Anyone can run a marathon. Honestly. (Practical tips and inspiration 👇🏻) #ukrunchat

Our local magazine asked me recently to submit a piece about my London Marathon experience, and I jumped at the chance because I’ve always said: “Anyone can run a marathon” and I truly believe that, so I hope my own experiences inspire others to undertake similar challenges.

However, lately on the Twitter community I’ve grown to love so much (namely #UKRunChat), there have been disturbed grumblings from some who don’t feel they can call themselves runners because they’re – in their words – slow. Some just feel that they’re not true runners. Even those that have run a marathon or further. Others have been made to feel that way by others. This makes me sad. And a bit angry.

So let’s clear this up once and for all. If you’re reading this blog, and even contemplating a marathon, you’re a runner. If you’ve been out for a run, you’re a runner. If you enjoy running – at whatever speed, you’re a runner! If you’re a member of a ‘jogging’ group or a running club, you’re a runner. Run/jog/fast/slow – it’s all just semantics. Who actually cares? And I’ve put the word ‘jogging’ in inverted commas because it carries such negative connotations in the running world, but what does it actually mean? In my opinion, if you go out there and put one foot in front of the other, and get a bit sweaty, and bloody enjoy it – you’re a runner, ok?

I’m glad we cleared that up.

I’m not a ‘natural’ runner; I was never athletic at school; I only took up running to get fit after I left university, but somehow I’ve become the person that inspires others to run, since setting up our village running club, Witham Runners, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. I’m definitely not fast (my official 5k PB remains unbroken at 25:17) but I count myself as a runner. Who cares what others may think; it certainly hasn’t stopped me. Every one of my 35 beginners who started our Learn to Run course a fortnight ago, and is run/walking, in determined fashion, to better themselves, to get fitter, to gain in personal confidence, is already a runner to me. And one of them has already asked me about the feasibility of completing her first marathon next year. To which I said (obviously): Yes! Go for it!

This year’s London Marathon was my 2nd. I ran the event last year – my first ever marathon – and what a learning curve that was. Hobbling over the finish line after months of training in the cold, wind, rain, hail, sleet and anything else the winter weather could throw at me; ecstatic, but exhausted; inspired but injured; I swore ‘Never again!’ However, fate had other ideas and a competition win offered me a free place in the London Marathon 2015. I couldn’t refuse, because many people try unsuccessfully for years in the ballot, or feel under pressure to raise thousands for charity in exchange for a place.

The London Marathon itself is an amazing experience. I’ve watched it on TV for years, so it’s a surreal experience knowing the world is watching you now. Lining up with the masses in Greenwich Park; trying to find the wackiest fancy dress runners to stand next to so you can spot yourself on the TV later (this year I found myself between a giant orange tent and a silver spaceman); running past all the sights – my favourites are the crowds at Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf; the weight of the finisher’s medal around your neck; and the knowledge that you’re in – depending which statistics you believe – a 1-2% minority of the population that is believed to have run a marathon.

There were things I didn’t expect from the marathon too; how mentally exhausting it is to listen to a deafening crowd of people constantly shout your name for however long it takes you to run a marathon (in my case 4 hours 31 minutes); how your body urges you to give up, sit down, lie down at around 23 miles, and how that aforementioned crowd spurs you on; the instant gratification of a jelly baby; the sheer range of emotions you experience from mile to mile; the incredible and instant muscle soreness once you stop; the tears of joy.

A marathon hurts, however much training you do, but somehow a marathon also feels good too. I said in my last blog post about London (here) that a marathon strips off all your layers one by one, like an onion. Insecurity. Doubt. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Worry. Until eventually it is just you and the road ahead, and all you feel is intense joy and freedom. I stand by this. I can’t honestly express how joyful I felt running through London, except to say I felt like the wind. I felt free, and happy. I had not a care in the world. I was fist pumping the air. I was so happy I wanted to cry. I wasn’t just a runner; I was superwoman! And you know what – I walked bits of it through the drinks stations. But that doesn’t make me any less of a runner.

So why then am I now retiring from marathon running for a few years, just like our own Paula Radcliffe? Training these past couple of years has taken up a huge amount of time and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it two years running. I alluded to this earlier; you don’t just run a marathon. You spend months training; much of it is on your own because your friends all think you’re crazy. Who in their right mind would give up their evenings and weekends for the best part of 5 months to go and run for 2, 3, sometimes 4 hours at a time? I was lucky this year because several other Witham Runners were training for their first marathon (3 at London and one at Milton Keynes) so to have training partners to share the long runs with made this year’s training feel so much easier.

