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I did it!

London Marathon medal and finisher's shirt

I did it. I ran the London Marathon, and I enjoyed every one of the five hours and twenty five minutes it took me.

In all, it was a wonderful, life-affirming experience I will never forget, and I’d recommend to anyone.

Race report

Everyone warned me that the night before runners are so anxious they don’t sleep well. Not me. I’m still not totally over the jetlag/sleep deprivation of my Asia trip, so I was in bed at 9pm and asleep within minutes. When my alarm went at 6am, I felt incredibly well rested.

I made myself a bagel with peanut butter, but struggled to eat it, perhaps because I’d taken to carb loading with rather too much gusto over the past few days and didn’t feel hungry at all. I never want to eat pasta again.

I put on my kit, drank as much water as I could stomach, and headed out. Within seconds I bumped into a neighbour who was not only running the marathon too, but wearing exactly the same top as me. We wished each other luck and I headed for the station. Almost everyone there was dressed in sportswear and clutching a red marathon kit bag.

They all seemed much less nervous and better prepared than I did. On the train to Waterloo a group beside me – running club regulars – compared notes from previous London Marathons. Not for the first time, I felt like a fraud.

Waterloo East was a shambles. Now every London commuter thinks their rail line is bad, but Southeastern really are in a league of their own. With 36,000 runners relying on their services to get them to the start line, they acquitted themselves in their usual style, with trains being delayed all over the place, and staff seemingly not having a clue which trains went to Greenwich.

I got chatting to another first-time marathoner, Hannah, who was running for the Stroke Association. We squeezed on to a train together, chatting about lost toenails and the indignities of training for a marathon. Together we followed the trail of runners to Greenwich Park. The atmosphere there was amazing; everyone smiling and raring to go.

I headed for zone 9 – i.e. right at the back with the other slowcoaches, lining up between a rhino and man dressed as a sunflower. After the starting gun went, it took another 17 minutes to get across the start line.

On the move

Right from the start, the atmosphere was just incredible. I had a full ten hour playlist of music lined up. I listened to half a song, then took my headphones out and let the cheers and tunes from the roadside get me through instead.

I’d barely started when I passed a flat booming music from the balcony, with a banner reading ‘SE7 WELCOMES MARATHON RUNNERS’. From there on there was a near-constant wall of music and cheering.

Everyone had told me to start slow and steady, and I did the first six miles at around 10mins per mile. I stopped for the loo at mile 6, losing about six or seven minutes in the queue, then sped off again. Cutty Sark came around really quickly, and suddenly it hit me that I was actually doing this. I was one of those runners like you see on telly.

 

marathon sign

Sign my mate made me

Mile 9

A mile or so later, by Canada Water, I spotted my family, who gave me a massive cheer. I posed for a quick picture, then sped off again.

It was getting really hot by this point, and I was starting to feel my skin burn. I was sweating buckets.

Not much further down the road, I spotted some friends in the crowd, who’d made me this lovely sign.

 

Mile 11

Tower Bridge

At mile 12.5

I spotted my family again at Mile 11 – they’d taken the quick route through the back. This gave me a massive boost. The crowds were getting bigger and noisier with every passing mile.

From there, Tower Bridge seemed to come around really quickly. I stopped here and got someone in the crowd to take another cheesy picture. The noise here was breathtaking. No one here knew me, but for the brief second they were calling out my name, they did genuinely want to see me do my very best.

The halfway mark came around, and I gave myself a mental high-five (trying not to think about having to do the same all over again). Truth be told, I absolutely loved the first half, and felt amazing. Except when I got overtaken by a rhino.

 

 

 

Mile 13

cake-at-finish

Awesome cheerleading crew

Shortly after the 13 mile mark – when I was feeling a little down at seeing a man dressed as a toilet heading the other way, seven miles ahead of me – a saw the lovely ladies from my online fitness forum, who’d come down to cheer me on with a banner that read ‘THERE’S CAKE AT THE FINISH!’. They gave me the biggest, noisiest and most delightful cheers I got all day. In return I gave them all sweaty, salty hugs. Sorry girls.

