Saturday, 10 November 2012

My Running Journey

I still struggle with calling myself a runner but I think I have earned myself the title now. I may not be super slim or speedy but I do have a healthy little medal stash under my belt now which I’m pretty pleased about. I hate the word journey but I think it's the best way to describe this long post.
Back on 16th October 2010 I signed up to run the Paris Half Marathon which was my first proper run. When I started training I remember being totally overwhelmed at the prospect of running for more than two hours. I’d tried to run before but never very seriously and all that really meant was a bit of a jog around the block with a lot of stopping and heavy breathing. I like to aim high and work better if I have a goal, so after volunteering at the London marathon as a sports massage therapist, I entered the ballot but didn’t get a place. I took up the invite from Bangs and a Bun to run the Paris Half Marathon instead.
It was tough but I rigorously stuck to the training no matter what the weather. Looking back I was a little na├»ve and very unknowledgeable about some of the technical aspects of running people talk about. But I kept my goal insight and trained hard finishing without stopping in 2 hours and 11 minutes. Although it was 1 minute slower than my original target I was absolutely thrilled.  Looking back, I didn’t complicate things, I just ran. You can read more about Paris here.
I learnt a lot about myself when I finished that run. It is amazing what you can achieve if you work hard and keep your goals in sight. I have now run a total of 5 half marathons since March last year and last month I ran my first full marathon in Amsterdam. I still can’t quite believe I did it!
Charlie Dark from Run Dem Crew has said that you learn a lot about yourself throughout training and on race day and I can honestly say that with every race, I most definitely have found out something new about myself. Running gives me time and space to think and although it is hard work it also allows me to switch off and have some time of my own. Running is more than physical activity- it is a metaphor for life. So much of what you achieve is down to what is going on in your head. I am absolutely convinced that positivity and determination were what got me across the finish line in Amsterdam with a smile.
If I’m being honest, my training didn’t really go to plan but I did stick to my long runs. It was the midweek runs that I found more difficult. I started out with great intentions but sometimes life gets in the way and certain things have to take priority. However, there was no way I was backing down. I signed up to a couple of half marathons to take part in during my training.
Firstly, the Burnham Beeches Half. We had a rubbish summer this year but I seem to have history that whenever I sign up to a run we get a momentary one day heat wave. The run took place on one of the hottest days we have had this year.  It was a tough run with tough hills and even tougher because it was a loop that you had to run twice which is pretty hard going. No PBs were set on 21st August but I did manage a sprint finish at the end and I ran up every single one of those hills. It was a very organised race and I would definitely do it again even though it was quite a challenging course. The race starts and finishes at Caldicott School in Burnham Beeches. There is a great family atmosphere and an outdoor swimming pool within the grounds that you are able to use after the run which was particularly popular this year.

I then ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon on 7th October. I went along and cheered some friends last year. London is my home and I love running in my city. I have to say I absolutely loved Royal Parks. It was a perfect cold and sunny running day. It’s a beautiful course and I loved it even more because my family, boyfriend and the Run Dem Crew Cheer Dem Crew were all there cheering. Getting a cheer en route makes such a difference.  No PBs were set but it more was more about keeping it steady and staying injury free until my marathon at the end of October.
I absolutely loved it. The course was a little windy and repetitive in the parks at times but it didn’t bother me. I really enjoy running in the London Parks and the atmosphere was electric.  The scenic route runs through four Royal Parks (Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’s Park and Green Park) and takes you past some key London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament and the Royal Albert Hall.  It was brilliant to run a great course with so much support and I finished in pretty good shape. Don’t get me wrong though, although I was trying to ignore it there was a little voice in my head asking me how I was going to run double the route in Amsterdam. This voice continued to pop up uninvited but I just ignored the question afraid of my answer.

I set myself some goals last year and originally thought about trying to get a pace in the New York marathon but decided Amsterdam was a more realistic option. Soon after I had signed up it was then announced that it was going to be the next Bridge the Gap run so more than 100 friends from Run Dem Crew were going to there as well as the other running crews from around the world such as the New York Bridge Runners, Paris Run Club and of course Patta, the Amsterdam hosts who were amazing hosts indeed.
As the marathon got closer I got more and more terrified even though I tried to keep my fear hidden. In training the furthest I ran was 25k (a marathon is more than 42k). I am normally the type of person that trains more than I need to so that I am confident I will be able to do the distance on the day. However, I was having a few ITB issues and didn’t want to aggravate it. I took the decision to scale the training back so that I was in the best shape possible for the day.
We went to collect our race numbers the day before and then had a very chilled day where we hydrated and fuelled to give ourselves the best chance. My boyfriend is usually the resident photographer, cheer squad and bag holder but this time he was going to be running his first half marathon. He admitted that in the past he had always felt a little bit jealous when I collected my race number but I have to say he did look a little green as he walked towards me race bag in hand. Before going to bed I glanced at the course map and I had to look away quickly. Doubt was trying to rear its ugly head when I saw just how far I was going to be running.