However, for now my marathon experience will help as I continue on my training as a Coach in Running Fitness, to help others realise that they can do anything they set their minds to if they really believe they can.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whether you’ve run a marathon or many before, or whether you’re contemplating it. For now, here are some words of encouragement and advice from those within our #ukrunchat community who have run a marathon.

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And my personal favourite:

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London Calling: my 2nd London Marathon

Yesterday, I ran the London marathon for the 2nd time and it was amazing.

After my first marathon at London last year – which you can read about here – I thought I’d proven to myself that I could run a marathon and didn’t even enter the ballot for this year. However, London somehow lured me back. I accidentally entered a competition on Twitter (without realising) and heard in November that I had won a place in the 2015 London Marathon.

I was a little blasé about it this year, I confess. Because 2014 had been my first marathon year, the culmination of a dream I’d had for many years, this time round just didn’t feel as exciting. The fear that had shrouded my training for the first marathon wasn’t there either. I already knew I was capable, and so I wrote a training plan, and set about getting marathon fit again. My marathon this year became a bit of a joke amongst my friends when I told them I was doing it by accident, so I didn’t share my goal of a 4:30 marathon with anyone. I just quietly set about following my training plan, this time working hard on strength and conditioning, and nutrition, and doing lots of interval training. I only did 2 long runs this time round, of 18 and 19 miles and my other long runs were around the 12-15 miles mark at slightly slower than my half marathon pace, and lots of 8-10 mile tempo runs. I have to say however, I really enjoyed training this year, as many of my club mates were also training for half and full marathons, and company on those rainy, windy, winter nights made training an adventure, particularly the head-torch runs around our beautiful Lincolnshire countryside.

My friend Gemma was meant to come down to London to support me, but sadly she’s had the flu this past week which meant on Thursday I had to put into action our Emergency Babysitter Plan so my husband Dan could come to London with me instead. I couldn’t have gone alone, knowing how hard it was to hobble to the train station from The Mall last year, as well as my poor navigational skills (how would I have found my hotel??).

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I started the race this year in Greenwich Park, with the masses (last year both Dan and I were in the smaller blue start) and the amount of people at the start was a shock to the system. It took me 15 minutes just to cross the start line (and I did manage to spot myself on the highlights amongst the crowds, thanks to the man next to me dressed as a giant orange tent!) which gave me some time to gather my thoughts, and have a clear plan in my head, which was to keep it steady at 10:15 min/mile pace for the first 20 miles and then see what else my body had left for the last 6 miles. I also had a fuelling strategy for this year. I had 9 SIS carb gels with me, and I planned to take one every 3 miles. I had taken an extra gel luckily, because from 17 miles I decided to take them every two miles as my body started to tire.

The first 6 miles were quiet. The spectating crowd was restrained as they scanned the runners for the people they were there supporting. This gave me the perfect opportunity to get into my stride. After 3 miles I had found a comfortable, easy pace to stick to.

I knew Dan would be waiting for me at the Cutty Sark and I found him easily although he hadn’t seen me. I stopped for a kiss, and to graciously accept a jelly baby off the couple next to him who wished me well, then off I went knowing I only had 20 miles to go …

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Tower Bridge was the next big sight, just before the halfway point. I was really looking forward to getting there and I wasn’t disappointed. You approach Tower Bridge from a dark narrow street, and the bridge glistens tantalisingly at the end, in the sunshine. As you step into it, the noise is deafening! The crowd is 4 or 5 people deep and you can see all the sights of London. It’s truly wonderful. I had goosebumps as I crossed the bridge, and a huge smile on my face, and I felt very lucky to be a part of something so incredible once again. I knew I’d done the right thing, at that moment, coming back. As I turned the corner off Tower Bridge I soon passed the halfway point, bang on my target time of 2 hours 15.

Then my marathon had really begun. I ticked off 14 miles, 15 miles and 16 miles, mentally cursing each marker seemingly moving further away. I was looking forward to getting to Canary Wharf at mile 18 where I remembered the crowd being incredible last year, and more importantly marked two thirds of the marathon distance. I was not disappointed. Although building works this year meant the route through Canary Wharf was slightly different than usual, the whooping and cheering of the crowd echoing off the tall buildings is a real spirit lifter.

