Back in October I signed up to run a marathon and as of this morning, I am at the half way point. Literally. Today is half marathon day, the biggest day in my marathon training so far.
At 8.45 this morning I set off east from my house, headphones on, hood up against the miserable weather and toenails barely hanging on and I knew that when I returned (no matter what happened whilst I was out there), I would be returning having run a half marathon for the first time in my life.
And fuck me sideways, run it I did.
I knew that the half marathon would be the turning point in my training. I knew that it was going to make or break me and that after I finished it I would either feel incredibly positive or ridiculously negative. Up until this morning I have been blighted, pretty consistently with thoughts of: what the fuck did I think I was playing at, signing up to run a marathon without any real experience of running?? When I finished my nine mile run, then my ten miler and last week my 11.5 miler I was left feeling flat: if I can’t even find this easy, HOW am I going to do the same again and more???
I was blighted too, with the memory of the last time I attempted something in this department. Back in 2016 I did actually did a half marathon in which I was struck down by injury at the three mile mark and subsequently was forced to walk/hobble the next eight miles: apparently this sort of thing is very common if you haven’t done any training… who knew eh?! The agonising shame that shrouds this memory lead me to know, in my heart, that until I could do a 13 mile run without wanting to DIE, I was going to be unable to muster up even a modicum of faith that signing up to run a marathon wasn’t, in fact, the act of a mental person.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the beginning of the marathon training process, about my training plan, about the things I’d learned so far (not a lot, I realise now), about my intentions and my apprehensions and I thought that now, all these miles later, and half way to being ready for a run that I will probably never actually be ready for, I should take the opportunity to impart all that I’ve learned thus far.
I think I have actually learned a LOT about running these las few weeks, but before I crack on with divulging every pearl of wisdom that I have spent so long agonisingly foraging for, I thought I should take a couple of minutes to go into how I’ve found the first six weeks of marathon training to be:
In a lot of ways I have found marathon training to be fine. Fun, even. Exciting, painful, but ultimately amazing. I’ve managed to fit my training around my normal life, I’ve seen a vast improvement in my ability, a noticeable difference to my body and, for the most part, the runs themselves haven’t been too bad.
But in lots of other ways, it’s been hard as hell. A couple of weeks into my training I injured myself, developing tendinitis in my right hip and knee. I’d had a similar injury before and that had turned out to be a tendonopathy, a severe injury that saw me needing rest for close to three months as it healed and I was terrified that it was back. I booked an emergency physio appointment and literally sobbed the whole way down there, thinking that I was about to be told this was a tendonopathy again and I would be unable to do the marathon at all (this was the first time I had realised how emotionally invested I actually was in the whole thing).
Thankfully it wasn’t a tendonopathy this time. Annoyingly, though, it wasn’t the sort of thing we could just put a plaster on either, and my marathon training was about to get ten times harder. As it turns out I don’t really have the body for marathon running and getting one wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped it would be. I’m very hyper-mobile and as a result, I’m too floppy and my knees and hips are doing all the wrong things as I go. I wish I could give you a more technical analysis but ten physio appointments later and this is all I know about my own body. The problem, in my hip flexer, is also causing my sciatic nerve to flare up a bit so I’m also experiencing symptoms of sciatica which are, quite frankly, a pain in the arse. And leg. And sometimes feet, on a really bad day.
This set back did mean that I had to take a bit of time off, and that panicked me. In the blog post I wrote at the beginning of all of this I smugly told you about the plan I was going to be following and the realisation that that was going to need to pretty much go out the window as I followed the instructions of Kieth the Physio, was terrifying. I’ve been working on the logic that if I stuck to the plan I couldn’t possibly fail. It’s a marathon training plan for a reason. It’s been something that I’ve clung onto, as my faith in myself trembled, this plan and my ability to stick to it was the reassurance I desperately need. To have it taken away was horrendous.
But thankfully, it worked. I’m not entirely pain free but I am substantially better than I was. Kieth, as it turns out, knows what he’s talking about and I’ve surrendered myself to him; he at least knows more about my body than the fact that “it’s a bit floppy”. I am desperately thankful that I am in a position to see a physiotherapist and honestly don’t know if I’d still be doing this if I hadn’t first found him and then been able to keep going back. And that leads me nicely onto the first thing that I learned…
That experts are experts for a reason.
Whether it’s a physiotherapist, a marathon training plan or even a fella at the specialised trainer shop: there are lots of people out there who know a lot more than you. Absorb what they have to say. Take it in. Follow advice. Be willing to learn. TRUST THEM. Kieth the Physio promised me he’d get me to the start line and I need to put my faith in him. I need too to do what he says when he says it. He’s not giving me strengthening exercises for his own enjoyment and the people behind the marathon training programmes are not just writing fun numbers down willy nilly – this shit is tried and tested and ought to be adhered to wherever possible.
Running really is just putting one foot in front of the other
How it took me so long to learn this I have no idea but god it was a bit of a life changing realisation when it hit me. That’s all running really is and I know that I can do that. Every time I found myself over thinking (about once every minute), listening to the loud voice in my head telling other voices that there was no point, I couldn’t run for another second, I’d realise that whilst I’d been having this internal struggle, my feet had kept going, one in front of the other like the little champions that they are.
