Why it sucks to be a non-marathon running marathon runner during marathon season

Sooooo, it’s that time of year again.  London, Boston, Manchester, Paris, Brighton, Rome, Hamburg…  All the big cities are hosting their annual Spring marathons with hundreds of thousands of people putting months of hard graft to the test and crossing those finish lines with pride and glee.  Wonderful.

And it truly is a wonderful, magical and pretty remarkable thing.  But not being one of them? Without any particular good reason (I can’t blame a broken foot this year).  Well, that totally sucks.  It sucks on every level.

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1. You just can’t escape it

No matter how hard you try, if you have friends that are runners, it’s everywhere.  I even tried deleting my Facebook account.  But then there was Instagram…and Strava…and Twitter…and, well. the news and, errrm,, the actual outdoors.

I’ve already switched it back on again.  So that went well.

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2. The FOMO is real

It’s difficult to put into words, and to get any normal person to understand, why exactly it pains you so much to miss out on putting your body through the wars and your mind through hell just to run 26.2 miles.  For fun.  So just take my word for it.

There is no greater pain that being on the spectator side of those barriers.

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3. You feel like the laziest person on earth

It doesn’t really matter how much exercise you do, even if you workout out daily, if you’re not running 20 miles on a Sunday when everyone else in the whole world is, then you feel like the Mayor of Slobtown.

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4. It makes you grumpy and unreasonable

Yes, more grumpy than usual.  Yes more unreasonable than usual. No, I can’t control it.  Yes, I’m sorry.  No, I don’t wanna talk about it.

It’s best to just stay away from me really.

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5. You’re just another muggle

This one is probably the worst for me.  Marathon running is magical.  It’s magical because it’s made of a unique combination of a strong body, a strong(er) mind, and a lot of  bloody hard work that only comes with resilience, dedication and willpower .  It’s impossible to understand unless you’ve been there.  And when you’re not there, you’re just a regular ol nothing-special kinda muggle on the sidelines.  And that sucks.

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Putting my jealousy aside, I wish nothing but the best of luck and positive, strong thoughts to everyone running over the next few weeks and, if you’re running London, I’ll be in the usual Chaser spot with a can of cider throwing jelly babies at you.  You’re welcome.

I want to be special again by the end of the year.  And I’m going all out for Berlin in September because, this time, I do have something to prove.  In fact I have everything to prove.

But only to myself.

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When do you declare Game Over?

Katherine French. Liverpool Marathon. DNS.  That’s what it will say next to my name this weekend.  Another marathon, another fail.

After falling some way short of target in London, I wanted to give it another go whilst I was still marathon fit because, quite honestly, the thought of another season training for an Autumn marathon simply makes me want to throw allllll my trainers in the bin and swear a lot.  But it’s quite evident that I just don’t have that kind of speed in my legs at the moment.  Entering Liverpool and thinking I could smash it really wasn’t my brightest idea.

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It was all a bit too perfect.  5 weeks after London, a large UK marathon, a friend with a flat I could stay in, I’d even managed to wing a lift there and back.  But my heart and my body had a full blown argument that only my body could ever win.

I know exactly what would have happened.

  • Turn up at the start line
  • Full of hope, but knowing I probably wouldn’t make it
  • But maybe, just maybe I could make it?
  • Purposely set off just behind the 3:30 pacer and hang on for dear life
  • Curse the sodding hills that I was warned about
  • Fall off the pace
  • Get angry
  • Walk
  • Hate everyone overtaking me
  • Hate myself for being rubbish
  • Hate life
  • Be the the very last person to finish the Liverpool Marathon in the slowest time on record. Ever
  • Cry
  • Still not get into Boston
  • Hate running

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It might sound silly, but I know myself well enough to know that would be the most likely outcome right now.  It wasn’t worth it.

Last week someone said to me, in reference to London,

‘Remember when you spent 6 months training for a marathon and then jogged it?!’  

Whilst there was obviously an air of jest, it doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed true.  I trained really hard for London and still didn’t have what it takes to achieve what I wanted to.  I just can’t get that out of my head.  When it came to game time, the really serious-poker-face-hardcore bit, I jogged.

It’s definitely game over for this season.  But is it game over for good? I don’t know.  How do you know?  I’m not sure I have any coins left to play again.

