“So how’s the training going?”

Since I announced I was entering the London Marathon last autumn, I have been asked this question at least once a week and on the assumption that no-one is actually interested, I tend just to answer with a wry, ‘It’s going…!’

Training for the marathon has been all-consuming. The amount of hours of exercise per week is probably less than 6, but somehow it seems to expand to fill all my available time…

October – Season of mists and obsessively preparing for training

My marathon preparation begins in the same way I begin everything: reading. I buy a copy of Runner’s World magazine and devour online articles on how to train for marathons. It quickly becomes apparent that thousands of pages of running literature boil down to five articles:

  1. ‘Training Tips to Improve your Speed/Form/Endurance/Race Plan etc’;
  2. ‘The REAL Science Behind Running’;
  3. ‘Quirky Race-Related Factoids’;
  4. ‘The 3,847 Injuries Every Runner Gets’; and
  5. ‘This Is Why You’re Still So Fat Even Though You’re Doing So Much Running’.

I appreciate a lot of people take up running to lose weight, but it’s still insulting to read No 5.

The injury stuff makes me more anxious. I didn’t even know I had an iliotibial band, yet ITB Syndrome is one of the main causes of knee problems in runners! That’s before you even get on to PFPS, aka patello femoral pain syndrome, aka the dreaded runner’s knee. Then there’s the even more dreaded plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the muscles on the sole of your foot. I could get Achilles tendinosis. I could get piriformis syndrome, which makes your bum hurt. I could get a stress fracture! I immediately start googling ‘strength training for runners’ and ‘strength exercises to protect the joints’, and rush to Holland and Barrett to stock up on glucosamine and cod liver oil.

A physiotherapist once told me that her busy season, if she had one, was Spring – four months seems like a long time to train for a marathon, but not if you’ve never done much running before. I’m trying to run a couple of times a week, and I’m attending ballet classes at the gym as well as my usual bikram yoga to keep my feet and ankles strong. I’m trying to get my strength and fitness levels up, so that I’m not starting from scratch when I begin training proper. I have an 11 day break in October to Uganda and Dubai, and I even manage a couple of 30ish minute runs in Uganda.

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Taken on one of my runs. I paused to cross a road and a boda boda driver shouted at me, ‘Not yet! Only when you sweat!’ I was sweating profusely.

I plan to run in Dubai too, with wanky ideas about the bragging potential of ‘training all over the world!’ But this never happens, due to some unforeseen binge drinking.

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This is more typical of my holiday activities
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This was the most I managed to exert myself

November – the adventure begins!

Since I’m entering the Wokingham Half Marathon first in February, I download a beginner’s half marathon programme and carefully count back 12 weeks from race day, to begin with great fanfare (if only to myself) on 21 November, five days after Run in the Dark. I’m sore after the 10k, but pleased that I’m not as sore as the previous year. My time was a little bit faster, too!

Initially the runs are short, no longer than 30 minutes, and the first couple of weeks feel like I’m embarking on an exciting new adventure. I rise early and run to the Wolf statue in Greenwich Park and back; the mornings are dark and misty and magical. A giant oak rising out of the fog spooks me, like a ghost ship in the night; the view across London makes me feel like Rocky.

The weekend ‘long runs’ are not very long – I feel quite smug at having completed the 10k (about 6 miles) before starting, since it takes a few weeks to build up to this distance under my plan. A new element for me however is the ‘tempo’ run – running at a ‘comfortably fast’ pace for 20 minutes. These can feel hard, but in a good way – quite satisfying. Even these early morning tempo runs on the treadmill are exciting: I’ve got up to exercise before work in the past, but never with the purposefulness of race training.

In late November I attend a residential training course, which involves the usual ‘networking opportunities’ in the evening – but like Cinderella, I disappear from the bar before midnight, to be up for the hotel gym at 6am the next morning.

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At least my early starts are rewarded with some beautiful sunrises!

December  – Tis the Season to Exercise, and Drink in Moderation!

By the beginning of December, my knees are starting to cause me a little pain. But I swap out running for spin class and yoga for a week, and it seems to sort itself out.

