In May 2016, I made the fateful decision to enter the ballot for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. I genuinely thought nothing would come of it. How many times had I heard of people applying several years in a row and never getting a place, regardless of how avid of a runner they were?
Knowing my luck (or lack thereof), I told myself there wasn’t a chance in hell I would be standing at the starting line in Blackheath on Sunday 23 April 2017. Besides, I couldn’t even run 3km without giving up. I had not laced up my trainers in 2 years – where had I even put them? I understood that it was a completely lucky draw, but still believed that, surely, people who had been training and had willed it to happen for years and years would be drawn over me.
But I entered the ballot anyway.
My relationship with running up until this point had been a fraught one. Looking back through my Nike Running app to when I first started running, there are no happy memories flooding back. It was a hard slog, every single time. I would feel defeated and deflated after every run, wondering how people managed to run 5km, 10km, half marathons and marathons without a stitch, without the taste of iron building up in the back of their throats. I could not even run a mile without feeling all of those things. Also, what was this “runner’s high” I had been promised by every person who pounds the pavements for fun? And why wasn’t I experiencing it?
After a year of running, not enjoying it and failing miserably at it, I decided it just wasn’t my thing. People who ran long distances must be suffering from some form of insanity, I thought. How anyone could deliberately dodge traffic, crowds of people and selfie sticks for the sake of putting one foot in front of another at speed and enjoy it was beyond my comprehension.
Two years later, what I can only describe as a seismic shift in perspective happened.
Call me a sensitive soul, but watching tens of thousands of people of all walks of life and of a range of ability get through 26.2 miles together on Sunday 24 April 2016 made me incredibly emotional. Amongst them, there were people running in memory of loved ones or to support loved ones going through illness – the toughest obstacle life can throw in your way. One of my friends was running the marathon with a disability. The swell of people running around the Cutty Sark, across Tower Bridge and then to the finish line, even if it is witnessed through a screen, is such a bold testament to the human spirit and to life itself. I was, quite simply, awestruck (and rather teary).
When I applied for a ballot place a week after the 2016 London Marathon, I decided I would try completing a Couch-to-5k programme, no matter the outcome of the ballot, which I would not hear about for another 5 months anyway.
So began the early morning pre-work runs. The programme built up with run/walks of varying distances over 8 weeks. The only intervals I had done until then were unplanned ones during that awful year of running, when I was plagued by stitches and had to walk to stop myself from crying out in pain and freaking out everyone around me. After 6 weeks, I found I could run 5km slowly without stopping. I had done it!
However, throughout those 8 weeks to 5km glory, another stoppage loomed. I found that running triggered my IBS, making me feel bloated, giving me cramps and draining me of all energy before my day could even begin properly. This made me associate running with feelings of anxiety: anxiety around whether I could find a toilet in time while out running, around whether I had inadvertently eaten a trigger food the previous evening, around whether IBS and my running endeavour were fundamentally incompatible. No Google search gave me the answers I was searching for. So after 8 weeks of diligent but painful running, I stopped and hoped that I would get a rejection for my ballot entry.
Upon arriving home to find my acceptance magazine in October 2016, when the shock had faded, doubt like I’d never felt before started to creep in. There was the smallest sliver of optimism, but the 26.2 mile mountain staring me in the face was overwhelming. As much as the people around me were trying their best to be encouraging, I thought I sensed their doubt as well. Those who know me well know that I do not have bottomless reserves of self-confidence. Determined? That I can be, but only if I initially have that degree of certainty I can achieve something. That was crucially absent in the early weeks of October.
A double whammy of flu and sinus infection throughout the autumn and early December compounded the sense that I had been under a spell of temporary madness when I entered the ballot all those months ago. How could I train if my body was failing me before I could even begin?
I am writing this 10 weeks into my 16-week training plan, and I am so pleased to report that nearly everything has gone according to plan so far. I have just completed my first race, a half-marathon.
Coming from numerous lengthy setbacks to my will to run to where we are today, I have accumulated so many thoughts, emotions and side notes that I couldn’t possibly keep them to myself. And rather than talk the back legs off a donkey about it to people who probably don’t want to hear it, I thought I would write about my experiences.
I have started this blog mainly to chart and share my progress during this nascent but intense rediscovery of running and of myself. The many times I have unsuccessfully tried to find a blog with all the information I needed in one place have also prompted me to start writing about my marathon journey. So, expect to find training updates and running-related rambles aplenty.
Ready, get set, go.