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Annoyingly, I had cancelled all my fun weekend plans to go to Liverpool so I’m now plan-less for the Bank Holiday.  But instead of killing myself on the streets of Liverpool on Sunday, you’ll find me bumbling along the North Downs Way eating Jenn’s Jelly Babies (and other nutritional snacks), and talking to Barry about alarm clocks (and other important things).  I’m much happier about that.  I think.

When I finally made the decision to pull out I felt a huge sense of relief, I didn’t have to actually run another marathon!  But the dark cloud?  That hasn’t shifted yet.

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London Marathon #4: The One That Got Away

I got the feeling early on I wasn’t going to hold the pace.  I just knew it.  By the time mile 18 rolled around I had reduced myself to a walking break and everything felt a little fuzzy.  Despite Chris telling me we could still make it, and quite literally pushing me along, I could feel the A plan, the B plan and the C plan slowly slipping away.  The London Marathon dream was over and all I could do was simply finish.

The thing with the marathon is that it is unpredictable, and no matter how experienced you are, and how prepared you are for every eventuality you can control, there is still a lot you can’t control and you have to be a little lucky on the day for everything to go your way.

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I’m not sure I could have been much more prepared for my 4th attempt at the London Marathon.  I got a lot of things right, I felt good, and I knew I was in good shape, but something just didn’t quite go my way.  Instead of bringing home a new shiny PB to be proud of, and the BQ I desperately wanted, I trundled over the finish line in 3 hours 53.  Not a bad time I know, but it wasn’t the day I wanted and it wasn’t the race I’d trained for.  It was, however, the race I got.

I met some of the Chasers at the tube station bright & early on Sunday morning but it wasn’t long before Alex had to leg it back home again to pick up his forgotten timing chip (ohhhh, Alex!!).  We arrived in good time and I met Chris who had once again offered to pace me, despite having just run both Manchester and Brighton marathons in the last 2 weeks! Due to my poor pacing skills and self-doubt, I lept at this chance and was really pleased to be able to avoid the official pace groups (which get very busy) and have someone I knew by my side.

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It was a perfect day for running, cool, dry and not too sunny.  I had 4 plans, the A plan was to finish in under 3:35, the B plan was a guaranteed BQ and the C plan was a GFA, and the D plan was to never run a marathon ever again.

The start was crowded as usual but, as we were in a start pen further back than we wanted, there was a lot of weaving in and out of people and the first mile was slow. I tried not to panic and Chris stopped me tearing off at a silly pace to make up the difference. We soon settled into a good pace around 8mm, the crowds lined the streets, I saw Barry screaming at me at mile 6, and I remembered why I love the London Marathon so much!

Without Chris I most definitely would have ran the first few miles too fast so I just concentrated on following him.  The weather stayed perfect and, apart from a brief spot of hail, it was dry and the sun wasn’t too warm when it did come out.  Around mile 9/10 I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to keep up, I voiced my concerns but Chris wasn’t having any of it and we cracked on.

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I saw Mum & Dad on the opposite side of the road around the half way point and my friends Rick & Merissa cheering very loudly.  The Chasers were at mile 14.5, I was really looking forward to seeing them but for some reason I didn’t know they were there until we’d past.

By the time we were around mile 18 I had to stop and walk, I felt dizzy and all I remember was Chris saying ‘you’re better than this, come on’.  I tried to negotiate some walking breaks and we agreed we’d have one at 20 miles but I didn’t even make it that far until I was walking again.

After that, everything is a bit hazy and it became a cycle of me stopping to walk, Chris giving me some tough love and pushing me on, and each mile rolling by.  The Chasers were just after the 20 mile mark and there was no missing them this time, it was just what I needed!  Run Dem Crew were at mile 21, who always deliver on support, and Mum & Dad at 22.5.  I know there were other people out there shouting at me, sorry if I missed you!

I wasn’t feeling at all good, I felt sick and a bit out of it but I really couldn’t tell you why.  Chris dutifully picked up water whenever I wanted it and offered non-stop encouragement, but I knew I wasn’t getting a BQ and was increasingly unlikely to get a PB.  I tried to soak in the atmosphere that only the London Marathon offers, look at the sites and do as I was told, the miles were still ticking by.

With just 1km to go I still found myself walking and bumped into fellow Chaser Dorcas, she saw me walking and came back for me.  We finished the Frankfurt Marathon in exactly the same time so she said we would finish this one together too! Plodding down the home straight, it was a 3:53 finish, a comfortable sub-4, but no where near what it should have been.  I had executed a perfect D plan (no more marathons).

No BQ, no GFA and no PB. Gutted.