As I headed into the Isle of Dogs, I knocked back another gel. I’d expected this to be the most challenging part of the course, and indeed it was; the roads were narrower and there were a few points where it was a little crowded, and as everyone started to lose their energy a bit there was a lot of trying to dodge around people walking.

The crowds got bigger again as I headed into Canary Wharf, around mile 19. I was looking out for friends here, but although they saw me, I didn’t see them. The downside of having my name on my shirt was that it was hard to distinguish between people who actually knew me, and people who were just reading my name out.

Mile 20

Selfie at Mile 20

Mile 20 selfie

At mile 20, I stopped to take and tweet this selfie. As I put my phone away, a woman in a wheelchair shouted “go on, Sharon! You can do it!”. I realised how lucky I am to be able to run the London marathon at all. I charged on toward mile 21.

Running in big races is an emotional business. It’s really true that it’s a mental battle as much as a physical one; as I ran I could see everyone’s personal stories on their outfits – people running for children who are sick, or to raise money for cancer research in memory of a lost parent. People running not just to raise money, but taking on a huge physical challenge as a way of dealing with the crap hand that life has dealt them. It really is remarkable, and humbling.

 

 

 

The final few miles

After mile 22, I started to really slow down, and ended up walk/running for the next two miles. I still felt like a had a good bit left in the tank, but I’d only done 21 miles in training, so this was going into the unknown and I was worried about not making it to the finish at all. On reflection, I could have pushed harder here.

Somewhere on the Embankment I hit my lowest point, thinking that Mile 23 would never end. I should have been paying closer attention, as Mile 23 had in fact already ended without me noticing. As the 25 Mile marker came into view I felt absolutely ecstatic. I knew I was absolutely going to finish this. I sent one final tweet and ploughed on through, past Big Ben, Parliament Square and on to Birdcage Walk. One final right turn and there it was: the Mall. I was actually there.

With the finish in sight, I had the most incredible mix of emotions: relief, excitement, achievement, pride.

I took a big, deep breath and sprinted as best I could to the finish, throwing my arms up in relief as I crossed the line. It may have taken me nearly five and a half hours, but I bloody did it. That feeling that I can do it if I put my mind to it is one I hope I’ll carry with me forever.

 

26.2: done. Exhausted but unbelievably happy.

26.2: done. Exhausted but unbelievably happy.

Thank yous

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past five months. In particular:

  • My family and friends
  • My colleagues
  • Those who’ve given me support and advice online, especially the regulars on the running thread on JustTheTalk, and the lovely ladies of Get The Healthy Look
  • My amazing and brilliant husband

Your advice and kind words have really helped me to keep on pounding the pavements these past five months.

Today I feel unbelievably proud, if a little bit broken. I have a massive blister on my left foot, some ridiculous sunburn, but I also have a medal.

It was an absolutely amazing life experience, and one which I would recommend to anyone. And if I can do it, anyone can! Yes, it was hard, but the crowd was incredible, and made me feel invincible. It’s a memory I will treasure forever.

I’m already tempted to enter the ballot for 2015.

How to support me on the day

cheer

My family and friends have been amazing throughout my training, offering advice, support, gels, jelly beans, and shoulders to cry on.

I’m blown away that so many of you have asked how to cheer me on, either in person or via the interwebs. So to help you out, here’s my guide.

Cheering from the sidelines

A few of you have asked where to go to cheer me (and the other 36,000) runners on in person.

The London Marathon website has a useful guide for spectators here, as well as an interactive map.  If you’re coming to watch the marathon and were thinking of looking out for me, here’s a breakdown of (very roughly) where I think I’ll be when:

  • Mile 6 Cutty Sark: 11.00
  • Mile 12.5 Tower Bridge: 12.15
  • Mile 15-19 Canary Wharf: 12:45-13:30
  • Mile 22-23 Tower Hill: 14:00
  • Mile 25-finish 15:00

I could be slow or (unlikely) faster on the day, so for more accurate timings, you can check my progress using the online tracker service – details below. Tower Bridge is supposed to be an excellent spot to watch from, as you get to see the runners twice, at mile 12.5 and 22 – but do bear in mind it’s supposed to be very busy. Mile 15 and 18 is also a good spot from which to spot me twice, and also quieter than Tower Bridge (but not that quiet, as hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected on the route).

