The Spirit of the Marathon

I often get asked what it is about the marathon that keeps me going back for more. Why do I voluntarily put myself through weeks of hard training for a race I know is going to hurt? Surely there are more sensible things to do with my time! But there’s just something about running 26.2 miles that is simply magical:

It’s the participants united in their quest for a common goal.

It’s the friendly, supportive atmosphere in what is usually a big city full of anonymity.

It’s the conversations with random strangers, bound together by the marathon.

It’s that feeling like no other when you cross the finish line.

It’s the knowing looks from fellow runners as you walk gingerly through the city that evening and the morning after.

And it’s the amazing stories of commitment, compassion and courage that reach us after the event. Stories which define the Spirit of the Marathon.

Right now, spring marathon season is in full swing and in the space of just a few weeks I’ve come across so many incredible marathon stories. By sharing some of them in one post, I hope to go some way towards helping explain why I love that mythical distance so much.

In what other sport can the average weekend warrior line up alongside the elites? I’ve taken part in the exact same events as greats like Kenenisa Bekele, Mary Keitany, Jo Pavey and David Weir. Of course those at the front are applauded and celebrated for their victories, but those further back in the field are made to feel like rock stars too thanks to spectators screaming their names and offering encouragement. But what about every runner’s worry: what if I’m last? Well in the recent Rotterdam marathon it turned out to be a moment akin to actually winning the race, as shown in the amazing video which swept social media earlier this month. To be honest, if that had been me I would have been a blubbering puddle of tears for that entire final stretch!

While that was happening, I was on the streets of Paris watching the magic of the marathon unfold around me. I saw runners coming to the aid of others who were struggling in the heat, I saw spectators lining the streets with hands outstretched for high fives and others holding signs that made me smile. My favourites included “smile if you’re not wearing underwear” (that made EVERYBODY smile!) and “finishing is your only f***ing option”. When I finished I checked my phone to find so many words of support and congratulations from those who had followed my journey, runners and non-runners alike, who wanted to connect in that moment. And I also discovered the wonderful quirk of this year’s event which saw a married couple take the top spots in the men’s and women’s elite races, a fact which suited Paris’s reputation as the City of Love perfectly!

Just a week later, runners were lining up in Hopkinton for the start of the Boston marathon. Always a special event, this year’s race was made even more special by the fact that the first woman to officially run the race, Kathrine Switzer, was running again to mark the 50th anniversary of that now-iconic run. Amazingly, at age 70 she was just 25 minutes slower than in her first race in 1967! She wore the same race number (261) which has now officially been retired so no other runner can ever wear that number in Boston again. I listened to a fantastic interview with Switzer on the Marathon Training Academy podcast recently, which I recommend if you’d like to hear more about both the 1967 race and the 2017 one.

But this wasn’t the only story to emerge from Boston. In the days after, the media was full of stories that, as the quote from Kathrine Switzer further up this page declares, will reaffirm your faith in human nature. There was the wounded veteran who not only completed the race on a prosthetic leg, but spontaneously picked up his guide and carried her over the finish line with an American flag, an action which soon went viral. Then there was the Northern Irish runner who stopped to help an exhausted runner and carried her to the finish line where medical personnel were waiting. And 8 hours after starting, there was the emotional moment one of the last runners crossed the finish line. The timing mats had already been taken away (there are no official times after a certain point) and while there might not have been the confetti cannons and music of Rotterdam, there was still fantastic crowd support as she was cheered every step of the way to that finish line where her medal was waiting.

And then there was London. Oh London what an emotional rollercoaster you gave me, and I was only watching on TV! The stories from this year’s London marathon have been well documented almost every day for the last week, but here are some of the ways the London marathon epitomised the Spirit of the Marathon.

Josh Griffiths
Josh Griffiths was the runner who showed us that in the marathon, anything is possible. A club runner in his first ever marathon, Griffiths ran a superb race and finished in 2:14:49, beating the best British runners to the finish line and guaranteeing himself selection for the World Championships in London this summer. Not bad for a debut! Dig a little deeper and you soon learn how different his race weekend was to that of the elites he ultimately raced alongside, and I enjoyed hearing a bit more about this when he was interviewed on the Marathon Talk podcast this week.

Matthew Rees
Funnily enough, Matthew Rees runs for the same club as Josh Griffiths, but has shot to fame for very different reasons. Those watching the coverage on TV were captivated by Rees’ selfless act when he stopped to help stricken fellow runner David Wyeth. Seeing acts of kindness like this always makes me wonder how I would react in the same situation. I’m sure we’d all like to think we should stop and help, yet many ran by Wyeth, no doubt seeing how close they were to dipping below 3 hours for their finish time. Rees, of course, did the right thing, and the members of Wyeth’s club are so grateful that they’ve offered to pay for him to run again in 2018. That’s the Spirit of the Marathon right there.

The Royals
As part of their campaign for mental health charity Heads Together, Kate Middleton, Prince William and Prince Harry were the official starters of the race. I expected to see them stand on the raised podium to the side to press the button, politely clap for a bit then disappear, maybe for some interviews. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting the race, the young royals made their way down to the sidelines to encourage runners at the start of their journey, before making their way to the charity cheer point where they were on hand to wave foam fingers and hand out water (getting soaked by one cheeky runner). Finally, they went to the finish line and stood in the finish funnels shaking the hands of those exhausted, sweaty runners and personally putting medals around their necks. I was really impressed by their willingness to get involved and mingle with the runners and there will be many who now have a unique memory of their marathon.

The Tears
Another part of the Heads Together campaign was Mind Over Marathon, a project where 10 people with mental health issues trained for the marathon to see how running might aid their mental health. The second part of the programme was broadcast a few days after the event and it was astonishing to see the impact the process had on those involved, but the runner who caught my attention the most was Rhian Burke. Tragically, Burke lost her one year old son and her husband within a few days of each other and has struggled with her mental health ever since. Watching her cross the finish line and experience not only the surge of emotions that comes with that momentous occasion, but the emotions of everything she has been through and the strength she has had to find was just heartbreaking and had me in tears. I truly hope her achievement helps her to move forward with greater confidence.

The Quirks
And then there are the things that only ever seem to happen in London, like the policeman dressed as a gorilla who crawled the entire marathon course on all fours, finishing six days after it started.  Or the cryptic crossword setter who challenged himself to create a clue during each mile of the race. Stories like this demonstrate that the marathon is for everyone and capture public attention long after the elites have gone home.

All of these stories are the reasons why I love the marathon. As a challenge it’s daunting yet accessible, and that’s what brings out the best of humanity. Marathons bind people together, whether that’s the training partners who become friends for life, the new friends made at a race who remain in each others lives or the countless volunteers, supporters and organisations who help to make race day special. Marathons motivate people to raise funds for good causes, to test their limits and to take on a new challenge. They inspire strangers on the tube/metro/subway to actually talk to each other. They drive people to stand for hours by the side of a road screaming themselves hoarse for people they do not know. They are days fraught with emotions where anything can happen and we can switch from highs to lows and back again in a heartbeat. They are an epic journey, both literal and metaphorical, where amazing things are achieved and the average person can become a hero. Put simply, marathons change lives.

I’ll leave you with one final article from The Independent, written during last Sunday’s London marathon, in which the writer explains her love of this “strange, but wonderful phenomenon”. For me, this says it all.

The Spirit of the Marathon. Hard to define, but unforgettable for those who experience it, however they experience it.

What makes marathons (or any other event) special for you?
When have you seen the Spirit of the Marathon demonstrated?