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I was starting to tire now and wanted to get to 20 miles. I kept telling myself, ‘Just over an hour’s running left now, not long. Keep moving forward.’ I said ‘well done’ to a chap dressed as Pamela Anderson’s Baywatch character who looked like he was suffering extreme chafing at the thong of his swimming costume, and suddenly, there was the 20 mile marker. I couldn’t believe I’d got there so quickly. This marathon was almost over. Suddenly my senses were heightened. I was sensitive to everybody in the crowd, those whose eyes were upon me made an emotional connection with me for those last few miles. I’d catch someone’s eye, they’d send out some words of encouragement – ‘Looking good Michelle’, ‘Come on Michelle’, ‘Looking strong Michelle’, Keep going Michelle’ – and suddenly I was flying! I felt amazing. The crowd really does give you a boost when you need it most, shaking jelly babies, blowing whistles, playing music. I love how bands and Morris dancer come out to entertain runners and the spectating crowd, pubs employ their best karaoke singers, firefighters get their hoses out. It is one 26.2 mile long street party!

Contrary to last year, I had an enormous smile on my face for those last 6 miles. It still hurt, but somehow a marathon also feels good too. I always tell people to challenge themselves, in order to grow. And a marathon does this by stripping off all your layers one by one, like an onion. Insecurity. Doubt. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Worry. Until eventually it is just you and the road ahead, and all you feel is intense joy and freedom. I can’t honestly express how joyful I felt yesterday, running along past the 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 mile markers except to say I felt like the wind. I felt free, and happy. I had not a care in the world. I was fist pumping the air. I was so happy I wanted to cry. I saw the UKRunChat cheering point at 21.5 miles, and the Epilepsy Research UK team at 24.5 miles. And suddenly there was Big Ben. And I sped up. Where on earth was this energy coming from? I was overtaking people. I could hear the crowd roaring my name, like a celebrity, as I passed them. I turned the corner at Buckingham Palace, and gave it my all for that final 400 metres, crossing the finish line with an enormous smile on my face. I had done it. Again. 20 minutes quicker in fact! Last year wasn’t a fluke; I truly am a marathon runner. I had run it in 4 hours, 31 minutes and 24 seconds. I’m claiming it as a 4:30 marathon because of the smooch I stole off my husband earlier at the Cutty Sark … I am retiring from marathon running for a few years now, just like our own Paula Radcliffe, because training does take up a huge amount of time and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it two years running.

So this is where I pass the baton and set you all a challenge. If you want to feel superhuman, go and run a marathon. And if you want to experience Britain at its most generous-spirited, choose the London Marathon. The ballot opens on May 4th. Go and experience it for yourselves.

I’ll finish with something I said yesterday: Always challenge yourself. You are capable of extraordinary things when you believe in the impossible.

Thank you. My sponsorship page is still open and receiving donations: www.justgiving.com/beatepilepsy

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Getting the best out of Twitter

Twitter is a bit like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. I usually get a very divided response when I ask somebody if they’re on Twitter or not. I am a self-confessed Twitter addict, but I still remember setting up my account on there and looking in bewilderment at the unique language it uses, the confusion at #hashtags and the procrastination over how to paraphrase my thoughts into 140 characters. However, I suspect that those who claim to ‘hate’ Twitter have just never learned to use it properly, so I thought I’d share my top tips for learning to love Twitter.

NB I’ve been asked to deliver some training to my business colleagues, so have put together this post with business in mind. However, the same rules apply if you are using Twitter personally.

Don’t measure your success by followers.
Many people consider Twitter the best free broadcast tool in social media, and use it for shameless self-promotion to their hundreds of thousands of followers. However, unless you’re a verified celebrity, this approach generally doesn’t work for average Joe or Jane. Twitter is not just about getting followers. The most effective Twitter users tweet about human interest 80% of the time and only 20% of their tweets are self-promotional.

So … instead, find your niche.
Follow those people who are interested in the same things you are. And then interact with them! If you chat to them, they are likely to tweet back, and follow you back. Then you can gain their trust and get to know them a little better as you build your own brand identity.

Find a community on Twitter that you can get involved in to help you find people to follow: there are many business hours on Twitter now that you can get involved in to introduce yourself to the local community and promote your business (still remembering the 80/20 rule). There are also many other communities you can engage with. The trick is finding them. Twitter is a big place.

Use hashtags to help users looking for tweets about a certain topic, but use them sparingly!

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Be genuine.
Make sure you write a bio about yourself, and include a good photograph (not a drunken selfie or a picture of your toddler). People buy people. The first thing I always do when I get a new follower is have a look at their biography and read their latest tweets to see if I want to see more of them on my timeline. You don’t have to follow everybody who follows you. Use a bit of common sense and quality control, and you’ll have a much more fun Twitter experience.