If you are planning to come down, try and pick somewhere reasonably specific (maybe via Street View?) and let me know in advance roughly where you plan to be so I can look out for you (I warn you in advance that I might cry when I see you… emotional stuff, is distance running).

If you do see me en route, I’d appreciate it of you’d snap a picture and tweet it with the hashtag #sharun.

The good news is, tomorrow looks set to be a lovely spring day in London.

Supporting me online

Many more of you have asked how you can follow my progress online. My attempts at live location tracking didn’t work out – the map embed worked, but I was let down on the day by lack of 3G coverage on the Reading Half route. With 36,000 runners and close to a million spectators on the marathon route, I expect the same will be true in London.

Fortunately, marathon organisers and sponsors have their own service for runner tracking which doesn’t rely on mobile coverage. Once the race begins, you’ll be able to enter my surname or race number (48871) on the London Marathon website (choose the ‘Track a Runner’ button), and it’ll show my times and speed at each 5km mark, giving you a rough idea of my progress.

This service will also auto-post on Facebook when I start, hit the halfway mark, and cross the finish line.

I’ll try and tweet on the way around, for so long as my battery lasts. Follow me @sharonodea. Your messages of support are hugely appreciated, and really have helped keep my spirits up as I’ve pounded the pavements these last five months.

I’m delighted that so many have sponsored me and my two colleagues. We’ve already smashed our £1200 fundraising target for Seeing is Believing; at the time of writing we’ve raised over £2700. With gift aid and matching, that’s enough to restore the sight of over 200 people. To find out more about Seeing is Believing and why I’m proud to support the cause, visit my Sponsor Me page. If you’ve been meaning to sponsor me and haven’t got around to it, now’s your chance.

Wish me luck!

Photo credit: Kashif Haque on Flickr

The wrong way to taper

Chinatown Food Street

Most marathon training plans recommend tapering for the final three weeks or so before the big day. And while I’ve definitely wound down since my final big run, I think it’s fair to say my tapering hasn’t been optimal.

Experts recommend easing off the running, doing shorter distances of 12 miles, then in the final week doing shorter, gentle runs only, to allow muscles to repair and increase levels of glycogen.

But training slowed down considerably for me almost immediately after the Hyde Park 20, as work got too busy to fit in much running, then came to an abrupt end last week when I flew to Singapore for work.

Optimistically, I bought three sets of running kit with me, but between jetlag and work I didn’t fit in anything at all. I managed to train while in Abu Dhabi in February, but that was a comparatively chilly 24 degrees. In Singapore this week it was 30, and the humidity was killer.

So I did what anyone with a marathon to run in less than a week’s time did: stayed indoors. In fact, I barely moved at all, taking taxis and the MRT instead of walking even short distances, as the humidity leaves me a sweaty, dishevelled mess within minutes, and that’s not a good look.

On the plus side, if there’s one thing Singapore is good for, it’s eating. And eat I did. Admittedly, all the wrong things (satay, chicken rice…), but it all counts, right?

Not drinking. Yeah, that didn’t go well either.

I’m back in London now, getting over my jetlag, paranoid about every twinge in my feet, feeling anxious that I’ve thrown away all those months of hard work.

Race report: Hyde Park 20 miler

hyde park route map

Yesterday was my final long run, a 20 mile race around Hyde Park, designed with spring marathon training in mind. I’ve run up to this distance before – once a month ago, and again last week – but this race gave me an opportunity to try it out in race conditions, with water stops and chip timing.

Up uncharacteristically early on a Sunday morning, it looked like quite a nice spring day as I headed for the bus. By the time I reached the starting point near Hyde Park Corner it was gloomy, cold and threatening to rain. I handed over my £20 on-the-day registration fee and was given my timer chip, race number and bag tag in return. It was only then I realised I’d forgotten my Pebble.

