At some point in the spring my new Maidenhead running buddies persuaded me to sign up for the New Forest Marathon. (Please note the lack of ownership of this decision.) The idea was it would be different to any other, on trails (I love running near trees!) and fun to be at an event with friends. Training for an autumn Marathon has the benefits of the longer days and the warmer UK weather. Waking up for a 6am Sunday long run isn't quite as bad when it's already light. Having two girls under the age of 5 and two jobs meant that I rely on getting the long run done early on the weekend and buggy running in the week.
So my training plan began. I was loosely following a plan a friend had passed on, and knew I wanted to do a weekly speed session plus long run with some shorter ones peppered in between. The only certainty was the long run mileage, the rest was all flexible! At the start of the week I would put a Post-It next to my computer with the weeks schedule.
My friend Laura actually had a 'proper' training plan so we tended to meet up on a Monday night and do her designated speed session with anyone else who was about. In the summer we used a grass track at the local school (this felt much kinder to my body than the local running track) and then the roads to do some fartlek work or 1 mile reps. The Monday night timing worked for our families schedules but was less ideal when I had done a long run on the Sunday.
I continued to do a weekly Personal Training session (also shared with Laura) in order to work on my strength. I was coming back from an injury to my foot which had meant I was unable to run for 4 months earlier this year. A massive blow for someone who runs a business based on running!
My mid week runs were buggy runs, (double or single) including at parkrun. Although buggy running is harder, it means I go slower which isn't always a bad thing when it comes to the mid week mileage. I suspected one of the reasons why I picked up injuries was that I went out the door, ran as hard as I could and then came back in and was jumped on by kids. I knew I needed to stretch more but just didn't force myself to prioritise it.
A few weeks into the plan as my foot pain was going completely, I developed a knee pain. Some physio from my lovely friend and Buggy Squad co-founder, Ros, helped this pass in a short number of weeks. But what lingered was a uncertainty about what my body could do without an injury popping up.
As the training continued my friends started talking about trying a flat marathon in order to get some PB's and good for age times for London. Bournemouth was selected due to its proximity to Maidenhead and an idea it was flat (more on this later) For a while the other 3 girls doing New Forest said they were doing Bournemouth, but I wasn't certain I wanted to extend the training by another 4 weeks. After a bit of deliberating, with my husbands encouragement, I signed up in August.
During the training, we often talked about what we wanted to do, goals wise. Many of our group want to try an Ultra next year, but what I realised was that I wanted to get faster and qualify for Boston marathon in the US. It's the only marathon that has qualifying times and feels like a huge big scary goal that I'm not sure if I can achieve so hence why its probably a good goal! This time last year I wasn't sure if I could go sub 4 hours and I was making good improvements on my half marathon and 5k times.
My training was going okay (we cruised round New Forest as a group, walking for our injured friend and finishing in 4.45) but I was dissatisfied with my speed. About 6 weeks out from Bournemouth I decided that if I were lighter I would be faster. I had read a book called Older Faster Stronger by Margaret Webb and taken her advice to try Paleo. I stuck to it with great dedication although I struggled to eat enough to not be hungry. My allergy to eggs made many of the recipes (especially breakfast) quite hard. I also had bad bloating which made me feel uncomfortable for long stretches. I had already given up caffeine and alcohol, two of my great loves! 3 weeks into this plan when I hadn't lost any weight I ditched it! Maybe I didn't give it long enough but at that point I just couldn't handle feeling so bad anymore. The stress levels were mounting at home and I felt like every waking minute was thinking about running, being better at running and not getting injured.
We treated New Forest Marathon like a training run and continued to train at intensity in the weeks afterwards. Then came a new injury. Laura and I were doing a speed session at the local track one night (in the dark... we have dedication in spades but sometimes a lack of common sense!) and I felt a pull in my side above my hip, on one of the sprints. I carried on (my second mistake. The first being running in the dark) thinking it was nothing but the pain lingered. Unfortunately the pain didn't subside but stayed for the remaining 2.5 weeks leading up until Bournemouth. That's when the stress levels hit an all time high. I felt SO bitterly disappointed that I hadn't lost any weight or didn't even know how to lose any weight. I felt disappointed that I had trained so hard for months but was injured at the time of the key race. Plus I also didn't know how injured I was. I could still run, but had the constant fear that if I ran I might put myself out of running for 4 months like I had earlier in the year. Ros helped me with some physio, a Compex machine and taping. But the most interested thing she said to me was that my stress levels were not helping my injury. Working all the hours that god sends, managing two young children and then worrying about my injury/weight and speed had pushed me to the emotional edge. I was taking vitamins, nutri-bullets, cherry active, putting hot water bottles on my side, doing exercises and generally thinking about Bournemouth..... all the blinking time. Not healthy. Not a fun pastime.