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All I really wanted was to sit down, but sitting down on the finish line is often frowned upon, so, with Chris holding me up, I shuffled, and shuffled, and eventually made it to my bag and my parents.

Chris was, yet again, a total star. He said all the right things, pushed me when I needed it and was even the water boy!  I think I would have easily come in a lot slower without him there, but he didn’t take any of my babbling, nonsensical crap and made sure I didn’t give up, I was all ready to have a little sit down on the side of the road at one point.  I’m just sorry I couldn’t quite achieve this time, or do what I said I was going to do, sorry Chris!

I’m obviously disappointed with my performance, but I’m not nearly as upset as I thought I would be.  Maybe it’s because I still got to run the London Marathon, and the London Marathon truly is the greatest marathon on earth, and I even got to run it with Chris.

I don’t know what went wrong, I was ready and I was prepared, I even had a personal pacer, but it just wasn’t to be.  Right now I’m completely torn between:

  • Flying to Latvia in a couple of weeks to try again (perfect timing but I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Liverpool at the end of May (much closer, but not so perfect timing and I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Estonia in September for the last chance before Boston opens (more time to recover, but the thought of  another marathon season makes me want to throw all my trainers away)
  • Honestly never running another marathon again (the best idea I’ve ever had but I’m going to need some new friends)

Even I don’t know what I’m going to do next but I’m definitely looking forward to a summer of shorter races and post run ciders in the sunshine!

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Hey London. I’m Ready!

On Saturday morning I smashed my Parkrun PB, knocking 19 seconds off my previous best and a whopping 1 minute 13 seconds of my PB this year!  My PB now stands at 21:50, it’s the confidence booster I desperately needed AND one of my 2016 goals achieved!

I didn’t do it alone though.  One of the best things about being a Chaser is the support you get from others and I was lucky to have not 1, but 2 Chasers pacing me round Dulwich Park.  I wanted a sub 22, but I didn’t know if I could do it, I really didn’t, and I was a bit worried Rob and Nick would be annoyed if they had gone out of my way to help me and I failed.  A sub 22 always seemed so out of reach.

With some strong words from Gemma beforehand, I set off determined to block out everything around me other than what the guys were telling me, they knew exactly which line to take, I drafted when it was breezy and I kept on their heels.  I always, always set off too fast so it felt surprisingly comfortable until the last half a mile or so…I thought I was slowing down a lot but I didn’t want to look at the pace.  When we hit the last 200m both Rob and Nick were shouting ‘come on, come on’ and I thought I’d missed it, I could barely believe it when I saw the time, it was a comfortable sub 22!

I am absolutely elated with my new PB and hugely grateful to Rob and Nick for helping me achieve it, thank you!

As an aside, I think it’s incredibly sad, and shameful, that Stoke council have voted to charge runners for Little Stoke Parkrun because, apparantly, they need to replace the path (a path that is no doubt used by a whole range of people throughout the week, not just Parkrunners).  In a society where we should be actively encouraging people to eat less and move move, Parkrun has been instrumental in getting a huge number of people off the sofa and into their trainers.  It really has revoluntioned Saturday mornings and this is a massive blow to the Parkrun community who’s ethos has always been about providing free, safe events that are accessible to all.

If you want to support Little Stoke, you can sign the petition here  #LoveParkrun

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Of course, I know that a 5k PB doesn’t mean a marathon PB, but it has made me realise I can achieve things I thought were beyond me, especially with a little help.

It’s the final few days before London and I’ve been testing the carb-depletion diet.  The science behind it is, by spending a few days eating a low carb diet, you deplete your muscles of their glycogen stores so when you begin the carb loading process they can store more glycogen than they could before, and more glycogen in the muscles means more fuel on race day.

I’ve read mixed reviews, and I don’t know if it will make a difference, but some people swear by it and I had nothing to lose by giving it a go, marginal gains and all that.  Honestly, I can’t wait for all the carbs on Thursday though, there’s only so much fish, chicken, avocado, eggs and courgettes you can eat and I’m not really a ‘no-bread sandwich and hold the fries’ kind of girl!

Looking back over my training plans I’ve had some really strong runs, I know I’m in good shape and I know I can do it.  I just have to actually do it.  Plus, if I needed any more motivation, I have a bet with my friend Martin that I can beat him with a 55 minute handicap.  Loser buys the drinks all night.  I don’t want to be the loser.

I’m ready for you London, I’m ready.