Hyde Park start line

At the start line

As I pinned on my race number, I spotted an old schoolfriend, Paul, who’d decided to run the 20 miler for no reason, with little training and  without the last-minute training desperation of a spring marathon. Can only assume he was doing it to undermine my own struggle. We haven’t seen each other in a long, long time, so it was great to catch up, not least because it took my mind off the freezing weather and the fact it had started to rain.

As the start time approached, I said goodbye to Paul, who headed over to the speedy pacers, and made my way to the chunky plodders group at the back. The race started exactly on time. It takes a winding four-mile course around the park, run five times to make 20 miles (16 and 24 mile options are available for slower and faster runners, respectively).

All in, the Hyde Park 20 Miler is an excellent race for marathon training. It’s well organised, with water stops every few miles and a decent swag bag at the end. The five-lap course is a little dull (especially on the fifth time around), but that does help with pacing.

I began strongly, but slowly, with a steady 10 minute mile pace all the way around for the first three laps (miles 1-12). The first lap was one big throng of runners, being cheered on by people in the park, but this thinned out progressively as the faster ones sped ahead, and by lap three I was running on my own and the cheerers were replaced with bemused people wondering while a handful of runners were wearing race numbers.

Paul overtook me midway through my third lap, and finished over an hour before I did. It’s been well over a decade since we left school – we’re both getting our first grey hairs, but ironically are far fitter than we were back then. As I ran, I realised I could never have done this at 18. I didn’t touch sport from the age of about 13 onwards, and it wasn’t until I found running in my thirties that I realised I had the mental and physical strength to do it when I put my mind to it. I only wish I’d discovered this earlier and saved myself a lot of self-loathing in my twenties.

By the time I hit the fourth lap, I could see the fastest runners finished already and collecting their goodie bags. I still had two laps to go. Around about here I started to feel really bad cramp in my leg. I spent the next mile wondering if I should stop. I pushed on through, slowly, and by midway through this lap it had eased off. The rest of lap four passed reasonably quickly, but the number of runners was really starting to thin out.

By the time I reached the end of lap four, I wondered if I was so slow there would even be time to do the next lap. I checked with the steward, who told me there was plenty of time, and reassured me that there were plenty of people behind me. I grabbed a Lucozade and kept plodding on for the fifth and final lap. This one was hard. It was just the slowest runners (like me) left, plodding along but flagging.  Somewhere on the first mile of this lap I hit a junction and with no runners in sight to follow, couldn’t remember which direction to take. I chose the wrong path, and had to double back on myself.  I had chat with another woman who made the same mistake, and we ran alongside each other for the first three miles, cheering each mile marker.

We reached the Mile 3 sign – signalling the last mile of the course – and let out an audible cheer. I powered down this stretch of Rotten Row, determined to run this final mile. I did, but I was so slow it was barely running at all. My lap five companion powered ahead, having found a reservoir of strength somewhere that I didn’t have. It was all I could do not to stop and walk. As the bandstand came into view I found a tiny bit more energy and sprinted as best I could for the last 300m to the finish.

Me at the finish

Me at the finish, exhausted

As I picked up my goodie bag I burst into tears, wondering how the hell I’ll do that again in three weeks time, with six more miles on the end. No one warns you how emotionally tough distance running is. This race was hard, but I performed better than I have when running on my own, and felt a genuine boost every time someone cheered me on from the sidelines. I’m hoping this will see me through the final 6.2 miles on the big day.

My Runkeeper made it 3:41:48, which I’m relatively pleased with as it’s a full minute per kilometre faster than I did on the same distance last week, and bodes well for a sub 5hr finish.  Pleasingly, my Runkeeper has upgraded itself to Elite, which gives me access to extra charts and stats (which makes my inner analytics nerd happy).

Emotional wobbles aside, after a rest and massive Sunday lunch, I’m feeling as prepared as I’ll ever be for 26.2 in three weeks time.

Let the tapering begin.

Race report: Reading Half Marathon

reading medal

Yesterday I ran the Reading Half for the third time. But this was the first time when it hasn’t been the focus of my training efforts, but merely a milestone on my training toward a longer distance.

This year I was more than confident I could do the distance, so used the Reading race as an opportunity to road-test my kit, battery and my live broadcasting, as well as my pacing in race conditions.