Secondly, tweet things that are relevant to you or your product, and that you are genuinely interested in. Your passion will shine through, and people are drawn to that.

Engage.
If somebody sends you a tweet, ALWAYS reply. Say thank you if somebody retweets something of yours. If somebody complains, follow them then ask them to send you a direct message so you can resolve their issue. If it’s an insult, try to remedy it, but sometimes it is better just to ignore or block.

Many people use automated social media schedulers to send tweets on their behalf, which is a perfectly acceptable way of managing a Twitter account you don’t want to take over your whole day. However, ensure you do check in regularly to make sure you reply to anybody who has interacted with you. My pet hate is accounts which send automated direct messages to new followers, usually starting with “Hey!” (I’m cringing, now.) And please don’t set up your account to post automatically from your Facebook page. Twitter and Facebook have completely different uses and audiences, so you can’t apply the same rules to both. It’s lazy, and the majority of people don’t like it.

Don’t believe everything you read.
The internet, including Twitter, is full of lots of information. It is a wonderful place. However, this doesn’t mean all of it is true. Don’t blindly retweet things: always research first or seek professional advice. Don’t retweet links without checking out the links yourself first.

Remember that Twitter is a public place.

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Be polite. Never say anything you wouldn’t say out loud. Think before you tweet. Have respect for others: just because you can’t see the person you are tweeting, they still have feelings. Don’t argue – you’ll never win. Never SHOUT WITH CAPITALS. Always credit any photos or quotes you share back to the original person who shared them. And please, please, please, always proof-read your tweets before you send them.

In case I’ve missed anything, I also asked my own Twitter community to share their top tips with me, and here are some of my favourites.

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Lastly, have fun and be yourself! Twitter IS a fun place to be once you know how to use it properly. However, it’s not the real world, so don’t rely on it too much, and make sure you get out and engage for real. Sometimes the two worlds do collide – I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some great people I met through Twitter in the real world too.

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If you’re interested in running, health, fitness, marketing, crafting and the odd ranty tweet, feel free to follow me @shellmoby

Carry on Camping

I haven’t blogged about Slo Flo, our converted camper bus, yet but I’m pretty sure everyone knows about her. She’s an old Talbot six-wheeled bus that’s been converted to look like a wood-panelled chalet inside by her previous owners. She is our ticket to adventure.

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We took her away for her first camping trip down to Hornchurch, in Essex, at the end of August, to compete in a 24 hour trail race, but this week we decided to take her away for our first proper family holiday. For a while we have envied the carefree lifestyle of motor home owners, pitching up at a new place every night, having adventures. We booked a pitch in a Peak District campsite for two nights, planning to see what happened and maybe do another few nights elsewhere. The reality was a harsh lesson.

What I learned about camping:
Camping in September is cold. Damp cold that wraps itself around your bones. I do not tolerate the cold very well. The hairdryer in the toilet block was 20p well spent, with hot gleeful blasts between my many clothing layers. Camping in September is also muddy, particularly with a dog and a toddler.

Speaking of the dog; she loves camping. She is in her element. Her humans, Alpha (Him), Beta (Me) and Gamma (Baby) are staying in a field. They are being more dog. Although this does mean she will spend every camping trip whining incessantly because you are in a field ergo it is the dog’s canine right to chase a ball/frisbee/squirrel continuously.

A motor home, while a dream, is effectively a small bedsit on wheels. We chose our bus over a smaller camper van because of the extra space it afforded, but having to make your 6mx2m space your bedroom, kitchen, dining room, playroom and lounge is a skill that takes a lot of experience and preparation. I think this is why everything takes so long! The first day, despite being up at 7am we didn’t eat breakfast until 10:30! By 2pm I was actually begging for chips, so we packed up early and left, opting to go home to our beds instead of spend another cold night in a field. Did I mention the cold?

What this trip has brought us however is the opportunity for some quality time as a family. There is generally no wifi or 3G in campsites off the beaten track, which means no distracting tech. No TV. We did bring some films but mostly we read books and chatted. We had packed the bikes so had a means to get off the campsite easily. However, I can understand why some motor home tourers tow small cars behind them. We had chosen an isolated campsite, and with the nearest chip shop five miles away, my plea for chips just did not materialise.

