Last Friday I was about to embark on a massive challenge both physically and mentally
I was planning to run my fourth marathon, although this one was a little different, unfortunately still 26.2miles, you can’t change that bit.
Now anyone who knows me or follows me will be aware I have run the London marathon on 3 occasions, well I say run!!!! Dragged my sorry backside around London in a whole world of my own despair is a better way of describing my experience.
My first attempt at the London marathon was in 2011 which I had to defer due to injury and training for the John O’Groats to Lands End bike ride.
2012 was my first actual run, training had gone to plan, and I was hoping for a sub 4hr marathon. Everything was on track until mile 13 when I unexpectedly began to struggle. The last 13 miles were a cramp ridden attempt to get to the finish line. As I crossed the line in 4hrs 48 mins I uttered those immortal words “I am never running another marathon”. Also, I believe getting beaten by someone dressed as the Honey monster was probably the knockout blow.
Roll on two years, the 2014 London marathon. This time I had a different approach to training and stood on the start line buoyed with confidence that t I would get it right.
As I hit mile 13 exactly the same thing happened, the legs started to cramp, and I found myself unable to run more than a few strides without locking up in agony. I finished in 4hrs 52mins totally disappointed and disheartened, once again muttering those words “that it is, I am done with Marathons”
Move forward 4years to the 2018 London marathon. Would this be third time lucky?
In preparation I made some big changes, this year I had a full training programme and I treated the preparation as I would have when I was an athlete. Nothing was left to chance.
As anybody who trained and raced this year will know, it was a bitter cold winter, so training was difficult at times, but I completed every single training run, and what’s more, I felt great.
Race day arrived, and the weather took a dramatic turn, suddenly rising from 15 to 28 degrees. I thought for me this would not be a problem. As an athlete I regularly trained and raced abroad in hot climates, but most importantly, I knew that my training had gone well, and I felt in great shape.
As I set off I was confident this time I would get it right, then it hit, not at the usual 13 miles but 3. Yes 3 miles in and I can remember thinking I have had enough. The next 23 miles where the longest of my life. Once again battling cramp and extreme fatigue. I finished in 6hrs. my worst marathon to date. Why had it gone so wrong?
I am well aware of the saying “if you keep doing the same thing you will get the same results”, but I had approached each marathon with a different strategy, but I couldn’t get past the fatigue and cramping.
Severe cramping has long been an issue for me, even back when I was a Paralympian, we tried all sorts of remedies to resolve the problem, but to no avail. Now when I say cramp, I don’t mean a slight twinge in a calf muscle, I get hit with a hamstring and quad on the same leg and the calf on the other leg, even my tongue, neck and stomach can lock up, causing extreme pain and making it impossible to walk, let alone run.
All three marathons had been for Sportsaid, so imagine my concerns when the CEO Tim Lawler phoned and said he had a plan. He wanted us to run a marathon from the track at stoke Mandeville, birth place of the Paralympics to Milton Keynes where a lunch club would be taking place involving Tom Daley. This was to form part of a Sportsaid campaign called My Miles.
I was extremely anxious, considering my past 3 marathons and the fact that it was just me and Tim running with a set of directions and a car meeting us at certain points, so we could fill bottles and re-fuel. Seeing this Andy, my good friend and Business partner at 1404 Performance stepped up and said he would join us.
This time in training I took a slightly less regimented approach, and I was also experimenting with ways of getting in extra electrolytes and even eating whilst running in the hope that I could keep the energy levels up and combat the cramping.
Marathon day finally arrived, but this time we didn’t have the usual getting up 4 hours before the start, travelling to a mass start line, queuing for the toilets, wanting a coffee but not wanting to join another que, then queuing up for the toilets again. We simply rolled out of bed at 5.30am, ate a bit of breakfast and was out on the track ready by 6.30am. After a few interviews the three of us just started running. First stop was 6 miles, and I have to say they flew by. Quick re-fuel then off towards mile 12. Same again, a very enjoyable hours running. Just the three of us chatting away, covering such intellectual topics as favourite film and best car driven.
As we left the second stop and headed into the second half of the marathon the fear started to creep in. This is the point where it usually starts to unravel, but rather than dwell on it, I just got my head down and carried on running. At mile 16 there was a moment when I thought it was about to fall apart, I was suddenly hit with the dreaded cramp, the left hamstring locked up. This time though something was different, I stretched it out and it went away, never to return. As I set off running again, I tried to put any anxiety about what may happen to the back of my head. We soon approached the 19mile stop, I have to say I still felt great, even had a smile on my face, I could sense that I was going to complete the marathon. After a very brief school visit at mile 24, it wouldn’t be a Sportsaid event without a visit somewhere on route, we embarked on the final two miles. Finally we reached the finish and an immense amount of pride came over me, I had finally conquered my marathon demon, not only had I conquered it, I actually enjoyed it.
Both Tim and Andy have seen me suffer physically and mentally in my previous attempts, so it was an amazing experience to finally complete it with them.
So how did it go so right this time and not the others. Well I mentioned earlier, if you keep doing the same thing you will get the same result, this I understood. I had changed so many things in my preparation to the previous marathons. But there was one change that had been staring me in the face, it wasn’t the distance it was the marathon. My biggest problem was the London marathon. Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe the London marathon is the greatest marathon and a must do experience for anyone who wants to run 26.2miles. It wasn’t the fact that it was London, it was the fact that I had so many bad memories from my past experiences, I feared certain parts of course because that’s where it went wrong last time. All this anxiety and pressure to get it right left me exhausted on the start line, add to that there is a lot of expectation when you were once a professional athlete.
So, the biggest positive change for me was change the marathon. Add to that the fact that we ran alone, so I didn’t loose 500 places every time I stopped to tie a shoelace, I also had a different food and hydration strategy which I believe helped the cramping.
We finished in just over 4hrs running time and I can safely say I believe the marathon monkey is finally off of my back.
Change is something we often fear in our lives, instead of taking on a new challenge, or pushing ourselves to see what we are truly capable of, we often opt for the comfortable and what we know.
I have never been scared to change things up in pursuit of achieving my dreams. My problem was I had become so fixated on beating the London marathon and running what I believed to be an appropriate time for an ex-international athlete, I had lost sight of why I had taken on the challenge in the first place.
By running with a different goal in mind, rather than time or places it was about getting around, but most importantly enjoying the experience, I had removed any of the anxiety and barriers I had been subconsciously putting up.
But don’t think for a minute that is my last marathon, look out London marathon, I am coming for you.