Sunday 5 October will be the anniversary of my first ever half marathon.
When I laced up a pair of trainers for the first time (note: I didn’t know running shoes existed back then) I never imagined tackling ultras. Looking back however, it’s where I am meant to be.
I first started running, like many others, to raise money for charity. I’d just lost my mum to skin cancer and I wanted to show my support for the struggle she’d gone through and perhaps, selfishly, taste a little bit of the pain she’d inevitably suffered. I’d run for a cause close to her heart by raising money for the NSPCC. I would be running the inaugural Run to the Beat Half Marathon… I think it’s only a 10km these days.
With the inexperience of a new runner, I’d quickly been cajoled into following this up with another half marathon the following Sunday – the first ever Royal Parks Foundation London Half Marathon. Two in a week, that was possible, wasn’t it?
I was in for a shock! It was tough, the training wasn’t impossible however and somehow, carried by the emotions of
losing my mum, I won the fight against the inevitable injuries, aches, pains and fatigue. This wasn’t so bad I thought, running gave me a sense of freedom, me and the road, the air moving against my legs, my breath pumping oxygen around my body – I guess I’d never realised what it really felt like to be alive before.
My first race, a local running club’s 10km five weeks before the main event, was a baptism of fire. I was really not prepared. I got carried way too quickly at the start, struggled in the heat, struggled with the pace, struggled with the confusions between miles and kms, and ended up not being able to stop on crossing the finish line because I needed to pee! I’d clearly struggled with hydration too. But somehow, that sense of achievement of finishing, of pitting one’s ability against the race was awe-inspiring. I was hooked, despite the sore legs I suffered for the following few days.
The Run to the Beat was a damp affair. Torrential rain the whole way and I wore a cagool for the full 13.1miles. There was supposed to be live music every mile, but due to the weather this wasn’t really possible. To me the race was fantastically well organised, but reading reports from those in the know afterwards, it probably wasn’t.
Wet behind the ears in more ways than one, I had no idea how to go about recovery. By now, I’d at least joined a gym so I got a bit of support there, but come the following Sunday I wasn’t 100 percent ready to go again. Starting out in front of the Albert Hall was amazing. I knew there was no pace in my legs so I acted like a right tourist taking photos of iconic sights along the way…which really annoyed other runners…I’d still a lot to learn about racing etiquette 🙂
I’d grabbed a banana at the start and not realising how unripe it was, suffered with chronic indigestion come mile 3 around the Embankment I seem to remember. As we ploughed into Hyde Park, I tagged on the back of a group of army boys running in full kit. Suddenly, my shin splints weren’t so bad, my IT bands could pipe down, if they could run in black leather boots, I could knock back a poxy 13 odd miles, even if I’d never realised before how hilly Hyde Park is. We tramped on to mile 11 before I was sure I had this one sealed and I ran on to cross the line.
All races have their dark places, particularly ultras, when it feels like your body is going to implode and this is where I feel I have an advantage. I just take myself to that place of pain. Nothing I’m feeling is anywhere near as bad as the pain my mum felt, so get over it – I tell myself – and it works. If I’m well-trained, no teeny bitsy feeling of pain is going to stop me.
Over 20 half marathons later (think we’re headed towards 30 now), countless marathons, and a fair few ultras later, I guess I owe my mum a thanks. It’s difficult to express, but it took losing someone to make me realise how precious life is, that it’s not ours to waste and if we can all find something to help us get out there and do it then we should. Go for it!