26 Things I learnt from my first marathon

When I talk to people about running Edinburgh Marathon last year I tell them how much I hated it. I did. I struggled. And the only thing that kept me going was the money I was raising for The Lullaby Trust in Matilda’s memory. Knowing people were sponsoring me on the day and had sponsored me in the run up kept me putting one foot in front of the other. I’m now looking at Brighton Marathon head on with just a handful of weeks to go and as my ‘long run’ gets longer I am thinking back to that last marathon, the first marathon! So I thought I’d share a few of the things I learnt!

1) Don’t stress about carrying water, theres plenty of water stops, a little bottle to wet your mouth if you really need to will suffice between water stations.

2) If the race your doing isn’t using your usual energy drink/gels, take your own, if you can give them to spectators and ask them to meet you at a certain mile (this however will backfire if your Dad is still queuing in the centre of edinburgh to get on the spectator bus!)

3) Vaseline is your best friend. On long runs I suffered with hideous chaffing on my back and the side of my boobs. On race day I got my Dad to slap vaseline all over my back! If you suffer thigh chaffing DO NOT run a marathon in shorts!

4) Gels that tell you to have 3 in an hour … well when you’ve been running 3 hours and have had no other solid food, they may well make a reappearance and make you feel horrendous and make you spend 10 minutes with St Johns whilst you stubbornly state your not stopping!

5) Read signs, lots of people make funny signs. They will make you smile and spur you on, for 0.5 of a mile 😉

6) Having your name on your top means strangers cheer you on. From mile 18 onwards when everything hurts and your battling hard every time someone says your name you will cry!

7) Support those around you. If someone passes you say well done, if you pass someone tell them they are doing well.

8) Your toes won’t be the same again. I lost both my big toe nails and the nails next to them last year. So far in training this year they haven’t started to go black. Theres still time yet….

9) When you finish your whole body will cramp up pretty damn fast. Where you were running quite happily (ok not happily but you were managing a reasonable pace) you will now struggle to walk more than pigeon steps!

10) The end hurts. Like really hurts. Your feet hurt from being pounded for hours. Your hip flexors will be screaming. Your knees won’t want to bend. Your quads and calves will tighten like you’ve never felt before. Your core is wrecked. Your back aches.

11) For your first marathon try not to have a goal other than ‘to finish’. I had TRIED so hard not to have a goal in mind. But I did. And when I didn’t meet that I really struggled and in the aftermath I struggled to celebrate an amazing achievement.

12) Don’t take EVERYTHING with you. Its easy to think you need it all. But that weighs down your bag. Chances are there will be a first aider with a tub of vaseline. You don’t need your huge tub. Plasters? Same thing.

13) You won’t want to take off your medal for a few days. I’d have slept in mine if I could. I proudly wore it to breakfast in the hotel, on the plane home the next day, through the airport, all evening. You ran it. You earnt it!

14) When its all over you kind of don’t know what to do now. For weeks your life has revolved around long runs, miles, pace, distance. And then suddenly theres no goal anymore. The goal has happened. Its been achieved. Now what do you do?

15) Tapering sucks! You panic your injured. You panic you haven’t trained enough. Chances are the pains are in your head, your not injured. Just rest. As for training, any extra training in those couple of weeks won’t make any difference, its far better to be on the start line rested than overtrained!

16) You will probably cry when you finish. I crossed the line and bent over double in tears! The relief it was over. Kind of sad it was over. The achievement. And then I pulled it together, walked to get my tshirt and medal and then bumped into a friend, I cried on her shoulder too!

17) Run your own race. Its easy to want to keep up with someone you met on the start line and got chatting with. But your running 26.2 miles, you may think going out a bit faster than you planned to will be ok, but its silly, you’ll burn out fast and hit the wall early, I’m speaking from experience!

18) Reaching half way can be tough. You realise you still have to do the same distance all over again! I was dying to get to halfway and when I did I just thought my god I hurt now and i still have to do it again. Soon after I hit my wall!

