On Sunday 23rd April 2017, I completed the toughest thing I have ever done. I ran the London Marathon, all 26.2 miles! Without sounding like a total ‘look what I have done’, so far in my life I have climbed Kimilanjaro, I have trekked 100K across the Sahara Desert I have done 400+ in a week on my bike, but the marathon was without a doubt the hardest thing I have done, physically and most of all mentally. I always knew it would be tough, I knew I would struggle, but that is probably what made me even more determined to complete it. Doing it has been on my bucket list for years and on Sunday evening I proudly ticked it off.
My journey was tough, it was emotional, but it was also fun:
May 2016 – After a gin fuelled evening with friends I put myself into the ballot for the London Marathon 2017 – I didn’t think I would get a space, I had entered before and hadn’t been successful so I thought: why would this be any different?
Monday 10th October – A letter arrived for me, one I will never forget… ‘Congratulations on your place in the 2017 London Marathon.’ I was due to get married 5 days later so this was a shock. At least I knew what I would be doing post wedding/honeymoon…. RUNNING and lots of it!
November 2016 - I started my training, I was OK, I am not a fast runner, nor do I particularly enjoy it, I find it quite dull running on my own, actually preferring to ride my bike. I would be jealous when I was out on a run and I would see people on their bikes, I longed to be back in the saddle not pounding the pavements.
February 2017 - I went to Las Vegas for 2 weeks with work, it was full on, all the training I had planned didn’t happen. I managed a few runs, but not as much as I wanted – this is where the fear set in, how was I going to run 26 miles? I was terrified, but without a choice in the matter, I kept up running as much as I could, doing sprint sessions on a treadmill, core strength sessions in the gym and occasionally running outside.
(I discovered at this point that the thing with the London Marathon is that because it is in April, the evenings are only just starting to get lighter. Most of your training has to be in the dark, cold months and realistically you just can’t get out after work. This meant that from the date I received my letter in October, right the way through to March, I was having a really hard time trying to cram in miles before it was too dark and unsafe to run outside.)
2 weeks to go…
I was out in Mallorca with my husband who was training on his bike, and again every morning I would find myself jealous that he got to cycle and I had to run! Despite this however I was able to get some great runs in, the heat was great to train in and I was clocking up the miles. Towards the end of the trip I began resting, I was eating well and generally feeling good, but it still felt like I had ages to go until race day.
10 Days to go..
The taper had started, I was struggling with this as I didn’t know what to do with myself, I had all of this energy (mostly nerves) and I couldn’t run it off. I had a sports massage and this helped, my legs needed it, they were tight and sore and afterwards I felt so much better – not least of all because I now kew that I had to look after my legs and not undo the good work that had been done on them.
1 week to go..
I was so nervous by this point as until then I had been a bit in denial as to how long I had to go until the big day. I kept thinking ‘’I’ve got three more Sundays to go… Two more Sundays to go…’ and so when I finally realised that it was NEXT Sunday, it was terrifying. I felt sick, worried and was very restless. I knew I had to sleep as much as I could, eat well and relax as otherwise there wasn’t a hope in hell that I would make the 26.2 mile course.
That week I packed, unpacked, repacked, checked my kit, packed it again and made more lists than anyone would ever need to in their life. I was so worried that I would forget something essential. I planned my nutrition, worked out where I would stop for water and what would I do if I bonked. (No no, it’s not what you’re thinking… it’s an expression meaning ‘to hit the wall’.)
2 Days to go…
Friday was an interesting day; I busied myself in my office, I didn’t really want to see anyone because I knew that they would all ask how I was feeling and if I was ready and in my head all I was thinking was: “I am not OK and I do not feel ready”. But then, something clicked. I don’t know what it was or what triggered it but all of a sudden I thought: I am OK and I am ready - I CAN DO THIS!
The day before…
Oh wow, this was some day, I was a whole bag of emotions, one minute I was crying, then I was laughing, I was excited, I was apprehensive, but through all of that I was sure of one thing: I just wanted Sunday to be here, I wanted to get going and start ticking off the miles.
I went to the Expo which was great, there was so much to do and see, and it put my mind totally at ease; you see people as nervous and as scared as you are, you see people who look just like you feel and you think: well if they can do this then so can I.
I ate a huge lunch, I ate everything I could that day, I needed the carbs and the calories and I knew that come the evening I wouldn’t be able to eat thanks to a combination of excitement and nerves, so I loaded up when I could.
