It’s taken me a few days to summon up the energy to write this… but last Wednesday I ran a marathon. All on my own!
I dropped my children to school, ran and ran, and then returned to school to pick them up.
It was hard work. It was physically and emotionally tough. But I’m so thrilled to have done it. Close to a week on and I’m still a little in shock if I’m honest, as even just a few weeks ago I never would have believed I could have done this.
My first marathon blighted by injury
As some of you may remember, I ran my first marathon – The Virtual London Marathon – on Sunday 4 October. The event was originally supposed to take place in April 2020, was postponed until October due to Covid, and then, when it still couldn’t go ahead, it went virtual for all but the elite athletes, meaning participants had to run the 26.2 miles in their hometowns.
My path to that marathon was blighted by injury, which left me unable to run for 17 weeks, needing an awful lot of physio, an X-ray and an MRI. I only made it to 14 miles in training. To say I was underprepared was an understatement. I considered dropping out but as I was running for Tommy’s, a charity close to my heart which supports those affected by miscarriage, still birth and premature birth, I was determined to complete it, even if I had to walk most of those miles.
As it happened, with support from my three children (who each ran their longest ever distance with me), my husband, a few amazingly supportive neighbours and friends who lived close enough not to be affected by the local lockdown, and with the go-ahead from my physio, I managed to run the entire thing, with a few breaks, finishing in just less than six hours, which I was thrilled with. Especially as the weather was horrendous and it rained all day!
When I crossed the homemade finishing line and my children hung the medals they had made over my neck, I burst into tears and thought ‘never again’ closely followed by ‘oh crap, I have a place to run in London for Tommy’s next October… at least I have a year to recover’.
For the next few months I concentrated on injury rehab and recovery and didn’t really ever run more than 4/5 mile distances. In January, I took on a Run Every Day challenge, setting myself the challenge of a three mile daily run. That regular half hour for me helped my mental health massively during the lockdown and home school/home working juggle, so much so that I continued the daily running throughout February. But as that month drew to a close, I could feel the impact on my body and had concerns about the old injury resurfacing. I knew that daily running needed to stop but I also knew I needed a new challenge and when I saw that Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity, here in Cardiff, had a March half marathon challenge complete with medal I knew it was the incentive I needed.
I also wanted to prove to myself that I could run that distance on my own – I’d previously run four half marathons, three being official events and one being a virtual one last September which I ran with a group of friends from my running club She Runs Cardiff.
This time, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it without the support of the crowds and other runners.
And so on Friday 19 March, I ran my 13.1 miles with just a good audio book for company. I’d actually only planned to run 11 miles that day and complete the half distance the following week, but I felt good so I decided to carry on for those final two miles.
I wonder if…
The day after my half, it struck me that London Marathon was still more than six months away. ‘What do I do with my training now?’ I asked myself. ‘Stick at half distance for a while? Go back to 3/4/5 mile runs.’ Then I remembered I’d seen a couple of local virtual marathons taking place in May. ‘I wonder if I could do a marathon by the end of May?’ I began to ask myself. Which quickly became ‘I wonder if I could do marathon by the end of May on my own?!’
Running continually reminds me that I am capable of so much more than I think I am. Each milestone fills me with confidence and helps me dig deep to find an inner strength I didn’t know was there. I’ve been so inspired by my She Runs friends, and also local ultra runners Lowri Morgan, who has run multi-day endurance events everywhere from the Arctic to the Amazon and who I’ve connected with over social media, and Rhys Jenkins, who last year became the world record holder for the fastest person to run the entire Wales Coastal Path and who I was lucky enough to run with twice during last year’s attempt. Those two have taught me so much about mental stamina, mind over matter, and believing in yourself. It’s definitely rubbed off on me.
Training in secret
And so, with the seed set in my mind, I quietly began to up my distance without really telling anyone. Self-employment meant I could juggle my work to fit long runs in while my children were in school and not even my husband knew what I had in mind for the first few weeks of my secret training.
Having gone from 14 miles straight to 26.2 for the Virtual London Marathon, these ‘middle miles’ were all new to me as I slowly worked up to 15, 17, and then 19 solo miles. I had a lot to learn about fuelling for long runs and training my mind as well as my body. My first attempt at 17 miles had to be abandoned a third in when I got a call to pick up an injured child from school. My 19 mile run was especially tough as the battery in my wireless earphones died a mile in because I’d forgotten to charge them. I find it hard to run without something to listen to, but it was another chance to prove to myself that I could do something I didn’t think I could. Even that morning I would have told you ‘there’s no way I could run 19 miles without anything to listen to’. But it turned out I was wrong.
In an idea world, I would have liked to have fitted in one more long run and had a couple of weeks to taper, as in a traditional marathon plan, but circumstances meant I had to get the marathon done this week or I wouldn’t manage to complete my May challenge.
And so, on Wednesday, I dropped my children to school and set off on my secret mission. My husband was the only person who knew my plans (although a couple of close friends knew I was planning a marathon ‘at some point’).
