor too saccharine.

Wimbledon-Kipling

If comes into its own in the sporting field. It’s only recently that I’ve learnt that the lines “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same” are emblazoned above the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon. And, as far as I’m concerned, the second half of the third verse could be subtitled The London Marathon:

 If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
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We knew that Sunday was going to be hot. The forecast had started gathering pace in the preceding days, and on Thursday, the organisers released a statement with medical advice, as the race was likely to be the hottest on record, at 23 degrees. This wasn’t ideal, after a long, hard winter spent training in ice and snow, BUT I like the sun. I even like running in the sun- but for an hour or so. Five hours plus was an unknown quantity on its own, before throwing warm weather into the mix- but it would be what it would be. I concerned myself with preparing as much as I could around the predicted heat, and looking forward to what was undoubtably going to be an amazing day. The on-route support is often cited as one of the reasons why the London Marathon is so lauded, and on a sunny day, there was no question that the crowds would be out in force.
I headed up to pick up my number at the Expo, with friends from BVR on Saturday, which was manic to say the least. I’ve been to the Expo numerous times, with Andrew, and with friends, but always on a weeknight after work, when it’s been calm, and practically empty. With thousands of people who weren’t from London and so couldn’t take advantage of visiting the Expo in the week, and who had families, and crews, and suitcases, and buggies with children in them, Saturday was the opposite of what I’d experienced before. I’m not usually agrophobic, but it was pretty overwhelming- especially as by then, the pre race nerves were starting to kick in, and I really wanted to just be in a quiet place. Still, the volunteers were really helpful and friendly, the process itself was pretty seamless, especially given the crowds, and there were MULTIPLE photo opportunities:

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Do you want to have your picture taken for the 50th time? Oh, go on then.

I got separated from the girls by the crowds, and made my way by tube to Shoreditch, where the Hoxton Hotel was holding a pre-marathon Shake Out. I literally scraped in just in time to get my hair put in boxer’s braids by wonderful Blue Tit London – they were literally about to leave, and made time for me, and I am ever so grateful. Next year, I’d get there early enough to enjoy the talks, yoga, and meditation, which were part of the programme- and all for free!
 I then went and holed up in a café and read the paper for a couple of hours, which was a welcome distraction, with multiple breaks to get another coffee, flapjack, or piece of fruit. I ate SO much on the day before London. For once, it wasn’t even a case of just allowing it- I was genuinely trying to get fuel in the tank, ready for the journey ahead.
I was running for the Huntington’s Disease Association, to help raise money for the condition that my friend Philippa suffers from. Huntington’s is a genetic disease affecting the nervous system, and the HDA help raise awareness, and support sufferers and their families, as well as contributing towards vital research. The HDA held a reception for all of us who were running for the charity on Saturday evening- so lovely to meet people that I had been talking with over Facebook for months. Everyone there had their own reasons for running for the HDA, and collectively, we had raised tens of thousands of pounds in  sponsorship for the charity. The reception was a chance to eat yet more food, and to say “no thanks” to wine, in favour of yet more water. Group photos were taken, and we even had a little video message, to wish us luck, from the HDA’s patron, Tony Hadley of Spandeau Ballet- not running himself. Maybe next year, Tone.
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GOLD- always believe in your soul!

I stayed with friends in Forest Hill that night. We met Lou and Ian at our old running club, Dulwich Park Runners, when we lived in SE London, and being runners, and having run London themselves multiple times, I knew they’d understand if I was a bit weird and antisocial that evening. What I didn’t expect was Lou’s amazing thoughtfulness in putting me up in the equivalent of the dream night-before-London suite; a cosy robe and slippers, bath bombs for a relaxing bath, magazines for distraction, Vaseline and lavender oil and foot cream for my poor old feet, a card with the loveliest words, and even a light box with a motivational message- plus the comfiest bed ever. Some people speak of pre marathon insomnia- not me. My head hit the pillow, and I was out like a light.
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Lou and Ian were working on the baggage lorries at the start on Sunday, and they actually had to leave the house earlier than me to be at Greenwich by 6:45, and so after a double breakfast of porridge followed by peanut better on toast, and a strong coffee (plus more electrolytes… so many electrolytes…), at 8 o’clock, I was picked up by Andrew’s best friend, Mike, who lives round the corner from Lou and Ian, and who was running as Good For Age in the green pen. We got the bus to Lewisham and then the train to Blackheath together, and then left each other to head to our separate starts, with salutes of “see you on the other side”. There was no bloody way I’d be seeing Mike on the other side though- he was looking to finish in around 3:15 hours. He’d be well into his second or third pint by the time I got through, in my hoped for five hours.
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#onthewaytothelondonmarathonbusselfie

Being at the blue start, on my own, was quite nice. I went to the loo a few times, I drank more water, I ate a Clif bar, and a banana… and I sat in the sun, gazing at the blue sky- unbroken, as far as the eye could see. Not a hint of any cloud cover whatsoever. It was warm enough at 9am to just be in a vest and shorts, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was probably going to be the warmest day of the year so far. Still, blue skies and sunshine make for a lovely background to pictures:
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There’s a whole lot of electrolytes in that flask.