Training Talk Part 3

During my recent marathon training cycle I was twice inspired by the Training Talk section of the Marathon Talk podcast to write a post (you can read those here and here) and it’s happened again. I had begun a draft of a post about not reaching my goal in the marathon and how I was able to accept that by reframing the experience, however since this became a topic of discussion in the first episode I listened to after the marathon, I thought I would use the points raised as the basis for my own post…

Three Simple Ways To Feel Good About Your Race When It Didn’t Quite Go To Plan:

  • Remember that it’s only you who really cares
    This was something I really learned throughout this process. Back in the autumn I kept a goal race a secret, for a variety of reasons. It was a kind of experiment to see what difference, if any, there was if I wasn’t talking and writing about my training all the time. Would I perform any better free from that pressure? In the end, it was a moot point as a hip issue led to me missing the race, but for my last training cycle I was very public about my goal of running sub-4 hours. That, of course, meant that if I didn’t meet my goal, everyone would know. And do you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When I posted across social media that I’d had a tough race and missed my goal time, I got nothing but positivity back. The non-runners were simply impressed that I had completed a marathon; the runners understood not only how difficult that is, but how the hot conditions changed things. Nobody cared about my time, other than to ask if I had a good time.
    And the discussion on Marathon Talk was very similar. It was pointed out that sport can be tough in the moment, but in the end it’s just sport. How you perform doesn’t define you as a person. While we may think others might care about our time and judge us for it, in reality they care that we’re happy and a nice person, not how long it took us to run an arbitrary distance. All those people congratulating me on finishing a marathon proved that to be true, and my initial disappointment at not yet reaching my goal was soon replaced by pride that I had finished the race.fullsizeoutput_1cf9
  • Stop thinking about your outcome and identify the good things from the process
    In other words, what worked in your life with this race and why? Ok, so it took me half an hour longer than I wanted to complete the marathon, but there are still a lot of positives to take away: I entered a race during the school holidays so I could enjoy a slightly extended trip; I got to spend a weekend in my favourite city in the world, taking part in my favourite activity; I got to run the always amazing Breakfast Run the day before; I got to meet up with people I hadn’t seen since last year’s event; I got to soak up the atmosphere on race day and form unspoken connections with those around me, regardless of nationality; and I got to wear my medal with pride whilst celebrating with new found friends. What’s not to like about that?
    All of these things worked to give me a fantastic weekend away. The numbers on the clock are but a small part of that and the race was the culmination of many weeks and months of successful training. Training which I enjoyed and through which I could see the changes in my strength and speed. Those will still be there to capitalise on as I resume training.

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  • What did you do that actually surprised you?
    By thinking about the race differently and what was surprising in the build up, we can soon see things differently to the finish time. For me, this race really was a celebration of my training as I actually completed that training buildup successfully. As someone who is prone to injury, that’s something that surprised me. Another surprise was my performance at the Inverness Half Marathon. I knew I was in PB shape and estimated that if I ran at marathon pace I could complete the race in around 1:55, but on the day ran faster to achieve 1:53. Definitely a very pleasant surprise.

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The key thing to take away from all this is that not reaching a goal isn’t a disaster. There are only so many things we can control and many more that we can’t. There’s a fine balance in endurance sport between caring enough about something to try hard, and caring so much that we take it too far. That can be potentially destructive. There will always be lots of “what ifs”, and often there is a perfectly simple answer:

What if I don’t make my goal time?
I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and enter another race to try again. 

Finish times are not the only way to judge the success of a race. One of my most successful was the same race last year when I was just so pleased to be able to take part after an injury that the whole race felt like a giant party. Being able to run and do so consistently was my success. This year, my success was having the courage to recognise that my goal was out of reach that day and reframe my marathon as a long training run for my next one. For there will be a next one, and maybe next time that sub-4 will be mine…IMG_1388

Tips for Marathon Success

It’s spring marathon season, and whether you’re lucky enough to have a place in London or are heading to one of the other fantastic marathons here in the UK or abroad, you might be starting to feel a bit nervous. There are plenty of articles out there offering hints and tips to help make your first (or second, or third…) marathon a success, and after 9 marathons I have a few of my own to share…

  • Get your name printed on your running top. Having people call your name and encourage you as you run is a great motivator. When I finished my first marathon (Paris, 2010) I couldn’t understand why the French volunteers were calling to me by name to hand me my medal, etc. Then I remembered that my name was printed on my race number haha!
  • The day before the race try to visit the finishing line. Know what the last 200m or so looks like. Visualise how you want to finish the race and hold onto that as you run to create the finish you want. No matter how exhausted you are, there’s always something left for a big finish. I’ll always remember turning the final corner in London and seeing the finish line ahead of me. Amazing!
  • When you arrive at the start area on race day join the queue for the toilets. When you come out of the toilet, get straight back in the queue. By the time you get to the front of the queue you’ll be pleased you did! There will likely be some toilets along the route, but if you’re nervous then I definitely recommend multiple visits before you start running!

  • Mentally break the race down into manageable chunks e.g. by distance (not 26.2 miles but a half marathon and 2x 10k, or 4x 5 miles and 2 parkruns, etc) or by landmarks. In London I remember this being to Tower Bridge (halfway) then to Canary Wharf, Big Ben and so on. I tend to divide both by distance (I take a gel every 5 miles plus an extra with 5k to go so I run 4x 5 miles plus 2 parkruns) and by landmarks, which in Paris are the Bastille, Bois de Vincennes, halfway mark, Eiffel Tower, etc. Mentally it’s much more manageable.

  • If you have supporters with you, make sure you know where they’re going to be (and that they know what you’re wearing). It can be tricky to spot each other in a crowd, so think about how to make this a bit easier e.g. tracking apps offered by your marathon, getting your supporters to text you a photo of where they’re standing, using signs or visible objects such as balloons to make it easier to spot someone. It’s an incredible mental boost to see a familiar face in the crowd so you want to do what you can to find each other (especially if you opt to give your support crew extra gels/drinks/blister plasters!). Usually Steve is running, but he was a spectator when I ran in London and I knew he would be at Tower Bridge which is notoriously busy. I felt quite down when I thought I had missed him so it was great when I then spotted him waving to me.

  • As you near the finish, regardless of how you feel, scrape your hair off your face, wipe your mouth and nose then smile – you’re getting your photo taken!

  • Be prepared to experience every emotion imaginable in the space of a few seconds as you cross the finish line – you’ve just achieved something amazing so it’s ok to cry! (Wearing sunglasses is great to cover this up and make you look fresh as a daisy! I ALWAYS wear my sunglasses for a marathon).

  • If you need it, take time to reflect on your experience before meeting your supporters. Most finish areas have plenty of space and are restricted to runners only, but if you sit down remember you might need someone to help you get up again! Your legs will feel like they’ve been put on backwards for a day or two after the race – this is normal!

  • Plan in advance where you’re going to meet your supporters and stick to the plan. After the effort you’ve put in it may be the only thing you can focus on as you shuffle along. Making a phone call may not always be possible to communicate any changes so it’s important to know where you’re heading. Remember there could be tens of thousands of people, so “I’ll be by the toilets” might be a little vague and your mind won’t be at its sharpest. Most races will have a reunion area so arrange to meet by letter X or Z or whatever works for you. We usually have a backup plan as well in case that doesn’t work.

  • Relax and enjoy the experience. You’re running a marathon and that’s something amazing. Be sure to celebrate afterwards. And remember – nobody cares about your time except for you.

Whatever marathon you’re running, good luck!