Audiobooks are awesome
I have tried everything to pass the time and on different days, and for different people, different things work. I have finally worked out what works for me and it’s brilliantly niché and I am obsessed with it. I have started listening to running books. Literally books people have written about running, for me to listen to, whilst I am running. I found that music was trapping me with my own thoughts for too long. I found that fiction audiobooks didn’t work as I had an ability to forget to listen for a minute and then realise that I’d missed something pivotal in the plot. Podcasts started to piss me off, not least of all because they would end after about 40 minutes and I’d need to start a new one, which was too much faff for me and served to make me increasingly aware of the passing of time which I was not thankful for. Listening to books about running are not only helpful but inspiring in all sorts of ways. I cried this morning listening to Alexandra Heminsley describing crossing the finish line of the London Marathon in her book Running Like A Girl and before this one I became totally engrossed in the book Jog On, How Running Saved My Life, by Bella Mackie.
Carb loading is essential
The greatest news ever. I had to eat a pizza last night. Literally, had to. It was fuel. It was important. It was going to be the reason I finished my half marathon today. Seriously though, nutrition is SO important and even trying to run after a light dinner the night before is just not the one. Make sure you’ve eaten enough.
Planning is key
At least, it is for me. I use the website plotaroute.com which is entirely basic and wonderfully helpful. I schedule my week on a Sunday night, when I’m going to get my runs in and how far I will go and I will plot them in plenty of time. I then get up in the morning with enough time to have two cups of coffee, a litre of water and a poo before I leave the house at the time I planned the night before. Spontaneity and running are not friends… particularly when you suffer with IBS.
Toenails are overrated anyway
Yeh, they go blue and sometimes they fall off. Deal with it.
You’ve got to keep it interesting.
If your book is boring you that day, try some music. If the thought of the route that you plotted is filling you with dread, plot another one. If you’re tired of running on your own, find a friend. Don’t let it become boring, because actually it needn’t be. I’m so lucky to live in London and I realised this morning, as I ran all the way to, and then over Westminster Bridge, that running was actually a bloody brilliant way to see parts of the place that I live that I would never otherwise have noticed.
Running gives you abs
Honest to god, abs were the LAST thing I expected to gain from marathon training but here we are. Two little ab-babies forming at the top of my stomach. WHAT A TREAT.
A good sports bra is everything
I’ve known this for a long time, I think I’ve probably said it a million times before. But the other day I went running in a sports bra that had, after years of service, finally lost it’s magic and good god did I suffer as a result. It was a cold day and the chaffing alone was damn near enough to put me off running all together. I recommend Shock Absorber as they have never let me down, but have also heard fabulous things about the Sweaty Betty High Intensity Bra and have it on my “to buy” list at the moment.
Tracking is the balls
I have become somewhat obsessed with tracking my running. Not just the distance but the speed as well. For Christmas my mum bought me a Garmin Forerunner 235 and I absolutely recommend it. It tracks my running, it chirps into life every mile to tell me how fast I am going and follows me using GPS so that when I get back I can see exactly where I have been and at what speed. It is proving to be my best piece of “kit” ever.
You can stop whenever you want to
This is been, by far and away, the greatest realisation I have ever had. I’m quite tough on myself when I run. The idea of stopping to walk for a bit is something that I just won’t tolerate really and I have, historically, always beaten myself up if I needed to stop for a stretch or a breather. I realised a few weeks ago that this was stupid and I am so pleased I did. Now, when I want water, I stop and get water. When I need a wee, I stop and have a wee. When I want a stretch, or a breather, or even just to take in the view or upload something to my Instagram story, I pause my watch and do just that. It just doesn’t matter. And I’m SO happy that I finally know that.
The more you do, the better you get
I vividly remember the first time I was able to run for a mile without stopping. When I scroll through the archive of running memories in my mind, I am confronted with countless images of me having to stop after a mile, of walking, of stitches, of stretching, of crying, of quitting. I remember when 5k was the biggest thing I could imagine. I remember the first time I did one of those in one go. Similarly with the 10k distance (now something I actively enjoy??!!) and now, with the half marathon. My progress is extraordinary and I am SO proud of myself for how far I have come, of how much better a runner I am now than I ever thought I could be. As if I ever thought I’d be able to run a half bloody marathon on a rainy Monday morning with no obvious reason…?! Whenever I find myself getting overwhelmed by the challenge in front of me (about once an hour), I diligently cast my mind back over the last few months and years and remember how far I have come. I’m getting better all the time and I am so excited by that.
I have learned a lot about running over the last few weeks, and I’ve learned even more about myself. It is proving to be a bizarrely wonderful experience. Even if it does reduce me to tears a couple of times a week as I really stop to consider the magnitude of the challenge in front of me.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a million things and I am sure there is still a lot more to learn, but this is what I know so far and I thought I’d share it in case it might prove helpful to someone else out there.
If you don’t already follow me on Instagram – I spend an inordinate amount of time documenting my marathon training there and any pearls of wisdom are normally dropped in between tears and profanities on my stories.
I will be back in a few more weeks with part three, but for now, I need to go and soak my poor feet in warm water because a half marathon in the rain makes them absolutely disgusting.