Amsterdam Marathon Course

Walking to the race start I felt sick with nerves. All the others that were going to be running the full are hardcore and had trained very hard.  We arrived at the meeting point and I felt out of place and like I didn’t deserve to be there. I hadn’t trained as much as I wanted to and rather than a high tech Garmin on my arm I had a rubbish basic digital watch so that I could keep track of my start time. There was talk of race pace and tactics but my goal was just to finish and to enjoy it. I didn’t want to be consumed by clock watching and disappointment. I wanted to go out there and prove that I was strong enough to do it. I had trained on my own and I was going to be out there on my own on race day. I went a bit mutey as we walked towards the stadium.

"What am I doing here?"- Looking totally out of my depth

The race started and finished in the Olympic stadium which was incredible. It gave me just a little glimpse of how an athlete feels on a big day. I got a little bit emotional at the start, overwhelmed at what I was about to do. My tactic was to keep positive, enjoy it and smile a lot and it all went to plan. I absolutely loved it! The wall that people talk of never appeared and I felt great the whole way round. Seeing my friends Guy and Kaye at 2k was great and I shouted “I’m running a marathon!” as I ran past, still trying to convince myself I think. I knew that I wasn’t going to see anybody until about 26.5k so I turned my music up and just got on with it.
The marathon route has an additional 13 miles along the River Amstel on top of the half marathon route. Personally, I loved the run along the river as I train along the Thames in London and it was a smoother surface with Windmills dotted along the route which pleased me. Families were lining the route cheering and handing out water so I tried to engage with as many people as possible and said thank you for their support. It was cold and windy too but I was actually grateful for the cold weather.  Some of the Run Dem Crew guys had planned to be at 26.5k to cheer the marathon runners before the start of the half marathon but my pace was a little slow and they had to leave before I got there. I was on track for my time I’m just not a 3:45 marathon kind of girl. Despite having a race of his own my boyfriend stayed to support me and I was thrilled to see him. I remember shouting “It’s brilliant, I love it!” as I ran past and I really was loving every minute.

I had aimed to try and run to 25k without stopping but I got there and I was fine. I reached 30k and I was fine. I reached 35k and I was still fine. I couldn’t quite believe it. I looked forward to seeing Bangs and a Bun who had told me she was going to be cheering between 37k and 38k. I saw her from afar cheering loud and running up and down. It meant a lot to me having her there as I ran my first half marathon with her and she has always been so supportive.  I have to say I got a little emotional as I ran past but I still had a smile on my face.
My ipod and me had our own little running party the whole way round and I sang as I run. I listened to everything from dancey stuff to the Madonna Immaculate Collection. Like a Virgin felt very fitting as it was my first marathon. I also listened to some slower, more relaxing music which I never, ever do when I run but it really helped me to stay relaxed, calm and steady. I got to 39k and Kaye and Guy were still there cheering loud. I screamed as I ran past saying “I’m still running!” I couldn’t quite believe it. A race picture at 40k sums up how I was feeling.

The last 2k was tough but knowing the end was so near kept me going and as I was about to enter the stadium I saw a Run Dem Crew logo in the distance. I screamed at Terry as she cheered and I shouted “I’m actually going to do it!” I ran into the stadium and around the track to the finish line where I said the same thing again to a woman running just in front of me. I crossed the line and after a massive smile I just cried. I couldn’t believe I had done it.

The last 18 months has been really hard for several reasons but crossing that line meant so much more to me than just finishing a run. It was about achieving something even when things hadn’t quite gone to plan. It proved to me that staying positive can be so powerful and even when things go wrong you can pick yourself up and achieve things you never thought possible. That may sound dramatic but it’s truly how I feel and I believe that this sentiment can be transferred to other things outside of running. Don't let doubt creep in, take each step one at a time and never take your eye off the goal, whatever that goal may be. I have been really lucky to have great support from people around me. Charlie from Run Dem Crew has always been supportive. He has helped me to feel more confident and the email from him before we left for Amsterdam meant a lot. I'm sure he won't mind me sharing a couple of the lines that really got me (and made me cry!) but I thought about what he wrote as I ran on the day. Thank you for your kind words Charlie!
 "I know that life hasn't always been easy but Sunday is a chance to leave it on the road. Know you are going to totally rock your way through it. Run your own race and celebrate how far you have come with every step. We'll be cheering you along to the finish line."
I finished in 4:49. My original goal was just to finish by secretly I wanted it to be under 5 hours. I am confident that with training I could definitely finish more quickly. It seems I may well have the bug. However, before I even think about another marathon I’m going back to Paris where it all started to run at another Bridge the Gap event and this time my boyfriend is going to train and run with me. Happy days!

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