 My plan was to stick with the five hour pacers. Running with the pacer is what got me my 2:15 at Brighton half in February, and when it comes to running, I am definitely a follower, not a leader. It’s very liberating to not look at your watch, and simply put your faith in a more experienced runner’s pace. As the back of Blue field, those of us with the five hour pacer didn’t actually cross the line till 40 minutes after the starting gun, so we had plenty of time to get to know each other, and chat about our various reasons for being there that day. I also had 40 minutes for the pints of water I’d been sipping all morning to work their way through my system. As we reached the line, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was dying for a wee.
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 In big events, there’s usually a toilet stop very soon after the start- I remember seeing runners veering off to it at the Great North Run, and thinking “for goodness sake, why didn’t they go beforehand?!”. On Sunday, I was that person. I left the five hour group, and joined the queue of about 15 other women like me, who hadn’t wanted to warm up and get into a rhythm of running, before then having to stop. From the queue, I watched the 5:15 run/walk pacer go by, and realised I’d kissed goodbye my five hour goal before I’d even started. However, that goal had always really been secondary to finishing strong and smiling- and I didn’t feel too devastated As I re-joined the course, the streets were beautifully empty (because I was quite literally the back of the pack), the sky was blue, the crowd support was already brilliant- I was loving it.
The first three miles of the race from the Blue pen heads out east, on residential roads, before converging with Red runners at about 5k. I barely noticed these miles, as I was occupied in an internal dialogue about my waist belt. I still hadn’t really decided what I was doing in terms of in race fuelling, (not recommended), and so had worn a small waist pouch, which I’ve worn countless times before. However, I’ve never stuffed it full of as much “just in case” stuff as I had that day- eight gels, gummy sweets, dried apricots, and my phone. As I ran, the pouch was flapping around to an alarming degree, and walloping me in the lower back. I moved it around to the front and put my vest over, rather than under, but that was even worse, plus I looked pregnant, and no one needs that when there’s a photographer round every corner. In the end I moved the pouch to the back, put my vest over the top to sort of secure it in place, and tried to think that, on the bright side, the rhythmic bumping of the pouch was acting as a sort of massage on my troublesome lower back.
Coming together with the other starters was amazing, as suddenly, I wasn’t on my own any more, and that was when it really started to feel like London, with more runners overall, as well as more in costume, (in the heat!). I even saw friends from BVR running, though lost them again as the streets got busier. The crowd support just grew from there on in- through Woolwich and Charlton, people were already in their gardens, cheering us on, stereos blasting, and beers on the go. It is the quintessentially British equation; a glorious day + one of the country’s biggest mass participation sports taking place in your city = an excuse for starting drinking before lunchtime. All the pubs were open, beer gardens packed with supporters, and their enthusiasm and energy (alcohol fuelled, or otherwise) was completely joyous. There were also church congregations taking to the streets with megaphones and music, piling us with blessings, as well as community bands performing. I saw a couple who were running in kilts openly crying (and smiling) as a Scottish pipe band performed a rendition of Speed Bonny Boat. Reaching the Cutty Sark at 10k, the fantastic weather had brought with it a carnival spirit and a wonderful sense of community. It felt like a real celebration of people coming together.
Now, you know I love an X Factor style “journey”, so cue some slo mo footage of marathon day, and Westlife’s Flying Without Wings or something playing in the background, BUT I think that’s the point when I began to realise that the London Marathon isn’t just about the runners. It is about everyone watching, and for those of us who were running, it’s about every person who helped us through our training. For me, it’s about everyone associated with the HDA, about the friends and family who I knew were tracking me on the app all over the country, and willing me on. It’s about those spectators with signs like “question if it’s a fart after 17 miles”, and “run like your ex is chasing you”, those who gave out jelly babies, and Haribo, and amazing orange wedges (that’s you, Ave Turner), and it’s about the volunteers like Lou and Ian on the baggage lorries, the St John’s Ambulance, those on the water and Lucozade stations, and all the amazing marshals who were the biggest cheerleaders to each and every one of the 40 thousand runners who set out to conquer London that day. I’ve run lots of races, but nothing compares to London- it really is quite extraordinary.
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At Deptford Creek, around seven miles, I saw Andrew for the first time, and my friend Helen, which was a huge pick-me-up- and I also flung my belt at them. With plenty of water and fuel on route, the weight of the belt was an annoyance I could do without, and I felt a lot lighter after that. Soon afterwards, I saw Philippa’s brother and sister-in-law, James and Ali, and their little girl, Wren, which again was a brilliant boost. Seeing people on the course who are as excited to see you as you are to see them is unbelievably reassuring, and it certainly gave me the drive to keep on running.
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Before I knew it, we were on Tower Bridge, and almost at the halfway point. Here, crowd support is at its strongest, and the noise crossing the bridge was almost overwhelming. It’s life affirming stuff, and my face hurt from grinning as I came off the bridge and saw my friend Helen, who I ran London with back in 2010- she was on the other side of the Highway, where faster runners were already heading back towards the finish. I did feel slightly rueful that she would have a while to wait for me to get to that point!
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No Tower Bridge pics of me from this year; this was 2010.

An old knee injury had been bothering me for a couple of miles- it had given way a few times, and around 14 miles, I pulled over to one side and asked a marshal if there was anywhere nearby where I could get it strapped up. The answer was no, not really, so I thought, sod it, I’ll keep going. As we processed down onto Narrow Street, it went again, and I moved to one side to walk it out for a bit. By then, the sun was high, and it was hot. Narrow Street does what it says on the tin, and the skinny, cobbled road felt like it was packed with runners, and I felt quite overwhelmed. This was probably the lowest point of my run; so far still to go, my knee not playing ball, and feeling tired and hot, with the realisation that I was unlikely to get anywhere close to five hours. So I then decided to recalibrate. This was the bloody London Marathon- my favourite city in the world, in the sunshine, with so many friends and family having donated to the HDA in sponsorship, and thousands of people calling my name and willing me on. There was no way I was going to look back on this day with negativity- I just needed to reset. So instead of feeling down when it hurt, I took walk breaks. I high fived the kids, I ate the sweets offered, I went under the showers (THE BEST THING EVER), I stopped to say hello to friends when I saw them, I chatted to fellow runners- and I saw those walk breaks as a positive thing, as I knew it was them that would get me to the finish. My knee didn’t give way again after that, and I had a fantastic second half of the race. Soon after that, I saw my friend Amy, and her little boy, Ty- her cheers were a real boost to kick the final demons to the kerb.
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
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The Docklands peninsula, from 15 to 20 miles, was mental- packed with people, and also, by this point, lots of people like me were having walk breaks, some which seemed to last longer than others. I’ve never seen so many people walking from such an early point in a race, and I think people were sensibly taking on board the medical advice that had been given to us that week, with regards to the heat. I saw Andrew and Helen again at Canary Wharf, again, a godsend, especially as they were so supportive and positive when I reluctantly told them I’d been walking a bit. Andrew told me that I still had the same people around me that I’d had from early on, which was actually really reassuring, and made me feel that my fellow runners and I were in the same boat. They also told me I looked strong- a wonderful thing to hear when you’re flagging- and when Andrew told me I only had six miles- 10k! two Parkruns! that’s all!- to go, suddenly everything really felt ok again.
Beyond 20 was unknown territory, as I hadn’t gone further than that in training- and my 20 miler at Milton Keynes had been horrible. So when I went over the 35k tracker mat, just after Limehouse, and realised I had already run further that I had in literally years, and that I felt good, and strong, and happy, it was just another reason to make sure I lapped up those last miles, and enjoyed it. The cheer squads throughout the whole race had been phenomenal, and the biggest of these was the Run Dem Crew, at 21 miles. The energy and enthusiasm of those guys is nothing short of epic, and, for a fleeting moment,  I felt reluctant to carry on to the finish, and I wanted to stay and party with them!
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Pic credit: Eric Tolentino