On previous years there’s been a big bunch of us doing Reading, but this year I was on my own (usual companions being struck down by injury, etc), so my husband came with me to keep me company.

hotel gift bag

Care package left in my hotel room

I booked us in to the Malmaison Reading instead of the Novotel where I’ve stayed the previous years. I was really impressed when I got the the room and found they’d left a care package containing Lucozade, a Mars bar, hand cream, foot cream, and a card (pictured). This, together with the home-made granola they had at the breakfast buffet, were nice touches that would get runners coming back year after year.

Having failed to book a table for dinner, we ended up schlepping around town trying to find a table (every Italian restaurant being full of runners), and didn’t eat until nearly 9pm. This meant that come breakfast time I wasn’t hungry. I forced down some fruit, granola, half a croissant and a pot of green tea, and headed for the shuttle bus to the start line at Green Park.

I went for a pee, dropped my bag off at the bag drop, wrapped myself in a space blanket for warmth, and went to the loo again, then headed to the start line. Almost immediately I needed the loo again – that green tea was a bad idea. But it was too late to go again before the start, I just had to live with it.

I lined myself up near the 1:55 pacer, working on the basis that I’d start there and fall back if needed. The starting gun went – it took me another seven minutes to cross the line. I started well, keeping up with the 1:55 pacer well. As I hit the big hill between miles 2 and 3, I started being overtaken a lot, and feeling quite uncomfortable. I focused on getting to the loo at mile 3, and on the excellent tunes chosen by my friends for my #DistanceDisco collaborative playlist.

It turns out the first loo isn’t until mile 5. Once I finally got there, I felt a lot betterbut the few minutes I spent in the queue there meant I lost the 1:55 pacer. But I was still ahead of the 2:00, and still keeping up with those with blue race numbers.

The crowd support at Reading is amazing – people out cheering in their front gardens, children giving out jelly babies, a church pumping out techno music, a pub giving out beer, and (my favourite, every year) the thundering drum band under the underpass, which spurred me on to my speediest stretch of the race.

Somewhere near the bottom of the big hill at mile 7, the 2:00 pacer caught up with me. I was determined to stay ahead of him, and spent the next mile and a half pushing myself hard to stay ahead. But it was really tough, and I realised it wouldn’t give me a chip time under 2:00 anyway, as I started slightly further ahead. So I decided to slow right down and run the last four miles at a comfortable pace.

Me, around mile 9

From there on, I enjoyed every minute. I checked Twitter and sent this selfie where I look slightly deranged. Here I learned (via Twitter) that my location broadcast had stopped working at some point, so I restarted it (I’ll post again on how that worked once I have feedback from my beta users).

The final few miles – which on previous few years I’ve hated as they’re on a switchback loop along a stretch of motorway with little crowd support – I found good fun this year. I crossed the line grinning and doing a Spitfire.

(The tune that was playing when I crossed the line was Scissor Sisters’ Filthy Gorgeous, chosen by John Field).

Chip time: 2:10:10 – faster than last year, slower than the year before, but on target for a decent marathon time.

Thereafter, it all went a bit wrong. My husband, who’d come along to see me across the finish, sent me a text. I got this, but he didn’t get my reply saying where to meet. In fact, phone coverage here was a complete fail and we couldn’t get any texts or calls through to each other to arrange where to meet. After 25 minutes trying to get hold of him, I was freezing and shivering, so gave up and joined the bus queue. Eventually, he managed to find me there.

me with my medal

My second medal of the year

The bus situation was a mess. In all, I was in the queue for a bus for over two hours. This is an unacceptably long time leave people shivering in the cold, in their sweaty running kit. The longer we were in the queue, the more tempers flared and more upset people were. A woman in front of me burst into tears. Someone else collapsed. Next to me a man with a very tiny baby got into a row with a security guard as he was desperate to get his baby out of the cold and rain.

Having crossed the line at 12.30, I didn’t get back to my hotel until after 3pm – well after checkout time, meaning I barely had ten minutes to shower. I didn’t get lunch until after 4pm. In all, it was a great race but the day was ruined for me by the logistics afterwards. I’m really not sure I’d do Reading again.