19) Toilets on route are AWFUL! Like really bad. I’m not one to hover generally but these were bad! If you have the guts duck behind a bush if countryside is available, if your a bloke? Well aren’t you lucky!

20) Don’t listen to music the whole way. Quiet stretches. (Like most of edinburgh was :() then yes use it, but when your in areas where theres support take your headphones out and listen to that support, it will help you I promise.

21) Rest the day before. Like really rest! Not get on a plane and fly, and get lost and walk around Edinburgh! Ideally sit and do not very much. Maybe a little 2 mile gentle jog. But don’t do something crazy and silly. Save your energy.

22) The night that you finish the marathon your body will hurt. Its not a bad thing to take ibuprofen. I couldn’t sleep properly as I ached so much. Every time I turned over I hurt. The 2nd night is a bit better!

23) When you finish you may be like me and not feel like eating. But I can assure you you need to for your recovery. So no matter how hard you have to force it, do!

24) Have some motivational mottos that work for you. For me I run with a ‘For those who can’t’ mindset. If I’m struggling I remember I’m lucky to be able to run. For many reason lots of people can’t run, but I can.

25) Running your first marathon miles from home isn’t neccessarily a good idea. It has its pros and cons. I am looking forward to Brighton this year as I will have family and friends that matter to me there. Edinburgh was in some ways nice having just my Dad as he didn’t fuss over me, he let me tell him what I needed and he just did that.

26) When you finish your a marathoner. This doesn’t have an expiry date. Most people won’t ever even attempt a marathon. But you did and you completed it. BE PROUD!

These are things that apply to my experience of running a marathon. Sounds pretty horrendous some of it doesn’t it?! But your experience may be different! And I hope to make my experience at Brighton very different! If not maybe Liverpool will be the one 8 weeks later, or Bournemouth in October! 😉

I’m running 24 events this year, 3 of them marathons, to raise money for the lullaby trust in memory of Matilda Mae who passed away 2 years ago this February. Please do sponsor me at my justgiving page  or text me as below.

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The Marathon : The emotional side of it!

My first post about running the marathon covered more of the practical side of things. However running a marathon is also a massive emotional rollercoaster. The week leading up to it had been an emotional rollercoaster in itself. I was ready and I just wanted to get there. I was struggling with having to wait. I wanted to be on that start line. I was impatient and moody. Apologies to my family and friends for the way I was that week!

Once I arrived in Edinburgh and after having the panic of not being able to find the hotel I calmed down a little. I knew where everything was in my case and we headed out to get dinner straight away and then came back to get ready. We had pre booked a table and I knew the place served a nice simple pasta dish, something that wouldn’t mess with my stomach. Then we headed back and I got everything laid out. My kit, my gels, I was calculating what I was going to need. How many hours I’d be running etc. But I was most worried about if I would sleep. I’m pretty certain I spoke to my best friend that evening although I couldn’t say for certain! Eventually I headed to bed, stuck in my headphones and managed to drift off.

Sunday I woke up before my alarm which frustrated me as I had wanted to get as much sleep as I possibly could but I think being so used to waking early with my youngest I just did. I popped my headphones in and tried to doze but it didn’t work. I was starting to feel quite queasy at the prospect of what was to come. The thought of my porridge turned my stomach. Instead we headed to breakfast and I grabbed some toast to try and settle my stomach a little. I headed back to the room and finished getting ready whilst my Dad stayed to finish his breakfast. This was a good choice as it gave me 10 minutes to myself to have a little cry and compose myself! I was all dressed and ready and stared at myself in the mirror wondering whos insane idea this was. And pondering how much it was going to hurt!

I headed off in a taxi to meet one of the girls I know through a running facebook group I’m in. We had been chatting for weeks before hand and meeting her was the best decision I made as having someone to start with totally calmed me. I would have been a wreck starting alone. We chatted like old friends and headed for the start. We then ran the first 8 miles together, she kept me from pushing myself too hard which was a really good thing as I would have gone out way too hard. At around mile 9 I started to slow and let her head off ahead. Emotionally that was tough, being alone. I was feeling rough and starting to question how I was going to get through this. I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to. It was just a matter of what state I was in when I finished. I was feeling more and more ill and as mentioned in my first post I was sick around halfway. But also reaching that halfway point was a mental milestone. I knew I had less miles to run than I already had now. Every step was that little bit closer to that medal.