Tough Girl

Back in the summer of 2015 I spotted a tweet from double Olympian and Commonwealth Games medallist Liz Yelling sharing a link to a new podcast she had been interviewed for. Thinking it sounded interesting, I downloaded the podcast and loved it. I immediately subscribed and downloaded the handful of previous episodes so I could catch up. I was hooked and have remained a huge fan ever since. What was that podcast? The Tough Girl Podcast hosted by Sarah Williams (I wrote a bit about this in my Podcast Picks post last summer).

Everything Sarah wants to achieve through her podcast, website and social media channels really speaks to me. Her core aim is to motivate and inspire women and girls, to provide positive role models of women pushing boundaries and taking on challenges. Whether that’s running, cycling, swimming or something completely different like climbing, rowing or powerlifting, the chances are there’s a podcast episode to suit you. Nor does it matter how old you are – Sarah has interviewed guests from 17 to 70 – and age should never be a barrier to trying something new. These are the very things I feel passionate about. So many women are put off participating in sport or taking on challenges for a variety of reasons, and I want to try and help break down those barriers, perhaps even be a positive role model, and show that we can all do ANYTHING we put our minds to. For me, this podcast was perfect and listening to all the incredible women on it made me feel part of something special.

Such was my passion for Sarah’s mission, I found myself getting more and more involved. First, I became part of a team of volunteers helping her with some of her social media commitments (you can follow her Facebook page here and female listeners can become part of the Tough Girl Tribe, a closed group of supportive and like-minded women). More recently, I decided to financially help support the podcast by making a monthly contribution through Patreon. For me, this was important as Sarah puts so much time and effort into everything she does and produces some fantastic free content. Support on Patreon is really the only way she can earn an income from that work right now, and while the content is free there are all sorts of costs involved in producing a quality podcast, maintaining a website and so on. I get value from the podcast and wanted to do my bit to help out.

A week ago I was lying on the floor of my Paris hotel room with my legs up the wall to start my post-marathon recovery. I’ve done this after every long run this year and like to use the time to catch up on social media posts. On marathon days there are always loads, but one in particular caught my eye. One of the awesome members of the Tough Girl Tribe had put up a post inviting other members to write positive, inspiring messages for me to read after the race. As I scrolled through the comments, I noticed one from Sarah asking me if I would like to be a guest on her daily podcast, a short daily update she has been producing to help keep her accountable during the preparations for her next challenge. I have been listening to these podcasts and been struck by how honest and real Sarah has been – not every day can be completely positive, regardless of what social media might have us believe, and sometimes we have to acknowledge our struggles and be honest about how we are feeling. It was listening to these episodes that motivated me to become a patron of the show.

I’ve never been on a podcast, nor have I vlogged or shared video/audio content of myself on any social media platform, but I agreed to the podcast interview as I thought it was a great opportunity to discuss my running and perhaps inspire someone else to give it a go. I feel like I know Sarah having listened to all her podcasts and having a previous conversation with her, so I knew it would feel like a chat between friends. The interview took place via Skype on Wednesday and the episode went live on Friday morning (I got a bit over-excited and shared it just about everywhere!). It’s not long, only around 15 minutes, but I’d love for you to have a listen. If you don’t already subscribe to the Tough Girl Podcast (or Daily Podcast) then I highly recommend it. I listened to the latest instalment of 7 Women 7 Challenges during the Paris Marathon as I wanted to be inspired by the awesome women involved and their words will forever be linked in my mind with different parts of that day.

I was delighted to be interviewed and so wanted to share it with you today. You can access the show notes for the episode and listen via Libsyn here (or if you prefer to use your favourite podcast directory, search for Tough Girl Daily Podcast). Alternatively, you can listen via the YouTube link below. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’d like to find out more about Sarah Williams, check out this interview she did for another blogger or visit her website.

And remember: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

I Love Paris When it Sizzles

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Who needs an excuse to go to Paris? I certainly don’t, but a marathon is definitely a very good reason to make the trip! Long-time readers will already know that I’m a big fan of la plus belle ville du monde and, like the 1964 film starring Audrey Hepburn, the titles of my posts this week have been inspired by the words of Cole Porter:

“Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies.
Whether loud be her cheers or soft be her tears,
More and more do I realize:

I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.”

Last weekend most definitely sizzled, providing less than ideal conditions for a marathon (you can read about that experience here) but ideal conditions to enjoy a weekend break. While we didn’t want to tire ourselves out walking miles and miles around the city (so easily done!) when we had a marathon to run, that doesn’t mean we didn’t take advantage of our time in Paris to enjoy some of the other things the city has to offer, so like last year I thought I’d share one or two of the non-running highlights (aka The One Where I Bore You With My Holiday Photos 😉 )

Cuisine
France, of course, is synonymous with fine dining, however some of the more traditional french fare probably wouldn’t sit very well on race day (anyone for steak tartare?!?) so we tended to structure our eating around what we knew would work for us. Our hotel had a great breakfast buffet, but I for one stuck to yoghurt, toast and pastries until after the marathon, then indulged in some sausages and pancakes the day after (but I was so hungry I forgot to photograph it!)

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For lunch the day before the marathon we had a slice of pizza, followed by reliving the joy we discovered last year: the Nutellino. Basically this is Nutella, a shot of coffee and some frothy milk, finished off with an extra teaspoon of Nutella sitting on top. Delicious!

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Dinner that night was onion soup (my favourite) and tagliatelle bolognese in a lovely Italian place we found last year. It’s on the Champs Élysées which can be pricey, but this one is reasonable and always really busy. Proximity to our hotel is another big draw!

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Post-marathon, anything goes! We had our free pint at Frog XVI (they have their own microbrewery and I chose Baba Boom!) and ordered one of their burgers. This one was barbecue, and to be honest I have no idea what it tastes like as I didn’t exactly savour every mouthful (and yes, I did cut the burger and take a bite before I remembered to take a photo -> runger!)

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IMG_1399We rounded off the trip with one last al fresco coffee on the Champs Élysées on Monday morning before heading to the airport (which I followed with an onion soup chaser. What can I say? I was hungry!).

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IMG_1430Shopping
Well it would be rude not to! We paid a visit to one or two shops in the Carrousel du Louvre, including one of my favourites, Pylones. In the window they had a poster that seemed to be of me living my Paris dream life – I even had a wee cat! I bought myself a replacement for the mug I broke at the end of term with the same design on it which should cheer me up as the new term begins!

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History
Right across from our hotel we spotted these high walls which were clearly much older than the other architecture in the area. Intrigued, I checked my map to find these walls marked the Reservoir de Passy. Further searching online revealed some very interesting information about this reservoir. Built between 1858-66, it’s fed by the Seine and is not drinking water, but it does feed the fountains and parks of the city. Unusually, the reservoir itself sits five storeys above ground (it’s described as being like a series of swimming pools) and is open to the elements. There is a network of tunnels below the reservoir which were used as torture chambers by the French Gestapo during the Occupation.

IMG_1362By way of further intrigue, we also learned that the headquarters of the French Gestapo were nearby, on the very same street as our hotel, so we couldn’t resist a little walk to go and check it out.

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IMG_1363Maybe it puts a firm stamp on our vintage, but all Steve and I could think about was popular ’80s sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo and couldn’t help wondering if we were on the brink of locating the painting of The Fallen Madonna!

Sightseeing
You can’t go to a city and not take in the sights. To be honest, most of ours was covered by the Breakfast Run and Marathon, but we still managed to fit in a bit of larking about for the camera!

