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.
And my personal favourite: