London marathon 2017 – You’re in! The magazine dropped on my doormat in November. The illustrious ‘Marathon News’ magazine which can make or break smiles for the thousands of people who enter to take part in the Virgin Money London Marathon every year. As you can see from above, it definitely made me smile.
And so on Sunday (23rd April 2017) I ran and completed my first ever marathon, one of the most famous and exciting in the world. And I smiled nearly the whole way round.
If you’ve read any of my other posts about running, you’ll already know that I’m not a natural runner. I always said I didn’t want to do a marathon, it just seemed too big a challenge, I didn’t feel there was any way I could run further than 5k. My original target was 10 minutes of non stop running….
Just before my first half marathon in April last year I got injured. I was unable to run nearly all summer, my terrible bunions were proving to be the problem I’d always feared they would be. Having bunions doesn’t just affect your feet but your whole kinetic chain, my IT band and hamstring problems are most likely caused by my bunion. After a scan at the hospital they offered me surgery to correct the worst foot, but they said that it would take me about a year to recover and be able to run again.As previously blogged, I was offered a place in The Great North Run last year to raise money for The Dogs Trust, and so I decided to hold out of the surgery for as long as possible. There was no way I was going to let this injury stop me from taking part in one of the most famous half marathons in the world, and to fundraise for a charity I believe in so much. Even if I had to hobble round, I was going to do it. Three physios and many strength training sessions later, with very very little running training (I was injured nearly all of summer 2016) I managed to run the whole thing non stop last September. The run was amazing, the crowds were incredibly supportive and knowing I’d hit my fundraising target kept me going. Plus, as my husband says, I am very very stubborn when I want to do something.
Straight after the race, I went to the charity village to meet up with the Dogs Trust team. Their fundraising group mentioned that they had places for the London Marathon and asked if I would be interested? I must have been on a runner’s high, I said yes. So that’s how I got to run 26.2 miles just over a week ago (well it ended up being more like 26.58 but who’s counting?)
So when the Marathon News magazine arrived on my doormat I did what I always do when faced with any new challenge. I googled and borrowed books from the Library and reached out to more experienced people than me. I did my research. I read up on meal plans, training plans and strength training exercises. Ultimately I decided to follow Matt Robert’s beginners marathon training plan in his book ‘Get Running’ which entailed 4 runs a week and two weight training sessions. Photocopied and enlarged to A3, I pinned it to the front of the fridge and counted down the weeks on the calendar. I extended Matt’s prescribed gym sessions to include the exercises from my physiotherapist to help with my previous IT band injury and weak glute muscles. So at it’s most intensive I was training for about 11 hours a week. Bear this in mind when deciding to run a marathon….
The training hours didn’t just affect me, my husband had extra washing up and tidying to deal with, a wife with permanent blister plasters on and was hardly ever seen in anything other than sweaty gym clothes. In fact someone that was hardly ever seen at all. So as well as being your cheering squad, your family are also the ones that pick up all the household duties you can’t squeeze in anymore, the ones who have to hear you brag again about another PB or the ones that patiently comfort you when you’ve had a bad run. They are the ones that pick you up when you cry that you are ‘never going to be able to do it’. They are in it with you, every step of the way.
Official marathon training began on 1st January, not a great day seeing as NYE meant a late night and Prosecco!
I managed to fit in most of my scheduled runs and gym sessions and started to keep a journal to note what I did, how I felt etc. There were some very cold and dark 5am runs where I really had to force myself to go out. Occasionally I swapped a short run for a Davina dvd workout or if my IT band felt sore I’d go for a swim, but I really think putting in the effort to do the runs and the resistance training for those 3.5 months paid off.
There were a couple of colds and bugs that stopped my progress for a week or two, I became a bit obsessive about hand sanitiser some weeks when I felt like the whole world around me was sneezing. I discovered Vicks ‘first defence’ cold spray in February, whether it was a placebo effect or not in my mind it was worth every penny to me.
Next came tackling the ever longer Sunday runs. The interval and threshold runs were always fun but I began to worry about the increasing distance run, putting it off until the last minute meant that my day would be ruined by the anticipation and the expectation I would fail, and then I would have left it so late that I would have to run in the dark and cold. So as I edged nearer to the 3 hours plus runs I didn’t know how I’d be able to do it. Then I met a wonderful group of runners from Kings Heath Running Club, some of whom were also training for the marathon, some people who’d already ran it and some people who were just working on upping their distance. One week when I was getting over a cold, I joined a group of runners who call themselves ‘the sedate Sunday runners’. It was a slower pace than my original long run pace, but I was getting over a cold it seemed the sensible thing to do. It was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve ever done. They are such a welcoming and friendly group and getting chatting to such interesting people meant the miles just floated away. So from then on most Sundays I would run to Kings Heath from home, run 10 miles or so with the group up and down the hills in Kings Heath and then run home. The hills made me so much stronger, their tips improved my knowledge and the longest run PB’s kept coming. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people that I ran with, and to everyone who replied to my many Facebook posts. It really helped.
