MARATHON TRAINING PART FOUR: WHEN I COULDN’T RUN A MILE

“When I started, I honestly couldn’t run a mile without stopping…”

God that’s a tired cliché, isn’t it? 

People say this whilst posing with a way too healthy looking green smoothie, or on the finish line of their sixteenth Ironman in a row. They say it with a big sparkly smile slapped onto their faces, glowing with all those coveted endorphins. They say it in a way that makes it almost entirely impossible to believe them.

People like this are the worst. 

I know this, because as of right now, I am exactly like this.

Tomorrow morning, I will be running my first marathon (or attempting my first marathon at any rate). 

For reasons that I now absolutely cannot remember, I signed up to do this last October and now the date is here and I am on the train on the way to Edinburgh with my trainers, race number and a bin bag to keep the rain off me in my suitcase, ready to try and get round the 26.2-mile course that has tested runners all over the world. 

Hahah, did you hear that? I called myself a runner.  

I am aware that in writing this post I am at risk of adding to the historically unhelpful buzz of background noise that makes up the entirely daunting exercise environment that makes people who are too scared to start running feel even more hopeless at the prospect of overcoming their fears and giving it a go themselves.

But as my running journey comes to its end, or at least reaches such a pivotal moment, I feel compelled to reflect because, honestly, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing: not just that tomorrow I’m going to take on the biggest challenge of my entire life, but by how far I have come to at least see me attempting it. 

Not being able to run a mile without stopping: that really does feel like two minutes ago.  

AND I KNOW EVERYONE SAYS THAT, but, well, it’s the truth.

Before this, this current bout of madness that I still feel in no way shape or form equipped for, running was something that I tried and failed at SO many times before I succeeded.

Not only could I not run for the bus, I absolutely wouldn’t attempt to. I was so scared to run. I was so so scared to even try running.

The first time I remember going for a run, an ADULT RUN, not a mandatory school run that required me to wear a slightly see-through white t-shirt and dart in-between small cones like a panicked warthog trying to get out of the path of an alligator, I still have flashbacks to every time I go to pull on my trainers. 

It took me about a week to psych myself up for it, a master of over-thinking at the best of times, I became fixated on the task in front of me so that when the time came to actually do it I felt the sort of excitement and trepidation combination that I can only assume is comparable to how people feel about childbirth. I got home from work, telling absolutely no one what I was going to do (and making sure I would be home alone both as I went and when I got back), got changed into an ancient pair of leggings and the baggiest shirt I could find and stepped out onto the dark street. 

Yes, it was dark. There was not a chance in hell that I was going to humiliate myself in front of the world in broad fucking daylight. No, this would be a discreet affair conducted under the cover of darkness, my shame only visible by streetlight. 

I know that when everyone talks about their first run they tell you that they couldn’t get to the end of their road but I am as serious as the heart attack I nearly had: I COULD NOT GET TO THE END OF MY ROAD.

I’ve since checked on google maps and it told me that the distance I once found too much to tackle in one go was 0.18 miles. I can’t have managed more than a minute of continuous running that first time I went out. 

The run in it’s entirety was just over a mile long. It was twice round the block. I wanted to ensure that I was never further then five minutes from my front door (which I thought was pretty sensible given the apparent state of my cardiovascular health), I damn near walked the whole thing and got back to my house looking as if I’d been beaten half to death with a beetroot. 

That was six years ago and was horrendous enough that I didn’t so much as attempt another run for another two years. 

But attempt one I did. 

(Hold the sensational music, this was not my motivational montage moment).

I moved house in 2015 to a new area with my boyfriend and as I began the laborious but exciting task of plotting what my new life was going to look like, and what new crockery my new food would be eaten off, my mind kept fliting to the teenage fantasy that I had harboured of my life as an adult. 

The fantasy that, for god knows what reason, included a swishy pony tailed me embarking on frequent bouncy runs as the sun set, whilst I made some epic and poignant life decisions (and Natasha Bedingfield’s Pocket Full of Sunshine played on repeat). 

This, I concluded, was my destiny. And who am I to stand in the way of destiny?? Quite. So I got about laying the foundations for this new life of mine; working out that there was a bridge 1.5 miles from my house and as part of my NEW life, I would be regularly running a 5k loop with this bridge as the turning point. 

I can’t tell you how many runs I went on before I got to that bridge without needing first to stop and walk. How many “oh fuck it what’s the point” moments there were. How many “if I pretend to do up my shoelaces right now no one will know that I’m actually stopping because I feel like I’m going to DIE” moments. 