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That blue line on the road marks where the marathon started. Apart from that there’s no sign that a race took place there just 24hrs before!

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I don’t know what all the fuss is about. The Eiffel Tower is quite small 😉

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Having my selfies infiltrated again!

I’ll leave you with the words of T.S. Eliot, who captures my feelings about Paris beautifully. The marathon may have proved tougher than expected this time, but we still had a fantastic weekend.

“Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall

My buried life, and Paris in the spring,

I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world

To be wonderful and youthful after all”

From Collected Poems 1909-1962

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Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
How would you spend a weekend in Paris?

Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

If you’ve read my previous posts on my trip to Paris last weekend (if not you can catch up here and here) then you’ll know it was a pretty busy weekend. And if you read my week in review then you’ll also know that marathon day didn’t entirely go to plan. In this post, you’ll learn a bit more about what happened.

IMG_1376Like any marathoner, in the days preceding the race I developed an obsession with checking the weather forecast for Sunday. The pattern went a bit like this:

Day 1 – Sunday = hot
Day 2 – Sunday = hotter
Day 3 – Sunday = hotter still…

And so on. Not the best conditions for this poor Scot who trained through the rains and winds of winter, with temperatures peaking around 12C (low 50s F). Everyone I spoke to over race weekend said the same: It’s going to be hot. Keep hydrated. I’ll probably take it easy…

Take it easy? But I put in weeks and weeks of training to get a sub-4, I wrote about it all over my blog and actually confessed to my goal whenever someone asked. Here it was looking like that goal was drifting away before the race had even begun.

So I reset my goal.

Instead of fighting to hit my paces, I would start out comfortably and just see what happened. If it became obvious that a sub-4 was out of the question, then I would just enter another race and try again. With that settled in my mind, it became much easier to head into race day without massive pressure to perform.

Race day began, of course, with an early alarm call. We knew that the hotel would serve breakfast from 6:30 and wanted to be down there as early as possible to give us plenty of time to finish getting ready before walking over to Avenue Foch, which we had realised we could reach really quickly from where we were.

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As we walked up to drop off our bags, it was already clear that it was going to be a warm day. Normally I would wear a long sleeved top, or at the very least some arm warmers, and feel slightly cool walking to the race, but not this time. This time I was wearing exactly what I would wear to run, with no extras. And I felt perfectly comfortable. Just how warm was it going to get? And when?

Like last year, there was a security check to enter the runners’ area. First our race numbers were checked, then a bag check, but this was fairly quick and we had expected it anyway. We both dropped off our bags, took a couple of photos and headed for the toilet queues before walking the short distance to the Champs Élysées (where there was a second check of race numbers) and the access points for each wave. Since I had hoped for a sub-4 time I was in the 3:45 wave and Steve was in the 3:15, so after one final selfie we parted ways to join the crowds trying to access the start area (this happens every year and my advice is just expect it and go with it – you’ll get in fine as the waves start to move forward).

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Once inside the start area I had a bit of space to take in my surroundings and snap a couple of pictures. I then decided I’d best have one last toilet stop (you know how it is – as soon as you think about nipping to the loo you immediately HAVE to go!) so joined a short queue. Unfortunately as I waited the 4 hour group was walked forward, engulfing the area I was standing in, which meant an inevitable delay to my start time as I would miss my wave heading out. I did manage to squeeze my way to the front of this wave, but in addition to the wave starts, Paris also splits the waves into the left and right hand sides of the road and staggers their starts. This allows volunteers to clear any discarded clothing/bottles/pre-marathon debris from the road. My group was walked forwards to the start line, then the right hand side was set off first and it seemed to take forever. At one point I wondered if all 57,000 entrants were being allowed through in this one group! A few people stared to climb over the barriers into this wave, but it seemed more sensible just to wait it out. The race is chip timed so there is no need to worry. Experience of this event has taught me just to be patient around the start and go with the flow.

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Eventually, we were underway. I had decided to listen to podcasts during the race to give me something to focus on, but didn’t start the first one immediately to give me a chance to monitor my pace and settle in to my rhythm. I waited until after the first mile to press play when I felt that I had adjusted into a suitable pace.

For the first 5k along to the Bastille, everything was ticking along nicely. I was right on my target pace and was managing to run in the shade at the side of the road. This continued until the 5 mile mark when I took my first gel, but by the time I hit 10k and the Bois de Vincennes it was starting to feel bit harder. The course had been narrow at points which had slowed me down, there were some short inclines and all of a sudden the sun was beating down with no real respite.

My second gel at 10 miles gave me a lift, as did the cheer point from one of my favourite groups the Paris Frontrunners, part of an international LGBT running organisation. The gentlemen of the group, in drag, cheering us on and waving pompoms always makes me smile and gives renewed energy for the next part of the course.

But by the time I reached half way I was beginning to flag. I already knew I was off pace for a sub-4, but now a PB was slipping away as well. At first this worried me, not because of my desire for a PB, but because it was feeling hard much sooner than it should. Having spoken to others after the race, I felt much better as everyone described reaching a point (somewhere between 13-18 miles) at which they just thought, “nope,” and switched their attention to simply getting to the end. Thinking about the relative paces of these runners and the times they began the race, I think everyone came up against this at roughly the same time of day, towards the later part of the morning and what is effectively the hottest part of the day. But when you’re mid-race and alone (or as alone as you can be when surrounded by tens of thousands of others having the same struggle!) it’s hard to know that.

What I remember is of having a very strange experience: my legs weren’t sore, nothing was tight or off, it was just getting more and more difficult to get my legs to move. I described it to Steve as being like wading through treacle and he said he felt something similar. Presumably the heat (I think it rose to about 24C/mid 70s F rapidly and there was no shade other than the tunnels along the quai) was sucking all the energy away as our bodies were having to work so much harder to keep us cool. I noted my heart rate was higher than it had been on training runs where I was running quicker and knew that this race was just going to be about completing the distance healthily.

The further I ran, the more I saw people who were struggling – people at the side of the road clearly in a bad way, people on stretchers and the sounds of ambulance sirens. I would imagine most of this was caused by dehydration and was glad I had opted to fill my hydration pack right up with an electrolyte drink. I also picked up water at each aid station to take a sip and pour water down my back. And as for the hoses – what sweet relief! They were icy cold and each run through would elicit an involuntary noise, but it was so worth it!

At mile 18 beyond the Eiffel Tower I took a cup of that delightful pink Isostar drink that I believe to be rocket fuel. I always run well after that, but sadly it doesn’t last all the way to the end!

One thing I did find interesting was that despite the need for walking breaks to cool down and taking my time at aid stations collecting a sugar lump and orange segment, I was constantly surrounded by the same people, always looking at the same running tops. Clearly everyone was having the same battle that day in Paris. And despite my perception of not running well/taking lots of walk breaks, when I watched my race video I was doing something resembling decent running in every single part. It just goes to show how your perception can be skewed by the tough moments!

There was a slight change to the final miles this year, meaning the run through the Bois de Boulogne was a little different. I knew my watch was about 0.2ish of a mile ahead of the mile markers, so just kept trusting the information I was seeing, knowing that the end would finally come. Finally passing the 26 mile sign at the roundabout outside the Bois de Boulogne is the sign that the finish line is near, and that’s where I found my extra spurt to take me to the end – I even made a valiant effort to race Superman, but he got me right at the end!

