At school I always hated PE. I was rubbish at any ball games (usually I’d end up getting hit in the head by the ball), my balance was a bit rubbish, and I felt self-conscious about my body. I had liked sprinting as a child, and was one of the fastest students in my primary school, but in my teens I was subjected to long-distance running, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t breathe, I got a stitch in a matter of minutes, and it was hell.
During my teens and early twenties I tried out all sorts of things: body pump, spinning, aerobics, zumba, afro dance, pilates… I kept trying to find something I enjoyed, but nothing I tried got me high on endorphins, which was what my athletic mum kept promising would happen. By the time I got to my mid-twenties, I finally managed to create a semi-regular swimming habit, and found aqua aerobics, which was the first class I’d actually enjoyed.
For years I remember watching my friends who did running, thinking they were mad, but also envying them – wouldn’t it be great to be able to run? Sadly running wasn’t for me, though – I had discovered that in my teens, and it was a firmly held belief, a simple fact of life.
But then one day I ended up reading Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley. There’s a chapter at the beginning of the book where Alexandra talks about her firm belief that she can’t run, and her father (an ex-marathon runner) tells her:
“You don’t run,” corrected my father. “But you’re more than able”.
He points out that she is a healthy young woman with two working legs, so there is no reason why she wouldn’t be able to run, and suddenly she realises that for all those years she had been hiding behind the excuse of not being able to run – it wasn’t a fact, it was just a decision.
Inspired by the book, I decided to give it a go as well, and started the Couch to 5k programme by the NHS. It took me a couple attempts, but despite my early fears that I would never be able to run for 30 minutes, or even 10, I completed the programme at the end of January 2016. The next step was to join my local parkrun, and working up to running the whole distance, and then chasing PBs.
As my running became more regular, I decided to re-read the book, as it had lots of great tips for runners at different levels. Alexandra Heminsley talks a lot about what an amazing experience the London Marathon is, and I felt drawn to it despite myself. I had never felt any sort of inclination towards running for hours on end, but something about that specific marathon just sounded so exciting.
In April I found myself watching most of the London Marathon on TV. I didn’t care about the elite athletes, instead I wanted to see the normal people, the first timers and novice runners and people running in fancy dress, all getting cheered on by the crowd. Something about the whole thing just got me really excited, and before I knew it, I’d filled in a form to run the 2017 London Marathon for a charity. And then another. And then when the ballot finally opened, I signed up for that, too.
Over the next few months I didn’t really spare the marathon much thought. I told a few friends I’d signed up so that we could laugh about the ridiculousness of it together – after all, they all knew me as a real fitness-phobe, and the furthest I’d ever run at that point was 10k. But that didn’t really matter, as it’s notoriously difficult to get into the marathon anyway as there are so many people applying for a ballot place – I’d heard of people who had applied for 9 years straight without getting in!
In July I got engaged, and started planning our wedding for September 2017. By that point I decided that if I were to get a charity place for the marathon, I’d have to say no; I might just about be able to plan a wedding, run my business and train for a marathon at the same time, but to add raising £2000 for charity to that mix might just be too much. In September Cancer Research emailed me to let me know they couldn’t offer me a place this year, and it was a relief.
At the start of October I started getting emails and texts from various charities, telling me I’d soon find out the results for the ballot, and wishing me luck. I wish they hadn’t sent me those messages, as it led to a week of almost having a heart attack every time the post arrived. My fiancé kept telling me I wouldn’t get in anyway, so I had nothing to worry about, but I worried anyway (I always do).
And then, on the second Monday of October, the marathon magazine finally arrived. I sat there with it, slowly pulling the plastic cover open but being scared to turn it over, like Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And then when I finally dared to look, I pretty much freaked our. I was in! This wasn’t supposed to happen!
So here we are. I have six months to get from 5k to 42k. I’m scared shitless, but also a little bit excited. The day itself doesn’t really scare me; it’s all the days leading up to it, the training runs in the cold, rain, wind and anything else the Scottish winter decides to throw at me.
I’ll just have to remember this mantra, which is luckily stuck to the wall of my home office:
If you want to help me stay motivated throughout this ordeal, I’d really appreciate it if you’d like to sponsor me! I’m trying to raise £500 for Macmillan Cancer Support, who want to make sure that no one has to face cancer alone. More details below: