As I entered the London Marathon back in April 2019 for about the 6th time, I had automatically assumed this entry would be no different- not lucky enough to be given a ballot place.
I had made a decision that unless I secured a ballot place then I wouldn’t go for it – the main reason for this was because I simply couldn’t choose which particular charity I should represent.
So, you could imagine my surprise at having secured a ballot place in what was supposed to be the 40th London Marathon in April 2020.
In November I tentatively started training thinking that it was a long slog until April. Then of course in February and March disaster hit in the form of COVID and the pandemic.
All bets were off, all events cancelled or postponed, and in fact the London Marathon was rescheduled for the 4th October 2020. So training was halted, lockdown hit and we were all forced to stay in our homes. Thank goodness for an amazing spring weather wise.
The powers that be couldn’t decide whether to run the marathon in October or not and as we got closer we were advised to start training anyway. So off I went, back doing some short runs and struggling with motivation.
Finally, they made the decision to delay the actual London Marathon (they held a ‘virtual race’ which I didn’t partake in) until October 2021. Another year away. But this time the stars were aligned. It was to be the 41st marathon, held on my 41st birthday – Sunday 3rd October 2021.
So once again, I put a stop to the running training – bearing in mind I do a lot of other training and sports, so it wasn’t like I was doing nothing. In January 2021 I launched my own couch to 5km programme, aptly named ‘Jiggle the Jingle Jelly’, and had some wonderful clients sign up to this 6 week programme. We had a lot of fun.
A further lockdown meant we couldn’t meet up and do group runs together but we improvised with zoom, group messaging, video calls and lots of emails and texts. It was fantastic and I owe this lovely group of people so much. It provided me with exactly the right foundations that I needed to kick start my running programme. Albeit in January, and the programme over by February (and a long way away from the Marathon date in October) I made the decision that I was going to keep the running up.
For about a month I stayed at the 5km mark and then gave myself a further 5 weeks to get up to the 10km mark. Bearing in mind that 26.2 miles are 42.19km I had a long way to go! But over the following couple of months, I upped it slowly. Not panicking about time is a real luxury and I felt that I had lots of time to spare to get those training miles up.
It was during June that I signed up with a functional health specialist, which I wanted to do to know about what sort of supplements I should be considering. Through a lengthy initial consultation process with Paul Foley it became evident that I am, and have been for most of my life, gluten intolerant, and this was one of the reasons, if not THE reason, I have Type 1 Diabetes.
Anyone that knows me tends to describe me as tenacious. I won’t give up. Failure is a huge problem to me (something that I constantly address) and so I simply don’t fail, no matter what the expense! My family calls it stubborn! Friends call it tenacious. I acknowledge this. However, I have gotten out of many tricky situations because of my tenacity.
So, a diet of eggs, meat, fish and carrots only, was not particularly conducive to running 17 miles in a training session. This brings me to lesson number one.
1. Don’t do your long training runs with zero or very little carbs in your system.
A Sunday in July, trying to complete 20 miles, I got to mile 6 and couldn’t continue. Now, I have explained about my stubbornness. I never quit, or stop or give up. But when you can’t get your blood sugar levels up above 3mmol/unit no matter how much gel or jelly babies you take on, you know you’re in trouble. I sat down in the middle of the road and simply cried. I had to call Mum, who luckily wasn’t far away, to come and pick me up and take me home. My diabetes had gotten the better of me. I had overtrained.
I remained on the ‘special diet’ for a few weeks, tweaked my training and also got an IV Glutathione shot which completely changed things for me.
2. Don’t overthink your long runs
The two nights before my Sunday long run I would be sleepless, I would be constantly visiting the toilet, stressed out and hating every second of this journey that I was experiencing. But then something changed for me and I put it down to the IV Glutathione shot that I was getting. Glutathione is an essential supplement that is important for many different things in our bodies. For me, I noticed that I was recovering better, I had better focus, I was given a reset and therefore had amazing sleep. Suddenly I wasn’t overthinking the long runs and getting stressed about it; I would simply get organised, put my trainers on and head out the door for 22 miles. It was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I started enjoying it and I also started to think that I might be able to break the 4 hour mark for completing the marathon.
3. Don’t overdo the long runs
22 miles was the longest distance I ran in training. I was going to do 2 of these, but a good friend of mine messaged me and said don’t. Start tapering. So after my 22 miler, I did a 16 miler, then a half marathon and then, I think, a 10km run a week before the marathon. And do you know what, it worked! I am so glad I trusted my good friend, and what everyone else was saying. I had never run a marathon before so it was a bit scary to leave it at 22 miles. But there was absolutely no reason to get worked up about this.
4. Don’t get caught out
I’m better off running in the morning with an empty stomach. I can’t eat before running. I think it’s called ‘runner’s trots’! My one major mistake was trying to complete 15 miles one evening. The only thing I achieved was fertilisation of the fields alongside the A449! My god it was the most horrendous experience. You’re running down a dual carriageway (mistake number 1), in rush hour (mistake number 2), have had a big lunch (mistake number 3) thinking you can get away with it (mistake number 4). I think I managed to remain inconspicuous however, it was mortifying. Don’t make that mistake. Know your habits, what works, what doesn’t and don’t think it will be ok this one time- it probably won’t be!
