Training Update: Weeks 14-16

It’s taper time!

And it was about time – it took nearly a whole week for my legs to stop aching and twitching after that 20-miler!

For me, the greatest thing about reducing mileage is being able to discover new routes. The first “long run” after the 20 miles, I had to run for 1h34mins. I decided to head east for my taper runs instead of following my usual westward long-run route into central London. A friend had recommended following the Thames Path to the Thames Barrier, so I picked a beautiful sunny Sunday to run east.

My previous long runs made me familiar with the majority of the London Marathon route, but running east allowed me to get acquainted with the first couple of miles of the route. It takes us from Blackheath through Charlton, up to Woolwich, at which point we turn back and go west towards Greenwich.

After the initial relief at not having to run for so long anymore until the big day, I’ve been starting to get the tapering blues. I have read extensively about the ups and downs of the marathon training cycle, and I had been wondering whether I would feel this “maranoia” that so many runners talk about. Well, it’s hit me and it’s hit me hard.

Whenever someone asks me about the marathon, I can feel the anxiety creeping up as I try to put on a brave face and say all is fine. I know it’s natural to feel nervous in the lead up to an event as big as the London Marathon, but I’ve been asking myself why I feel this way, especially as I’ve been training diligently for the past 4 months.

As someone who struggles with anxiety, worry is a huge part of who I am. Worrying is my natural approach to everything in life. So as a response to this one event, I am worrying about whether I will be able to finish the marathon, whether I will experience any tummy troubles on the day, whether I will have packed enough jelly bloks, whether the weather will be nice, whether I’ve raised as much money as I could for charity, whether this small ache in my leg is a sign of something worse… The list goes on.

It feels like the majority of the training at this point focusses on the psychological aspect of running a marathon. I have to make a concerted effort to remind myself that I did not just dream the past 4 months and the waking-up-to-run-in-the-dark-and-cold-winter-mornings.

Perhaps the biggest fear for me is fear of the unknown. As a first-time marathoner and as a newbie runner, I have no idea what to expect. I do not know how difficult the whole thing is going to be. I have not run beyond 20 miles in one go. And when people say, ‘You can do it,’ I can’t be certain they’re right. I’m one of those people who can only draw certainty from concrete evidence.

To counter the anxiety and stay inspired, I have been watching videos of London Marathons past and Paula Radcliffe interviews on Youtube. I’ve also worked on my Spotify playlist (my trusty companion throughout training), adding a few new tunes to run to on the day. Music has carried me through pretty much every difficult moment in my life, and I suspect that on Sunday 23 April, it will be no different.

Only 8 days left! I’d be interested in hearing from others about what helps them maintain focus when the pressure starts to pile on.

Training Update: Week 13

Peak week! And what a strange and eventful week it has been.

Tuesday’s recovery run was another 50 minute easy run. I stuck to my normal route and ran a couple of laps around the nice flat bit of Greenwich Park, by the Old Royal Naval College. I went slowly, as the 16.6 miles the Sunday prior had taken their toll on my knees.

Thursday’s interval run was a steadily progressive one, where I started off with 10 mins easy run, then gradually upped the ante: 10 mins steady run, 10 mins target marathon pace, 10 mins tempo run, then back down to 10 mins easy run. I felt in control for pretty much the entire run, even though this forced me to pay attention to my pace. In the end, being able to sustain a tempo run for 10 mins made me feel like I’d achieved something – I remember my first few interval runs, when a 4 mins tempo run felt impossible.

For the past few months, I had been thinking about getting a running watch to track my runs. So far, I’ve been putting my phone in an armband and using the Nike+ Run Club app throughout my runs. However, 3 hours of continued use last weekend significantly depleted my battery. Given that I’m likely to take just under 5 hours to run the marathon (and that’s one run I definitely want to track), I took the plunge and purchased a Garmin Forerunner 35 on Friday.  It would stop me having to crane my neck awkwardly to check my time/distance/pace. I could connect it to my phone via Bluetooth so if any text notifications came through, I could read them on my phone. Most importantly, it wouldn’t be such a faff anymore to remove my long-sleeved layer when things got too warm! It was a pricey purchase, but I’m confident it will help me through the marathon and in my running beyond the event.

I took the Garmin watch out for a spin during my long run today. This run was particularly daunting – I was aiming for 20 miles! It was so far I didn’t even know how far West I needed to run before crossing a bridge to come back home! I was in such an apprehensive mood as I left the flat, not just because of how far I was supposed to run, but also because I’d been having tummy troubles since Saturday evening. One of the worst things about IBS is the unpredictability it brings. It’s almost like you can’t trust your body to function properly. I can safely say that I started my run in a pretty negative mood.

The weather was amazing today, with the sun shining down on London for the entire day. I decided to start off slowly to conserve my energy for the final part of the run, which I knew was going to be incredibly tough. Also, having a new gadget that made it easy to check my pace was awesome. I could finally actively pace myself – this was so much easier than getting a neck cramp, what a revolution! I had toyed with the idea of running a new route for the longest run of the plan, but decided to stick to my tried and tested method of following the Thames and just crossing when the halfway point came along.

Coming up to Westminster, the emotion was palpable. On Wednesday afternoon, news started to filter through that gunshots had been fired outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. As we all now know, several individuals including a policeman were killed in a tragic attack. Today, the streets were teeming with more tourists than I had ever seen in the area. Without wanting to sound dramatic, it felt as though every single person there was going about their normal business to represent how we are not afraid. The flowers at the gates, resplendent in the spring sunshine, were a wonderful tribute to those who sadly passed in this awful event.