I was right, that evening I had a very small appetite and I managed a bowl of soup and a few bread rolls, I had a glass of wine that calmed me down and I was tucked up in bed by 2130 – one more sleep to go!
RACE day is here… no more sleeps!
I woke up at 0545, I had slept reasonably well despite the fact that I had woken up every 2 hours thanks to the amount of water I had drunk the day before to hydrate myself.
I went to breakfast at 0630 and looked at all the yummy food and thought: I am not hungry whatsoever. Bugger! I need to eat. So I chose some scrambled eggs, toast and beans, I could get those down me for sure… It was a struggle but I got there, I even managed some porridge which I am normally not a fan of, but I knew it would get me around the course.
Off we went to Blackheath, I cannot even describe how many people were there, it was insane. I was so grateful to have my Mum and Dad with me at this point, I will never be able to thank them enough for being there with me as there was no way on earth that i could have done this on my own.
I went into the ‘blue pen’ and had to say goodbye to my parents; a quick cuddle to hold back the tears and they were gone… eeek, I had one hour to go, my stomach was in knots, I needed a wee constantly and was all kinds of scared. I kept telling myself, it’s 26 miles, it will be over soon, you will be back home with your husband and in your own bed by tonight, you can do this.
I was over the start line by 1014, we were told it could take up to 30 minutes to get going so I was happy with the 14 minutes, and off I went, 26.2 miles ahead of me. I felt good as I started and smashed out the first 10 miles, once I was in double figures it felt much more manageable and I was counting up the miles not down.
At 11 miles in I met a lady called Nicola, she was running for Demelza, which is a charity that helps children who are terminally ill. Nicola looked like she was struggling, and, as I was sorting my shoe out at the time, she asked if I was OK and I told her that I was, before asking her the same thing. She had an injury to her hip and she didn’t think she could continue but when she told me why and who she was running for, I told her she had to finish and that we were going to do the next 15 miles together. We grizzled it out, she was so amazing and we had some great conversations on the way around.
At mile 17 I saw my mum and dad, my brother, sister-in-law and nephew and my best friendKim and her sister Lisa. Kim and Lisa, along with their brother, lost their dad to Parkinson’s in 2015 and I was running this for him, I had raised over £1000 for Parkinson’s UK and when I saw them it gave me the boost and encouragement to get to the end. Kim has been a huge support and has always believed in me, I was going to do her proud and her dad, I knew he would be looking down thinking: you’re mad, but good on ya! He kept me going. Seeing friends and family was the best bit, it gave you the energy to carry on, it gave you something to smile about, it was just fantastic!
Everything was going great until mile 23 when I hit the wall, hard. Even now I am still amazed that I got myself through it and was able to complete the last three miles, I really didn’t think I could. Nicola was amazing here, telling me how I had to keep going. It was also at this point that I saw my sister- this was just what I needed. I couldn’t stop to chat though as I knew I would never get going again. I waved and carried on, the next three miles felt like another marathon in itself.
Then in the distance I saw a sign reading ‘800M to go’… it was like an oasis, the end was in sight! I could hear ‘ANNA, ANNA, ANNA, ANNA SHAW, ANNA SHAW’ and I turned to see my family again, I grabbed Nicola’s hand and we smashed out the last few hundred metres, crossing the finish line together. Both of us burst out crying, we had done it, we had got round 26.2 Miles of the LONDON MARATHON, one of the most iconic marathons in the world… and we had done it. I met Nicola 15 miles ago but I couldn’t think of a better person to cross the line with, it was such a pleasure to do it with her, knowing how much of a difference we had both made to our chosen charities.
We picked up our medals and said our goodbyes so we could go off to find our families.
I got to Horse Guards and sat down, big mistake…. I couldn’t then get up to go and find everyone, so they had to come and find me. I saw Kim and burst out crying, I couldn’t believe I had done it – job done! She wrapped me up in my foil blanket and just held me tight, I was a wobbly mess trying to eat an apple, (of all things?!), I needed food, and lots of it!
I had vowed that morning that this would be my first and last marathon, even joking that I would announce my retirement at the end of the race, but now I am not so sure. I think I might have the bug, but a rest first is essential! I wish I could bottle up that feeling of finishing, of the journey home, reflecting on what I had achieved. I felt proud as punch at what I had just achieved, little old me had just pulled her arse around 26.2– you can’t forget the .2- miles!
My advice to anyone who thinks they might not be able to do something because they might find it tough, because they might fail: Get rid of those thoughts and do it!
Try it, have a go, be you and be proud!