That bridge was my Everest, the 500m straight path in front of it the summit I felt I would never conquer.

I remember the fist time I got to that bridge without needing to stop and walk at any point. I remember getting there, with Alex, who I must have been brave enough to let come with me, or too tired to stop at any rate, and I remember him stopping to tell me to reach out my hand and touch the brick as I went passed. I did it, even more excited to touch this inanimate object than I had been to rub the tummy of a very happy Buddha on a trip to Japan ten years previously (hoping that my good fortune would bring me a good-looking boyfriend and hair like Blake Lively), and then I remember stopping, not because I NEEDED to, but because I wanted to, to take in the fact that after so many failed attempts I was now capable of running 1.5 miles without needing to walk. 

1.5 miles!!!!!!!!!!!

Four years and god knows how many 1.5 miles later, I still stop and slap that bridge every time I pass it. And every time I am filled with a flush of pride, and often disbelief that there was ever a time I couldn’t carry on after getting there. 

Because the miles tumbled out after this. 1.5 miles turned to 3 with relative ease and the three-mile loop that I had plotted when I first moved house became something I was coming to do relatively regularly. Before I knew what was happening I was agreeing to give 5-miles a go with my friend, who, I found out about a minute in was considerably fitter than I was and had just lied to get me out there with her. I was embarrassed and angry that I hadn’t thought to check this and I decided to try that route a few more times on my own to ensure that that didn’t happen again. Then 5-miles turned to 6-miles. 6-miles is a 10k you know?!! I was just out doing a bloody 10k, what the fuck!!! (This was my first and only ‘event’ in the lead up to this, I was dressed as Father Christmas and running with 1000 other Santa Clauses’ round Clapham Common). 6-miles turned to 8. 9 to 10 (that was a big one, 10 miles!!!!!!). 10 to 11.5. 11.5 to 13, A HALF MARATHON!!!! ON MY OWN?! I JUST RAN A HALF MARATHON ON A RANDOM MONDAY MORNING!!! 13 to 16 (without a doubt the worst thing I have ever done and yes, before you ask, there is video evidence of that), 16 to 18, which was surprisingly fine, somehow, and now I’m on the train on the way to Edinburgh to run a bloody marathon, all from 1.5 miles and that bloody bridge.

It hasn’t been as easy as that condensed version makes it sound; I haven’t mention the tantrums, the pain, the missing toenails, the blisters, the cramp, the tendon problems, the hundreds of pounds spent on a physio, the acupuncture, the cupping, the Epson salts, the industrial strength sports bras, the chaffed nipples, the chub rub (DON’T RUN IN SHORTS!), the runs in the rain, the runs in the wind, the runs in the snow. The runs that I didn’t want to run. The feelings of exhaustion and despair. The hours and hours and hours of loneliness. The first mile and a half of every run, which is always the worst and the most uncomfortable and the times that have seen me wanting to sack it all off and go home to a cuppa. 

It hasn’t been easy, and there have been those moments. There have been so many of those moments, but it has been doable. 

Somehow the girl that literally could not get to the end of her road is preparing to run the run that runners everywhere run to prove that they can do the run that runners need to run. 

HOW DID YOU GO FROM NOT BEING ABLE TO RUN A MILE TO BEING READY TO RUN A MARATHON? 

Is it so annoying to say that I just kept trying?  

Put simply, when I started running, I was not very fit.

And with every run I went on, I got a little bit fitter. 

What I didn’t have the foresight to see when I started running was that every run I went on, even the runs that were more like walks than runs, were getting me fitter and better and closer to being able to do what I was trying to do: to run a mile without stopping and then, after that, to run even more miles without stopping. 

I thought walking was failing. I thought not running on the days I didn’t want to run was failing. I thought stopping whilst running was failing. 

What I have FINALLY learned is that as long as I am trying, I am not failing. 

And that’s what this whole process has been: it’s been me, trying. 

All that running is and all that running has been, from that time I couldn’t get to the end of my road to (hopefully) crossing that finish line tomorrow afternoon has been trying. 

So yeh. That’s how I got from not being able to run a mile to arriving at the start line of my first marathon. 

And that’s what I need to cling onto for dear life tomorrow as it all starts to feel impossible and I wonder what the fucking god I was thinking in signing up for this thing: all I can do is try my best. All this is and all this has ever been was me trying my best, whatever that looks like. 

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