I edge into hyperbole when it comes to the final stretch of the race. Seeing Helen at Tower Bridge again- on my side of the road this time- was amazing, to know she’d been waiting all that time to see me come back safely. It was so wonderful to be able to give her a sweaty hug, and jog on along the route we’d run together eight years before. The infamous Blackfriars underpass gave a bit of welcome respite from the heat, but running out of the tunnel, into the sun, into the last two miles, to the roar of the crowds, felt like something out of Gladiator, (without the death and that)- completely epic. I’ll never forget it.
The Embankment is a stretch of road I know well, and have run on many times, so everything started to feel familiar, and comfortable- there was Somerset House, and Tate Modern across the river- there Waterloo Bridge, and there Hungerford, and then Embankment station was upon me, and there Westminster, in the distance. The end was very much in sight.  I saw Andrew and Helen for the last time on the Embankment, and I was still smiling.
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The finish is just as spectacular as it looks on television. Give me Westminster’s Gothic grandeur over any other race- just to be on Parliament Square and able to run past the Abbey without dodging tourists and taxis was a unique joy in itself. The HDA‘s cheer squad were on Birdcage Walk, giving me the final push I needed- then it was up to Buckingham Palace, and the final straight along the Mall- the flags flying, the grandstands full of people, the finishing gantries… it is quite something.
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Too tight to fork out for photos, hence watermarks 🙂

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And that was it! Finishing London is a bizarre experience, as family and friends can’t get close to the finish line, and so there is no one to greet you as you cross the line- except those amazing marshals and your fellow runners. In fact, I had started on my own that day, and finished on my own- like a weird clichéd analogy for life itself, innit. There was a quiet to the finish, as I tried to make sense in my head of what I had done, not just that day, but in all the months of training; the tears, and the grit, and the promises made to myself, and to others. It was ok. I had done it.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools
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 It was only later that evening, after meeting Andrew and Helen at Admiralty Arch, and after not being able to get into St. James’s Park to see the HDA or BVR, because the sheer volume of people, and after drinks and chips with DPR at Southwark, and after the train journey home, and after reading all of the amazing messages sent by kind friends, and after getting home, and seeing my children (who couldn’t have cared less that I’d run 26.2 miles, as I was when my mum and dad used to run London- ever was it thus :-)), and after having a shower, and cleaning the kitchen, and making Ned’s packed lunch for the next day, and finally sitting down… that I caught up on the details of the race. This year’s London was the biggest, and the hottest in history. Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya came first, in a breathtaking 2:04:17, with Sir Mo Farah taking third place for Britain, two minutes later. Vivian Cheruiyot gave Kenya a double win, as first female, finishing in 2:15:25, with Aldershot Farnham & District‘s Lily Partridge taking first British female in a stupendous 2:29:24. The Grenfell Tower firefighters from North Kensington and Paddington captured the race’s #spiritoflondon hashtag best, as they carried the hopes of their stricken community through London’s streets to raise much-needed funds for local campaigns. The temperature peaked at 24 degrees, and runners turned out in all manner of fancy dress costumes, not least BVR‘s very own Sergeant Steppers, who dressed in various shades of shiny satin, a la Sergeant Pepper era Beatles, and ran the whole course while playing the guitar and singing, raising money and awareness for homeless charities Crisis and Step by Step. Women’s running pioneer Kathrine Switzer completed her first London Marathon in 4:44:49 at the age of 71, while the oldest runner of all, Samuel Starbrook, finished in 8:21:44.
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One person who tragically didn’t finish London last Sunday was Matt Campbell. The chef, who had completed Manchester marathon two weeks before London, died after collapsing 3.7 miles from the end of the race. This weekend, runners around the country have run 3.7 miles, and pledged £5 to the charity that he was running London for, the Brathay Trust, using the hashtags #milesformatt and #finishformatt. To date, Matt’s Justgiving page has seen donations of over £300,500.  You can find out more about Matt, and the Brathay Trust, here:
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So that is the end of this year’s London journey, and whilst I won’t be rushing to do another marathon in a hurry, this is nothing to do with the race itself, which I loved, for so many reasons. Andrew texted me on the morning of the race, when I was nervous, saying “You’ve done the hard work- this is your victory lap”, and after I reset at 14 miles, that’s exactly what it felt like. I am looking forward to a summer of 10k’s, of maybe getting a bit quicker (though I will swear under oath that I don’t care about speed..!), and of hopefully some weekend lie-in’s, and time with the children, instead of double digit long runs in the dark and snow.
If I haven’t put you off altogether, then the ballot for London 2019 opens tomorrow…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
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 My marathon journey has finished, but Philippa’s journey with HD goes on. To find out more about HD, please do visit the HDA’s website. To donate to this incredibly important organisation, please visit my Justgiving page: 
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See you on the other side!

20 Apr

There has been no Spring this year. We have hopped straight from winter, to summer, without so much as a by your leave. Daffodils melt on roadsides in the city, and whereas last week we were in duffel coats and heavy duty umbrellas, today there are girls in bikinis in the Royal Parks, and on Roupell Street, where I’ve never even noticed that there are trees, there is abundant blossom, falling like confetti on bemused commuters. The smell of cooking burgers at the greasy spoon on the corner suddenly puts me in a barbecue frame of mind, and pub gardens are packed to the rafters as sales of rosé start to climb. High summer has bowled in unannounced, like an errant lover who’s kept us waiting so unbearably long for its presence- but now it is here, and all is forgiven.

Except, perhaps, by those of us running the London marathon this weekend. We’ve trained through what feels like the longest, hardest winter EVER. We’ve had cancelled races, and battles with snow, we’ve had the Beast from the East and Storm Emma- training through this winter has not been easy, but throughout it all, my God, we got good at cold weather running.

And then this week, PLOT TWIST- the universe decided it was summer, and all those months of gloves, and hats, and buffs, and layers fell by the wayside. I hadn’t even worn shorts until last week, and I trained in my HDA singlet for the first time this week, when I found out that wearing my Camelbak, as planned throughout training, wouldn’t be possible as it rubs when I haven’t got a long sleeved, high necked top on. It is the little things like that that make you feel in control of the race, especially if, like me, you haven’t run the full distance in training, and so now, for many of us, it’s back to the drawing board. Marathon training, in many ways, has reminded me of pregnancy, (hi, sobriety and believing five rounds of buttered toast is acceptable at 9pm), and this bit reminds me of when I diligently wrote a birth plan, more for my own sanity than anything else, and then found out there was no way it could be followed- so switch it off and start again.

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I am a die-hard sun worshipper, and the idea of a hot weekend at literally any other time in my life would be the golden ticket- I can’t bear people moaning about being too hot, because I just don’t get it. We have so few days like this, and we’ve come out of such a long, dark, difficult tunnel of winter that some days of golden mornings, and flame skied evenings are long overdue. But it would be SO GREAT if Sunday could just go back down to about 18 degrees, and be sunny, but not TOO sunny. Yep. Not gonna happen.