Christmas rolls around and I feel ridiculously pleased at nonchalantly informing my parents that I won’t arrive at their house until late on Christmas Eve, ‘as I have to do a 7 mile run in the morning’, as if I’m some sort of professional athlete. I’m even more ridiculously pleased to arrive and announce casually that, yeah, I’d run 7 miles. Even my mocking brother has to acknowledge that ‘that’s more than half a half!’

On Christmas Day, I drink as normal, except I don’t pointlessly stay up drinking red wine and Baileys while watching a rubbish late-night film with my brothers. Instead I’m in bed before midnight, since ‘I have to do a run tomorrow’ (as I might mention a few times during the day). For the first time in my life, I go for a run on Boxing Day. It’s only 40 minutes, but it’s miles in the bank. And I feel exceptionally wholesome!

In another first, between Christmas and New Year, rather than merely eating Quality Street and shuffling round the house in between Agatha Christies, I actually make it to the gym.

January – the real work begins…

According to my training plan, I’m supposed to do an 8 mile run on New Year’s Day. Well, that’s not going to happen! I do it the following day instead, on bank holiday Monday.

It’s gone 3pm by the time I set out, since I fail to get up in time for a morning run. I must be still feeling the effects of the New Year’s Eve champagne, as the run is not in the least bit enjoyable – every mile is a struggle. It doesn’t help that I don’t know were I’m going – I intend to follow the Thames path from Cutty Sark to Deptford, but the presence of old wharves forces the ‘path’ (more a ‘route’) inland and after running down several dead ends that finish abruptly on the river, I’m jogging nervously around an unfamiliar council estate as dusk is beginning to fall. I run back along the river to Cutty Sark but it’s still not enough miles, and by the time I run past the Trafalgar pub it’s properly dark, which is properly depressing. I eventually make it home feeling a long way from my pre-Christmas enthusiasm. But I know it’s probably down to the New Year’s excesses, which I vow not to repeat until the marathon is over.

Sunday is Long Runday

The following Sunday is a 10 mile run and this time I decide to take the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and run north of the river. I’m very excited to try out my Christmas present, a Garmin Forerunner. I switch it on while I’m warming up – it seems to be taking an awfully long time to ‘locate satellites’. I give up waiting and leave anyway, relying on my Strava running app to count the miles.

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Canary Wharf. This would be why I couldn’t get a GPS lock!

I run to Westferry Circus, then back around the other side of the Isle of Dogs. It’s going well but the stairs on my way back through the foot tunnel are a killer, and I can’t quite recover enough before tackling The Avenue, the big hill in Greenwich Park which is fated always to be the penultimate mile in my long runs. I manage it though and make it 10 miles to the bottom of my road! The Garmin doesn’t still hasn’t located any satellites, and won’t until the fog clears.

I get home, do my stretches, eat lunch, then something strange happens…I had planned to do some housework and possibly even some decorating on my return, but I just need to sit down for a bit. After half an hour I give in and settle in properly on the sofa, incapable of anything else. I lie on the sofa watching television for hours, paralysed. I lie on the sofa so long that the message comes up telling me the TV screen will automatically switch off in 30 seconds if I don’t do something about it.

This becomes my weekly routine: get up, run, then rest on the sofa for the remainder of the day, incapable of tackling even the smallest task. My house is in the middle of being decorated – boxes are piled up and the living room and hallway chock-full of painting detritus; it is destined to stay in this unfinished, unsatisfactory state indefinitely. An ever-thickening layer of dust and grime has appeared on every surface, and my holiday clothes from Dubai are still sitting in the ironing pile.

One of those weird people who run to work

Midweek, I complete two short (30-40 minute) runs and a bikram yoga class. In order to fit them in, I have to do at least one of the runs before work. It seems a bit of waste of time to run from home and back before heading out to work, so I decide to experiment with running to the office.

I have bought a specialised ‘leanweight’ running backpack for the purpose, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. The first time, I fail to fasten the straps tightly enough and the bag bounces around on my shoulders, which is annoying as hell. I have also failed to distribute the weight of its contents evenly, and something in the top pocket swings around and rattles noisily. The next time, the straps are done up too tight and I can’t breathe properly. But running to work only takes about 40 minutes – about the same amount of time travelling in by DLR does – so using my commute to fit in a run is a no-brainer.