There was the odd niggle, a lot of blisters and a couple of trips and falls along the way, but I managed to do 2x 20 mile training runs during training. One of them I ran to the Solihull half marathon from home, ran the half marathon and then ran back home again. My husband and I used to joke that we would love to be able to run to Parkrun, complete it and then run home again, that would be about 9 miles. Every now and then, realising what I’d achieved would take my breath away a bit for a second. Thank you to the driver who saw me running towards Blythe Valley about 4 miles away from the start line of the race and offered me a lift. It was tempting! The 16, 18 and 20 mile runs weren’t easy, but I did them all the same. I did question at the end of the 2×20 miles runs how I was ever going to manage to do another 6.2 miles after those 20? People said that the crowd would help you get there, and they sure did.
I drove up to London on Saturday to collect my timing chip and race number. I’d left it quite late to book a hotel so my mum and I ended up staying quite far out in the Wimbledon South Premier Inn. It was an hour’s journey to the Excel centre where the expo was being held, I’d completely ignored all the advice I’d read and did quite a lot of walking that day, my Fitbit tells me it was 18,000 steps, my body was telling me it was more. We headed back to the hotel and I had a bath and organised all my alarms, food and running gear for the next morning. Re-read my race instructions, journey planner and checked the weather. I laid my things out, counted my gels and pinned my number to my top.
I knew a bad nights sleep was probably inevitable, so I took some pillow spray, herbal sleep aid tablets and some relaxing podcasts with me. They helped, I managed around 6 hours sleep. Paranoid that my alarm wouldn’t wake me, I set several, but woke up before any of them went off anyway. Had my usual breakfast of champions, otherwise known as porridge, nuts and banana and headed off at 6.45am. The journey to Greenwich was easy and it was free! It was a case of follow the runner in front when working out which tube to get next. Probably not a well advised strategy.
Once in the start area, there was free tea and coffee, water and plenty of toilets. The luggage lorries were easy to locate and it was all very well organised. There was a bit of nervous chatter in our start pens, and the usual sizing each other up, predicted finish times, who had the worst injuries during training etc. The gun went off and……nobody moved, 20 minutes later we were crossing the start line, and that’s where the cheer crowds began, and they were there for the whole way round. It was utterly amazing. I had my name printed on my top, and hearing the crowds shouting my name over and over was incredibly motivating. The obvious highlights for me were the Cutty sark, running over tower bridge and the houses of Parliament at the end. However my favourite sight was seeing a woman from the crowd burst into tears as her beloved ran past and she ran alongside him for 100 meters to tell him how proud she was.
I’d told my support crew not to worry about trying to see me whilst on the course after reading how crowded it can be, but in fact there were lots of places they could have easily seen me en route. Lesson learnt in case I ever get a place again. It would have been a welcome boost to see them.
At miles 14 and 21 there was a dogs trust cheering station; they were fantastic and gave me a huge grin for another couple of miles. Seeing all the amusing signs people had written, as well as the heartfelt ones helped keep me going too. One of my favourites was ”If Donald Trump can run, so can you”. I also saw a friend from uni cheering my name right towards the end, it really helped me keep going that last few meters. Thank you Stacey.
I had a few blisters quite early on in the race which is odd as I wore my usual kit, but I guess the heat made my feet swell more than normal. By 5k they were pretty painful and I was worried that after all that training, it would be blooming blisters that would prevent me from finishing. In future I will vaseline my feet; when I saw the St John’s Ambulance volunteers holding out handfuls of vaseline a few miles later I felt as though I had never been so grateful in all my life.
I stopped in the toilet queue which was really pretty long, and checked my feet. ‘Ooh that looks bad’ the lady behind me said, just what I wanted to hear. Another toilet queue later meant another 10 minute wait.
I don’t remember hitting the ”wall” I took it pretty steady. I found at miles 20 and 24 I had to walk for a while. I’d worked out when to take my gels and laminated and pinned them to my top, but towards the end of the race I realised that I’d worked it out all wrong in my rush to pack. Anyone who does long runs will know how it’s harder to do maths whilst you’re running, so I think I missed a gel or two towards the end leaving me feeling a bit drained.
I crossed the finish line and grabbed my medal and t-shirt feeling a little bit tearful at what I’d accomplished. My luggage bag was ready before I even got to the lorry, what service! Finding the family was pretty easy, hubbie was wearing my Dogs Trust hat in Horse Guards Parade ready to greet with me with a hug and a bottle of water. I loved every minute of it, learnt a lot and would love to do it again. Birmingham marathon, here I come.
I’m still fundraising for running the London Marathon for the Dogs Trust, I’d love to hit my target so please consider donating to my just giving page: http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Kate-Shephard1
Here’s my one second everyday vlog of marathon training, from 1st January when training began until 23rd April, marathon day. There isn’t that much running training in it though, as a certain bunny was a lot more interesting to video….