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As the weather is the one single thing that I can’t control about my race, I am trying to rise above worrying about it, as much as possible. What I CAN control are the variables around the weather- ensure I’m hydrated beforehand and thoughout, ensure my clothing is suitable, ensure I’m making the most of the showers on the course, and running in the shade when I can, and wearing a hat, and sunglasses, and lots of Factor 30. If someone asked me to go for a lovely six hour walk in the sunshine, I’d jump at the chance, so as long as I stay sensibly slow, and keep on sipping, at this point, I am aware of what I need to do, and I’m not too concerned.

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Some years ago, Andrew passed out while running Berlin Marathon, with just a mile or so to go. I first heard about it, while waiting near the finish, at the Brandenberg Gate, from a cheerful German paramedic, who called my mobile, saying “Hello, Mrs. Tappin- we have your husband! Did he finish? HAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAAHAHAAHAAHAHAHA. No- he did not finish”. Andrew’s DNF that year was solely due to dehydration; the race was warmer than had been predicted, and he didn’t take enough fluid and fuel on board. He doesn’t even remember what happened, beyond seeing the finish and knowing he was in sight of a PB. The next thing he knew, he was in an ambulance, hooked up to a drip. I eventually tracked him down at hospital, so I do know first hand how important it is to keep your cool on race day.

 

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Where’s Andrew?

 

I have been in London a bit this week, and took myself for a gentle 5 miles at lunchtime yesterday, for my final pre marathon run. From the office, I headed towards the end of the marathon course, and my goodness, it was exciting (and hot!). The barriers were going up- I saw the 25 mile marker by the Embankment, I practically bounced around Westminster and the Mall, grinning. It was all very life affirming. I wonder if I’ll feel quite so bouncy at that point on Sunday.

So, this is it, really. The hard work is all done, and it’s time to focus on the task in hand- cometh the hour, and all that. Which is when I have to have a real think about who I am raising money for, and why.

You might have already ready about why I’m fundraising for the Huntington’s Disease Association on my Justgiving page. My friend Philippa has the condition, and told me about the HDA and helpful they had been for her, and I felt my ballot place in the London marathon gave me the opportunity to raise both money- and here, I must say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has donated so far, I am so, so grateful- and awareness about a disease that is largely unknown.

In short- Huntington’s disease is an illness caused by a faulty gene in your DNA (the biological ‘instructions’ you inherit which tell your cells what to do). If you have Huntington’s, it affects your body’s nervous system- the network of nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord that co-ordinate your body’s activities. Huntington’s can cause changes with movement, learning, thinking and emotions. Once symptoms begin, the disease gradually progresses, so living with it means having to adapt to change, taking one day at a time. Living with Huntington’s disease can be very challenging, and the HDA work to improve care and support services for people with Huntington’s disease, to educate families and professionals, and to champion people’s rights. The HDA‘s work is vital for people like Philippa and her family.

Furthermore, it really feels as though the medical world is on the cusp of making a really significant breakthrough with HD, and the HDA will contribute towards this. In December last year, a  research team at University College London’s Huntington’s Disease Centre, who were investigating the first potential treatment for Huntington’s disease, announced “results of ground-breaking importance for Huntington’s disease patients and families”. An experimental drug, known as an ‘antisense oligonucleotide’ (ASO), was proven to safely lower the levels of the toxic protein which causes Huntington’s. Money raised through the HDA will also go towards funding the trials that could tangibly mean an end to Huntington’s in the future.

As I said, if you have already sponsored, thank you- from the bottom of my heart xxx If you would still like to do so, please find the ling to my Justgiving page again, here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katieruocco2

I’m starting to get my race plan in place, and by race plan, I mean smile as much as possible, take it all in, high five the kids, eat the jelly babies, listen to the crowd instead of headphones- make the most of the privilege of running arguably one of the world’s best races, in absolutely-not-arguably the world’s BEST city. One of the things I’ve done to engage my little brain and distract me from the 26 miles is to have a name of someone important to me, for every mile, and have a little focus on that person around their mile marker. I feel a bit like Arya Stark, with her kill list… except instead of death and vengeance I’ll be sending peace, love, and GOOD VIBES ONLY.

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If you are coming to watch London this weekend, please please please tell me where you’ll be so I can keep an eye out! Seeing familiar faces is the most heartening thing when you’re in the throes of a bad patch. I’ll be wearing the outfit in the pics, with sunglasses and a white cap, and hopefully with a cheerful expression (hmmm), and incredibly brown legs thanks to the 15 layers of St Tropez that I’m about to start applying:

Download the official London Marathon 2018 app (the one below), on Android or iPhone and you’ll be able to track me, should you so wish; my number is 15928:

untitled.pngAfter the race, I’m heading to the letter H in St. James’ Park, where the HDA are meeting, and from there, the pub I guess, because there’s nothing better after a long run than a pint of lager shandy, and a bowl of very salty chips, in my book.

Andrew plans to catch me at a number of different points on the course, and he’s pretty nifty at this, after years of doing so, so if you want to tag with him, and you’re prepared to go a bit Anneka Rice on the underground, I can pass on his number if you message me.

Here goes nothing!

 