Bye bye social life…

I attend The Red Shoes at Sadlers’ Wells with two friends one Tuesday evening, as a belated Christmas treat (loved it). I drink four glasses of wine over the evening and while it doesn’t feel excessive at the time, the next day I’m too sluggish to run and skip a training session. I admonish myself sternly: this can’t happen again!

That was more or less the last time I did any sort of socialising after work. From thereon in, my alcohol intake is reduced to one decorous glass of red wine on a Friday evening, when I don’t usually have a run the next morning.

My only non-work, non-marathon activity is now weekly choir practice with Blackheath Choir. We’re rehearsing Handel’s Semele for a concert in April. Being required to concentrate on learning the music for two hours means my mind can’t wander off to my next run as it usually does.

Lunchtime = Runtime

I usually manage to get up to run to work on a Tuesday, but as the week progresses I find it increasingly difficult to get out of bed. At the suggestion of a colleague I experiment with a lunchtime run in the gym, blocking out 2 hours in my Outlook calendar, so as to be able to stretch properly and shower. It turns out to be a pleasant interlude in the middle of the working day – I take to listening to the Serial podcast while on the treadmill – but I feel guilty at taking such a chunk of time away from the office. Afterwards, I’m always starving, so the next half hour gets taken up with finding and eating lunch, which makes me feel even more guilty as I’ve already taken two hours. After that, I should obviously be diving back into my work at top speed, but what I really feel like is taking a little nap. I make up the time by staying later, but that doesn’t really help with the tiredness.

But by the end of January, I’ve stuck to my plan and run a whole 12 miles.

February – the shortest month feels like the longest

At the start of the month, I can look back with a certain amount of pride at having got through January’s brutal training schedule, but it is taking its toll.

Lateness at work and cravings for Crunchie bars

I need energy and focus to do my job well. I work for a firm that endeavours to promulgate a ‘high-performance culture’ – I have actually attended training delivered by sports psychologists, who have coached professional athletes and are paid by my employer to impart the high-performance techniques of top sportspeople to us corporate workers. I have been lectured on the importance of getting enough sleep and eating well just for my day job, which involves no physical exercise whatsoever.

My marathon training schedule is the thief of energy and focus. The early morning starts, the guilty lunchtime gym trips, the decimating weekend runs are threatening to turn me into a zombie. I have long since abandoned any hope of getting to work before 9.30am, the latest I am technically allowed to arrive, and I am embarrassed to admit I often arrive later. I haven’t nibbled on a Crunchie bar since I was eight years old; one afternoon, I crave nothing else and eat two in a row (in between a Bounty and a KitKat).

Then there is the distraction of the Sunday long run. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it, worrying about it – where will I run to? What should I eat the night before? What pace should I aim at? Why does my knee feel funny? – and reading those five running articles over and over in various forms.

I feel constantly guilty that I am not giving more to my job, though thankfully my colleagues are very supportive.

Meet the Experts

At the start of February I attend ‘Meet the Experts’, a day of talks and lectures put on by the London Marathon organisers. Among other things, I realise that my extreme fatigue after long runs is probably to do with failing to refuel sufficiently. Remember when I met Coconut Water Man and got really into drinking coconut water after yoga? Since I haven’t yet done a run that takes longer than a bikram yoga class, I’ve been sticking with my trusted coconut water, intending to transition to sick-tasting sports drink only when I need to. Evidently I needed to a while back. I take on board the advice to drink Lucozade and milkshake and eat bananas and muesli bars (“ideally home-made” – I’m sorry, but WHO has the time to make their own muesli bars while training and fundraising for a marathon?), and it definitely helps. Likewise, the advice to walk for a bit after the run, rather than flopping down on the sofa.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! For 12 February is the date of the Wokingham Half Marathon. It really feels like this is what I’ve been building up to!

My First Half Marathon – “Lucky Omens!”

As previously noted, I had chosen Wokingham as being where my parents live, so that they would be there to cheer me on and carry me home. Plus, my mum’s new cavapoo puppy Bertie would be there!