I decided to park at Roath Lake – one of my favourite and most meaningful places to run – so I could use my car as a base for snacks and drinks rather than carrying everything in my hydration pack. Rather than setting a marathon route, I decided to do big loops that took me around the lake, the wild gardens, the Rec and Waterloo Gardens. I know a lot of runners find laps a little soul destroying, but for this I found it comforting, knowing I was never too far from my car in case anything should happen, with plenty of drinks and snacks on hand that I didn’t need to carry, with toilets close by, and without worrying about my lack of a sense of direction getting me lost mid-marathon.
The first half felt really good. I listened to an audio book for about an hour; swapped to my running playlist which is full of upbeat, motivating songs that have been the soundtrack to so many runs. I popped back to my car every few miles for a quick drink and chunks of a protein snack bar and banana. I had a stock of vegan jelly sweets in my running belt. I bumped into a friend at 12 miles – the first person I had spoken to in two hours, which gave me a real boost.
I wasn’t sure if I could carry on
But then from around 17 miles it suddenly felt really, really tough. It’s a long time to be solo running and I was doubting myself. My pace slowed; I walked for a little bit. I kept on putting one foot in front of the other thinking about running to the next lamppost, the next car, the corner, rather than how many miles I had left.
I had a big wobble at about 19 miles with full on tears streaming down my face. I had hit ‘the wall’ marathon runners often talk about. I didn’t know if I could carry or not. Having a good cry helped get it out of my system – thankfully I was wearing my sunglasses. I texted my husband to say I was struggling and he called me back for the quickest of chats, en route to a meeting, with some gentle encouragement.
I channelled the spirit of all the amazing runners I know, and thought about what I would say to my friends if they were in my position. I remembered Tommy’s and all the people they help – my reason why. And somehow I found the strength to carry on.
I was exhausted but every mile that passed from then on felt amazing as I knew the end was in sight.
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
And then Heather Small’s anthemic Proud started playing into my ears, and the tears started falling again.
“I step out of the ordinary,
I can feel my soul ascending
I’m on my way, can’t stop me now
What have you done today to make you feel proud?”
Gosh, I did feel proud and I was so grateful to Heather for reminding me that I had done something out of the ordinary. I had stepped out of my comfort zone. I had worked hard. I was on my way and nothing could stop me now. I listened to that song four times in a row and it powered me to the end, as I visualised how the crowds cheering me on to the finish line. My eyes are filling up even writing this as I reflect on those lyrics because they came along at the perfect moment.
The finish line
I got to my car at 25.9 miles so had to run on a little and back to make it to 26.2. Well, actually, it was 26.3 because I know Strava can be a little unpredictable and I wanted to make sure I was over rather than under.
It was very weird getting to the end with no finish line, with no one even to say well done. I stretched out my legs, drank a sports recovery drink, walked (hobbled) over to the Roath Lake lighthouse to take a finisher photo, and then sat in my car and let the tears flow and flow. Happy, emotional and exhausted tears.
“I did it!” I texted my husband, knowing he wouldn’t see it for a while as he was in a meeting.
I did it! I ran a solo marathon!
Back on the school run as if nothing had happened
I had half hour in my car to recover (a combination of crying and eating), and then went to pick up my children from school. They’re used to me turning up to school in my running kit and although I quizzed them about their day, no one asked me about mine. And so I told them. “Really?! A marathon?! Wow.” My daughter hugged me and told me she was proud. My son told his friends. This all meant so much to me, as my children are the three people I most want to inspire to believe in themselves and to aim high in all they do.
I had hoped to go straight home to have a bath, but as it was a rare sunshiny day the kids all wanted to go to the park with some friends… so we did that instead, picking up some celebratory ice creams on the way.
I finally had a bath full of Epsom salts at around 7pm and then it was PJs and into bed at the same time of my children, body aching, mind exhausted, but so, so happy.
You never know who you are inspiring
I hadn’t planned to blog about my secret marathon. I posted to the She Runs Cardiff Facebook group which is the loveliest, most supportive community. A few hours later I decided to post on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram account, and got so many lovely comments. One in particular stood out to me. “You have no idea how many people you encourage by sharing your story.” Wow, those words meant a lot to me.
When I started running I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, in case they thought I was rubbish or slow or in case I couldn’t do what I set out to do. It was only when a friend told me that among the audience of parents who followed Cardiff Mummy there were undoubtedly other women slowly coming back to fitness after having children (or finding it for the first time since they were at school), struggling to fit it in around family life, feeling like they were a bit rubbish too and wanting to see others in the same position, that I realised I needed to use the privilege of my platform to share my journey.
So here is the latest chapter in my story.
The latest step in my running journey.
Running a marathon is hard. Running a marathon on your own is excruciatingly hard.
I didn’t think I would ever be the kind of person who would run a marathon ‘just because’. But the more I grow as a runner, the more I learn about who I am.
Thank for you the continued support on this page which constantly reminds me that ‘I can’. If you take one thing away from this, please let it be you never know what you are capable of until you start saying I can instead of I can’t.
If this has inspired you, perhaps you might like to make a small donation to my London Marathon fundraising for Tommy’s. Thank you in advance for any donations.