My marathon experince
So where do I start? For the past 5 years now I have wanted to complete a marathon. My journey began by wanting to lose weight after putting on a stone after I quit smoking. Plus I was in need of sorting myself out, I had bad anxiety and suffered with many seizures, I heard exercise was good for getting them endorphins working and making you feel good about yourself, so why not give it a try? (I can say from experience it really does!)
Man, that first run was hard! Well I don’t think running ever gets easier, you just learn how to cope with it and carry on. So much of running is mental strength rather than physical, you learn so much about your own limits and how to run through them. I started to enjoy running and yes my anxiety and seizures seemed to get better, I have never looked back.
I started with a 5k race, this gave me the bug to do more. The atmosphere and the buzz I got from passing that finish line were amazing. Why not a half marathon? I have now completed 7 half marathons. During this time I have entered London 5 times and had no luck. I told myself this year if I didn’t get a place I would pay and do Paris, before my love for running died, or my legs gave in and I wouldn’t be able to run anymore.
As this had been a big dream of mine I set out to want to do it properly and train hard. I bought many books and researched lots of information on how best it was to achieve my goal. A friend told me about a guy named Hal Higdon, I bought his book and looked at his running programs. This guy has run 111 marathons and his advice and strategies were very helpful. He wrote about overtraining, sore muscles, falling ill, different training sessions and having that goal. I definitely had that goal! I wanted to run as best as I could and be as fit as I could be, from this I can plan my training.
I looked into my diet also and what was best to eat and when, to really help me achieve this. Faster Foods, Carb loading and getting the right amount of nutrients and vitamins my body needed to train daily. I already had a good diet but I must admit my knowledge for carbs was not great. One thing I have learnt from this experience is the body needs carbs! You hear so much about how you should eat lots of protein for the muscle, but carbs are usuaaly the bad guy! They are actually an essential part of any training program as they provide the energy you need to train and recover, inadequate amount of carbohydrates equates to lack of strength increase or muscle gain. Carbs are your bodies preferred fuel source and our body needs around 60% of them to be able to function properly. I read up about how people stopped drinking alcohol during training, to make sure their body was at its best. Again as I wanted to do this properly I did say to myself that I too would knock alcohol on the head for 6 months while training, (Really?!)
The plan I liked the best was Hal Higdon Novice 2 program. This consisted of:
- Monday – Rest day
- Tuesday – Intervals Sprints, 400m (Hal Higdon only recommends doing around 400m, no more, as it is a sprint, running at your maximum effort! Over this it then does not become a sprint.)
- Wednesday – Pace race, starting at 5 miles, which increased every few weeks.
- Thursday – 3- 4 -5 mile run depending on the run I did the day before but at a slow pace.
- Friday – Rest day
- Saturday – Long Run
- Sunday - Spin
(I did change things a little to suit me)
So I have all the information I needed and had my program ready to start. In the back of my head I was ready and was looking forward to the journey that awaited me. What I didn’t know was how much of my plan would change and no matter how determined you are, life can get in the way, effecting things you don’t prepare for.
My Journey began and I must admit at the beginning with the short miles getting ticked off my sheet from week to week I was feeling on top of the world. I had two friends that joined me for my Saturday run (long run), which man did I need and was very thankful for, especially near the end of my training and running over the 12 miles I had never done before. They really encouraged me and kept me going. I think I would have struggled a lot more if I was to do them alone.
During my interval training another friend joined me, she too had a half marathon booked and was aiming for a PB. I loved this part of my training and boy was it tough, but made you feel great after. I really noticed it helped build my fitness level and speed. Interval training is the most efficient workout for developing speed, which is success in running, regardless of the distance you are aiming for. It is great way to stretch out those leg muscles and learn to lengthen your stride.
I soon started to find things hard! I noticed a massive difference within my body shape, losing a lot of the muscle I had built in the upper body previously, as my training plan had changed. Focusing more now on just my legs. This was due to not having the time around my program, home life and work to fit in extra training I used to do before. My Long runs became tough as I found I was running them on tired legs from the mid week training. This helped me decide to change Thursday run to a Kettlebell session. I was really missing the upper body workouts and runners need more than just strong legs. Strength within the arms and core are also very important. When tired during running arm drive and activating the core really helps to carry you along, giving you that strength for them extra miles.
I started to find balancing life very hard, snacking on the wrong foods. I was so hungry all the time and due to being tired and busy I occasionally grabbed the wrong snacks, e.g. biscuits, cakes, crisps etc. People think, “well your training hard so why not?” (Which to be honest is the way I look at training) I do enjoy food and as I have mentioned in previous blogs everything in moderation but I started to put weight on, yes some muscle mass but some fat too! This I hated as I wanted to be at my fittest, aiming for that good time, when adding on that extra weight it could hinder me achieving my goal. This showed me that food prep is worth doing if you have the time. This is something I will definitely start to add within my weekly routine from now on and recommend if you have a busy lifestyle this is key.