5. Don’t wing your long routes
Another lesson I learnt the arduous way – there is nothing worse than getting nearly home and realising you have to find another 5 miles. The worst feeling in the world. So look at the map, make sure there are pavements if you are going on main roads, make sure you know where you’re going.
The night before a 16 miler I sat down with a great app and planned my route. Only to hit a main road and discover there was no pavement and I was on it for about a mile. No joke. The cars came flying past. My life literally flashed before my eyes. So wear high vis, make sure you know it’s safe and plan as much as you can!
6. Don’t forget a back up/support if your going alone
All my training runs, and the marathon, I completed solo. I am better at running that way and feel more comfortable on my own. However, after my meltdown moment when my poor mother had to come and rescue me, it became evident how important that people knew where I was going, what I was planning on doing etc. Particularly as the running got longer, more arduous, more time consuming and I could be found anywhere between Kidderminster and Malvern! So I shared my live location on WhatsApp with my parents, told them what I was planning on doing and they checked in on me every now and then. I also phoned them as soon as I got home.
7. Don’t forget recovery is as important as the actual running
I took recovery to a whole new level. Luckily, with my work, I can lay my hands on all the best kit. From my massage therapy gun, cryo-air ice machine, compression boots, circulation reviver, cold baths, pop up sauna and my weekly trips to cryozone for whole body cryotherapy and IV Glutathione shots. I left no stone unturned and I believe this to be as huge a part of my training regime as the running itself.
It’s worth regularly seeing a good physio, sports therapist, chiropractor and finding your local cryotherapy centre and recovery suites. If you need help get in contact!
8. Don’t forget to plan the build-up, prep, and the days leading up to the marathon
I didn’t leave any stone unturned in the final month before the marathon. I got it in my head that I wanted to break four hours so started looking at whether this was achievable. A bit late in the day, I know, and my weeks only included 3 runs – two shorter ones (between 5 and 10km) and one longer one. So I knew I had to run at a pace quicker than 9 mins and 9 seconds per mile if I wanted to break the four hours. My last long run was a half marathon distance during the tapering stage and I smashed it (with some big hills) in 1hr 50 mins. So I knew I was thereabouts.
In regards to the other bits and bobs… I listened to podcasts, radio stations, youtube channels, I spoke to people who had previously completed a marathon.
I got lots of tips and can’t thank all of those people enough who had input.
Here are some of them:
- Cut toenails about a week before the marathon (mine were quite short anyway, and in fact I had already lost one!)
- Put vaseline everywhere! So I think I got to 17 miles in my training runs where my bra strap, my heart rate monitor strap, the tape holding my freestyle libre blood glucose monitoring system on my arm, all rubbed me, and it was sore! I still have the marks now, however, vaseline is a game changer. I put it everywhere – in between my butt cheeks, all the linings of my underwear, under my heart rate monitor strap, on my eyebrows (to stop sweat running in my eyes). This was one of the best tips!
- Don’t try any new gear or nutrition out on the marathon day. You need to know how everything is going to work. Make use of your training runs to test new things out.
- Run in the middle of the road where you can. Obviously, please don’t get run over, but the camber of the road does have a massive impact on your legs, especially when the mileage picks up.
- Don’t start too quickly on marathon day, but also know that it is highly unlikely you will be able to pick up speed towards the end of the marathon, even if you feel like you can. It’s very difficult to make the legs turn over more quickly when the lactic acid is building up.
- Make the most of every minute. It flies by (or it did for me) and is somewhat a blur. The crowds are incredible and running over London Bridge with people 5 deep shouting your name has to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
- Trust the training process
- Be intuitive and listen to your body
- I was extremely nervous about my bowels playing a bigger part in the marathon than I wanted them to. And with being caught out previously, I definitely didn’t want to be stopping at every available portaloo on route. I am happy to report that by keeping my stomach empty, sticking to my plan of jelly babies throughout the race, not only were my bowels and my street cred all relatively intact but also my blood glucose levels were good and managed sufficiently through the race.
However, with all this planning you still need an element of good luck. In my total naivety and by pure good luck I had the perfect ‘race’. My 5km splits were all within a couple of seconds of each other (something that I didn’t realise until I had finished).
I had my Garmin but only glanced at it every now and then. Being a flat course it really helped to keep my pace consistent and the weather was perfect – dry, sunny intervals and an agreeable temperature.
My last two miles were my quickest, by a small amount, and not only did I break 4 hours but I totally smashed it in 3hrs 36minutes. Absolutely elated, high on endorphins and adrenaline, and extremely emotional, my 41st birthday is one of my most memorable and one that I certainly won’t forget.
And to top it off I raised over £2000 for four fabulous charities and can’t thank everyone who donated, supported and were there for me. Although I was running it alone, I knew I had an amazing group of family, friends, patients and connections all cheering me on from home.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you all.