The Final Countdown

11 Apr
I Don’t Know How To Love Him
(if Tim Rice had written it about marathon training, rather than Mary Magdalene being in love with Jesus Christ)
I don’t know how to run this.
What to do, how to get round.
I’ve been changed- yes, really changed.
In these past few months, when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else.
I don’t know how to take this.
I don’t see why it scares me.*
It’s a run. It’s just a run.
And I’ve done so many runs before.
In very many ways,
It’s just one more.
(*not strictly true. It’s 26.2 miles. THAT’S why it scares me).
Every time the word marathon is mentioned now, my stomach churns a bit. It started building on Sunday, when I had friends running Manchester and Paris marathons, and it continues to build this week with Andrew’s dramatic “will he?/won’t he?” regarding Brighton this weekend- he has a calf niggle that is throwing everything into question. And every time the people running London that I follow on Instagram post something marathon related, I feel that churning a bit more.
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I actually feel like I’m going slightly mad. I’ve spoken before of my confusion with tapering- for a runner of my lowly, slowly level, what actually does it mean? Run a bit less, eat a bit more? I’m virtuously eschewing chips, but gorging on flapjacks. I’m enjoying my shorter runs so much, but concerned I’m not doing enough of them. My lower back niggles are annoying, but not so much that it’s a problem (aches and pains that nobody dies of, as my Nanny used to say). I’m definitely not getting enough sleep, and I’m still not sure what I’m doing with regards in-race nutrition, or what to wear on the day.
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Perhaps this last point is part of the problem- the bloody bloody weather. My happiness in hypothesising about the weather at length is maybe the most obvious British trait that I carry. I can mull over long range forecasts at length, I can pick up conversations with other equally baffled strangers in the supermarket queue about the rain/ wind/ cold/ snow, and I am worse than my four year old for berating how UNFAIR it all is. I totally subscribe to all the old folklore nonsense about weather too, and feel aggrieved that March did come in like a lion, but certainly did not go out like a lamb, like IT WAS MEANT TO. I haven’t yet worn the shorts and vest I planned to run in on race day, on a training run, and we’ve only got a week and a half to go- after the winter we’ve had, I’m now very used to training in the cold. I’ve heard, from questionable sources (probably the Mail online, tbh), that once Spring has sprung, we are due an unbroken 60 days of sunshine. Amazing! But please don’t let that be till after the 22nd.
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The other thing that’s making me feel in a tiswas is the music in my head. My running playlists have been great, but I’m now at a point where they’re in my head ALL THE TIME. I feel they’re a sort of secret accompaniment to life, that only I can hear. Not least, One Day More from Les Mis, this version of which I picture my family en masse, singing to me next Friday night, like Guildford-based Von Trapps. God knows I love an ensemble piece from musical theatre more than anyone I know, but they are designed purely to get you emotionally fired up, and I actually don’t need any help with that right now, thankyouverymuch.
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I did nine miles with club friends on Sunday, the last time I ran. It was largely off road, up hill, and down dale, in the drizzle, and it was lovely. We got muddy, and couldn’t run it all (or, rather, I couldn’t- some of those hills were pretty vertical), and we stopped to take pictures at the top, and then it was back to the tearooms where started for cake and coffee. I’m so looking forward to summer runs like this now- Sundays, with no crazy mileage to train for, and fantastic company.
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In the meantime, as I’m in London the day before the marathon, if anyone fancies joining me for a sober, daytime Lucky Voice session to rid myself of these One Day More/ One Moment In Time/ Eye of the Tiger/ The Greatest/ Lose Yourself/ Fight Song/ Run The World/ Stronger/ Running Up That Hill/ Born To Run/ Don’t Stop Me Now/ Work B*tch/ Don’t Stop Believin’/ Titanium/ Survivor/ The Final Countdown/ Work/ Simply The Best earworms, you’ve got my number.
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Temper the taper

2 Apr

In the context of sports, tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition. Tapering is customary in many endurance sports, such as long-distance running and swimming. For many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance.”

Three weeks out from the marathon, and it would appear that it’s time to taper. But I am really confused about what this actually means for me. In theory, I should be reducing my mileage by 20-25% in the coming week, and then by a further 20-25% in the following week, with very light mileage and activity in the final week before the race. However, my mileage has been rather erratic, and certainly there have been weeks of insufficient running- and so, to reduce overall would be difficult, without stopping altogether!

Therefore, I plan to taper as follows:

1) reduce my weekly long run mileage. Again, I don’t feel that I’ve really done enough on this front- my longest run of 20 was three weeks ago now, six weeks out from the race. Ideally, I would have done one more longer run, of 21 or 22, and I would have done a few more 18/19 milers. However, what’s done is done, and now with three weeks to do, I plan on reducing the long run mileage to a maximum of eight a week before the marathon.

2) maintain two other weekly runs; a Wednesday night club run of between six and seven miles, and one other run, mileage tbc.

3) weekly Pilates for stretch, and a sports massage each week to iron out these niggly hips, lower back, and neck/shoulders.

4) some strength work in between.

5) hydrate, hydrate, hydrate some more. I drink loads of water anyway, but will be extra mindful of it over the next few weeks.

6) eat whole, nutrient rich foods as much as possible, and avoid overly processed foods. And no booze till after the marathon 🙅🏼 Am horrified/completely unsurprised that I’ve managed to stack on a stone since last autumn, despite my increased mileage, and so it’s time to start reining it in a bit (but with a view to not overly worry about losing weight until after the marathon).

7) get more quality sleep. This is dependent on a) Ned’s teething taking a back seat for a while, for all our sakes, and b) me not falling down the internet article rabbit hole at 10pm every night, when I should be going to sleep.

So nothing groundbreaking there, and mostly these are just rules to live by. But I am looking forward to shorter long runs, and a bit more consistency in the taper.

One other thing I want to focus on in the taper is re-kindling my love for running, which has taken a bit of a hit in marathon training. Long runs, dark runs, cold and wet runs, runs that hurt, runs that sucked- I’ve done ’em all in the last few months, and I am so looking forward to running for the sheer joy of it, post marathon. With this in mind, my runs this weekend have been following this principle. For my longer run, on Saturday, I followed advice from some of my club friends, and instead of running to a set mileage, instead I ran to time on my feet, going out for two and a half hours, and not looking at my speed or mileage until after I’d finished. This was quite a revelation, and a real exercise in reminding myself how much I enjoy a good run.

I went out without too much of a route in mind, and kept largely off road, running in rain, and in sun, through huge unavoidable puddles, over gorse dotted copse, and under evergreen branches, alongside hedgerows in fields, and along canal towpath.

I had downloaded some podcasts, on the advice of a friend, and these were great to listen to. Running For Real with Tina Muir was really motivational, and my favourite episode was “How to invest in your mental toughness bank”, with Dr. Nicole Detling, a sports psychologist. The whole episode was great, but a couple of pointers that I took away were, firstly, about the physical response to nerves/anxiety, and excitement being the same- it’s just your mind qualifying these sensations as a positive or negative thing, so it’s really possible to work with that physical response for a positive outcome. Secondly, (and you can apply this to almost any facet of life)- if you look for reasons to fail, you will find them- but if you look for reasons to succeed, you will find them too. So whilst if I want to self sabotage my marathon, I can pick apart my training, in the way of “I haven’t done enough”, “I should have done more”- what I could instead do is focus on what I HAVE done- run further than ever before, got physically fit enough to stay on my feet for five hours, pushed through the logistics and pain of training around winter, and three children, and two jobs, and all that entails, and think instead, yep, I’m ready. I’ve got this.

I can also focus on the people who have got me to the point of running this marathon- Philippa, and my husband, and my club mates, and my family- and everyone who’s sponsored me, and given words of encouragement. If I could bottle all the good vibes energy I’ve received, I’d be round that 26.2 in record breaking time, so I feel very fortunate to be in this position on the start line.

The other podcast that I really enjoyed was I’ll Have Another with Lindsey Hein in the episode where she interviews Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry, in 1967, and an advocate for women’s running and sports participation throughout the world. This was a fascinating episode to listen to, and it really does seem extraordinary that marathon was an all-male pursuit, and that women were not considered capable of competing in a race of that length, in living memory. Kathrine Switzer will be running London this year, for the first time, and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for her, in bib 261- the same number that she completed Boston in, 51 years ago.