At halfway I also turned my phone back on. I’d turned it off at the start as I had so much support coming through from my friends and family that it was getting quite overwhelming and in a way felt a bit of a pressure which scared me. So I had turned it off to block it all out and get ‘in my zone’ I guess. But turning it on totally helped me as I saw some messages from special friends including one from Susanne which promptly caused me to burst into tears but in a good way.

The whole run I was thinking of Tilda. Every moment I thought I can’t it was replaced with, ‘you can, your going to, for tilda’ I was running knowing Tilda will never know the joy of running. Nor will many other angel babies. I was running knowing the Lullaby Trust need all the fundraising they can get and if me putting myself through agony was going to do that then I had to get there. I ran thinking of the wonderful skydive team I pulled together and thinking of this years team.

A marathon is definitely as much mental as it is physical. I never realised how true that was until I did it. It was an absolute mental battle. A battle between mind and body. A battle between I can and I can’t.

I reached a stage where I tried to just hallucinate that my running buddy was with me. I tried to picture her in front of me as is so often the case on our runs. I tried to imagine her talking to me. It was hard to zone out of the marathon and try and see it as ‘just another run’ but at times I managed to, especially on the emptier stretches of road. In some ways near the end the stretches with the support were the hardest. Hearing my name being shouted by strangers was making me well up every time I heard it. I remember some kids around mile 19 who were doing a little cheerleading dance thing and they shouted my name, I blubbed!

As I reached the final mile and saw my Dad for the first time it was just so overwhelming I couldn’t talk to him properly. He said he’d go the final mile with me if I wanted. He came with me for some of it but I needed to finish this alone. I’d done 25 miles alone. I needed to finish alone. It was a mental journey. One that showed me I can do what I put my mind to. That when I set a goal I can achieve it. Finishing I knew I wasn’t the same person I was when I started. I was someone who could run a marathon. Who could push through their pain barriers and keep going. Who had the resilience to continue even when I felt like hell. Who had the determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It has shaped me. It has changed me. Nothing else will ever seem so big as that marathon I don’t think. Theres not many goals bigger than that really. I’ve met my target of running a marathon by the time I’m 25. Now what do I do?

Edinburgh Marathon : Race Report

Sunday was the big day. I had been so excited about running this race as had read some great reports about it. Sadly I was sorely disappointed. It had been billed as amazing support, well organised. Sadly I didn’t find either of these things. I’ll start from the beginning.

The Start:

We arrived at the baggage trucks about 9:10 and begun to get ourselves sorted out, dumping out waterproof coats in our bags and popping on our bin bags to keep us dry as it was drizzling slightly. The trucks were not massively clearly signposted. It could have been better. Eventually though I found the one small one for purple and deposited my bag before heading back to the rest of the girls. We then made our way up to the start and located some toilets, they were down the side of some spectacular old building (no idea what it was though) and I have to admit they were well organised with plenty of toilets so we didn’t queue long. Once we had been we headed down to the pen we wanted to be in. The rest of the team were black and I was purple but we decided I would duck in if possible and I was able to which reassured me alot. I didn’t really fancy starting totally alone! Before long we were ready to go with a good old countdown over the loudspeakers. And then it was time to go!