On the other hand though, our relative isolation meant we could really see the stars. I’m lucky to live in Lincolnshire where the skies are relatively dark, but in the glorious isolation of the Peaks they really shone. We camped on the outskirts of London for our first trip with the bus, when we did the Spitfire Scramble race. It wasn’t even dark at night. The stars were obscured with a cloudy, light-stained smog. Out in the Peak District this weekend, the stars shone in abundance, and the harder I looked, the more I could see.

I did enjoy our night away, but we’ve made A LOT of notes about improvements we need to make to the bus over the winter period so she’s ready for next summer. We’ve also learned a lot about how to become more proficient campers.

I sense many adventures ahead in Slo Flo; but first, to get over my tolerance of the British damp.

The highs and lows of running

I’ve been stuck in a bit of a running rut lately, and I’ve been tough on myself because of it. Plagued by an Achilles injury since the London marathon, and the inevitable slowing down that happens to me over the summer months due to my hayfever causing chestiness and wheezing, it’s been making me pretty miserable. I haven’t been able to keep up with my old training pals, who are setting faster PBs, and I seem to have slowed down and lost fitness. Coupled with the fact that I am in the middle of training to be a running Coach, feeling like I can’t run at the moment is doing nothing for my confidence.

I’ve realised this month however that running naturally goes in peaks and troughs. Top coaches talk about training towards your natural peaks in performance, and advise you to book races at your fitness peaks. For me, running is what now defines me (although I challenge anybody who knew me during my first 25 years not to snort with laughter at this) and feeling like I can’t do it anymore makes me miserable and frustrated. However, I’ve noticed a pattern. In the past 4 years, my running has gone like this:

Summer 2010: tentatively take up running (again, after dipping in and out over the past few years) very slowly at first.
Autumn 2010: start up my running club and fall in love with it. Set some new PBs.
Winter 2010/11: get injured due to overtraining and bad shoes
Spring 2011: get back to running slowly
Summer 2011: love, LOVE, LOVE running. Discover the trails.
Autumn 2011: Discover speed work. Enter some longer races and set some PBs
Winter 2011/12: feel in the shape of my life.
Spring 2012: set my fastest time ever at a half marathon.
Summer 2012: train most days, including cross training (focused on my first triathlon)
Autumn 2012: discover I am pregnant. Slow my running down and reduce intensity and frequency
Winter 2012/13: running, what’s that again?
Spring 2013: give birth to my daughter. Running is furthest from my mind. However, somehow I enter the ballot for the London marathon. Am I nuts?
Summer 2013: back to running slowly, discover the joy of Parkrun and enjoy setting some new PBPBs (post-baby PBs)
Autumn 2013: find out they’ve let me into the London marathon. Run one of my slowest half marathon ‘races’ ever. Feel like I’ll never achieve that 26.2
Winter 2013/14: Train, train, train. Especially in the wind and the rain and the hail. Get FAST over mid-distances.
Spring 2014: complete my first marathon. I am superwoman. But I am also broken. Lose my mojo for a while.
Summer 2014: after limping around and experiencing the worst post-race blues of my life, I find my mojo on the trails. I can’t keep up with my old training buddies though, after I went solo for marathon training.

So where am I now? I’ve realised looking at the peaks and troughs of the last four years where my running has naturally peaked and dipped. I’ve drawn a little diagram just to help you see my journey in full technicolour. (Yes, I drew this. I’m a runner, not an artist.)

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I’m just coming out of a dip now, and I’m drawing a line under all that has gone previously. I’m certainly not marathon fit now. My Achilles feels better though, and I feel like I can focus on my half marathon in four weeks time. I’ll be training smarter, doing some cross-training on the bike and with cardio and strength exercises, and running no more than 4 times a week. And most importantly, I’m no longer going to compare myself to others, or to my former self.

Running, I will always love you, but sometimes we drift apart for a while. Like any relationship, we experience ups and downs. I feel that when we can get through the bad times together, we come out stronger. We’re ready for a great autumn and winter, let’s do this!

Letters to my daughter: time is precious

I promised myself I would write in your diary regularly as you grow up, but the truth is, time flies when you’re having fun and before I have even realised it, you’re already 16 months old, and I’m looking back shamefully at the blank pages and unwritten entries. It’s an old cliché, but it’s true. You’re growing into a beautiful little girl before my eyes, and while I am bursting with pride at every new thing you learn, it also makes me a little sad that you have to grow up so quickly.