My no alcohol rule soon changed too!! This though was a decision I was happy with and knew could not hinder me too much as long as I kept myself hydrated. I never drank during the week, only allowing myself a few glasses on a Saturday night. (This however did not apply when on holiday!) I do think I went into destruct mode on holiday! Again I was very tired, stressed with juggling work, kids, house renovation and my studies. One thing my books did not prepare me for and help me to deal with or manage. I do think though the holiday I needed just before the marathon, it gave me that time to rest and think before my big event.
The runs themselves... how to explain??
I had some really tough runs and some easy ones. My first 20 miles for instance, wow, I loved it and felt so strong and my second was a disaster!! My first I felt on top of the word, I felt like superwoman and anything was possible. Keeping to a steady pace all the way round, never stopping! Only struggling slightly at mile 19 but wanting to carry on after when I got to 20! I now wish I had. This proved to me that my training was paying off and I was going to do this!
So many factors go towards the outcome of a run; Weather, time of day, how well you have fuelled before you run, hormones and so on. The day of my bad 20 miles I ran in the afternoon before lunch, so I was not really fuelled enough for the 20 miles ahead. Also I was used to running first thing in the morning with a good breakfast inside me. The weather was cold and wet which I really struggled with. My lungs hurt, which made it hard for me to control my breathing. From not being able to breathe through my nose very well, I have always had to use deep breathing through my mouth to run. In a result of this on this particular day I ended up hyperventilating, due to irregular breathing patterns. Luckily my friend managed to help me and calm me down allowing me to struggle on for the next 5 miles. This was the first day I came home and sobbed on the sofa for about 30 minutes! I was cold, wet and hungry. I learnt many lessons from this and it taught me to embrace the benefits of bad runs. Again advice and peoples kind words pulled me through to pick myself up and carry on. Knowing training for a marathon would never be easy.
“Relish the bad training runs, without them it’s difficult to recognise, much less appreciate the good ones.”
So the day had arrived. I woke at 4am, not being able to go back to sleep as my mind was going overtime, have I brought the right socks? What if I fail? I got myself up at 5 and sat in the living room, waiting for the time for breakfast. The morning then seemed to go very fast. It was a hot day, temperature of over 20 degrees. I very nearly wore a long sleeved top as the day before had been freezing. (So glad I never!!)
I met up with my cousin who to was running Paris that day and we joined the start line. I felt so mixed of emotions, nervous, pressure, excited and overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The countdown began... 10, 9, 8... The gun fired and off we went. I struggled at the start with the heat, the sun beaming down on my face. I had some great advice from my cousin the day before and that was to make sure you fuelled enough during the race and not to wait until you were tired before eating a jelly baby or gel. This I took on board and it really helped me to feel strong and consistent throughout the race. I made the decision straight away that at every station I would drink lots and eat when I needed to. Man all I can say is thank god for cut up oranges!! They helped me in a massive way, really quenching my thirst and giving me that extra boost of energy. So if I had any advice to give to others planning on running a marathon, I too would say the same.
The atmosphere during the marathon was amazing, bands at every few miles and people cheering you on. I felt so over whelmed I wanted to cry at mile 3! The feeling of butterflies of excitement and nerves in the pit of my stomach I found hard to channel at first. It took me a while to control them and every now and again they would come back. I kept thinking of everyone tracking me back home, which gave me the determination to keep going.
We were late at getting started which resulted in Mike missing me at the miles he had planned to see me at. His app wasn’t working very well which tracked me, so once he got to each mile he thought he had missed me. I didn’t see him until mile 17! I was so happy when I finally saw him. I did throw my arms around him and have a small cry, this then gave me that extra boost I needed to finish the race, all going very well.
Then my little toe!!!! OUCH is all I can say. I was at mile 22 and felt a sharp pain within my little toe. It made me shout out and limp for at least half a mile or more. I had no idea what I had done but knew it was painful. It felt like I had something between my toe and even though it may sound very farfetched now, I thought my little toes was coming off! I did contemplate having to stop and take my trainer off to see what I had done, so glad I never did! I definitely wouldn’t have got going again, having legs of lead! Adrenaline must have kicked in or the pain had just stopped as I managed to forget the pain and carry on running. I did stop a few times between mile 24-26, having people shout words of encouragement at me to carry on. Blood had started to come through my trainer so was dreading to take off my shoe, a lot going through my head! (so glad it was just a blood blister that had burst!)
I came to my last leg and could see the finish line in sight; I had a burst of energy and managed to sprint to the end. The feeling of relief, emotion and accomplishment was hitting me all at the same time. I had a few tears and had to call my parents. I had a lady tell me I was her focus for the last few miles, which made me feel proud and glad to have helped. I cannot really put into words how amazing I felt once I had finished. I was just blown away at the fact I had finally completed my first marathon, a dream of mine for so many years, I could finally tick it off my list! J How far I had come from being that anxious girl who would never leave her front door or get on a bus! It has taught me anyone can do anything they put their mind too!!
From my experience the only thing that was constant during my training and the marathon itself was the support I had from my friends and Family. Poor Mike deserves a medal too I think for putting up with me these past 6 months. Being tired and stressed a lot of the time, never seeing much of each other, due to when he was home I was working or out running. One massive thing I have learnt is how lucky I am to have such supporting friends and family along with the best partner/Friend I could wish for.
So many highs and lows I have gone through and I did say I would only ever do one... well maybe just one more?! :)