The second run of the long weekend (what a dream- can every weekend be four days please…) was 10k from my parents house today, grabbing an hour while the children were occupied and there were many hands to look after them. It rained on and off for the whole hour I was out, but it didn’t bother me- I had a lovely route, nice long straight roads, and lots to think about (no headphones today), so was happily distracted- and once you’re wet, you’re wet! I actually quite like running in the rain, but an hour is enough. If it’s like it was today on the 22nd, I will really have to employ some of that mental toughness to not have a total sense of humour failure.

Ladies First half marathon

31 Mar

Last weekend was spent in New York, celebrating a big birthday, and the order of the weekend was food, fizz, and friends- and definitely not running. However, in order to keep myself in check just a little, I signed up for the Ladies First half marathon, which took place in Shore Road Park in Brooklyn, just a few miles as the crow flies from our Air BNB in downtown Manhattan.

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The race had an 8am start, nice and early, which meant I could be back and brunching with my friends by 11:30. What this also meant was a 5:30am wake up (actually not a problem, given that I was still on UK time), and arriving into Brooklyn as the sun rose over the Hudson. It. Was. FREEZING. I had arrived much earlier than necessary, and huddled under a bridge near the start, to keep out of the biting wind. New York had experienced a pretty significant snow dump in the days prior to our arrival, and whilst it had almost all melted, the temperature was so low as to keep patches from thawing. Now, this has been a tough winter for training, and I have run in the snow on more than one occasion, but I don’t think I have ever been as cold as I was at 7am, under that bridge in Brooklyn, surrounded by perky New Yorkers, with their pre race kwafees and bagels, wondering what the hell I was doing.

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The race was slickly organised by NYCRuns– great technical t-shirts given out beforehand, and fab medals afterwards- as well as chip timing, convenient loos, and friendly marshals (those perky New Yorkers again).

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The course was made up of four out-and-backs alongside the Hudson River, starting at the American Veterans Memorial Pier in Shore Road Park, to just passed the Verrazano Bridge, and back. That’s eight times along the same bit of road. It was meant to be slightly less I-want-to-stab-myself-in-the-eye repetitive, but the snow had caused some damage on the course, and so four out-and-backs it was. It actually wasn’t so bad- running one way while others are going in the opposite direction, at all times, meant there were always people to look at, and apart from the people, that view! The river, and the bridge, and the Manhattan skyline looming into view the closer you got to the start/finish, (and ignoring the dual carriageway on the other side)- all four times!

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One thing that made the race immeasurably more bearable was lovely friends from home, Tom and Jessie, who now live in Brooklyn, arriving just as I began running, and staying to support me for the whole two hours and 20 minutes. I started off feeling embarrassed that they had sacrificed their Saturday morning to stand in the freezing cold on a not particularly interesting bit of promenade, and ended up so grateful that they were there, cheering me on for every one of the eight laps. When I’d finished, I heard someone else thank them too, so they must have been quite the cheer squad for the whole field! Seeing them was such a boost, although I wish we’d had longer to catch up than our half hour cab ride back into the city.

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Some of the songs that popped on my playlist were just right for the location- Papa Don’t Preach, (remember the video? The Manhattan skyline, and the Staten Island ferry, and all that New York waterside-ness- Madonna just looked a bit warmer in her Italians Do It Better t-shirt and leather jacket than I felt), loads of Blondie, and Springsteen- just good stuff to be running to.

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So thumbs up for Ladies First, and NYCRuns- I’ll certainly check if they are running an event when I’m next in New York.

After the race, I was basically drunk for the next 48 hours, so the killer combo of a lingering hangover and a bit of jet lag has meant it’s taken my body clock a while to adjust back this week, and I’ve been struggling with sleep, but it’s nothing that cutting back on caffeine, and running a bit more won’t fix.

Philippa is also suffering from sleep loss, but due to her Huntington’s, it’s not as easy to remedy as mine. Sleep problems are common side effects of Huntington’s Disease; chorea, or jerky movements wake sufferers, as well as issues with circadian rhythms. So far, medication hasn’t helped Philippa on this front. Through reading more about Huntingtons, I’ve learnt that the journalist Charlotte Raven, whose feminist writings I used to read in the 1990’s, has the disease, and her blog, Forgetting Myself, has been really enlightening in finding out how isolating the condition can be. Raven speaks of the sleeplessness as “tossing, turning, and spinning”, which must drive the sufferer to the point of madness.

Knowing how tough sleep deprivation can be generally, and how lack of sleep can make me feel just thoroughly worn out with everything, I can’t even imagine how Philippa’s feeling. Hopefully, when she sees her doctor next week, they will be able to find the right combination of medication to help remedy this, but hearing from her today did make me think again about Philippa’s condition, and what she faces on a daily basis.

It’s three weeks on Sunday till London, and so I’m sort of into the taper (I say sort of, as I really don’t know what I’m doing, training wise- holding on and hoping for the best, really, and just giving it all I’ve got for Pip. I’m keeping everything crossed that the weather starts to improve, and that the last few weeks of running are dry and enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional arrhythmia

20 Mar

ARRHYTHMIA:
Not rhythmic; without rhythm or regularity.
‘the arrhythmic phrasing of the music’

You can garner so much information from running watches these days; even my old school Garmin 6210 gives me detailed pacing info, and would give similarly involved heart rate information if I wore my heart rate strap. Analysing these numbers, even at the most basic level, gives a great input into how a run went, and why that might be the case, and can help with setting future goals.

It would be so helpful to me if someone could invent a gizmo to monitor emotional pace, in the same way that I can view my pace and heart rate, as, as the miles get longer, this is becoming more and more obviously my stumbling block. Emotional arrhythmia; the head and heart stuff that can make, or in my case, increasingly, break a run.

On Saturday, keen to avoid a repeat of last week’s Milton Keynes 20, I planned my 21 miler in advance. Most of my club mates, whom I’ve been marathon training and doing long runs with, were running Fleet or Reading half marathons this weekend, and with Andrew due to race for his club yesterday, I earmarked Saturday morning for my 21 miler, my longest training run (TBC). I needed an interesting run, a life affirming run, a run to give me the confidence that Milton Keynes and a(nother) week of not enough running had eked out of me. I needed the run equivalent of the bar in Cheers crossed with a great big hug.