Time is slipping away like sand through a timer. You are already so independent, a walking, yelling, giggling, screeching, tantruming toddler. You rarely let me feed you any more, preferring to master the art of using a fork yourself. You stomp about the house, you pout, you tantrum, but even this is endearing because I can see the characteristics of your dad and me in there. You are starting to say words – mostly ‘Noooooo’ accompanied by an emphatic head shake – at my earnest requests to have a bath or go to bed. Or eat something other than cheese. Your dad records the cute noises you make as you try out different combinations of consonants and syllables. You understand most of what we say to you now. You and our dog Bella have a special relationship; one of understanding and solidarity. We play games, we go for walks with Bella, we go swimming, we visit play groups, we have fun days out with friends. We have a lot of fun,

I sometimes lie in bed, after another whirlwind of a day has ended, and cry because I am so full of love for you as you are right now, and I need time to slow down so that I can bestow it all upon you. And this love doesn’t run out, there’s no point me saving it for tomorrow, because it grows exponentially with every second. I think to myself on at least a weekly basis, that THIS is the best stage of your development, but it just gets better and better.

I wish I could bottle every second with you. As you get older, I’ll encourage you to stay a child as long as you can. The world we live in encourages premature wisdom but please don’t rush to grow up. It may seem like I am saying this selfishly, so that you will sit on my lap just a little longer, but I want you to look back on your childhood with fond memories and know that as a family we made the most of our time. Your dad and I have just bought a bus. She’s called Slo Flo, and we are busy renovating her so we can go on our first camping trip this summer. I’m excited about us making some happy memories in her. You’re already pretty handy with a screwdriver.

Motherhood has completely overwhelmed me. As you know, I gave up work so I could spend these precious few years with you, and my expectations have been completely surpassed. Before you arrived, I used to wonder how I would fill my days on maternity leave, but you showed me the way, and your presence fosters a kindness, generosity and love that I never thought I was capable of.

Thank you my darling.

I dreamed a dream of marathons

I ran the London marathon this week. How mad does that sound? I still can’t quite believe it.

Ten years ago I set myself a very wishy washy goal that I would run a marathon before I was 30. At that time, I was a very different person. Still young at 24, and not really knowing who I was or what I was capable of, I had recently taken up running half-heartedly, in a bid to lose weight after gorging myself on all manner of Italian food while I was working out there. I had completed a Race for Life, then a couple of 10ks, and then signed up for a Great North Run to which I neither fully committed, nor trained for. It was a horrible experience which I only completed in 2 hours 35 minutes because I had Dan by my side (and the marvellous Red Arrows for the last mile). Nonetheless I went on to face the same nemesis for two consecutive years.

In the spring of that third year of running, in 2004, I went to support Dan in his very first marathon in London. As a spectator, I was immediately hooked on the energy of this magnificent race and decided I would love to do it one day. Then I promptly forgot about it. I graduated from university, Dan and I got married, and moved to Lincolnshire to start a new life. Running took a backseat, until the summer of 2010 when I decided to take the first tentative steps to running again. Over the summer I fell in love with it, and in the autumn I set up a running group in my village with my husband and two of our friends to inspire others to love running too. One other person turned up that first night, and gradually we grew into Witham Runners and a hub of our community. People began to refer to me as ‘the running lady’. I somehow gained credibility as a coach, so I took qualifications. Running was a big part of my life.

Fast forward two years, and three half marathons later, and I decided to enter the London ballot for 2013. Then, over a glass of wine with two of my running friends, we made a back up plan and entered the 2012 Chester marathon. I drew up a training plan, we started our endurance training, and then I discovered I was pregnant. Once again the marathon dream was put on hold, although I continued to support the long run training from the relative comfort of my mountain bike. I watched my friends and my husband complete the Chester marathon, cheering them on as a member of the race crew. One week later, my husband’s knee in bits from the pounding of the Cheshire roads, our postman brought news from London. Fate apparently knew I was pregnant and I didn’t have a place in London 2013. Dan, however, did. He made a very sensible decision to defer his place to 2014, based on his injury and the fact we would have a newborn, which would mean little time or energy for training.

In March 2013, my daughter Allegra was born. By that point, I was a frustrated runner, who had been out of action for 5 months, keen to put my trainers back on. Six weeks later I entered the London marathon ballot, this time to support my husband. If 2014 was going to be my marathon year, fate would decide. Then a week later, I began running again. 20 minutes the first time, feeling like I would burst open my lungs and my c-section scar. Gradually, I built my strength and endurance back up to a half marathon in October. Then news from London once again dropped into my letter box. I had a place. The hotel was already booked. Dan was already in, with his place from 2013.