Except that my parents have booked themselves onto an Arctic Wonders cruise of Norway, and Bertie is staying with his friend (Ralph the shih-Tzu). So I wend my way to Wokingham alone. One dear friend comes over to support me though, so I’m not totally on my own.

The morning of the half marathon I arise early, having slept badly. Fortunately the start line in Cantley Park is only a 10 minute walk away.

I walk into the park and see people jogging around! My heart stops, thinking I’ve missed the start of the race. But it turns out they’re just super-keen!

By the time I’ve checked my bag and found the queue to the portaloos, I’m a blithering bundle of nerves. I notice a sign on a portaloo door that says ‘Loos for Do’s’ – ‘OhmygodIthoughtitmeantthesearethespecificdesignatedloosifyouneedanumbertwoand-theotheronesarejustfor  – but – it’s”do”asin”event”!’ I gabble, giggling hysterically.

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Waiting at the start line. I was hyperactive!

I finally set off, and maybe because I’m used to starting runs with a hill, I realise I’m going much faster than usual. It doesn’t feel like it at all! I have to force myself to slow down.

It feels like I’ve already been going a long time when I get to Mile 6. But after that, the miles go by a little quicker and I’ve kept up my target pace. The last mile seemed to last a long time. But eventually I crossed the finish line!

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Crossing the finish line! Yes, it was bloody cold

I DID IT!!! I feel so proud of myself! I never, ever thought I would run a half marathon! I relish the sensation of walking rather than running, and of pulling on my cosy tracksuit, in the smug knowledge that others are still out on the course. I obediently eat a banana straight away and drink a bottle of lucozade. I’m sure it helps, but the walk home feels very long.

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And breeeeeaaathe…my first medal!

Back home in the evening, I allow myself not one but two glasses of red wine to celebrate, and finally feel calm. It’s gone really well and the first chorus of Semele, ‘Lucky omens! Lucky omens! Bless our rites!’ seems on point!

Sadly, that is all the celebration I’m allowed. Hanging over me is the knowledge that in a week’s time, I have to run even further, then even further the week after that!

The training becomes increasingly gruelling. Those “short” 30-40 minute runs are now 50-60 minutes. I now routinely run 10k midweek. It was not much longer than a year ago that I wasn’t sure I could even run 10k!

I’m still feeling tired all the time. The dusty, half-decorated state of my house is worsening, and depressing me. Things are starting to get a little tense in my personal life.

“Avert these omens, all ye pow’rs”

Two weeks after the half marathon, I’m scheduled to run 15 miles, my longest yet. On that Sunday, 26 February, I will be on holiday – New Orleans for Mardi Gras! – so rather than interrupt my break I decide to get up extra early the Friday before, and do the run before I catch my flight.

But two days before I’m due to fly, I stand up and stretch awkwardly, and pull a muscle in my lower back. The pain is unmistakeable, and doesn’t subside overnight.

I am terrified. It could be a muscle spasm – when I had one in my neck last year it took several weeks, plus several physio sessions, to heal. If that happened, I might not be able to continue with the marathon! I manage a 10k run on the treadmill – perhaps I could still do the 15 miles.

However, I am eventually persuaded by everyone from my boss to my brother (who has run a few marathons) to rest. It doesn’t make me feel any better though – I am still terrified. The morning of my flight to the States, instead of being excited about my holiday I am crying down the phone to my mum. ‘I thought I was doing everything right,’ I sobbed, ‘I’ve been working so hard to avoid injury.’ Congreve’s lyrics in the second chorus of Semele seems heart-breakingly apt

Avert these Omens, all ye pow’rs!
Some adverse god our holy Rites controlls,
O’erwhelming with sudden Night, the Day expires!
Ill-boding Thunder on the Right Hand rolls,
And Jove himself descends in Show’rs,
To quench our late propitious Fires.

I am mainlining ibuprofen, and get on the plane at Heathrow clutching a sofa cushion for additional support.

Laissez les bon temps roulez

(Yes I know that’s not correct French. It’s Cajun!)

By the time I get to the Crescent City, I’ve calmed down. I can’t do any training, so I may as well enjoy what I’m here for: Mardi Gras, baby!