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When the taper brings nothing but self-doubt

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon.  The day when the last 18 weeks of training are put to the test, the day when you realise if all the hard work and sacrifice was worth it, the day when you bask in glory…or crash and burn in a devastating fall from grace, the day when everyone else knows whether you succeeded, or whether you failed…

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon and that means it’s time for the taper to slowly chip away at every ounce of confidence you ever had.

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The taper’s a funny thing, you spend all winter looking forward to those 2/3 weeks at the end of your plan when the intensity drops back and the long runs look easy, but when it gets here it’s not quite as much fun as you thought.  By the time the taper arrives you know it’s too late to change anything, there’s absolutely nothing more you can do to make yourself fitter, stronger, or faster except wind down, rest and eat well.  It’s terrifying!

On Saturday I went for a Parkrun PB, I actually wanted more than a PB, I wanted a confidence boosting 21:59.  Having gone to bed early, and dragging myself out in the pouring rain on a Saturday morning, I fell off the pace quickly and finished in a disappointing 22:23.  Rubbish.

However, it was my 2nd best Parkrun time ever, and this time last year I could only dream of anything starting with a 22, surely that’s a positive thing and a sign that the hard work is paying off?  So, this Saturday I’ll be trying again, one last shot at sub 22 before judgement day.

It’s difficult not to question every decision I’ve made over the last few weeks.  Should I have picked up the pace a bit more in my long runs?  Could I have tried just a bit harder in the Hampton Court half?  Should I have pushed through the last 2k at track last week when my legs didn’t work rather than bowing out?  Did I run too fast at tempo?  Was 3 x 20 milers enough?  Could I have done more, run further, tried harder???

Once you throw in the phantom injuries, imaginary niggles and overwhelming paranoia you realise the taper is anything but fun.  You’re convinced you’re going to get sick from the snotty nosed teenager that just sneezed on you, or you’re going to accidentally fall off a bridge into the Thames and break your leg, or Snoopy, the crazy dog who lives down the road, is going to bite your arm off and tear you limb from limb.  Convinced. (Snoopy really is a nutter you know).

I really don’t know what race day will bring this time.  I do know that I’ve run more miles (yes, I’ve counted), and put in more effort (yes, I’ve calculated) than I have for any other marathon, but I really don’t know if I’ve done enough.  I do know that I’m not ready for this taper, not ready at all.

And I don’t know if I can do it.

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Hampton Court Half & Project Boston

On Sunday I ran the Hampton Court Half Marathon.  I always think a half during marathon training gives you a real indication of how it’s going, it lets you know if you’re on track to hit your target, or if you need to re-evaluate your goal.  For this reason I was nervous, more nervous than I had been about a race for a while.

In October I ran a 1:50 and a 1:49 half but, according to the McMillan race calculator, I needed to be running 1:42:30 to get a comfortable BQ in the marathon.  It felt like a lot to shave off…

It was a pretty early start to get over to Esher for an 8:30am race start but I was pleased to bump into some other Chasers.  They operated a wave start system but, rather than using coloured zones and policing it, people could start where they wanted so it wasn’t ideal.  It also started late, 16 minutes late to be exact, which was quite frustrating when you’re stood in the cold in just a vest.  Apparently there were issues with the park & ride system where they wanted people to pay £6 and get on a bus to the start – I ignored this and parked near the start for free, looks like that was a good idea all round.  Definitely room for improvement on the organisational front.

I made the bold decision to start with the 1:40 pacer, or rather hang just behind the 1:40 pacer and see what happened.  The plan was to hang onto him for as long as I could, but I didn’t want to let go until at least 7 miles…ideally.

The route was on a lot of pavements along open roads which I think made it difficult for the pacer to keep an even pace, add in  weaving around people who had started in the wrong place and I felt like I was all over the place! Every time we sped up I thought I was going to lose him, then we settled down again and it felt comfortable.  This went on until around 6.5 miles when he started to disappear as we ran along the river.

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Annoyingly I had forgotten to turn the mile alerts back on my watch after my last track session so I didn’t really know how much time I was losing, but I felt like I was plodding.  Often during the back half of a race I mentally give up, I allow myself to slow down and tell myself I don’t care about the clock, but that didn’t happen, I just kept pushing as much as I could.

The last mile seemed to drag but eventually the crowds thickened and I crossed the line in 1:44:01…90 seconds off the pace but slightly better than I thought towards the end.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, I’m still not.