London is my adoptive home. Despite the usual London things we all moan about (the tube, overpriced sandwiches, house prices, etc.), I adore London and count myself lucky to be able to call myself a Londoner. I could not imagine living anywhere else. The city’s spirit has particularly shone through over the past couple of days, and although it hurts when atrocities like the one on Wednesday happen, London is a resilient place. This resilience is an automatic declaration of victory over anyone or anything that wishes to inflict as much harm as possible.


As predicted, the final part of my 20-mile run saw me painfully shuffling one foot in front of the other, completely exhausted. I finished my run on the other side of the Thames from the Isle of Dogs, and stopped to stretch my calves out as they were seizing up pretty badly. I looked up and saw Canary Wharf. Even though the buildings are pretty bleak-looking bastions of capitalism, I realised there really is no place like London, especially when the sun shines.


In 4 short weeks(!) I will be running the whole 26.2 miles of the London Marathon. That apprehension I felt at the beginning of today’s 20 miles has now been replaced by excitement. I cannot wait to run this beautiful city I call home.


London, I love you.

Training Update: Week 12

This week was going to be a crucial one, following the downer that was last week’s long run. I needed to learn how to keep going with training and not let one bad run define my training experience and that of the marathon itself! Building yourself back up after a knock to your confidence is tough to do in only a couple of days, but time isn’t waiting for me and 23 April 2017 is hurtling towards me at full speed.

Tuesday was a 50 minute recovery run, which went fine apart from a terrible stitch that plagued me throughout. I started my run aiming to adopt a different approach to running. I told myself I would pay my running app no mind, and that I would just enjoy running for the liberating, miraculous act that it is. Being close enough to the Thames to run along it is also something to treasure, so I just soaked in the surroundings, paying attention to the ducks and geese on the river and to the beautiful architecture of the Old Royal Naval College. I felt so rejuvenated in terms of my outlook on running, that I resolved to tackle my recovery runs with the same attitude every time.

After that, I was gearing up for an interval run in a city I’d never visited before. Work took me to Leeds for 2 days and 1 night, and I asked around for good running routes. I was consistently told that the canal was the best place to run, so on Thursday morning, I laced up nice and early and set off to explore.

The run went something like this: 10 minutes easy run, (6 minutes tempo run, 2 minutes walk/recovery jog) x 4, 10 minutes easy run. Once again, I slightly dreaded this as I’m no good at intervals. However, the case really must be made for running through uncharted territory and how much it boosts your running. The novelty of the location combined with the early morning sun shimmering off the water made the run a breeze. Well, I say a breeze, but that’s in comparison to previous interval runs where I thought my heart would literally rip through my chest it was working so hard. Time simply flew by. Looking back, I think the interval made me slightly more optimistic for this week’s Sunday long run. The change of scenery did wonders for me and for my mood.

Saturday evening, I went to see An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre. Now, you may be thinking, “What does a musical have to do with running?” I’ve always firmly believed that dance is a sport, and I am in awe every time I watch professional dancers, of any genre of dance, perform. It boggles the mind how athleticism and control marry with artistry and a semblance of effortlessness, to create sheer magic. There is no doubt in my mind that dancers are athletes. The stamina required to train relentlessly, to give your all in every performance, day in and day out… It makes you realise that the human body is an incredible thing, and that so much of what dancers do applies to running as well!

I was on cloud nine after the musical, which was an absolute tour de force. Go and watch it! There’s a reason it has won 4 Tony awards. Here’s a taster (just imagine doing this 7 times per week, and as part of a wider show!)

Onto the long run…

During the week, it occurred to me that I had experienced that mysterious feeling of “hitting the wall” on last Sunday’s run. The time had come to look into fuelling during the run. Because of my IBS, I had always been fearful of energy gels, jellies and bars as they contain caffeine, fructose, and loads of other ingredients I am confident my tummy could not handle. I spoke with people at the London Marathon store on Bishopsgate to see if they had any experience, first-hand or otherwise, with GI issues on long runs and how to fuel adequately. I left the store with an energy gel, jelly blocks, and energy jelly beans to trial them and see what works best.

I set off today overwhelmed with apprehension about the fuelling and about the run itself. I opted for the jelly blocks to begin with, but had no idea how my gut would react to them. I did feel better and more hopeful than I did last week, though, so that was a plus.

I felt in control up until I had to cross the river at Waterloo Bridge in my third segment of 28 mins easy run + 2 mins walk (repeat 6 times), but with the quote from last week’s post on my mind, I kept moving forward by walking. By the time I reached Tower Bridge, I felt it was time to break out the jelly blocks. I knew I was going to hit the wall within 10-15 minutes. They had the texture of a Turkish delight – halfway between gummy sweet and jelly – and were sickly sweet. I was advised to take two blocks and to help them along with some water.

I braced myself for intense cramping and made a mental map of which toilets were on the route home. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the cramps never arrived! This spurred me on, and allowed me to focus on not giving up even though my knees were screaming at me to stop. If I ever felt like giving up, I would walk for a minute, then start jogging again.

Nearly 3 hours and 26.8 kilometres later, I flopped down on a bench outside my local supermarket, utterly spent. My head was racing not with thoughts about my run today, but about the run last week, and how defeated I felt then. After remembering that, I looked back at what I had just achieved, and felt like this whole week was a success in overcoming the bad run and the proverbial wall. The change in outlook, learning about fuelling during the run, discovering new places, the power of dance… It appears I have found the 4-part remedy to the bad run blues!

Next week’s long run will be the longest of the entire plan, and I intend to cover 20 miles. You will find me at the Marathon store stocking up on jelly blocks!

You can sponsor me for the London Marathon 2017 by clicking here. I am running to support Anthony Nolan and Crohn’s & Colitis UK.

Reason to run

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.