The Race

Before we had even got to the start people started running but along with a couple of the girls I was with we decided we were only running when we reached the actual start line. And then we were off. Downhill, heaven! The run is marketed as the fastest flattest course in the UK. Personally I did not consider it flat. There were plenty of slopes. They weren’t hills as such but slopes that when you had run 20, 23,25 miles etc felt like a mountain! We weaved around the city for the first few miles and I got a pat on the back and hi from one of my instagram followers which was lovely. A bit further on another instagram follower found me and ran with us for a little while which was lovely. At mile 4 my Dad was waiting to take some pics as we flew past and round onto the coast road. That was when the wind begun. The sort of wind where you feel like your not moving anymore. A bunch of toilets appeared and we debated over needing them or not and then decided we didn’t want to queue, a bit futher on some seaside toilets were open and we spotted runners ducking in there so we made a dash for it. 2 minutes later we were out and running again. I stuck with one of the girls I had started with until around mile 8/9 and it was awesome to have some company and someone to talk to to distract me from the miles as they slowly ticked on by. At around mile 9 I started to slow and I couldn’t pick it back up so I gave up trying to keep up with my friend. After that I started to struggle for a while. For no apparent reason. I was starting to get really bad stomach cramps. I stopped for a wee at the huge power station in the most disgusting portaloo I’ve ever been in in my life. I’ve never been one to do the hover over the loo seat trick, this required it. There were no marshalls around to deal with the loos which is probably how they got so bad. A few of the girls were ducking behind the bushes, I didn’t blame them.

I was soon nearing the halfway point which had been my big ‘get to that point and you know you can do it’ point. I was starting to feel really bad with my stomach at that stage and incredibly sick so my pace had really slowed. Shortly after 13 and once I was out of the way of some of the few cheerers who were out on the course I ended up throwing up at the side of the road. Although I’d used a few energy bars too to try and soak up the gels they all came back to haunt me. A St Johns volunteer had been just down the road and saw me and came over to help. He checked me over and we agreed that now I’d been sick I would probably be ok if I avoided anymore gels. So I did. For the final half I was using only water. Water doesn’t provide a great deal of energy which made things really tough. From 14 through to 17.5 you are running down as the faster runners are coming back on the other side of the road. As I knew so many runners on the course this was a fantastic distraction as I focused on spotting familiar faces and keeping one headphone out so I could hear anyone shout for me. I spotted a few fellow runners and its such a lift to see a familiar face even if your literally running past each other!

Eventually it was time for the turn, a literal 180, my legs weren’t happy. I took it as wide as I could but still my knee niggled. When you’ve been running straight for so long my body couldn’t deal with this change. We then headed into an estate through a wooded area which was nice and shady. The weather was starting to be quite warm so I appreciated this part of coolness. And then through a MacMillian cheering point. It didn’t matter who you were running for they gave an amazing cheer and really made me smile! It was what I needed as the support on the course was so minuscule it was hard going. Then we entered an offroad point. I attempt to run over it but my legs hurt with the uneven surface and I decided rather than risk injury I’d walk as many were at that stage, it was only half a mile so I got myself over it and then set off running again. We were now heading back the way we had seen all the other runners going, on the way out that had been awesome because they were a distraction. Now alone it was hard knowing just how far you still had to go. 20 miles ticked over and I knew the final 10km was going to take a while my pace was dramatically slower. I was desperately trying to drink some energy drink but my stomach was still cramping so stuck to water at every water station and aimed to drink half a 330ml bottle each time.

My dad had been waiting for me at 25 and I was sending him regular updates so he knew when to expect me. I was getting highly emotional from 20 onwards, although I’d been emotional all the way. But now it was getting ridiculous. Every time someone shouted my name I shed tears. There were a wonderful group of little girls doing cheerleading for those of us few and far between at the back it made me so emotional seeing them. Those final few miles were hell and I kept setting myself targets to overtake someone and stay ahead. And then I’d say right now this person. It was the only way I felt like I was progressing anywhere. 10km has never felt so long in my entire life. The final 2 miles felt like a marathon. Eventually I got to 25 and spotted my dad down the hill. I ran down towards him and knew my running was so slow he could jog with me and so told him to talk at me as if I tried to speak I blubbed like a baby. Every time he told me he was proud I sobbed. Eventually we reached mile 26 and I knew the end wasn’t THAT far off even if it felt it as I couldn’t see it. By now there was a good amount of people shouting my name. I wanted to acknowledge them all but it got the point I could only give a thumbs up because if I spoke I cried. I rounded the corner and could see the finish line in the distance. I ran with everything I had left to give. It was not my fastest sprint but it was a good bloody try. The guy on the tannoy spotted my name and was shouting for me to keep running, like I was going to stop at that moment! And then there were the chip mats. I crossed and bent down and sobbed, body wrenching sobs. I’d done it. I had run a marathon. Even despite throwing up halfway.