The route itself wasn’t particularly scenic, apart from a small section where we ran past Hampton Court, it was quite dull.  It was fast and flat with great PB potential, but it took you on a lot of pavements along open roads which wasn’t ideal, together with the disappointing start I think the only reason I would do it again would be for convenience rather than anything else.  That said, you got a  great medal and the goody bag was well stocked!

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In summary

The Good:

  • I’m pretty sure Hampton Court was my second fastest half marathon ever
  • I finished in the top 8% of women
  • I couldn’t have given it anymore.  I honestly never stopped pushing which shows my mental strength is back on track
  • It was windy in the 2nd half…that may have made me a bit slower…
  • There are still 9 whole weeks until the London Marathon
  • My Run Britain handicap is heading in the right direction
  • I’m not giving up yet and, if all else fails, I’m bang on track for a PB

The Bad:

  • The splits aren’t great – I fell off the pace and it hurt
  • I was about 90 seconds away from where I needed to be to be on track for a BQ.  That’s actually quite a lot
  • It’s only 7 weeks until the taper…

The Ugly:

  • The outlook for project Boston is looking distinctly grey and cloudy
  • I know I won’t be happy simply with a PB in London

Project Boston – to be continued…

On the plus side, I think I made back my race entry fee in Vita Coco, my favourite!

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Marathon Training: Feeling Good

It’s been about 2 months since I fell out of love with running and I would rather have stuck a pencil in my eye than put my trainers on and jog round London.  However, I’ve always been a bit fickle and since then, I seem to have remembered exactly why I love running so much and I even rather enjoyed my run commute despite the -5 degrees temperature this week!

I think it was a slightly hazy time somewhere between the 4th and 5th cocktail at the Chaser Christmas party when I fell in love with running again.  It was at this time when the ballot was drawn for the Chasers club places in the London Marathon and my name was the first name out!  Of course, I missed the actual event having been in the toilet/at the bar/chatting about life with complete strangers/some or all of the above, which I was pretty gutted about, but I was SO EXCITED to get a place!

Since then, I’ve been firmly back in training for the last 5 weeks and, in a surprising turn of events, it actually seems to be going well…  I’m not entirely sure what’s happened to me, or if I’ve simply been spurred on by the pretty punchy target I’ve set myself, but I’ve been running better than I have for a long time and it feels great!

New Year’s Day double Parkrun crew. A very muddy Wimbledon followed by a chilly Fulham!

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Generally, I’ve learned that really high mileage plans don’t work for me.  I’ve tried it, I got tired, I got injured, I resented having to go for a run, and, importantly, I did not run well on marathon day.  5 runs a week is enough for me, it allow me to run 40+ miles, do all my key sessions, a recovery run, and I still have time for a spinning class or 2 and my favourite Tuesday morning yoga class.  I’m definitely not planning any 70 mile weeks any time soon!

Running just seems to be a bit easier at the moment, I’ve been doing my track sessions at an even, or progressive, pace without vomiting on the 400m line and I’ll even admit to possibly, maybe, enjoying it this week which I don’t think has ever happened before!

Tempo sessions have also been going well (ie I finish them without feeling like I’m going to drop dead) and I’m so happy to be running with Ruth again.  Ruth and I used to run together a lot when we were training for the Rome Marathon, then she got quicker and I got slower and she became a little dot on the horizon.  Ruth is still speedier than me but I enjoy chasing her, and the other speedy girls Jenna and Kristy, round a cold dark Battersea Park.  Throw in some long runs at a pace I’m happy with and I’m actually feeling quite positive.

All I have to do now is keep it up for the next 13 weeks without getting injured, errrrm, should be fine if I go to yoga every week right…??

I hope your Spring marathon training is going well too!

Post long run coffee last Sunday

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2016: Goals

I don’t really believe in new years resolutions, if you want to change something just do it, you don’t need to wait until the 1st January.  That said, I think it’s important to set goals and challenge yourself.  Sharing goals is a bit scary, whilst it doesn’t necessarily matter if you don’t achieve them, I think it does matter if you don’t give them an honest effort.  So, as we’re about to head into a new year, these are my 2016 goals…

1. Run 3.30 – 3.35 in the London Marathon

Yep, I said it, my Spring marathon goal is a PB, a GFA and a BQ, all the acronyms!  My current PB is 3:47 so I’m looking to knock about 15 minutes off it which I don’t think will come easily.  I know there are a lot of people who think I can’t do this one, but I’m going to give it everything I’ve got and I believe I can do it, you’ve got to at least believe in yourself right?