Farewell Fitbit: Falling victim to the Force rash

me with bandages

I’d been told to expect to be injured at least once while training for my first marathon. What I didn’t expect is for that injury to be to my wrists.

I first heard reports that some Fitbit Force users had developed a rash some weeks ago. Not long after, I noticed a little redness under my own, but I put it down to being a bit hot and sweaty, and switched it over to my other hand.

Over the weekend I went to Abu Dhabi. The sunshine – which has been in short supply at home lately – made the rash far worse and my travelling partner (my mum) said “you’ve got a terrible burn on your wrists. How did you do that?”.

fitbit rash

The rash from my Fitbit

Looking at the bright red marks, I had to admit it was actually hurting me. I really love my Fitbit Force – I’ve blogged about it on here twice to say how much I like it – but reluctantly, it’s time to stop using it.

Days after taking my Force off, the rash still seemed to be getting worse, so I called my GP, who advised me to go to the Minor Injuries clinic and get it looked at.

So that’s how I ended up at St Bart’s Hospital with what might be their first case of a quantified self injury.

They diagnosed contact dermatitis, but couldn’t rule out some kind of chemical burn. Fitbit themselves have said a tiny proportion of users are experiencing an allergic reaction to the nickel in the surgical-grade steel in the device. I find this hard to believe as I’ve been wearing a lower-grade steel navel ring (i.e. with nickel) for 14 years without any problems.

Over on the Fitbit Community (registration needed to view), users are discussing the possibility that it’s a reaction to the adhesive, the battery, or something else, causing a burn-like reaction that’s not consistent with a simple metal allergy.

Last week, after a steady drip-drip of stories of users developing rashes in the media, Fitbit finally admitted there is a major problem with the Force and issued a product recall. I’ve filed a case with them, but as it was never sold outside the US and Canada they haven’t worked out how to manage returns for Force owners in other countries. I’m still waiting to hear back from them.

The numbers of users reporting a reaction seems to be growing steadily. One former user has created a spreadsheet of affected people and their onset period. With over 700 cases tracked so far – and most of those affected only seeing symptoms after weeks or months wearing the device – this looks set to be a growing embarrassment for FitBit.

As for me, I’ll be running without data until I can find a new tracker.

Location broadcasting beta

london map

I’m lucky that many of my friends and family want to come and cheer me on, but how can I make life easier for them by letting them know where I am and when I’m due at their vantage point?

Given the wealth of running apps that log your location, it seems bizarre that these don’t easily broadcast location when required. As well as helping supporters track progress on race day, this kind of functionality could be really useful for those days where a long slow run turns out to be even longer and slower than anticipated, leaving a worried partner at home wondering if you’ve collapsed.

I’ve been pondering this one for a while, and came up with a few options:

  • Google: Latitude has been retired, but this feature has been wrapped into Google+, allowing real-time location sharing, with different granularity by sharing. However, the location is only available to those viewing via the Google+ app.
  • Runkeeper: This has long been by running app of choice, and its Elite (paid-for) layer enables Runkeeper Live, which broadcasts location and allows sharing via web, Twitter and Facebook
  • Glympse: This is an app which allows the user to broadcast location for a specific period of time, choosing to share with individuals, groups, or via social.

I’ve decided to road-test Glympse when I do the Reading Half this weekend, as this allows me to embed my live location map on my site.

My live location beta is here.

I’m looking for one or more people to beta test this for me on Sunday (2 March). I’ll be broadcasting my location between 10.30 and 12.30. If you’re awake at this time, I’d be grateful if you’d take a note of where I am at a specific point in time (or take a screengrab), which I can compare after the event.

Please share your beta test maps or notes in the comments below. If you’ve got any ideas for how I can make this work as well as possible, let me know.

Why couldn’t Pheidippides have stopped at mile 15?

runners legs

I returned from my last long run clutching two Sainsburys bags full of ice and granola bars, shaking. I was tired, bored and weary. My entire body hurt. I’d run 28km– my furthest yet – but it hit me that in two months time I have to do all of that, with nine more whole miles on the end.

