Monday, 15 October 2012

The First Milestone: The RNLI 10k

I only decided to start this blog on Friday 5th October 2012 once I secured my spot in the Marathon so I’d better bring you up to speed with what’s happened in the last 3 months…

In the past I have always been a terrible runner. The first run I ever went on was at the age of 22 at my parents house in Exeter, Devon. I put on my Topshop joggers which up until this point had been reserved purely for eating Chinese food and the least sexy bra that I had and stepped out of the house. I didn't even make it out of the close before I had a stitch and had to walk. My pride (and the fear that some neighbours might be watching out of their windows) stopped me from turning around straight away so I did a 15 minute 'walking lap' of County Hall near they live and returned home with the knowledge that my gangly frame is not designed to run.

This time was different. I wanted to conquer the dark cloud over me that was the inability to run once and for all. So, about 3 weeks after I signed up for the Marathon I did what everyone does: I went to Debenhams and bought my first pair of running trainers and a sports bra. My mother then took me to JJB and treated me to some socks and one of those silly arm strap things that you put your iPhone in when running. I bought my new clobber back to London with me and put them in my 'Scarf Drawer' (every house should have one) where I forgot they existed for approximately 2 more weeks. 

Then, one morning, I woke up with an almost exhilarating feeling in my belly. It was about 6:30am and I had woken up naturally. I don't have to be in work until 10am so I had 3 hours to kill before I had to leave my house. Without thinking too much about what I was doing in case I spooked myself I pulled on my new clobber and stepped out of my house. "This is it", I thought, "I'm actually going to go on a bloody run here...I'M GOING FOR A BLOODY RUN!" I knew a short little loop near my house so I shut my front door behind me, tried to switch off my brain and focussed on putting one foot in front of the other. I made it about 10 minutes before I had to walk and then strolled back to my house feeling the complete opposite of down-heartened because, believe it or not, that was the furthest I had ever run and I felt completely euphoric.

Naturally the first thing I did when I walked through the door with a grand total of 1 run clocked up was sign up for a 10k in October.

Over the next 3 months I tried to run at least twice a week. Here are a few things I found out about myself during my initial training period:

1.    My lips flap in a weird way when I run which I imagine makes me look slightly akin to a Bassett Hound
2.    Running seems to make me forget how to breathe like a normal human being
3.    I accidently swear out loud when I turn corners and find hills. This is especially bad during morning runs that are undertaken during the school run…
4.    As much as I try I cannot look sexy when running past handsome men (I’ve practiced in shop mirrors when running down the high street)

However, despite being up against all of these things I slowly and steadily managed to build my distance and stamina up until 4 weeks before the RNLI Portsmouth 10k I ran a whopping 10.16k. My self-doubt in my own abilities ebbed away slightly and I started to look forward to the run.

10 days before the run I was in Exeter at my parent’s house. Due to work commitments I hadn’t run at all in the past 2 weeks so on my first full day back I went out in my shorts and a hoody with expectations of making it a full 10k again. What I didn’t realise was that, with running, just because you do it once doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it all the time. After 5k my hips and knees were hurting so much I had to stop. I also felt really sick and walked back to my parents hating running and feeling utterly disappointed. I gave myself 5 days to recover and then tried again; this time making it 3.6k before I had to stop. “If you have to walk it on Sunday you have to walk it” my mum said. I got the train back to London on the Friday feeling pathetically sorry for myself.

On Sunday (Raceday) I woke up at 5:20am to get a taxi to Waterloo and a train to Portsmouth. At Portsmouth I had to get another taxi to the startline. “Well, there’s your 9k mark” the taxi driver pointed out as we drove to the meeting point. I’m not kidding, the next 1k before we got to the startline felt like ages – and that was driving! I got out of the car and after a failed attempt to get changed in a Portaloo (my height and lack of flexibility does not allow for changing in 1m squared cubicles) I snuck into the RNLI building to put on my gear. I was one of the first people to arrive so collected my timing chip and took a handful of jelly beans for my shorts pocket and starting doing a weird little jog on the spot as a half-arsed attempt to warm up.

The first 6 people who arrived were aged about 50. I started to think: “I fancy my chances here – I reckon I could take these ladies.” The next 250 were young, muscular men (one in an army monogrammed training top). My confidence dipped somewhat so I ate another jelly bean for energy.