I want to go to Boston.  It’s Boston or bust.

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2. Do more Parkruns

I don’t run nearly enough Parkruns and that needs to change.  I both love and hate Parkrun, I love pushing myself, I love the atmosphere and I love getting that little text message but I can get a bit worked up about it beforehand.  In 2016 I want to try 5 new Parkruns and run my first sub 22 5k…ermm, I may need a pacer…please?!

This one will be starting bright and early tomorrow with a New Years Day Parkrun double!

Pre-Christmas party Chasers outing to Brockwell

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3. A new 10k PB

This one might be one to focus on later in the year given I can’t even run 5k at my 10k PB pace at the moment!  Still, it was 2011 when I somehow managed to run 45:24 round Poole Park and it’s about time I make a serious effort to duck under 45…given my shocking pacing skills, I may need a pacer for this one too…anyone?!

4. Up the strength & conditioning work

Just over a year ago I took up a weekly yoga class and I’ve really noticed the difference, it definitely helps long run recovery and I’m sure it’s helped on the injury front.  I’m even getting better at it, I can very almost, nearly, sorta do a headstand and everything!

In recent weeks I’ve also been adding a weights session into my routine, I was quite shocked at how strong my legs were in some places and embarrassingly weak in others.  2016 will be the year of yoga, weights and core…as well as all the running of course.  I may need to quit my job…

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5. Stop being so hard on myself

In all honesty, this might be the most difficult for me, especially as I don’t even realise I’m doing it until someone points it out (usually Clare, thanks Clare!)  The problem is, I run in a club where I am one of the slowest runners and it makes it very easy feel inadequate even when I get a PB.  I’m never going to be the best runner but that doesn’t make my achievements less worthy of other peoples, they’re just different.

The last time I remember feeling genuinely elated with a run was at the Frankfurt marathon, next year I’m going to make sure I celebrate the way I celebrated in Frankfurt, be happy when I make progress and stop comparing myself to other people.

So, these are my 2016 goals and every one of them scares me.  Can I do it? Errm, in the spirit of the above I’m going to say a big fat yes!

Happy New Year x

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All’s Fair in the London Marathon Ballot…isn’t it?

The London Marathon ballot opened today, as it does every year a week after the big day.  But this time there has been a fairly significant change, instead of closing the ballot after 125,000 entries (which only takes a few hours), it will remain open for 5 whole days with no limit on entries.
If you thought your chances of getting in were slim before, they’ve just gone to near-on impossible. How many people will enter the ballot? 200k, 500k, more? Who knows, but I do know that the usual 1 in 7 chance has just been dramatically slashed.

VLM has come under fire in recent years for the way they operate the ballot system.  They never announce the time the ballot will open, which means people stay up until the early hours, and it can already be closed by 10 or 11 in the morning. That’s all well and good if you’re able to do that but if you’re a shift worker, a nurse, a fireman, you can easily be left disappointed at the first hurdle.  So I understand why a change has been made, and the new system is certainly fairer, but going from around an 8 hour window to 5 whole days is, in my opinion, a little excessive and a little silly.

I believe anyone can run a marathon, but I don’t believe everyone has the drive and commitment to make it happen, it’s a shit load of hard work. The problem is the ballot opens when everyone is still high on the smell of sweat and Lucozade and still moved by all the emotional success stories, they want to be a part of it.

Marathon day is glory day, and it certainly doesn’t come much more glorified than in London. But a marathon isn’t just 26.2 miles, far from it, a marathon is made of hundreds and hundreds of miles over months of training. It’s tough early morning runs, late night tempo and wet, windy long weekend miles.  A marathon is made of everything you don’t see.

What I don’t think is fair, and I’m aware it may be controversial, is that there are people who are lucky enough to get ballot places but, when it comes down to it they aren’t prepared to make the sacrifices and put in the time and effort to do the training.  I don’t subscribe to the ‘proper runner’ theory, if you run you’re a runner, and I’m definitely not not saying you need to finish in a super quick time, but I am saying you need to put an honest effort into the training and do the best you can to prepare, because there are thousands of people that are willing to do it.

Some people enter the ballot just for the hell of it.  They make a half arsed effort to get to the start line because they didn’t want to give up Friday nights in the pub, or give up their warm bed on a freezing January morning, and the people that are willing to do that are left on the sidelines cheering them on. Is that fair? I don’t think so.