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Finally crossing the line and stopping my watch, I fully expected the usual wave of emotion and tears that accompany the end of a marathon…but they didn’t come. On reflection, I think my reframing the event as a long training run meant that despite my relief at being able to stop running once and for all, that same rush wasn’t there. I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do on this occasion, and was simply using this run as a stepping stone towards running an autumn race. The fact that I didn’t wake up feeling like my legs were on backwards was further testament to this: the race felt tough, but I clearly didn’t work all-out otherwise my legs would have felt much worse.

As I moved through the finish area collecting my T-shirt, medal and refreshments (I opted for water, another banana, an apple and enjoyed an orange segment on the move) I noticed lots of people seeking medical attention, more than I think I’ve noticed before, and felt glad once again to have reached the finish line without any ill-effects.

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Reclaimed bag in hand, I went to find Steve who was waiting for me at the agreed spot having had a very similar race experience to me. I got myself sorted out then we joined the queue for some photos. Isostar France had set up a couple of backdrops and were advertising free photos which would be published on their Facebook page. We got a photo together at one backdrop then went to the other for individual photos. We then shuffled off to take photos next to the rather apt “I made it” backdrop before our short walk back to the hotel (and the “Everest” that was the stairs to our room!).

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The first thing I did was lie with my legs up the wall for a good 10-15 minutes which really made me feel better. It was then time for a shower, change and catch up on social media posts before heading out to meet some others for some food. We opted for a nearby pub which we had been to before as we had spotted this encouraging sign the day before:

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We then rounded off our day with a short walk along to the Tocadéro to watch the Eiffel Tower as it was lit up with sparkling lights.

 

This marathon may not have been what I wanted it to be, but I’m not letting it get me down. There are some things you can control on race day – clothing, nutrition, attitude – and some you can’t, weather being one of the most obvious. Could I have pushed to run faster? Maybe, but I would probably not have made it to the end of the race and would be facing a lengthy recovery period before I could run again. By making the decision to ease off and simply complete the race, I know I’m in a strong position to train through the summer and enter an autumn marathon to have another go at breaking that 4 hour mark. A marathon is a strange beast: training can go absolutely perfectly yet anything can happen on the day. Much as I love Paris, this simply wasn’t the time for me to reach my goal. Next time, things might be very different. At the end of the day, with 4:32:07 I still ran a respectable time, even though my perception of it was that I performed badly. That tells me there’s much more in me and a faster time IS possible. Besides, I just had a weekend in Paris. What’s not to like about that?

 

Paris When it Sizzles Pt2 – Breakfast Run

Often a real highlight of the Paris Marathon weekend for me is the Breakfast Run. For just a few Euros (I paid 12 Euros extra when I booked my marathon place) you get a good quality tech T-shirt and access to a fantastic 5(ish)k run followed by breakfast. Ever since the first time we took part in this event I have loved the atmosphere, so was excited to return and experience the new route this year.

IMG_1205In the past, the Breakfast Run began at the marathon finish line, winding its way by the Trocadéro, over the Pont d’Iéna and around the Eiffel Tower to the other side of the Champ de Mars. This year, a new route was on offer. I’m not sure why it was changed, however it did strike me that the new route meant there would be no public access to the runner area (finish line etc) on Avenue Foch once it was set up, thus increasing security in a time of heightened alert.

The new route began at the Place du Palais Royal along Rue de Rivoli. This was perfectly walkable from our hotel, but in a bid to save our legs we decided to walk the short distance to the Champs Élysées, avoid the massive metro station at Charles de Gaulle Étoile (basically around the Arc de Triomphe) and get on the metro at the much smaller George V station for the handful of stops along to the Palais Royal (one of the stops for the Louvre).

As soon as we stepped out of the metro it was quite clear we were in the right place. All we could see were people dressed in the same branded T-shirt as us… and flags. Lots and lots of flags. People were milling about chatting, taking photos and, as you would expect, joining the queue for the loos. We were on the lookout for various people we were expecting to see, and despite it being quite hard to spot anyone in these circumstances (not only was everyone pretty much dressed the same, but there were apparently 3000 people signed up to run!) we quickly managed to find our German friend Stefan whom we met at the after-party last year. We also managed to locate our friends from Dundee (the ones we had caught up with at the departure gate in Edinburgh the day before), as well as a local couple we were expecting to see, and I was keeping an eye out for Tina aka She Who Dares Runs who had contacted me the day before we left to say she had secured a place to cover the marathon for Women’s Running UK and suggested trying to meet and say hello as we have been reading each other’s blogs for a while now (hi Tina!).

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IMG_1219While we were hanging about, I did have a couple of very unusual (for me) experiences. I guess I forget that people other than my friends and family might actually read what I post, so on the odd occasion, usually travelling to a big race, that someone actually recognises me from my blog, I tend to be quite surprised. As Steve and I stood around, another runner came over and said, “are you the blogger?”. I think my surprise was evident to the poor guy as I responded in the affirmative, but it was really nice to be approached like that, and even nicer when he got in touch later to identify himself and explain a bit more about how he recognised me. He might be reading this, so hi Carl!

But by far the strangest thing happened when I was waiting for Steve to reappear from the toilets. A runner came over brandishing a phone and making the internationally-recognised sign for taking a photo. Since Steve and I were wearing our kilts for the run, we have grown used to people wanting pictures as a kilt does tend to draw attention, so I assumed this to be the case again. But no. Not only did this guy want a photo, he seemed to recognise me from the blog and was quite excited about it. A rather bewildered Stefan took the photo for him, and I was quite glad he was there to witness the moment as I’m not sure Steve would have believed me otherwise. Why not? Because the guy who wanted the photo was from Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong! Who knew my blog had ever reached Hong Kong!!! Now I feel internationally famous lol!

IMG_1217Shortly after this it was time to get underway. The route took us from the Place du Palais Royal, across Rue de Rivoli and into the Place du Carrousel where the famous pyramid is located. This meant our first photo stop and in among the melée we managed to lose sight of Stefan.

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IMG_1226After this it was along the quai and over the Pont Royal with the Musée d’Orsay on the other side. We stopped on the bridge for some photos as the Breakfast Run is untimed and not at all competitive so times don’t matter. It’s an event all about experience and friendship – more of a display or procession than a race.

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IMG_1232We then followed the quai along the river Seine past the Pont Alexandre III until we reached the Pont d’Iéna. Again, stopping at various points for photos.

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IMG_1243From this point, the remainder of the route was the same as previous years as we came up from the Quai de la Bourdonnais, along Avenue de la Bourdonnais and made a final right turn onto Place Joffre to the finish in front of the École Militaire where there was a real party atmosphere.

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IMG_1252Once over the line we stopped for some more photographs, mostly with complete strangers drawn by our kilts, during which I heard my name called and turned to see Tina – she had actually managed to find me among all those people! Circumstances meant it was a bit of a rushed meeting, but we did manage a selfie and I was most excited to later feature on a post on the Women’s Running UK instagram account!
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fullsizeoutput_1da1Photos done, we headed for the tables with breakfast laid out. In the past this has been a bit of a scrum, but this year felt much better organised with a proper queue formed and croissants/pains au chocolat being handed out by volunteers. Much less pushing and shoving! I managed to score a pain au chocolat, coffee, banana and bottle of water. I drank the coffee while queueing for my banana and water, but the rest we took over to a bench with a front row view of the Eiffel Tower. Not bad for breakfast al fresco!

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IMG_1255Suitably refuelled, we began our amble across the Champ de Mars, which always takes a while as we stop to talk to so many people and take advantage of the great photo opportunities. We first had a chat with some women from Canada – I hope they had a great marathon – then caught up with the Dundee contingent for a while. I was also intrigued to see an impromptu yoga class taking place in the Champ de Mars and was inspired to do one or two poses myself!