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Happy Mardi Gras!
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The beautiful French Quarter

hh

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Relaxing on the bayou. This picture has no real relevance, I just felt the need to include some slightly less unflattering photos on this blog
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Nnice. The iconic Spotted Cat jazz club on Mardi Gras night
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The Treme Brass Band. These guys will feed your soul!

It turns out that I really, really needed a break from all things marathon. After a few days of nothing but parades, mimosas, greasy shrimp and amazing music, my back is a lot better and I’ve almost forgotten I’m supposed to be running regularly.

Phew.

They call it ‘Monster March’

Because this is the month when the mileage really cranks up.

At the start of the month, I’m on the second leg of my holiday – South Beach, Miami. My back seems normal so it’s time to get back on track with the training.

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My first run in Miami – nicer than a Deptford council estate
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Running around South Beach. You know, as you do
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South Beach’s Art Deco District

The first couple of runs in South Beach are exciting – I see a lot more of the coastline that I would have done without running and everything is new and highly glamorous.

Then there is no escaping it – I have to run the the 15 miles I missed! South Beach is not as big as it looks on the map, so I figure I will try and run around the island’s perimeter.

Well. I feel good setting out, heading south down the east coast. But once I turn up the inside of the island (the side that faces the mainland), there is no coastal path and I have to make do with whatever the nearest residential road to water is. This is harder than it sounds – without the sea to orient me it’s easy to lose my bearings and I start to lose confidence in where I’m heading.

After a couple of miles, the pavement disappears and I am forced to run on the road, jumping onto the verge every time a car comes past. This makes me feel like I’m running in a very affluent, tropical version of Milton Keynes. Crossing any road takes forever: like all American cities, Miami is designed with the car manufacturers in mind rather than people. How do American people ever get into running? This must be why ‘trail running’ is a thing!

The temperature is in the early to mid twenties, so not hot but considerably warmer than I have been accustomed to back in London.

In other words, it is heavy going…

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…But I did it! And have the perfect excuse to spend money I don’t have in the hotel spa!

Back home in London

Two days after returning home, an even bigger challenge awaits: 18 miles!

Due to jet lag, I don’t set off until late. I decide to be bold and head west along the river, Deptford council estates be darned!

The run goes okay – the moment when I round the bend and see Tower Bridge in the distance is magic – save for a debilitating stitch that holds me back the last three miles. But – once again I feel triumphant: I did it! I’ve deliberately finished a mile from home to incorporate a cool down walk, but sod that. I get an uber home.

Still, it’s good to get back to my regular Rocky mornings:

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Gonna fly now! The Wolf statue in Greenwich Park

New shoes

I’ve been feeling my trainers have become a bit word down, so now is the time to replace them. I just get the same pair again, but make a stupid mistake. I christen them with a 15 mile run, having failed to lace them up tightly enough.

The next day, for the first time ever, the inside of the soles of my feet ache like anything and don’t let up. My knees feel painful too. I buy a massage ball and roll it around under my desk at work in stockinged feet, and at home roll a frozen water bottle under foot. I can’t believe I’ve got this far injury-free and inflict this on myself through carelessness! Over the next two weeks, all I can think about are my feet and knees. Will I be able to do the next long run?

Sick of my soundtrack

Back to the routine…by this time, I have to say I am heartily sick of my musical playlist. I’ve long since jettisoned some of the peppy 80s pop tunes or R&B hits I had originally downloaded. I can’t bear to hear Africa, Magic Dance, Alice Cooper’s Poison or I Gotta Feeling one more time. Even Oliver Twist has to go.

I need music to motivate me. I need to feel the sheer joie de vivre I feel when a song makes me want to dance, as if the music is a shot of adrenalin, that is the reason I wine and palance like crazy at Notting Hill Carnival (people who have attended carnival with me tend to say ‘Wow, Cat really likes to palance’).

(Google it).