The rest of the story is pretty boring. As you can probably guess, the six 50-year-old ladies sprinted off ahead of me as soon as the race began so I stared open-mouthed for a moment and then jogged off at my own pace to the sound of The Beatles. I made it 4km before I started to feel really ill and by 7.5km my hip hurt so much I had to do walking and running intervals for the rest of the race. Although I was a little disappointed (I had visions of me bounding across the finish line with a lone bead of sweat on my forehead and being interviewed for the local paper about my perfect running technique) I couldn’t help feeling proud that:

1.    I hadn’t given up (both during the training process and during the race)
2.    That although throughout my whole life when faced with sweets I have to eat the whole packet - I still had a few jelly beans still left in my pocket

I’d succeeded in crossing my first ever finish line with a time of 1 hour 6 minutes AND walked away with my first ever running medal. Seven hours after my journey had begun I travelled back to London to prepare for a run over 4 times as long as the one I’d just achieved.

I was starting to realise the enormity of the challenge that lay ahead of me and wondered if jelly babies and The Beatles would be enough to get me through it.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

What the heck have I done...

I've heard all sorts of statistics about the likelihood of getting a place on the London Marathon. I'm not going to lie, when I originally applied in May 2012 I'd heard it was 1/8. "Great", I thought, "I'll probably be one of those lucky 87.5% who get it all: the opportunity to brag that they were mental enough to apply in the first place and the oh so sweet inner thrill that they wouldn't actually have to do it after all." The website announced that we wouldn't find out if we had been awarded a prestigious place until October that year. I smugly waited for October to arrive, sitting on the couch and eating Dominos and Toffee Crisps and watching endless episodes of Modern Family. By the time August rolled around I'd heard you had a 1/4 chance of getting a place. By the time September reared it's ugly head I'd heard it was a 1/3 chance and was a little bit sick in my mouth...

Don't get me wrong, I had good intentions somewhere deep down. My rather wonderful aunt had decided that in her 50th year she was going to run the London Marathon AND run the London Marathon she did in a fantastic time of 4 hours. In all the banner-waving, patriotic, shouting-until-you're-blue-in-the-face excitement of watching her pound the historic pavements of London I sort of forgot that she was really rather fit and had been running for years. I'd even been there to cheer her over the finish line of the Cardiff half marathon years earlier. However, like many other Londoners I should imagine, I got completely swept up in the romance of it all and decided that I too should, would, MUST run the London Marathon. And like many idiots like me, I applied for the 2013 one less than 2 weeks later.

Now is probably the right time to explain that I exaggerate a lot. Whilst never expecting to get a place on the London Marathon I did want to take up running and this was just a pipe dream which gave me the kick up the arse I so desperately needed. I'm 6 feet tall and have been told I look "athletic" but the dark reality is that I am really quite unfit. The level of unfit where 2 flights of stairs make me a bit out of breath, 3 flights of stairs make me a bit red in the face and 4 flights of stairs leave me emerging from the stairwell looking like the girl from The Exorcist. I've made feeble efforts to increase my fitness over the years such as attending a grand total of 1 yoga class and buying a Davina McCall exercise bike from Argos. I would sit on it watching University Challenge whilst painting my nails. Funnily enough, I didn't see any improvement in my stair-climbing ability.

However, I couldn't ignore the little voice of doubt in the back of my head that whispered to me: "What the heck are you going to do if you actually get a place in the Marathon". Naturally the first thing I did was work out how long it would take me to walk it. I did some maths and came up with 7 hours (not too shabby). In fact, when applying the online form asked me how long I thought it would take me to run it so I did what all first-time runners do...I entered the amount of time that it took James 'Arg' Argent from TOWIE to run it. Well, if he can do it in 6.5 hours, surely I can too?

In the early days of October whilst relaxing at my parents house I received my first bit of bad news. A friend of mine revealed via Facebook that his 2013 London Marathon application had been rejected. I immediately checked my inbox and saw that I had not received an email either way. 3 days later, my Facebook timeline was riddled with disappointed friends saying that they did not have a place either whilst my own inbox remained ominously empty. On Friday 5th October I caught the train back to London and stepped into my flat heading straight for the table in our lounge/dining room where we kept all our mail. There it was, placed there by one of my housemates eagerly awaiting my discovery. After my first ever attempt at applying, I had been awarded a widely coveted place on the London Marathon start line in April 2013.

I had become one of the 12.5%.