I want to run a marathon…..

My Mum, bless her, sat open mouthed looking at me in disbelief. Horror. Then finally the words came out – but you can’t ‘You’ll die!’

That was the extent of my first conversation about running a marathon. To be fair to my Mum; THE most supportive women in the world and a great believer that you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it; knew I was seriously overweight and hadn’t run further than 5k in YEARS…..

Let me be clear, I wasn’t being delusional. It’s not like I was planning to run a marathon that year. I just knew I had to set myself a big enough goal to motivate me to get off my ‘arse’. To do something about my fitness and also my weight.  It was the one way I knew I could get myself back into shape.  Telling the world (ok my family & friends – Facebook didn’t really exist back then) about my grand plan, felt the best way.

 

Let me take you back

I was in my early 30’s with two beautiful girls under the age of 5.  We had finally moved out of the struggle of sleep deprivation. We were currently battling the ‘terrible two’s’ and I was still learning how to be a full-time working Mum with two kids. At this time I was a Senior Project Manager working for IBM – a stressful and all consuming role that required me to travel and stay away for 3 days a week.

I was a size 14/16, I can’t tell you how heavy that made me as I feared getting on the scales but I would guess at around the twelve and half stone mark. I was unhappy most of the time and consumed by shame about my body. I was simply not good enough. Not a good enough mother, wife, sister, daughter and certainly not good enough at my job….

All of this was absolute rubbish of course – it was all in my head. Hindsight, a few years of structured and consistent exercise and a great coach is a wonderful thing.

Aug 2008 – Feeling overweight and unhappy

Why a Marathon?

Whilst on holiday in Italy in August 2008 it all came to head. I ‘should’ have been happy. We had a beautiful resort on the edge of Lake Garda. But I was so uncomfortable with my size and shape that I refused to get in the pool or sit on the beach. All my girls wanted to do was play, they didn’t care what I looked like, yet this was not what I focused on. I was too wrapped in my own shame about how unfit I was to really enjoy the time we had together.

I had bought a number of books with me and one happened to be ‘The Complete Book of Running by Amby Burfoot’ (the link isn’t to the exact book but is the latest version of it). I thought it might give me inspiration to get started again. I had only ever run a 5k before and hadn’t really started to run again after the birth of daughter number 2. Quite frankly a mile was a challenge let alone 5k.

The world had plans for me though. It was in this beautiful place as I hit rock bottom and cried into my gelato that I decided I would run a marathon.

It was the biggest distance that I could think of at the time. It was also something that was way out of my comfort zone and as such needed a significant change to my lifestyle. I remember sitting on the patio of our holiday rental with this book and a pen and paper. I set out a new running program that I would put into practice the moment I got home. In fact I set out for my first run on that holiday, a very slow and emotional trot along the lake shore.

How can a book save you?

Building towards a Marathon

I love sport and would, even then, classify myself as ‘sporty’, but lets be clear I was no runner. Indeed I still don’t always classify myself as a runner. However I did know how to go about getting fit and what it took to challenge myself. I played rugby in my late teens early 20’s and before then I played hockey for school, county and club. I would probably call myself a ‘reluctant’ runner. But this book gave me hope, it gave me a purpose and a structure.

I decided to start with a half marathon and see where that would take me.

Nine months later on 10th May 2009 I was at the start line of my first half. Woefully unprepared for the event but absolutely up for the challenge. Training had started the moment I got back from holiday. I took myself seriously and set about building miles carefully and slowly. At this time I hadn’t thought about joining a running club as they were for ‘proper runners’. Not overweight ‘hopers’ like me. I didn’t care how long it took, just that I made it to the end.

Writing about it some 8 years later brings up a swell of tears. I can still remember the churning of my stomach and my husband waving me off as I set out on my 13.1 mile adventure. It was this race that changed the way I thought about running forever. After this event I no longer viewed myself as ‘overweight Nicky’ I was a half marathon finisher.

Half Marathon Finisher!

Towards a new Goal and that illusive Marathon

Now my finishing time in 2009 was somewhere beyond the 2hr 30 mark. Not only that but I was absolutely exhausted. My body took 2 weeks to recover and in that time I was unable to run – to even contemplate running!

If I was to run a marathon I needed to set about making further changes to my training and look more sensibly at what it took to run a marathon.  Amby Burfoot’s book came out again and I set to planning a faster half marathon and to ensure that my recovery was quicker.

I joined a running club – finally I saw sense and joined a local club. Meeting Kerry Newell was the first step to putting my base plan into action. Kerry gave me so much guidance and quality coaching sessions that I soon became the running machine that I had hoped I would be. I was dropping the weight without trying. I was doing specific sessions to work on my speed and endurance. I put more effort into eating to fuel my run and my recovery. Within a few months I had knocked over 15 minutes off my 10k time and began to believe that I could run 10k under the hour. If you are a runner you will know how much that means to someone in the kind of shape I was in.

In 2010 I ran my second half marathon. It was a whole year since my first attempt and I had set out two specific goals. To go faster and recover quicker. I still had no idea what time I would do as I had not tested my pace at this distance for a year – choosing to run only up to 10 miles in training. You can imagine how I felt when I crossed the line in 1hr 57 minutes. A huge 30+ minutes faster than 12 months previous.

I was ready to take on a Marathon Challenge

Second from left with running friends

Ready for 26.2 Miles

In less than 3 years I was at the start line of my first Marathon. I had chosen an unusual event to train for. It was the LDWA Cheltenham Circular Challenge. An off-road (as in trail) marathon that took in the beautiful Cotswold Way around the town.

This was the toughest run I think I have ever done. The first half is full of hills and the second half takes you over nearly 20 styles. When your legs are so stiff you can hardly lift them off the ground to run you have to push yourself over a wooden gate. I loved every minute of it. Even the minutes when my body and mind were colluding to tell me to stop and just get the bus home. There are so many memorable moments in the run but two come to mind as I write now. The first was being offered tea and cake at about mile 18 as we ran through a beautiful village church – the ladies of the WI were not quite sure what to make of our appearance and thought that a nice ‘victoria sponge’ would be just the ticket. The second was the euphoria of arriving at the finish line. My fellow runners, who had all powered home quicker than I, were there to greet me along with my Mum and my two girls.

I wish I had the photo of me jumping in the air as I crossed the line but the pure joy on my face in this one tells you how much it meant to me.

The face of pure JOY – marathon finisher

What did I learn?

What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you

The tide of change between 2008 and 2011 was immense. It was not just the physical changes that you can see but the mental, emotional and spiritual changes that occurred as a result of my transition. By becoming a runner I learned how to plan my time better. I spent time outdoors which in turn enabled me to be more creative. I challenged myself at home and at work as I felt more confident in my self and what I was capable of. I was better able to notice how my body felt and as a result manage my stress better.

I don’t know what drove me to take that book on holiday with me. But that one small step opened a whole new world for me.

Of course you can’t just do one marathon – someone said.

I have now completed 3 Marathons each one has given me a different experience. Each one took me to another level of learning. I think I am probably done with running for a while. I have now switched to two wheels. But the motivation to stay fit and challenge myself hasn’t changed.

Edinburgh Marathon May 2012
Brighton Marathon – April 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If there is one thing I have understood about this journey and a lesson I take with me into my future challenges. It’s that you don’t go it alone. Even when the physical event itself is ultimately down to you. You still have your tribe around you to support your every step.

It is with much love and gratitude that I thank my Husband, Children, Mum and Sisters. They have been there with me, in spirit and solidarity, through all the up’s and down’s of training and running the Marathon distance. I know that they are with me still as I take on new challenges almost 10 years later.

 

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where are you now