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IMG_1329Finally, we reached the Eiffel Tower and due to some new security measures there, we were unable to walk underneath so instead took a path around the side which turned out to be beautiful. There were gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the tower framed by trees. I’m really glad we took that route and will definitely go that way again in future.

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I was impressed that SCHNEIDER Electric managed to get their branding everywhere 😉

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Our final stop before returning to the hotel (which was within easy walking distance by this point) was the Trocadéro to take in the tower views. Over the last few years there has been some work going on around this area which often obstructed the view. This work isn’t quite finished, but there is much more space now to get some nice photos of the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_1343Once more, The Breakfast Run didn’t disappoint and we had a great morning enjoying the famous sights of Paris (along with one or two others with the same idea lol!). Here’s some of the Facebook Live video from the last section of the run that was posted on the official marathon page. The last minute or so gives a real flavour of the atmosphere:

If you’re ever in Paris for the marathon weekend, I highly recommend taking part in this event. You never know, you might see me there…!

Next up: Marathon day!

Paris When it Sizzles Pt1 – Salon du Running

In common with many other big races, the first point of call for anyone taking on the marathon challenge in Paris is the expo, known as the Salon du Running. This is where you have your medical certificate checked and collect your race pack (as well as any extras like Breakfast Run entries, sightseeing tickets or pasta party access). As with other years, we headed there straight from the airport as we’ve found this makes the rest of the weekend much easier. We had a late check in at our hotel and the expo was open until 9pm, so this made sense.

The Salon du Running is held at the Parc des Expositions at Porte de Versailles on the south side of Paris, and getting there from Charles de Gaulle airport in the north is pretty straightforward. We always get the RER into the centre of Paris then change to the metro, but this year we were given the tip that we could get the RER as far as Cité-Universitaire then get a tram right to Porte de Versailles from there. That meant only one change and in a small station which made it even easier. It was really nice to go on the tram and see a bit of Paris above ground in the early evening after spending most of the day confined to transport.

On arrival at the Parc des Expositions it was clear that security had been further tightened up from last year. Visitors were separated into runners collecting their bibs (or dossards in French) and those just visiting to see the exhibitors. At this point there was a bag check before we were allowed anywhere near the exhibition hall.

IMG_1169Once inside, the first thing to do is take your medical certificate and ID to be checked. All runners are sent a notification document (convocation) in advance to print out and bring, and this is stamped when your medical certificate is accepted. You then take this document to the right desk to collect your race pack (race number, bag tag and safety pins). This section of the expo alone is pretty big and there’s still so much more to do!

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IMG_1171Number in hand, we usually head for the display with the medal and finishers’ T-shirt so we can see what we will be earning that weekend.

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IMG_1172We then move on to collect our runner’s bag which this year was another foldable rucksack (in a different colour and this time featuring side pockets for a drinks bottle) containing a leaflet and sample of tiger balm. I’m sure there were a couple of other items last year!

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IMG_1199This time we then collected our T-shirts and flags for the Breakfast Run, confirmed the new start point for the event and had a look at the map to get an idea of where we would be running.

fullsizeoutput_1cfbAnd then, some fun. There are always tons of photo opportunities such as the Tag Heuer clock counting down to the start, the wall with the names of all the registered runners (it’s tricky to find yours, but perseverance does it!) and some other backdrops.

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We then passed through a mock-up of an aid station (they were using this to educate runners about the recycling opportunities at the aid stations I think) to head into the main part of the expo, starting with the gift shop!

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I always like to buy myself a souvenir so bought a plum-coloured tech T-shirt with the date of the race and course map on it and a zip up hoody with the race details on the back.

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IMG_1442From there, we wandered through the various exhibits until we found what we were most interested in: the pasta party! We hadn’t purchased tickets for this in advance as we wanted to wait and see what was on offer, but we had enjoyed the deal on offer last time and there was something similar again. For 12 Euros (I think!) we could get a pasta dish, drink (including a beer) and dessert. I decided on pasta bolognese, beer and a nutella crepe, although I did have to have a bit of an argument (in French!) to get the beer as the barman kept insisting it wasn’t in the deal. Eventually he got someone else over who told him it was. A bit embarrassing all round, but I really wanted that beer and wasn’t going to give up!

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While we were eating there was a yoga class taking place nearby which I enjoyed watching a bit of, then we meandered our way to the exit via one last photo op with Asics. They had a backdrop set up and you could get both a printout of the photo and have it emailed to you, which was cool. Their setup also let you add filters but I preferred the original version.

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After that, we were done. It would be really easy to spend hours among the stands at the expo, especially when it’s busy, so going on Friday evening was definitely best as it freed up Saturday for the Breakfast Run and some pre-race relaxation rather than the stress of being on our feet for ages to pick up our race packs. We were able to get to our hotel in good time to unpack and get organised before getting a good sleep. And look what we could see from the end of the road:

IMG_1198Always a beautiful sight!

Keep an eye out for Pt2 – The Breakfast Run

Week in Review – Race Week

And just like that, it was race week! Looking back, it hardly seems like any time at all since I began the year with the New Year Triple, but in reality there are many miles between the 1st of January and the first week of April. Today I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my preparations for race day.

Since it was the second week of my two week taper, things were a little gentler this week, while still maintaining the rhythm of my training. I also had the benefit of being off school for our spring break, so that meant more opportunity to relax at home and feel better rested for the big day. Here’s how my week looked:

Mondayswim rest plus sports massage
Tuesday – bike intervals at the gym then swim
Wednesday – 4 miles easy
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – travel to Paris
Saturday – Breakfast Run
Sunday – marathon!!

As you can see, I made a little tweak at the start of the week by removing my Monday swim. I’ve written a couple of times about my elderly cat (she’s 16 and a half!) who now has an age-related health condition. This can be managed, but she can be prone to infections and other side effects of her condition and she had been unwell over the weekend, indicating a need for a change to her medication. I hadn’t slept well due to listening out for her through the night (I suspect it was a bit like having a sick child!) and had an appointment for her at the vet on Monday afternoon so I decided to stay at home and keep an eye on her instead of going to the pool. The good news is that her new medication has her bouncing back and much more herself again, which has been quite a relief for me. To get a bit of movement in my day I simply walked to my sports massage then shifted my swim to Tuesday.

IMG_1093That swim came after my bike workout. I made this my final hard workout of this training cycle and completed 20 reps of my intervals – the peak number at every stage. It felt a bit different doing them in the morning, but I felt strong and this gave me some confidence in my fitness which was consolidated by a decent swim afterwards. I then enjoyed a short time in the hot tub and sauna before heading home for a restful afternoon. My post-bike selfie also provided some entertainment for people on social media. Clearly I worked hard lol!

IMG_1094On Wednesday my traditional hill reps were replaced by an easy run to keep my legs turning over. Steve suggested about 4 miles and I set off on a loop I quite like, guessing a bit at the distance. It turned out to be 4.75 miles. Oops! Still, it was a nice start to the day and in the afternoon my parents, fresh back from a winter in Florida, visited for a cup of tea and a discussion of the cat’s medical needs since they would be taking care of her over the weekend.

IMG_1096Thursday was a beautiful day. The kind of day that makes you want to go for a run, but by this point my running legs were being rested ahead of the marathon, so after I had done all the things I needed to do to get organised for the weekend (by which I mean making lots of lists. I do love a list!), I decided to take a walk in the sunshine and enjoy poking about some of the nearby paths that I run along while I could take advantage of a more leisurely pace. I’d have loved to stay out longer but had packing to do!