2014 is the year that Dan will tell you I became a different person. I drew strength from some invisible force inside me. I was running six, sometimes seven times a week. Throughout the winter, I would regularly rise at 5:30 to go out and run before the baby woke up and Dan had to get ready for work. I learned to run on my own, something I had never before enjoyed and was the reason I had started our running group. Dan spent six weeks out of the country with work, and somehow, I stuck to my training plan, fitting my long runs in around friends and family who offered to babysit. If it was blowing a gale, or dropping hailstones on me, it didn’t matter; it was my opportunity to run and learn to be stronger. If I had to drive the 280 mile round trip to my mum’s so she could look after Allegra for me while I ran, I did. It has taken a village and a huge support network to train for this marathon, and for that I am thankful.

Sunday 13th April 2014
The two weeks leading up to the marathon had been stressful; I won’t lie. Judgement day was inevitably close, and I was frustrated with excess energy from tapering. I admit I had actually worried I may die during the marathon. I’m completely serious, and I now know a fellow runner did collapse on the day and subsequently die in hospital, so this wasn’t an irrational fear of mine; I absolutely respect the marathon as a serious endurance event. For me, it wasn’t a fun run, it was a test of my physical and mental limits, so it was a relief to be finally standing at the blue start where I could let go of all my worries and just get on with it at last. Dan and I said our goodbyes as we entered our separate pens, and I stood with thousands of unknown kindred spirits, soaking up the atmosphere; silent, meditative, calm and resolved. I heard the race start. We shuffled forward slowly for around ten minutes, then at last I saw the start and I began to run.

Already, people were shouting my name: “Go on, Shell,” “Good luck, Shell” and I felt brilliant! I waved to them. I gave them the thumbs up. I high fived a load of kids. What an incredible high! Then I immediately stopped at a portaloo for a wee, where I had a little chat with some ladies in the queue who were also having the same pre-race nerves.

3 miles. We merged with the red start, and I had settled into a good, comfortable pace at ten minutes per mile. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and it was a fellow runner from my club back home. An early boost to see a friendly face.

6 miles. I could hear the crowd noise increasing and I could sense we were getting close to the Cutty Sark. I had been looking forward to this section, as I knew it would be full of energy, and I was not disappointed. The crowd was five or six deep, and I was on a total high, getting a buzz every time somebody shouted my name. I took a selfie here, which conveys my joyful mood.

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I can’t really remember the bit after the Cutty Sark. I just got lost in thought and was focused on reaching Tower Bridge, another 6 miles away. I felt good though. My legs felt strong, I was feeling confident. I took on sips of water at every station, ran though the showers on route, including the hosepipes held by thoughtful firemen …

Then I turned a corner, and there was Tower Bridge. Wow. It looked amazing in the bright sunshine, all glistening and glorious. I remember looking at my watch at this point, my thoughts flitting to the men’s elite race, and thinking Mo Farah must have just about finished his race. Then my phone rang. It was Dan. ‘How are you feeling?’ he asked. ‘Strong,’ I replied, ‘You?’ ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ he confided. It turns out he was at the 16 mile point, having set off with a friend of ours chasing a sub 4-hour PB until his glutes started cramping at mile 10. The intense sunshine wasn’t helping. We agreed to keep in touch and speak in another few miles or so.

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I had by this point reached the halfway point, and gave myself a mental high-five. I was just counting down the miles now until the finish. I looked forward to reaching Canary Wharf in another 6 miles, where I knew I would see the UKRunChat cheer point for a boost from my fellow Twitter users who had given me a lot of support over the past few months throughout my training.

14 miles. I could feel myself starting to tire. I took another gel and a sports drink, and ran on, but I was started to experience Runner Rage. I was feeling annoyed at the bottlenecks on the route as the crowd took up half the road, forcing runners to squeeze through a smaller gap and trip over each other. It was messing with my running stride. Other runners were knocking my elbows as they overtook. A few tripped me up with their feet. For three miles I gritted my teeth and bit my tongue, although a few sweary words may have escaped under my breath. Dig in, dig in, I told myself. You’ll get through this in a bit. I couldn’t hear the crowd anymore. I was looking inward, while watching the arms and feet of other runners to avoid them.