The Finish.

I finished and was searching for the medals, you had to walk  through a channel of tents to reach some football pitches where the medals were. I was handed a medal which I immediately put around my neck, you then had to walk through to collect your tshirt and goody bag. I was greeted by a woman who told me they only had XS left. I am in no way an XS a small would have been a tight squeeze. Now this has really bugged me. When you sign up your asked what size you need. So the organiser knew how many tshirts they need in each size. So how the hell do you end up with only one size left? There are many disgruntled runners on the FB page and so far the organisers have still not responded. I am absolutely fuming quite frankly. I paid for a race where I got a medal and a tshirt. So I feel I’ve been short changed. I wanted that tshirt to wear with pride to show what I’ve done. I wont be settling until I get one. Its not acceptable for organiser to ignore the issue like this. Once I’d left the lack of tshirts I walked over to have my photo taken with my medal and then to the exit. This was where you were able to then greet your families and there were stalls and food stands as well as a charity village. The signposting however was absolutely shocking and you couldn’t tell where the official reunion area was or the baggage trucks. I had to ask a steward where to go as I was starting to get cold and needed my warmer clothes. I headed towards the baggage trucks and found my friend who I had started with. She was the first person I saw and the moment she asked me if I was ok I started crying on her shoulder! Once we’d had a chat and a couple of pics I headed over to the baggage trucks. Obviously there werent many bags left and they had been removed off the trucks and were on damp grass in the open air, wet. My trackies were soaked so there was no way I was putting those on. My hoodie was relatively dry thankfully so I popped that on. Leaving bags out in the air is not helpful. Runners need warm clothes when they finish. Not wet ones. Another negative point for the organisation!

Then we faced the walk to the busses. I had been told it was a little while. I paid to have the official race bus to the city centre. God knows how long we walked but it was a good mile + if not 2. Whoever made that decision has clearly never run a marathon!

Overall Feelings:

Would I do it again? No. Long walks to busses. Wet clothes. No tshirts. Very little course support. It all tends to leave a sour taste. I was sorely dissapointed. I had read so many good reviews of edinburgh and maybe its great for those who come in under 5 hours but we can’t all do that. For those of us slower we still need the support and to get what we paid for including a race tshirt. Overall I wasn’t impressed and would not recommend this race to anyone.

26.2 miles for Matilda Mae

Yesterday I ran a marathon. 26.2 miles. Long hellish at time miles.

It’s hard to put it into words at the moment. Ultimately the runner in me is disappointed because I didn’t reach the goal time I had wanted. As a few people have pointed out if I took out the time spent with St. John’s ambulance and 2 wee breaks then actually I did meet it. But the chip time doesn’t equate for those.

However the fundraiser in me is proud. I’m proud because yesterday I received 11 donations on my just giving page which meant by the time I started at 10am I had reached my target of £400. It now stands at £475. That doesn’t include yet the £400+ raised from the virtual run. So I feel I’ve done good by the lullaby trust.

It was a highly emotional run. When I flew up on Saturday I looked out the window and saw the most amazing rainbow in the clouds and I knew Matilda Mae was telling me it would be ok. I thought of her constantly as I ran the course. Every time I questioned ‘can I do this’ I shut myself up with yes you can because Matilda will never know what it is to run, because her legacy is always going to live on and it will always be important to talk about her, SIDS and the lullaby trust. I ran across the finish mat and bent over double in tears. Heart wrenching sobs. I had held so many tears in around the course. It’s hard to run and cry because it affects your breathing so the moment I finished it all came out. The emotions that SIDS is cruel. That it’s not fair that healthy beautiful babies are taken without a known cause. That in the 21st century with the medical advances we have that families are still experiencing this heartbreak.