This is what I need to tap into when running. Some of the original tracks still work. Most of Dookie. Sonic Youth’s cover of Into the Groove, which marries two of my musical passion. Legs by ZZ Top. St Elmo’s Fire and Fame have stayed the course, as has Roll It Gal by Alison Hinds (as has Palance). Gonna Fly Now, obviously. Eye of the Tiger and The Final Countdown – cringeworthy under normal circumstances, but essential to my run. Music snobbery has no place on a running soundtrack! A rare non-cheesy track is the Pixies’ Monkey Gone to Heaven – though perhaps I should add Gouge Away, in homage to my sports bra. Its predatory straps eat into my skin: I look like I’ve been slashed by Wolverine.

From the classical canon, the gloriously triumphant final movement of Beethoven’s Fifth. The overture to Carmen and the CanCan by Offenbach. The 1812 Overture, and the William Tell Overture (for when you need the deep irony of hearing it while crawling at a snail’s pace). Pomp and Circumstance No 1 for a bit of patriotic pride-based motivation (I may question whether I live in a Land of Glory, but I’m pretty sure I live in a Land of Hope).

In the beginning I chose most of my tracks because they have a good beat and a good tune. But as time wears on, I realise the truth of all the ‘inspirational song’ sports psychology stuff. Running up that Hill doesn’t last long on my playlist. Skunk Anansie’s Twisted is a banging tune, but I just can’t take hearing ‘Every day hurts a little more’ and it has to go. Even the Pet Shop Boys’ thumping disco hit It’s a Sin, which has me whirling around the kitchen at home, is too negative.

For the rest of March, I continue with my routine, tapering with another 15 mile and 13 mile run. Having been a bit of scared of running in the direction of Woolwich, I run both of these along the Thames Path to the Thames Barrier around Greenwich Peninsular, and it’s a much nicer route than the opposite direction. It’s high time I started leaving my prejudices about unfamiliar parts of London at the door!

April is the cruellest month

On Saturday 1 April, I embark like a fool on a ’20-22 mile run’. I have to do it on the Saturday as our Semele concert is on Sunday 2nd. I have a bit of a cough, but it isn’t really bothering me. I set out just before 10am feeling positive and excited: this is my dress rehearsal. For this run, I’ve decided to head west again along the river. I’m still worried about my feet, and have promised various people I will stop running if they hurt.

By the time I’m near Tower Bridge, the enormity of the endeavour is looming. The crowds are already gathering and I have dart around and squeeze past them in front of the London Eye. I shout ‘Excuse me!’ as loudly as I can before overtaking people, but they just don’t hear and the effort of shouting is exhausting. By the time I get to Westminster, I’m not even half way and flagging. I push on all the way past Battersea Bridge, past MI6 and nearly get as far as Vauxhall before roadworks force me to turn back. I run past a man and a woman casually strolling along the pavement carrying rolled up yoga mats, and hate them.

My mouth is full of excess saliva from the gels and chews I’ve been taking; I urgently need to spit it out but there are two many people about. I jog to the chest-high wall on the riverbank and attempt to spit it into the water but my aim is way off – it lands on top of the wall as if on purpose. A woman walking past gives me a disapproving look and I hastily try to brush the frothy spittle off, but only succeed in smearing it further. Embarrassed, I run on.

After about half way, my pace drops and I don’t seem to be able to pick it up again. I should take another gel, but I’ve had a mild stitch for miles now and I want it to go away first. The crowds on my way back through Westminster and along the South Bank are almost unbearable. Why don’t they hear me shouting? I give up on shouting and rudely push past when I need to. I want to cry and I want to stop. I realise I’ve got myself into a negative mindset and I need to break it – I try a soft smile. They’re always telling us in yoga that if you smile, the brain is tricked into thinking you’re enjoying yourself. It helps for a bit, but my pace is so slow I can’t help feeling disheartened.

Running back through Rotherhithe, I wonder blearily if I will ‘hit the wall’ on this run. Then the rational part of my brain wakes up and remembers I am carrying more gels and chews as well as Lucozade and jelly beans, so there is absolutely no need for me to hit the wall. I force the fuels down, stitch be darned. Every muscle in my body is screaming and I still feel like crying. My stomach is cramping, exacerbated by my water belt which constricts my stomach muscles. I’m dying to take it off. 16, 17, 18 miles seem interminable – how will I make it 20, let alone 22? It takes every ounce of mental strength I have not to give up with the disappointment of how badly this run is going. I make a deal with myself: just get back to the Cutty Sark, then I can stop whatever distance I’ve done.