Then, following advice I’d read in Runner’s World, I attempted an ice bath. I filled the bath with cold water, chucked the bags of ice in it, and got in. My husband handed me a mug of green tea as I sat, waist-deep in the freezing water, shivering: “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Ice bath….it’s supposed to help” I replied, between howls of pain.

“That’s just mental”

After the five longest minutes of my life, I got out, and wept. The last three miles were awful. I now know what people mean when they talk about hitting the wall. I spent the last half hour of the run plagued by self-doubt, thinking there’s no way I can do this. Every step was a desperate internal battle.

When I got my marathon place, I knew it’d take over my life in the months leading up to it. But I hadn’t really thought about what that meant. My weekends are no longer spent seeing friends or spending time with my husband. Instead, they’re measured in distances. 22, 24, 26 kilometres.

When colleagues ask me on Monday morning what I did at the weekend, there’s only one answer: running. From waking up on Saturday morning, the entire day revolves around it. Breakfast: running fuel. Let it go down. Plot route on Mappedometer. Pound the pavements for hours. Stretch. Shower. Eat. Sleep. Rinse and repeat.

We went out on Saturday night after one of my big runs recently. I had nothing to talk about apart from running. All I wanted to do was eat and go home. I have become a running bore.

I’ve started obsessively reading running blogs, studying my time and distance data, and find myself Googling recovery methods, interval training and nutrition strategies when I’m lying in bed. Other people have started to associate me with running (something I still find a little odd, given I don’t really consider myself a runner). They ask me how it’s going, what time I’m aiming for. I smile and say it’s going ok. I don’t tell them about the toenail that’s looking iffy or the chronic bra strap chafing that no amount of Vaseline seems to solve.

Having now run almost 18 miles – which took me three and a half hours – I truly appreciate what a bloody long way a marathon is. That’s the kind of distance one would not normally balk at taking two or more trains to cover. I only recently learned the marathon distance was supposed to be 25 miles, but the additional 1.2 were added at the 1908 Olympics so the route would pass the King. I’d never had any particularly strong feelings on the monarchy, but the thought of this one act of subservience that’s condemned hundreds of thousands of runners to an additional ten minutes of agony is enough to turn me into a hardened republican.

Someone asked me if I’ll do another marathon after this. Clearly, they haven’t run a marathon themselves. If they did, they’d know the tedium of spending most of your free time either running, recovering from running, or thinking about running.

I replied that it was highly unlikely.

“That’s a shame. You’re on 18 miles with over two months to go. That’s brilliant.”

And finally, for the first time since Saturday, I smiled. Yeah, I guess it is.

Photo credit: Dave Morris (flickr)

Long Slow Run Report: hitting the finish lines

The Mall

With two and half months to go, it’s time to start building my endurance. After last week’s 22km, this week I was aiming to add another two to that.

I began by plotting out a route on Mappedometer, all through pretty familiar places which meant I wouldn’t need to keep checking maps.

Hammersmith: fugly

Hammersmith: fugly

I set off, from my house in Barnes, and headed north. I crossed the river to Hammersmith and made my way round the pedestrian’s nightmare that is the Broadway shopping centre/rounsabout/bus station. It occurred to me that if London was ever invaded, Hammersmith would be the western front. An invading army would take one look at the place – with its flyover, its ugly shopping centre, miserable high street, and the monstrosity that is the Ark – and turn around and go home.

I left the place as quickly as possible, and headed through Olympia and on to Kensington High Street, where I dodged slow moving, bewildered tourists – something that were quickly to become a theme for the run. I turned into Kensington Gardens, which was much better running territory, although there were still far too many tourists. I looped around the top of the Serpentine in order to cross where the finish line was for the NYD 10k only a few weeks ago. I thought about how hard I pushed to get there in under 1 hour, and really picked up the pace here.

I carried on through the park to Hyde Park Corner, where I stopped to drink some water and take a really rubbish selfie. Then set off again, down Constitution Hill, past Buckingham Palace and down the Mall. By this point I’d really got into my stride. As I tried to picture myself running across the finish line there on 13 April I experienced a proper rush – I was actually enjoying  this. It felt odd.

