I did it, I finished the Virgin London Marathon. It took me 6:38:12 but I succeeded.
I had been inspired by a motivational speaker, Miles Hilton-Barber, back in October 2008. His talk made me want to push my personal boundaries. I have a 50th birthday looming and I wanted to mark the occasion with a real challenge, something completely out of character, so I made a decision - it would be the Virgin London Marathon 2010 and I signed up for a charity place running for the Poole Hospital Wish List in my home town.
Ever the academic, the first thing I did was buy a book, then discuss my wacky plan with a colleague who had run a marathon herself. She gave me an old copy of Runner's World which contained a beginner's training plan - my first tentative steps to becoming a runner had been taken. I found the magazine inspiring and soon subscribed, avidly reading the stories and tips to help keep me motivated.
My first challenge was a Race for Life in Bournemouth during the summer of 2009. But this was to be no mean feat for a complete non-runner. My first attempts at the run-walk training, I kid you not, left me gasping for breath after just 30 seconds – I questioned my sanity at this point but soldiered on, gradually increasing the running sections bit by bit.
Race day was hot and as my daughter and I waited at the start we were nervous and excited. I finished in 36 minutes - pretty respectable for someone who couldn’t run for a bus four months before. I felt justly proud of my effort as I received my first finisher’s medal.
My next race was a 10K in Poole Park on Boxing Day. Training had been sketchy due to a family bereavement but the morning of the race was fine and dry, with family there to encourage me around the four-lap circuit. I managed to run the whole way in 1:18 and then headed off to my mothers for a well-deserved Christmas dinner.
We all know what the winter was like, but living on the south coast meant that we weren't so badly affected as some. I was able to get stuck into my 16-week plan as soon as the festivities were over, gradually building my miles around various routes so as not to get bored. Reading Runner's World and talking to running friends kept me motivated as I felt too embarrassed to seek the support of a local running club. My husband (on his push bike) served as a coach to spur me on and slowly but surely my "long runs" increased.
In March I entered the Fleet Half-Marathon, which was a disaster. It took me 2:58 to complete but nonetheless taught me a lot about pace, nutrition and focus. Another medal was added to my steadily growing collection.
Eventually it was time to taper as the big day approached. And then it was here!
What an amazing weekend I had. I very nervously left my husband at the local coach station early on Saturday morning, heading to the capital with a kit bag stuffed with everything I would need to get me through my epic day.
My first challenge was to navigate the public transport system to reach the London Marathon Expo. I sat outside in the sun for several minutes reflecting on the enormity of the task I was about to undertake, worried that I hadn't done enough and would fail and let everyone down. But I realised that to back out then would let me down and I would never know how far it is possible to go if I didn't give it my best shot. So in I went, signing on the dotted line when I picked up my number and final instructions.
The Expo was great and the final hints and tips given by the professionals during the Pasta Party were very helpful.
I managed to sleep from 10pm till 4am and then woke both excited and terrified. After all the waiting, the day was finally here. I ate my breakfast (bagels and peanut butter), got into my kit and headed off to Greenwich. The trains were bustling with runners all toting their regulation red kit bags with running numbers duly affixed - there was an amazing sense of camaraderie as strangers discussed strategies and finish times while sipping their isotonic fluids and nibbling bananas.
At the start we all made our way to the designated areas, and watched on big screens as the elite runners started their race. Everyone huddled in plastic ponchos or bin liners in an effort to keep dry under a heavy shower but by the time we were ready to start the sun was out once more. From Pen 9 it took me 20 minutes to cross the start line but then I was away and jogging along quite comfortably. All the advice I'd been given said not to not start too fast so I got into a good rhythm and stuck with it.
The course is relatively flat (with undulations rather than hills) and I was feeling good. The crowds were encouraging and there was a real carnival atmosphere all around. After my disastrous experience at Fleet I wanted to see if I could run the first half without stopping and I am pleased to say that I achieved that goal, even when I caught sight of my best friend fiercely waving her "Run Forest Run" banner at Mile 8. I kept going, telling her I'd see her again later on.
My husband got a smashing picture of me as I crossed Tower Bridge which was almost halfway, but it was so crowded that I didn't see him. Once I passed halfway, I continued with a run-walk strategy but from Mile 25, I was determined to run to the end. My daughter was waiting on Birdcage Walk and managed to video me as I jogged by.
How proud did I feel as I saw Buckingham Palace in front of me with the Union Jack flying against the spring sky? As I turned into The Mall and saw the finish, a sudden burst of energy propelled me forward as tears streamed down my face. I had made it all the way - no wall, no blisters, no cramp, just an amazing sense of achievement not just on account of the race but for all the months that had gone before too!
My initial idea had been to challenge myself to do something really out of character to mark my 50th birthday in June this year. I am just an ordinary unfit, overweight, middle-aged woman from sleepy Dorset who, with the help and support of family and friends (who I am sure initially just humoured me, never believing it would actually happen) completed the Virgin London Marathon. I have learnt so much about myself and what I am capable of but most of all I hope that they have learnt something too. I gave my daughter my running number at the end and told her that I wanted her to keep it - every time she looks at it she should remember that nothing is impossible if you just set your mind to it.
“It is only when we try to go too far that we realise how far it is possible to go” (Miles Hilton-Barber)
Now what shall I do next I wonder?