I’ve always loved running in London- it’s where I started running, with Dulwich Park Runners, and for many years, central and south London were my home territories, with my run home from work in the West End making up the majority of my weekly miles- through Mayfair, St James’s Park, and Pimlico, to the river, then over Vauxhall Bridge, and along the South Lambeth Road, through Stockwell and Brixton, Herne Hill, Dulwich, and finally up to Crystal Palace, before flying down the other side, and home- seven familiar miles, done. And running in central London itself is a dream- like a sightseeing tour in trainers. I love dodging tourists along the river, and through Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, going over bridges bustling with traffic and people, passing historic sights like the Tower of London, and St Paul’s, and hitting Hyde, Regents, Green, and St James’s Parks. London is also where my marathon will take place, which gives it extra significance in my eyes.

When I decided that I wanted to long run away from home this weekend, therefore it had to be London. I follow an old clubmate, Sophie, on Instagram, and sent her a message just to see if she might be running this weekend, or know anyone from the club who was, who might be around my pace. She told me that she herself was running Reading half, but she very kindly put me in touch with Mel, who told me that a group, training for London and Brighton marathons, would be setting off from Kingston station at 8:30 on Saturday morning, and running along the river path to Battersea Park, a total of 18 miles. When I said I wanted to do 21, Mel even helpfully told me that she knew it was pretty much exactly three miles from Hampton Court station, to Kingston. Bingo. There was my plan.

And then on Friday, rumblings about a return of bad weather, and the Beast from the East started, with the threat of weekend races being cancelled, and panicked talk about long runs. On Friday afternoon, with the sun shining, and feeling positively Spring-like, bad weather seemed impossible- unlikely, at best. I ate more sausage and broccoli pasta than was comfortable, drank a lot of water, and was in bed by 9pm. At 5:30 on Saturday morning, when my alarm went off, it was cold, (but it was 5:30 in the morning, go figure) but no worse than countless other run days. Off I went in the knackered old Peugeot 106 that doesn’t lock or go above 60mph, fuelled up with peanut butter on toast and coffee, with gels in my waist pouch, and electrolyte tablets mixed with water in my Camelbak, as ready as I’d ever be.

I got to Hampton Court just as sleety snow started to fall, and headed towards Kingston. It was chilly, but chilly is better than last week’s heat at Milton Keynes, and I was appropriately dressed this time, with a headband, cold weather tights, a base layer, a singlet, a shower proof jacket, a buff to pull up over my face, and gloves. I also had music, and St Elmo’s Fire started up as I began running- result.

However, by less than a mile in, the wind had really picked up, and that sleety snow had turned into proper, winter wonderland snowflakes, gusts of wind blowing them in tumbled formation across Bushy Park. This was the point where I regretted not wearing a) a peaked cap, and b) sunglasses, both to keep the snow off my face. Snowflakes in your eyes actually hurt, especially when they’re relentless. With that, my phone completely froze too, and as the only other time this has happened has been on a ski lift, I was suddenly aware of quite how cold it was. No phone = no music. Bye, John Parr. Soon enough I was in Kingston though, and met the DPR gang at the station to get onto the main bit of the run.

We hit the river and I felt good. Running in company is always nice, and I love having a chat, finding out more about people- and there must be a common thread of “slightly crazy” between seven people meet early on a Saturday morning to run a long way in the snow. So I’m not sure when it all started to go a bit wrong for me. We were running at a sensibly cautious pace, our route was flat and straightforward, and really pretty- or, rather, it would have been, if I could have actually seen it, through the snow and wind blasting into our faces. By the time I reached eight miles, at Richmond, I was very ready for a bit of a boost, and I took my first gel.

The next eight miles were unfortunately pretty much all about getting through it, which is really disappointing, given that the run itself and the company were so great. I resorted to counting down the miles, which I hate doing- my lower back and hips started hurting by Kew, and by Chiswick, I had lost the group, and I was cold, and grumpy.

The thing is, we were running a route I know so well. My grandparents lived in Richmond, plus I’ve run the half marathon, which takes this route, several times now. I’ve lived in Barnes, and Hammersmith, and Putney- this stretch of the river is known turf, and I have lots of happy memories associated with it- but it didn’t matter. The snow had put me in a bad mood, and I could not shake it.

I kept thinking of friends who live on the route, and wondering whether I would see them out in the river path that morning, dog walking, or heading for brunch, or going for a jog themselves. Well, no, of course I didn’t- anyone with any sense was tucked up at home in the warm. The only other people we saw were other grim faced runners, battling the elements- and one cheery Irish couple who were running at quite a pace, with signs pinned to their backs begging for tickets for the rugby that afternoon.

I hadn’t planned on quitting, but… when I reached Putney, I had to come off the river path and cross the road, to get to the other side and carry on. So I had to stop at traffic lights- and once that had happened, it was game over. Within the time it took for the lights to change, the idea of getting myself to Battersea became intolerable, so instead, I aborted the mission, and jogged up Putney High Street, to hop on a train back to Hampton Court.

So I didn’t do 21- only 16, five short of plan, and 10 short of race distance. I’m ok with it, as the weather was a shocker, and I’ve got time to get a 21/22 miler in before marathon day, BUT I do need to have a think about mental coping strategies, for when the going gets tough. Music that works and does what it’s meant to is one, but I am going to do some reading up on what else to turn to, as I think I need some help.

Alexandra Heminsley referenced a really interesting piece from a 1940 edition of the New York Times, in her blog this week, all about the Finnish concept of sisu; “a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit.”

“(Sisu) makes an athlete forget fatigue and pain, and risk his life to win”.

I am not rich in sisu. I do not like fatigue or pain, and if there’s the option of hopping on a train instead of running five more miles in the snow, clearly I’ll take it. I couldn’t care less about winning at anything, except maybe Trivial Pursuit. But getting a train won’t be an option on marathon day, nor would I want it to be, and I don’t think an encyclopaedic knowledge of Triv will get me a London Marathon medal, so what I’ve got to start practising is running even when it is tough, even when I’m tired, even when everything hurts. I couldn’t have run 10 more miles if you’d paid me, on Saturday, but I’m going to have to on April 22nd.

I need to get me some sisu.

I have confidence in sunshine (except when it’s boiling me alive)

13 Mar

Strength doesn’t lie in numbers (time, pace, miles)

Strength doesn’t lie in wealth (you tell ’em, Maria)

Strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers (that’ll be where I’m going wrong)

When you wake up, wake up! (do I have to?)

It’s healthy! (hmmmmm).

 

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Not me running Milton Keynes 20.

 

Not for the first time in my life, I found myself thanking my lucky stars for Julie Andrews. I Have Confidence from The Sound Of Music came on through my headphones at a point when I was at a particularly low ebb during yesterday’s 20 mile race in Milton Keynes. This was part of the Festival of Running, which included a 20 miler, a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k, and I’d entered the 20 as my longest organised event.

 

With every step I am more certain,

Everything will turn out fine.