18 miles. I saw the towering buildings of Canary Wharf. The field of runners seemed to have spread out all of a sudden and I had some room again. Wow. My anger was forgotten and I could feel my spirits lifting again. I felt like I was flying as I entered the echoing space amongst the reflective office buildings. The noise from the spectators was incredible. My mood soared, and suddenly I was superwoman again, flying through the twists and turns of the most exciting part of the route. It was so busy! Once again, everybody was yelling my name. I was whooping, I was clapping, I was cheering, I was grinning, I was invincible! I remember urgently scanning the crowd for our UKRunChat banners, and then, just after the 19 mile point, I saw them, and ran over to them like some possessed madwoman. Bear in mind I chat to these guys on Twitter, and I had only met a couple of them for the first time the previous evening at a carb loading meal, so I didn’t really know them, but I was quite free with the sweaty hugs (sorry guys!) and I posed for what has become my favourite race picture from the day. I look so excited by the whole marathon experience, and it portrays my feelings perfectly. (Thanks @crouchendcoops)

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Boosted, I ran on, and phoned Dan again as I made a loo stop. He was at 21 miles. He was suffering. I had just had a gel, a hug from some awesome Twitter people, and I was Superwoman, remember? I was going to save him! I ran on, knowing my husband needed me. I scanned the runners ahead, looking for his luminous yellow T-shirt. I grabbed two gels at the next fuel station; one for me and one for Dan. I was on a mission to find my husband and carry him to the finish line on my shoulders if I had to. 20 miles, 21 miles, no sign of him. I slowed to a walk and tried ringing him, but there was no answer. I tried to run again. Owwwww, suddenly my glutes didn’t work. I felt like they had cramped up, packed up and refused to move. I gave them a massage (appreciate that may have looked weird) and tried to run again. It hurt. I was still scanning the runners ahead for him. 22 miles. At this point I began to cry. I wanted desperately to find Dan and give him a hug. I was aware of spectators shouting my name as I walked/hobbled/attempted to run on, with tears streaming down my face, and snot bubbling, but I was lost inside myself. I wanted to reach the 23 mile point, where I knew I had some friends waiting for a much needed boost. As I turned a corner, I spied a lady holding out pieces of banana and took one, yelling my thanks as I willed my legs and my glutes into a run again. This time I was Banana(wo)man! To the rescue!

I was now on the home straight, I knew. We entered a tunnel, and I remember seeing enormous great balloons with motivational messages on them. Pain is temporary. Glory is forever. Enjoy the moment. You are so close. Never give up. I was tripping on sensory overload at this point and had fallen into a kind of running coma where I felt totally alone, and I think I took them as a personal message to me from some higher force. But they worked so much that I missed the 23 and 24 mile markers completely and I was suddenly able to draw energy from the crowd as I ran out again into the sunshine on Embankment. I suddenly saw two friendly faces, Nicki and Laura, two very good friends of mine who had come to spectate. I burst into tears when I saw them and stopped for a hug and some more banana as I composed myself for the last leg, then I ran on.

As I approached Big Ben, I remember speaking to Dan on the phone again. I was crying properly at this point, huge gasping tears rolling down my face as I gathered every last drop of energy from my body to finish this marathon. Dan told me he was waiting for me just before the finish so we could cross the line together and a huge relief washed over me, but I was so overcome with the need to preserve every ounce of energy to run, that I remember shouting at him not to ring again because it was taking too much effort! The photo I took of myself at this point doesn’t really convey my absolute misery. I felt spent, but I remember thinking to myself that I could walk the last bit and still make it back within the 5 hour mark, and this thought somehow spurred me onto run again. I turned the corner at the Houses of Parliament into Birdcage Walk for what would become The Longest Half Mile of My Life.

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800m to go. I wiped the snot and tears off my face. I was weaving from side to side of the road, trying to see ahead to the top of Birdcage Walk.

600m to go. I saw the St John’s Ambulance team assisting an injured runner at the roadside. I composed myself.

And then I saw him! I could see Dan standing at the 400m to go sign. I ran to him and burst into tears again. He held my hand and pointed to Buckingham Palace, and then the finish line. I had run a bloody marathon in 4 hours, 50 minutes and 43 seconds. I can’t believe I actually did it.

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I am crying now just writing this. I never used to be a runner. If you’re reading this, and thinking you could never do this, you’re wrong. We are all capable, and extraordinary, and I know this now. Training for this marathon has had a profound impact on me; I feel a different, stronger, gutsier person for it, and I would encourage every one of you to challenge yourself with something you never thought yourself capable of, because you will be a better person for it.

I am raising money for Ataxia UK http://www.justgiving.com/shellsmarathon Thank you to all those who have given so generously.

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