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IMG_1151In the early evening I then headed to the studio for my usual PT session with Steve for some final work on my upper back mobility. Yet again, he couldn’t resist diving into my selfies!

IMG_1159After that, Ashtanga yoga. I REALLY enjoyed the class this week. I felt centred and like I flowed well between postures and in some I felt like my flexibility had improved a little more. I suspect things will feel a bit different next time in my post-marathon body! If I can get anywhere near my toes it will be a miracle lol!

Friday is usually my rest day, but this time it was my travel day. I got up early to make sure I had time to not only get myself ready, but to make sure I had given my furbaby all her assorted medications before leaving so that it would be a little easier for mum later in the day. I had packed everything for my trip the night before, so it was just a case of popping in the last minute items then we were off to the airport. We had expected to bump into Simon, who we had first met under similar circumstances last year, but before that we also bumped into Steve’s friend Fiona who now lives in Paris but had been back in Scotland for a few days and was heading back home to run the marathon as well. The departure gate at the airport is starting to feel like an annual reunion of the Paris marathon runners ha! We chatted a bit while waiting to board which helped to pass the time. Once on board, we discovered that there was an ITV film crew involved in making a documentary about becoming a pilot on board the flight. They were mainly filming in the cockpit but were also getting some shots around the cabin. I’ll now have to watch out for this coming on TV just in case I can spot myself!
IMG_1167The remainder of the weekend will be covered in more detail in separate posts, however I’ll include some highlights here:
Our first port of call in Paris was the Expo to collect our race packs. We ate there at the pasta party, had a look around the exhibits then headed for the hotel to unpack and get some rest (after a quick walk to pick up some bottles of water, during which I “returned the favour” with Steve’s selfie!).

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IMG_7550Saturday we were up bright and early for coffee and croissants before heading over to the Place du Palais Royal for the start of the Breakfast Run which was using a new route this year. I always love this event as it truly has such an international feel and we always find ourselves chatting to complete strangers, bound by the spirit of the marathon, and often stay in touch with many of these people via social media or our blogs afterwards. This year was no exception, and of course I have a photo or a hundred to remember the experience! Afterwards we enjoyed a second breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, banana and water while taking in a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower across the Champ de Mars!

IMG_1252 IMG_1268We then meandered back to the hotel to get changed then headed out for some lunch and a few “errands” before opting for an afternoon nap and some chill out time back at the hotel before dinner. Basically it was a day revolving around food and marathon preparations!

IMG_1340On Sunday we were up early to get breakfast as soon as it was available, before getting organised for the short walk to the start/finish area. I had been watching the forecast all week and every time I looked, it was getting warmer. Walking up to drop my bag off before 8am without any need for warm clothing was already an indication that temperatures were going to soar. In the end, that put paid to my plans for a sub-4 time. I’ll write more about this in another post, but I know from speaking to others that practically everyone was much slower than anticipated and had to reset their goals in order to complete the race. It may have been disappointing on the day, but my time of 4:32:07 is actually my second fastest marathon time ever thanks to my oddly chequered history with the distance, and knowing that this was a below par performance gives me hope that I CAN do it under different circumstances. Once I’m recovered, I’ll be thinking about my next marathon and having another go at that elusive goal.

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IMG_1389And that’s it. A valuable reminder that it doesn’t matter how well your training goes, there can still be a spanner in the works come race day. You can only control so many things, and sadly the weather isn’t one of them. By resetting my goal I finished feeling healthy and injury-free so I can pick myself up, dust myself off and live to race another day. That’s way more important than risking my health over a finish time.

Look out for further Paris-related posts later this week with all the details!

Did you run or race in the heat this weekend? How did it go?
Anything you’d like me to write more about in my Paris roundups?

My Marathon Journey

Today is a very special day. Do you know why? Well, today is Marathon Day: 26th February = 26.2! (yes, I know my friends in the USA write the date the other way around and that my continental friends use kilometres, but just go with it – it is a thing, honest!) For a Marathon Day special I thought I would write about my own marathon journey. Some of this has been touched on in other posts, but I thought it would be good to take the time to reflect on how far I’ve come and why 26.2 miles remains so important to me.

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It all began waaaay back in the pre-blog days of 2009 and frankly, it was all Steve’s fault! 2009 was the year I “graduated” from being a bit of a fair weather plodder, to being a “proper runner” who trained regularly, regardless of weather, and signed up for “proper” races (rather than mass-participation charity fundraisers) thanks to the encouragement of a certain PT who had recently become a fairly permanent fixture in my life. I knew Steve had run many marathons (he was probably the first person I was ever aware of who had actually run any marathons, let alone several!) but I don’t think I had ever really considered marathon running as a genuine possibility for me. Despite a lifetime of watching the London marathon on TV every April, I still believed marathons were reserved for the super elite and the super fit. Surely impossible for someone like me? But that year’s London marathon changed all that. I knew Steve was training, but had little concept of what that really meant in terms of the commitment he was making, it was only when I travelled to London with him and watched the race live that I began to get a taste of what marathon running was really all about: the palpable excitement and nerves at the expo, the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd… and the people just like me running through the streets of the capital. I distinctly remember thinking, if they can do this, why can’t I?

And so the first steps on a journey that would change my life were taken. By the time the year was over, Steve and I were engaged and we had both signed up for the 2010 Paris Marathon. It may not ultimately have been the marathon experience I dreamed of, thanks to an injury sustained during training, but despite all the naysayers I completed that race (in a rather slow 5:01:03 – might have dipped under 5 hours if I hadn’t stopped for a toilet break!). Before the race if people had asked me about marathon running I would say something about how I wanted to do it just once to see what it was like, to be able to say I had done it, but far from a “one and done” experience, actually running the race made me want to do it again. I crossed the line tired, sore and feeling like I was under attack from my emotions, but I also crossed the line knowing that I DEFINITELY wanted to do it again. In London…

First marathon - Paris 2010

I was incredibly fortunate and secured a place in the 2011 London Marathon via the running club I was a member of at the time. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was to get in and I don’t think I realised it at the time having never experienced the repeated ballot rejections that I have since become so familiar with! This time training went much more to plan and I completed the race in a much more respectable 4:35:28. I was overjoyed: I had actually run the London marathon, the same London marathon I watched on TV every year, and had achieved a time I felt to be much more representative of my abilities. For many, that experience would be the end of the road, but not me. My journey had barely even begun.

Lon-DONE! VLM 2011

A few short weeks later I was lining up at the start of another marathon, this time in Edinburgh. I had taken on a double marathon challenge to raise money for a local charity, but having one marathon already in my legs that spring I had no idea how I would fare. I had achieved the time I wanted to in London, so this race was all about the experience, about completing the challenge I had set for myself and raising money for a good cause. But having run a marathon already meant that I could go into this race feeling much more confident and I felt no pressure to perform. Perhaps that’s why I was able to set myself a new PB of 4:32:17, despite running into that Edinburgh marathon headwind for the last few miles (my dad was running the last leg of the relay that year and as he caught up to me and asked how I was doing I could only grunt at him and watch, helpless, as he disappeared into the distance on his fresh legs!). I could have ended it there: 3 marathons, including London, a decent finish time, and a fundraising experience. That’s more than many others would ever do, but now my journey was to take a new direction: I wanted a quicker time.