I have confidence

The world can all be mine!

They’ll have to agree

I have confidence in me.

 

 Andrew might have disagreed when he found me on the verge of tears at 19 miles with a big hill in front of me. I think if he hadn’t turned up, I might actually have sat on the floor and refused to move, like a petulant toddler. I’d got to that point where my brain had gone to mush, where signs I was passing for past miles, like 11, and 13, were making me cry as I just couldn’t process how much further I had left on my feet- all was confusion. When I get to this point, I also get really emotional, which is unlike me- generally any thought of the children or family sets me off, and instead of this thought process being something uplifting and rallying, to get me through the tough bits, I turn into a sort of puddle, feeling that  I let everyone down, all the time. Talk about self flagellation. It’s actually really boring, and unnecessary, and real-life, rational me gives puddle, bad-run me a big eye roll, a wallop round the head, and tells her to get a grip- but in the throes, it’s a toughy.

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There had been tears.

 

I am reluctantly finding that marathon training, this time round, is forcing me to hold up a mirror to myself. Yes, it takes determination, and stamina, and a bit of grit when things aren’t going the right way, but I do feel that, fundamentally, it is a pretty selfish pursuit, particularly at this stage in my life. I am leaning so heavily on Andrew, my mum, and Lilla to pick up the slack, and none of them had a say in my deciding to do the marathon. It’s one thing disappearing for an hour at the weekend to get a nice peaceful 10k in- it’s another when the children stay with my parents overnight, so that Andrew can drive me to Milton Keynes at 7am on a Sunday, where I am moody for the whole journey because I’m scared of the distance ahead, and then after the race burst into tears because I feel I haven’t done what I wanted to do- and then cry even more when I realise that we’ve got the pot of chilli that I was meant to take to my parents for Mother’s Day lunch in the car with us, so no one can eat till we arrive, hours after schedule thanks to my slow run and M25 traffic- and then I’m pretty useless all afternoon, as I’m tired and stiff. That’s a whole night and day out, not to mention my own head-crushing guilts about allowing everyone to carry me.

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I’m never going to win anything, either, but I appreciate the sentiment.

 

There’s nothing to be smug about when it comes to marathon training. Anyone can do it, and don’t ever believe otherwise. The only way for me to conquer those demons in my head, when what I thought was my unconquerable self belief falters, is to think about Philippa and Damion, and about my charity, the Huntington’s Disease Association. There have been recent breakthroughs in the search for a cure for Huntington’s, with developments in the ability to delay the onset of symptoms of the disease and any money raised through my fundraising will have a very tangible effect in continuing this vital research. There are four ways in which scientists are tackling Huntington’s:

  • Gene silencing. Huntington’s disease is caused by a faulty protein, and gene silencing drugs tell cells not to make that protein. Gene silencing is the best hope for an effective treatment for Huntington’s disease.
  • KMO inhibition. KMO is a chemical machine that determines the balance of certain helpful and harmful chemicals in cells. Blocking it might be useful in treating Huntington’s disease.
  • PDE inhibition. PDE’s are a family of molecules involved in chemical signalling between neurons. PDE inhibitor drugs are being developed for Huntington’s disease.
  • Protein tagging. Our cells add little chemical tags to proteins, and the tags alter the proteins’ behavior. One approach to treating Huntington’s disease is altering the way cells tag the harmful protein.

I am not science-y at all, but the HDBuzz site puts all the research and information about Huntington’s, including findings from this month’s Huntington’s Disease Therapeutics Conference, into plain English, meaning even I can understand the implications that this research could have in the macro of the bigger picture, but also, on a micro level, for my lovely friend Philippa.

But back to the horror that was the Milton Keynes 20. In theory, it should have been A-OK; the course was largely flat (except the aforementioned hill in the last mile- when everyone around me was walking), and on closed roads, and I had sorted a motivational play list. All was good- or so I thought. Holding Out For A Hero came on as we crossed the start line, which was amazing, and the sun was shining- I felt really positive. Unfortunately, that glorious sunshine hadn’t been in the forecast, and I was completely overdressed in winter gear of tights, base layer, my charity vest, and a buff- none of which I could ditch as I was also wearing my Camelbak, which requires a layer of fabric so that it doesn’t rub my skin raw.

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Driving me loopy.

I very rarely feel as uncomfortable within the first five miles of a run as I did yesterday. All my training so far has been in cold conditions, and I’ve barely felt warm- yesterday was 11 degrees and I was sweating. My playlist also seemed to lose the plot, with songs that I hadn’t picked, and had never heard before coming up, and whilst I’d usually be able to appreciate them for what they were, I was far too irritated and cross to put up with that. This necessitated taking off the Camelbak, digging out my phone, sorting out the music, and putting it all back on again, all the while slow jogging, huffing and puffing, and feeling just generally annoyed.

When the music was good, it was really good, and in cheerier moments, I even got into the groove a bit, with some shadow boxing to Eye of the Tiger, Vogue hands to Madonna, and shooping to It’s In His Kiss, but managed to avoid striking a pose on a Cadillac to Walk Like An Egyptian, namely because there were no Cadillacs in Milton Keynes (life’s hard, you know, oh whey oh).

The heat took it’s toll, and although it had cooled by the last few miles of the race, I’d drunk all of my fluid, and was feeling distinctly woozy. I still haven’t sorted my in-race fuelling, and if ever a run highlighted that this can’t wait any longer, it was this one. I still feel resentful that I have to bother with this, but I am scared that I won’t make it to 26.2 if I don’t- 20 was hard enough. It’s not as though I don’t have the reserves to keep me going! I must be the only person who’s put on weight during training for a marathon. The injustice of it- I ran 20 miles yesterday- 20 miles! I deserve to be positively skeletal.

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Lots of learnings from this run- firstly, it’s time to ditch the gloves, hats, full tights, and base layers, at least in daylight, and start thinking about what I will actually wear on the day- likely shorts and my HDA vest. And to practice with fuelling en route, and ways in which to carry this fuel. Will I use my Camelbak? Also to properly work out a playlist- I’m not sure I’ll bother on the day itself, but I’m planning 21 miles this weekend, and for that, it’s a must.

This week’s runs are planned in and unmovable- I’ve got to give myself the best chance possible, in these last few weeks, so that I can stand on that start line and think “I have done enough. I am enough”.

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Mother’s Day with the monsters.

 

Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries
If I don’t I just know I’ll turn back
I must dream of the things I am seeking
I am seeking the courage I lack
 
The courage to serve them with reliance
Face my mistakes without defiance
Show them I’m worthy
And while I show them
I’ll show me!
SOM4

Maria looks a bit grumpy to be overdressed too, tbh.