I took a quick snap, then turned south through St James Park and through the backstreets of Westminster, close to where I used to work. It was odd to see how much had changed since I was last there – shops closed, others opened.

From there I turned on to the embankment, and headed along the river, taking the same route I took when I ran home last week. In Pimlico I passed a petrol station and considered stopping to refill my water bottle, but decided against it.

This was an error. It turns out it’s feckin’ miles until the next one. This stretch of river seems to go on forever without passing anything much. After an age – in which I was really parched – I reached World’s End in Chelsea and turned toward Kings Road. There’s a Shell garage by this junction, so I stopped here and bought a Lucozade. I still had my headphones in, and it was only when I went to pay that I realised I was heavy breathing and looked an absolute state – no wonder the people in the queue gave me a very wide berth.

From there it was a relatively straight run down Kings Road and over to Putney. This final stretch – the last three or four kilometres – was unbelievably hard. Every step felt like a challenge, and I had to force myself to keep going.

I made it – 24.52km – but was disappointed when I worked out this is closer to 15 miles than 16.

There’s still a very long way to go.

Long Slow Run Report: The easiest half-marathon I’ve ever run

Richmond Bridge

With big plans for the weekend, I took an afternoon off on Friday so I could get my weekly long run in. Target: 13 miles.

I’ve run three half marathons before, but have never gone any further than that. Each time, I’ve prepped carefully for the race – tapering the week before, carb loading the previous evening, ensuring I have specific kit ready. All the things I feel I need to be able to make it round.

Friday wasn’t one of those days. I slept badly, then had a pretty full-on morning at work. I was so busy I didn’t leave as early as I’d planned to. I grabbed a bite to eat near work, working on the assumption it’d go down in the hour or so it’d take me to get home and put my kit on.

But it took me ages to get back, so having planned to be out on my big run by 1.45, I didn’t actually get out until just before 3. I plotted a route on Mappedometer, put my trainers on, and headed out, feeling a little flustered and daunted by the challenge of doing such a distance with less than optimal preparation.

I quickly got into my stride, running past Chiswick Bridge, Kew Bridge, the National Archives and Kew Gardens, then the Old Deer Park. Although I was slower than my usual pace, it felt really good! I kept on going past Richmond Lock, and finally to Richmond Bridge (pictured above).

I’d planned to go a mile or so further along the river’s edge then turn back, but the sky was already starting to look a little grey so I decided to turn back there. At night the towpath is very dark and very quiet, and I wouldn’t feel safe being there after dark. So I turned around there and headed for home, back along the same route.

When I got the the point on the towpath where I’d normally turn to go home, I checked RunKeeper: 16.5km. I mentally mapped another 5k loop and kept on going, through Barnes Village, up Castelnau to Hammersmith Bridge, then turned down Lonsdale Road back west again.

Here I remembered that this road was my route of choice when I first started running, and thought about how much I’ve improved since then. I’d run over 12 miles and yet it still felt almost easy. Amazing.

Just then, I tripped on a paving stone and fell over, only very narrowly avoiding hitting my head on the ground. My right knee took the impact. Ouch. It took me a moment to work out if I was properly injured. Then I picked myself up, and started walking. I soon realised that although I was bleeding, I could run on it. So I did. I kept on going. As I got into my stride again I managed to forget about it.

When I got to the end of my road, I checked Runkeeper again. 21.4km. I still felt like I had more energy left, so decided to make this my longest run yet. I knew I’d done 21 point something when I did a half marathon, but I couldn’t remember what the something was. So I aimed for 22km just to be sure, doing a quick loop around near my house, and finally just running up and down the street outside my house like a loon until I hit the distance.

I DID IT! 22km! And despite having not had any of the right prep, or eaten properly, or even had a good night’s sleep, I genuinely enjoyed it. When I’ve done halves before I’ve prepared carefully but still find them tough going on the day. But I was able to run slightly more than a half marathon with none of the stuff I really believed I needed to achieve that, and found it the easiest half marathon distance I’ve ever done.

It’s often said that long-distance running is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. With my mind focused on the end goal of 26.2, the 13 mile barrier has quickly gone from being a possibly unachievable distance to something I can find easy.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge.

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