I round a bend and see the ship in the distance. Just a bit further…Just get to Cutty Sark…Maybe I’ll get a milkshake from McDonalds after this…

I make it to Cutty Sark. It’s 21 miles. Physically, I could probably plod along with increasing slowness for another mile. But mentally, the deal I did is too strong to ignore – I’m now at Cutty Sark and must therefore stop.

I stagger to Starbucks to buy a bottle of water – I’ve drunk all mine and feel desperately dehydrated. I have to clutch the counter; I’m barely able to hold myself up. I sit down and order an uber.

I have run 21 miles. I should feel victorious, but I feel like a failure. The thought of running a further 5.2 miles is unimaginable. For the first time, I seriously doubt whether I will be able to complete the marathon.

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My tearful post-run Facebook status

That night, I develop a temperature. My cough has become a full blown chest infection and I am gutted to miss the choir concert the next day. I’d been so worried about my feet and knees, I did not see a virus coming.

There is nothing to do but rest. I’m convinced I’ll be better in a couple of days, but as the week wears on, my cough is no better. I have a week off work, and stay at home doing Vicks inhalations and eating oranges. The following Sunday, I set out to attempt the usual run – 12 miles is scheduled – but am forced to give up after less than a minute, my chest is so bad. I should feel delighted I have a reason for my poor running performance, but I’m too scared I won’t recover in time.

The next week I am still coughing but back at work. On the Tuesday, I go to the gym to attempt a gentle treadmill run.

It’s impossible.

It’s just 10 days before the marathon, I have done no exercise for 10 days and am still incapable of training. I feel much as the penultimate chorus of Semele:

Oh, terror and astonishment!
Nature to each allots his proper sphere,
But that forsaken we like meteors err:
Toss’d through the void, by some rude shock we’re broke,
And all our boasted fire is lost in smoke.

To get this far, to have got through all the gruelling months of training, to have got through that terrible 21 miles, and for this to happen now! There are more tears, and I come so close to having a complete meltdown that my mum comes over to see me after work, bringing Bertie for some puppy love. I confront the worst-case scenario: that I have to pull out. After all my training, I can’t stand the thought of walking round. If I’m not better, I will try and defer. Surely the training couldn’t be as hard the second time round.

I know I have a virus, so there is nothing medicine can do, but in desperation I visit my GP on the off-chance something can be done. The doctor confirms my diagnosis but prescribes me an inhaler! The theory is it will relax the airways enough so that they stop spasming when I attempt to exercise, and I will be able to train again. She is confident I will be able to run the marathon but I have trouble believing her.

Easter parade

On Good Friday, two weeks after I came down with the chest infection, I set out tentatively for a 3-4 mile run. At first it’s hard, but then I start getting into it and it feels – fabulous! My playlist has undergone another edit (by this point, I’ve even lost interest in Serial. Is Adnan Syed innocent? Is he guilty? I don’t give a monkey’s) and I’ve added Watch Me Shine from Legally Blonde to my playlist together with various other new and hopefully inspirational tracks – Let the River Run from Working Girl, Proud by Heather Small among others – and get to the Wolf statue with my head held high.

There is no place for the Smiths on any sane person’s running soundtrack.

On Easter Sunday, I run 10 miles as scheduled in my training plan. Then there are two 30 minute ‘easy’ runs, which I do on the treadmill at the gym. Then that’s it: I have completed my training for the London Marathon.

This is it

Now it’s the day before the marathon. I still feel conscious I had two weeks off, and feel like I haven’t done enough. I am still feeling my feet and knees, and both are a worry. I’ve practised and practised running with fuels and water, and tried to eat the right foods, but it still seems likely I’ll get a stitch at some point. The memory of the full dreadfulness of that 21 mile run is still there, although it’s faded somewhat – forgetting the horror must be the brain’s protective mechanism to allow you to do the next long run, like with childbirth or online dating.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But I will update this blog to let you know!

x

Thanks for reading! Please give generously at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/catrunslondon

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