I wasn't training for the Olympics and ultimately no one actually gives two hoots what time I do apart from me. Everyone around me could see I was struggling but no one could do anything to help. My mum just kept telling me to get some sleep!
Should I pull out or just go along for the experience. My husband gave me strict instructions 'Do not be a dick and run too hard that you injury yourself for months like last time'. He had a very good point. This was the worst nightmare. I couldn't imagine being able to pull out, it is so far from everything I stand for. Don't give up is my motto and when I won the Common Room prize for Perseverance aged 9, that pretty much sums up my chartacter!
I wasn't nervous approaching the weekend of the race. I just felt disappointed that I wouldn't be able to do what i'd hoped and run a PB or even a Boston Qualifying time. I would go in a start pen behind the one I have opted for and run the start with my friend Martha who was going for 3.50. We started together and I felt good. It was warmer than I had expected and the capri's were warm. There was heaps of water on the course and If i'd had enough storage compartments for my fuel then I wouldn't have worn my hydration pack. We knew it was a course with many loops but we hadn't anticipated the elevations! (map below). They were as brutal if not more than New Forest!
As part of my doubts about my injury I was preparing to feel pain and slow (or stop) during the race. Ros explained a very sensible pain scale of 0-10 and when I get near to 5 I had to slow, near to 8 then I had to withdraw. So as I was running I was constantly evaluating, did my side hurt? Was it hurting more? At around 12 miles I hadn't seen my family yet and it had got more painful so I said to Martha that I would let her go and slow down. I actually didn't slow that much and seeing the family at 13 gave me a boost.
However soon after I had a real wobble. I was looking at all the faster runners going past on their loop thinking about how disappointing it was that I was injured and never going to be able to be fast enough for Boston. Suddenly I started to choke up and was close to tears. The side affect of this was my breathing started to get pretty restricted and as an Asthmatic that's never ideal! But thankfully I had my inhaler on me and took some puffs as I ran along which opened my airways straight away. I was trying seriously hard not to cry and felt pretty awful about it all. I had brought along headphones in case I needed a distraction and now was the time. I enjoy running to dance music when I'm on my own and the up tempo pace can often help lift my speed. I also had to give myself a talking to, and rationalise that I had dragged myself (and my family) to Bournemouth for a jog, that this didn't matter to anyone at all and the that the last thing my girls needed to see was me crying when I passed then again in a mile or so. Somehow by telling myself I was being ridiculous I managed to calm myself and my breathing down. The music was also giving me a great surge of energy and helped me get my pace back from the 9.29 to the average 8.48 that was the aim.
Strangely I then caught up with Martha on a hill and proceeded to feel strong and overtake others over the next 10 miles. Unlike other experiences, when I was hanging on from 20 miles, I actually felt really good from about 17 until 24! The purpose of telling you this is that I could never have expected or predicted this. I have never had a huge surge or emotion or doubt in the middle of a race. Looking back it was very strange and also interesting the mind tactics required to get me to calm down and speed up again.
As I got into the last stretch of the seafront I knew I was doing okay time wise but that that a PB would be tight. As my mum would say, 'just do your best' and so I gave it everything. I finished in at 3hr51 and it was lovely to see my family and friends in the last mile again.
So I missed a BQ time, I missed a London Marathon qualifying time and I missed a PB by 2 mins..... which is actually a bloody good result when I was paced to my PB by someone else and I came into this race injured and doubting my ability to complete it. 3 weeks on and I can confirm that I didn't break myself! I've decided to have 3 months off training and racing so give my body some R&R. Buggy running doesn't count though.... that's just part of life!
As part of World Mental Health Awareness during October and our Buggy Squad association with Run Together's #runandtalk initiative I thought I'd share these experiences with you in the hope that if you faces similar stresses, you can gain the support you need. Having big goals and doing sporting challenges can cause a great strain on all parts of your life. Just try and keep it all in perspective... it's just a jog!
Thanks for reading my ramblings,