I know I’ve run London more than once, and yes maybe it is someone else’s turn, but I’m sad I’m unlikely to be running next year and I’m angry with myself for not trying harder to get a GFA place. There are many people that would say I made a half arsed effort with training this year, that’s why I wasn’t good enough and I’m back in the ballot, maybe it is fair after all.

Quite frankly it would be a lot easier to score a London Marathon place by becoming a Z list celebrity for doing something ridiculous than through the ballot. Screw it, where are the reality show applications?  That might even be quite fun…

VLM Ballot

London Marathon: The Big Jog

I was disappointed not to run a London Good For Age qualifier last year but I was over the moon to be successful in in the ballot, it’s a rare occurance!  Last Spring, the Rome Marathon didn’t quite go my way so I made a last minute decision to enter Manchester 2 weeks later.  I ran better in Manchester, but it was tough knocking out that kind of distance again so soon and I believed myself when I swore I’d never attempt such a thing again.

Not expecting a place in London I had already entered the Brighton Marathon, but October rolled around and I came home to the coveted ‘You’re In’ magazine on my doormat…pain and consequence long forgotten, I wanted to do both.  Obviously.  Why It's Like A Dream

The London Marathon is hands down the best day of the year and if I’m not running, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than cheering on the sidelines.  I first ran London in 2011, it was my first ever marathon and is completely responsible for giving me the bug.  In 2013 I qualified for a GFA entry, I went off way too fast and suffered in the later miles, it was a tough run.

This year I really wanted to enjoy London for the spectacular 26.2 mile street party it is and I didn’t want my over ambitious dreams to ruin my enjoyment. The only way I could guarantee that was to make Brighton my A race because I really can’t be trusted!

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I’ve been in limbo the last 2 weeks, it’s odd trying to strike a balance between recovery and taper and in a shockingly sensible approach I simply listened to my body. There was a bit of running, a lot of rest, a lot of early nights and a lot of hand sanitizer, I was really fun to be around.

On Sunday I woke up to the best good luck message ever!  It immediately put me in a good mood despite the 5.45am alarm, how could it not be a good day? I was sooooo excited!

My new little niece Chloe. She’s going to be a runner 🙂

Girl Running Crazy

The weather was pretty damn perfect.  It’s been getting warmer over the last few weeks and London Marathon day nearly always ends up just a bit too hot.  But it was grey and drizzly on Sunday morning, it looked ideal!  Zoe, my housemate, was running her first marathon this year so she was an excitable bundle of nerves, we made our way to the start at Blackheath in a sensible, calm manner…

It was actually pretty cold when we got there but there wasn’t too much waiting around after a couple of trips to the toilet and dropping off our bags. I met up with Laura who was in the same start pen as me and then it was time to line up. Whhhaaaaa, good luck!!

Me and Zoe before her first marathon

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I usually know exactly what I’m going to do on marathon day – what my goal is, what my back-up goal is, what pace I’m going to start at, what I’m going to do if, if, if… What was different about today was that I didn’t have a game plan. I really didn’t.  Today I was going to turn up at the start line and see what my legs would let me do.

Could I pull off another 4 hour marathon 2 weeks after Brighton? Maybe 4:15?  4:30? A bit slower?  In my heart I knew I’d be disappointed at anything over 4:15 but I needed to be realistic that it was a very real possibility, especially if I was going to achieve my ultimate goal of enjoying every second.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I would deal with a disappointment though.

Suddenly, the gun went off and we were moving forwards!  It only took about 2 minutes to get across the line and there we were, running the greatest marathon in the whole world!!

The first few miles are always quite congested but not so much that you can’t run, if anything, being held back slightly is a good thing.  I just went with flow and enjoyed the atmosphere, we’d only got up the road before someone was shouting, ‘3 cheers for Paula, hip hip…hooray!’

I didn’t want to go off as fast as I did in Brighton, I wouldn’t be able to hold it and I knew I’d be in for a tough ride later, but, although today was about having fun, I still wanted to do justice to all the winter miles.  As Paula said:

You can’t come to the London Marathon and not give it an honest effort

With the image of little Chloe in her ‘Go Auntie Katherine’ outfit firmly in my head, all I knew was that I needed to be able walk away today knowing I did the best I possibly could.  I didn’t want to feel like I let myself down and I didn’t want to be embarrassed by my effort.