After we got back to the city I was stood in the street whilst we tried to hail a cab and was thinking about Tilda when I turned around to look at the view and was greeted with a full rainbow going across the city. I promptly started sobbing full on in the middle of the street. My dad wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the latest outburst as he hadn’t even spoken and till that point it had been every time he told me he was proud I cried. If I had ever doubted signs that would have confirmed it for me. I know when we skydive again this year Tilda will be there watching over us keeping us all safe. She is one amazing baby with the most amazing legacy and to be just a small part of that means so very much.

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Marathon : 2 sleeps to go!

Well this week has been a total rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve been fine when I’ve been with people but the moment I’m on my own I totally panic about what I’m doing and what I need to pack. And what I need for the flight etc!

I think I’m ready. The suitcase is packed. I know what I’m wearing. I know what flight I’m on. I’ve checked in my baggage. Only last minute things I have to pick up are phone chargers! Always the last thing to pack right?

I’m torn between confident and petrified. I have moments when I’m like yep this is all good, I can do this. And then I have moments where I’m like OMG I’M GONNA RUN 26.2 MILES! I’m so scared of the after pain. How it will feel trying to get back to the hotel. How it will feel when I try and move out of bed on Monday morning. I’m also conscious Sunday night I won’t sleep very well. I never do after long runs, the aches in the legs just bother me too much. I’ve considered taking night nurse Sunday night so I can sleep but I’m worried I wouldn’t wake enough to catch my flight on Monday.

I am terrified of flying alone. Sounds silly but whenever I’ve flown before its always been with other people so they can tell me where to go and what to do. This time its all on me. Its like being a total adult!

One thing I have written out this week is my dedication wristband. Basically it means for each of the 26 miles I’ll be running for someone. I’m running it all for Tilda and all the other angel babies who have been taken from their families too soon. I’ll be running it knowing I’ve raised money and awareness for the Lullaby Trust. Those 26 are filled with names of beautiful babies taken too soon, family, friends who have supported me, those who didn’t believe me (two fingers up to them). I’ll have it on my wrist along with my pace bands. I say bandS because I’ve printed two times so if I keep within that time I’ll be happy. We shall see I guess! Everyone says you shouldn’t have a time in mind for your first marathon but its so hard not too. But I also have no idea how the final few miles will feel. I’ve only ever run 20 miles. Not 26.2. Thats another 10km on top of 20 miles!

This time last year I was only able to run 3km. I wasn’t even at 5km. Now I’m going to be running 26.2 miles. I never would have believed it if you told me last year. I’m not sure I believe it myself. Numerous people keep telling me I’m an inspiration. I can’t quite get my head around that. Me? An inspiration? It just feels strange. Probably because the people that inspire me are marathon runners but much faster ones, those feel like an inspiration.

I’m frightened of the slump. For 12 weeks everything has been focused on this. It has been focused on reaching this marathon. It has been focused on nutrition, on training plans, on limiting injuries, on being ready. And then by Sunday evening it will be over. All over. Yes I have the skydive to start focusing on but its not the same. I know there will be a low. There always is after a big event.

One thing I do know is I couldn’t have made it through all this without some very special support from my family and friends. I’m not going to name them but I think they know who they are. Weather its been practical support, emotional support, physical support or all of the above it has all meant so much to me and theres no way I would have made it through on my own. I am incredibly lucky to have such an amazing team of support around me.

So finally the last thing there is to say is I am currently sitting at £80 off my target. I would love to have reached my target by the time I run on Sunday, please donate if you can. Lullaby Trust do some vital work and by donating through justgiving the money goes straight to them. It benefits families experiencing something no family should have to go through. They support and educate. No matter how small a donation it all counts. PLEASE do donate if you can. It really does mean the world to Lullaby Trust and to me. Thank you.

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