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And so my thinking changed. I was becoming more and more immersed in the world of running, something that led to me starting this blog, and I wanted to run a sub 4:30 marathon. I knew that 4:30ish was an “average” finish time and I wanted to be above average (delusions of grandeur, haha!), but this was not to prove as straightforward as I had hoped…

My first crack at my new goal was in 2012. My marathon of choice was the now-defunct Lochaber marathon, an out-and-back course on country roads around Fort William. It was always a popular marathon among Scottish club runners and I knew it would be a very different experience to the big city races I had taken part in so far. Training went well and I was hitting the paces I would need for a finish closer to 4 hours, but towards the end of March I developed a problem with my left calf and continued to battle with it right up to race day. My physio gave me the go-ahead to run, but with the caution that I should stop if the pain in my left side worsened (thanks to a biomechanical issue, I had developed bursitis in my hip and was getting referred pain in my calf as my body tried to adapt). I completed the race, but was off pace from the start, the last 10 miles were an uncomfortable, lonely plod and I burst into tears as soon as I finished. My time was still respectable at 4:35:08 (faster than London!) but I knew it didn’t reflect my training and what I thought I was now capable of doing. I had to chalk it up to a speedbump in the road and remind myself that there would be other races.

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But contrary to my expectations, it was not to be in the following year as the road got even bumpier. With the niggling problem in my hip resurfacing at the end of 2012, I made the heartbreaking decision not to take up my place at the 2013 Paris marathon and work instead on getting back to basics, addressing my biomechanical issues and rebuilding myself as a stronger, more robust runner. As it turns out, this was probably for the best as in February of 2013 I succumbed to the flu. Proper flu. The kind where it hurt to just lie in bed and even a trip to the toilet was a huge undertaking (a visit to the doctor completely wiped me out despite my otherwise good physical fitness and for the first time I truly understood why much more vulnerable people could be at such risk if they caught the flu). Still, a year of focusing my training in a very different way meant that I could go into 2014 feeling much stronger and ready to take on the challenge of aiming for a 4 hour marathon, my new target after my training for Lochaber suggested I might be capable of this.

2014 was a year of challenge. Steve and I committed to raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Support and my part in this was to take on 3 marathons – 2 in the spring and 1 in the autumn. The first of these was Paris, having been so disappointed not to get there the year before. Spring training went well and I was delighted to finish the race with a massive new PB of 4:05:07! But my good fortune was not to last as yet again I picked up an injury as I headed into my second marathon of the year – Edinburgh. This time it was my tibialis posterior. I couldn’t believe that I had yet another injury and there was a lot of “why me?” angst. Much like in Lochaber a couple of years before, I had the ok to give it a go and once more found myself with a painful hobble through the final miles, this time finishing in 4:40:02. Quite a difference from Paris! Even worse, the problem continued all the way through the summer, forcing me to pull out of my autumn marathon in Loch Ness to ensure that I could properly heal.

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Throughout my injury time I began to really seriously think that maybe marathon running wasn’t for me as I kept on getting injured, but my time in Paris made me think that I could aim for a sub-4 hour time and as my body healed I decided that I had to have another go. My journey was not over!

I had secured a place in the 2015 Paris Marathon and as the new year began it was time for the now-familiar routine of marathon training. That training began well, but as I headed into March the wheels came off. I had issues with nutrition, with feeling stressed about work pressures and something had to give. Inevitably that something was my body. What began as a tight calf soon evolved into a problem with my quad and I began to fear that once more my hip was going to be at the root of things. Fortunately a trip to the physio put my mind at rest when a mild strain to the quad muscle was diagnosed. Even better, I would be able to run in Paris, but had to make some sweeping changes to my training in the final weeks and found myself out on my bike rather than running. On race day my quad was reasonably comfortable, but I was aware of the muscle, a little like a constant itch that needed to be scratched, and what had begun as an assault on 4 hours turned into a much more sedate affair, clocking in at 4:43:39. Aside from that PB in 2014, I was actually getting slower! Yet once more rather than consider giving up, I decided to try AGAIN! I’m either incredibly tenacious, completely delusional or just plain mad!

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I recovered well that spring and ran strongly throughout the summer, really enjoying my running again. And to cheer me even further, I actually WON my place in the 2016 Paris Marathon. Then it happened. What at first was a slightly niggly foot got worse and soon I was hobbling to my podiatrist hoping for a miracle. Instead, I got the diagnosis I had feared: a stress fracture of the second metatarsal. In the past all my injuries had been to do with muscles or tendons, things that would heal reasonably quickly, but this time there was damage to the bone. I had an Xray, I had taping and I had strict orders not to run. At all. Once more, I could see my marathon dreams slipping away and once more I considered whether or not I had reached the end of my marathon journey. But as I recovered well (following my podiatrist’s advice TO THE LETTER as well as listening very carefully to my body) I decided that since our trip to Paris was booked, there was no harm in actually trying to complete the marathon – after all, I was by then injury-free, I was just a tiny bit undertrained with my 10 mile long run and weeks on the bike. Still, what was the worst that could happen? I’d rather DNF than DNS and thought it would be fun to completely take the pressure off and just enjoy the experience. Which is exactly what I did. I kept the pace easy, stopped to enjoy a “buffet” of orange segments and sugar lumps along the way, took selfies and had a generally fantastic time. I learned a lot about pacing and was rather surprised to end up finishing faster than the year before with a 4:38:38. Maybe my marathon journey wasn’t done after all…

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After several years of injury-blighted spring marathons, I decided to try something different and sign up for an autumn marathon. My thinking was that a lot of my training would take place in the summer when I would be at my most rested, and I looked carefully at my training plan to shake things up and reduce the impact on my body. I was convinced that my injuries were coming either from biomechanical issues (which had largely been addressed) or training mistakes (which I didn’t plan to repeat). I also decided to keep this one secret and see what happened when there was no pressure on me to succeed. Sadly, I didn’t quite make it to the start line. My hip was to blame again, but this time for very different reasons. The yoga I had been doing had helped to significantly loosen off the offending hip, but then it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the demands of my training. Despite my physio saying I could run the marathon without doing any damage, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I had nothing to prove, after all I had completed marathons in much more dire circumstances. Instead I oped to pull out, work on strengthening my hip, and try (yet) again. To be honest, if I was reading all this about somebody else I’d be wondering why on earth they kept on returning to the marathon when more often than not it resulted in injury, yet I just can’t let go of my sub-4 hour dream yet. I’m so sure I have it in me and am determined to prove that I can do it, using all I’ve learned from past failures to make that dream come true.

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Which brings us right up to date. I have a place in the 2017 Paris Marathon (spotting the pattern yet?) and so far training has gone well, although I am conscious that I’m now hitting the stage where things are more likely to go wrong. Still, I believe that I was simply unlucky at the tail end of 2016. I don’t really consider my hip problem then to be an injury as nothing was damaged, it was more of a reaction to operating with greater mobility and a lack of strength. Rather than a training error, this was simply bad luck. I also believe that I got the pattern of my training right and have continued to work with that in my current cycle. At this point, I am further into the training than I was in the autumn and I continue to prioritise strength work for my hips and core in my PT sessions. I’m also using yoga to help me stay flexible, having regular sports massages, trying to prioritise rest and listening very carefully to my body. So far it seems happy and I’m hopeful that this time I can complete a successful cycle of training and prove that my roller coaster journey to date has finally levelled out to a much smoother path. Regular readers have perhaps been following my training in my weekly updates, and with just 6 weeks to go, I’m still feeling optimistic. Only time will tell if I can finally reach my goal and use the (often hard) lessons from my marathon journey to find what I’m looking for. Wish me luck!

Tell me about your marathon journey. Have there been many bumps in the road for you?
Do you have a favourite marathon experience?