I started off comfortably, I was running under 9mm but wasn’t pushing it.  After a few miles I  could tell my legs weren’t fresh, but I was still hitting a fairly good pace and I was happy.  I remembered to high-5 a few kids and smiled at everyone who cheered me by name. Fun, remember, FUN!

By mile 10 I knew I was running slower but it felt much slower than the 9mm pace my Garmin was telling me so I was quite pleased. 9.04, 9.02, 9.04, they kept ticking by consistently, hey, I was doing OK and I was enjoying it!

The crowd support is pretty good in the first half, but it really thickens when you get to Tower Bridge between 12 and 13, you really know you’re in London when you turn the corner and see that Bridge!  Running across the river is freggin awesome, the atmosphere is buzzing and I remembered to look up and take it all in, I almost forgot we were nearly half way already.  My legs hadn’t forgotten though, they were starting to ache earlier than I would have liked…I ignored them.

I knew the Chasers would be somewhere around 15 miles and I couldn’t wait to see them, there’s nothing like a Chaser Cheer to give you a boost and I really needed a boost.  Luckily there’s so many of them you can’t miss them and they let out a huge roar as I trotted past.

Chaser Support Crew…complete with Ingrid the inflatable Chaser (I find it best not to ask…)

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Before I knew it I was at mile 16 and I re-evaluated how I felt, it was getting harder but I was still OK, it was the the flippin London Marathon!  I was a bit slower by 18 miles but I told myself I absolutely needed to get to 20 before I could even consider a walk…I kept going.

True to my word, my legs made it to 20 miles and I rewarded them with a timed 2 minute walk, trying not to make eye contact with the crowd.  They wanted me to run, they didn’t know about the deal I made with my legs, they didn’t understand, ohhh the shame!

I saw the Chasers again around mile 21 and they had split into smaller groups so there were more cheers (except Gary, Gary ignored me to talk about bananas with a stranger, even Ingrid gave me more attention…)

It’s all mind games after 20 miles.  I don’t like 20 miles, it means there’s still 10 whole kilometers to go, I like 21 miles because there’s only 5 miles left…make sense? Of course not!  But, by the time I’ve worked out in my head how exactly I feel about having 5 miles left I’m at 22, and, today, that meant another teeny little walk.  Don’t judge me.

The walk didn’t last long, the crowds just wouldn’t have it, ‘you can do it Katherine, you’re nearly there!’, they didn’t come out to stand on the streets all day to watch me walk.  People at home were tracking me, they’ll see my splits.  Chloe’s wearing a special outfit, don’t let her down.  There’s a sodding TV camera in my face, OK, MOVE.

The next few miles were a bit of a blur but I didn’t stop running, I couldn’t, not only was it too hard to get going again, at this point absolutely anyone I knew could be on the sidelines and I didn’t want to be seen walking, it’s the friggin London Marathon!  The crowds are totally wild by this point, they cheer and shout and yell ‘go on Katherine, you’re looking awesome!’  Errrm, I’m really not am I, I’ve probably never looked less awesome, but thanks!

It was really starting to hurt along the Embankment but my legs were ticking over and I was still enjoying the atmosphere, I just wasn’t sure why the miles were getting longer, why would they do that?!  Eventually I turned the corner to face the home stretch along The Mall, it was the best sight ever!

The flags were flying high, the crowds were roaring and I could actually see the finish line. Just. Keep. Running. I finally crossed the line in 4:05:52 and was totally overcome with emotion, I don’t know how I got through the last few miles, I just wanted to sit down.

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Collecting my medal and shuffling along I quietly reflected on what I had achieved. It was slower than Brighton but it was well within ‘you-can’t-be-disappointed-with…’ time.  So why was I a little sad?  I really didn’t know.  It wasn’t a bad time, especially after Brighton, but I have so many fast friends it’s hard not to think you’re a little bit rubbish.

I’d really enjoyed the run, enjoyed the atmosphere and loved the Chaser support, it had been a brilliant day.  Plus, I genuinely don’t think I could have put more effort in, I couldn’t have tried any harder today, I had to be pleased with that.

I slowly made my way to the finisher area to wait for Zoe and hoped she would come in under her target time. When I saw her she looked in much better shape than I did at the finish and was really pleased with her time. I reckon she’s hooked!

Then it was a quick turnaround and off to the pub for Chasers marathon celebrations with cider and some sensible sambuka.  Another weekend, another marathon and another London medal, that’s pretty awesome right?!

Whatever happens, the London Marathon is always a special day.  It won’t be the last time I run it, not a chance.

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