Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Virgin London Marathon 2011

Sunday. April 17th. 2011. The Virgin London Marathon. My big day: My first marathon... The Magathon!

When you put yourself on the line in a race and expose yourself to the unknown, you learn things about yourself that are very exciting. - Doris Brown Heritage

It was with nervous anticipation and excitement that I stood in pen 6 in Blackheath on Sunday morning. Fully prepared with porridge, tea, an energy bar, 500 mills of 'Nunn' converted water, loperamide hydrochloride tablets and two portaloo visits I was as ready as I'd ever be for the challenge that awaited me. As I struggled to get my warm-up trousers off my legs, whilst standing up, without removing my trainers, Speedy Paula Radcliffe and I made last minute plans to meet in Horseguard's Parade at the end; having orginially decided to meet at the letter Q, we overheard another conversation where someone else had exactly the same cunning plan to avoid the most overpopulated letters. Swiftly, we changed our plans, opting for a double bluff and meeting at J... there's no way all those Jones' and Johnson's would risk meeting at the most highly populated letter in Britain surely? No, they'd all meet at Q... so J it was. And then we were off.

Well, sort of. The first 1/2 mile was a bit like driving round the M25: run... walk...  run... walk... stop... walk... run... you get the idea. But by the time we hit the balloned arch of the first mile, I was running at my optimum pace and Paula and I waved goodbye to each other until the end.

The first 8 miles absolutely flew by. Joining the red start at mile 3 made for some humourous banter as chants of 'who are ya?' and good natured boos flew back and forth between the conjoining lines. A cacophony of noise greeted us as we ran through Greenwich, with so much support and cheering from the crowd the enormity of the event I was now a part of was really brought home. And it didn't stop there. The first 10 miles absolutely flew by with the course constantly lined with spectators cheering, whooping, and waving their motivational banners... 'Run like you stole something' was one of  my personal favourites. At mile 12, we turned onto London Bridge, and I actually gave a little gasp out loud; crammed with cameras, specators and runners, this iconic London landmark was a riot of noise and colour and once again, I was reminded of the huge scale of the event I was a part of; the very event I've watched, with awe, on television each year, and I felt choked with emotion.

As we ran towards Canary Wharf and reached the half way point, I saw Richard again; dressed as a Pink Lady Apple, we'd met when his green wave had joined my blue and had exchanged words of good luck then. Having been running now for 2 1/2 hours, the sun was sitting high in the sky and the heat from it was truly relentless. Richard, in his massive heated, foam apple dome, was suffering; being able to offer no more than words of encouragement and a friendly smile, I did that and carried on past... Richard... well done, and I hope you made it.

Nearing mile 14 now, a little shiver of excitement started to fuel me again. This was the point at which I was expecting to see my friends and family and as I turned onto Narrow Street, my eyes began darting back and forth amongst the faces of the crowd, seeking them out. It was my Mum and her friend Sue I saw first. Spotting my Mum's bright pink hair - yes, you read that right... and you were wondering why I was such a nutter! - I dashed over and gave them both a massive hug. Seeing them had felt great and instantly I was looking out again for Mik and Jay, who I knew were also planning on watching from Narrow Street. And just 1/4 a mile on, there they were. Once again, I flew up to them, gave Mik a massive sweaty hug and carried on running! For me, seeing those familiar faces and hearing their words of encouragement really spurred me on and I continued running strong for another couple of miles.

Some more running  and one unavoidable portaloo stop later, and I left the Isle of Dogs to return to the imposing office blocks of Canary Wharf, where at mile 19 I saw my friend Louisa. There in her official capacity of 'very talented proper press photographer', she was well hidden behind the rather enormous lense of her camera; but she wasn't to escape the sweaty hugs and she even took a couple of pics of me... proof I was doing well(ish) at mile 19...

Maggie at Mile 19; by Louisa Emery :-)

Running is real and relatively simple - but it ain't easy.  - Mark Will-Weber

By mile 20, I had to make a second portaloo visit and things were starting to get tough. Entering unknown territory, I knew that this was where the real challenge would begin and I tried to keep drawing on the strategies that had got me through so far: the buzz of the event, the determination of the other runners around me and the support of the cheering crowds. However by mile 21 I had started to find myself in another zone entirely. Mum and Sue had backtracked to this point to see me for a second time, yet despite their cheers and shouts of 'Maggie', I missed them this second time, completely zoned out from what was going on around me now. With the infamous 'Wall' rapidly closing in on me, it was Mik and Jay who were able to shout loud enough to snap me out of it and I'm sure their shouts and encouraging cheers held that wall off a bit longer...

... But alas, not forever. By mile 22 I had now taken 6 Loperamide Hydrochloride (in layman's terms: imodium), and without offering too much detail, they weren't working... so, with portaloo stop number 3, I started to feel very sorry for myself. Taking a drink from the water station, I slowed to a walk, dropped my head and had a little cry. I can't say I'm proud, I can't say I was even aware of what I was doing, I can say I think I found the wall! As I wallowed in my own self pity, I lifted my head to take in what was going on around me and made eye contact with two girls sat at the side of the road. They'd been shouting words of encouragement to the other runners, cheering them on, enjoying the event and as they looked at me, one of them met my eyes, smiled and said 'Oh, Maggie...' and that was it. I was off. I gathered myself together, reminded myself of why I was doing this and ran. Just ran. Nothing else to it. And as I passed under the balloons for mile 23 I realised something about myself; I realised that there's a determination in me that was buried so deep, even I didn't know it was there.

Running is like celebrating your soul. There's so much it can teach us in life.  - Molly Barker

For those last 3 miles, I started again. I put out of my mind all the miles that had gone before. I pushed the pain back into deepest recesses I could find. I banished every doubt I'd ever had as to whether I could do this or not. There was 5k to go. I was going to do it. And I wasn't going to stop running until I had.

And then it all started falling into place; the London Eye came into sight, Charing Cross station, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliment. The roads, packed with people, became louder and louder and I just kept running. Turning down Birdcage walk I felt like crying; I was nearly there. I sped up. And as Buckingham Palace came into view, I sped up again. Now I could hear the loudspeaker announcing the finishers, instructing us to lift our arms high above our heads as we completed 26.2 miles of one of the greatest running events in the world. I rounded the corner, saw the finish boards and sped up again. And now, completely overwhelmed, I ran with everything I had left, tears streaming down my face, barely able to breathe with excitement towards the finish line. I lifted my arms high above my head and completed the London Marathon.

I love the marathon ... Its a challenge, and if you dont like challenges, something is wrong with your life. - Abdi Abdirahman

I can't explain the sense of achievement and pride I felt then, and still feel now at finishing the distance. It is, without doubt, the toughest thing I have ever done as it tested me both mentally and physically. Until you put yourself to the test, push the bounaries of your comfort zone, there's no way of knowing what you're capable of. I am not a natural distance runner. In training I struggled, losing speed, confidence and, at times, my enjoyment of running. But what I lost in those few months I gained back ten fold on Sunday. I finished the London Marathon in a time of 05:46:15. I pushed myself as hard as I could. I didn't give up. I wasn't fast and I didn't break any records, but on Sunday I discovered I have the mental strength, physical stamina and pure determination to run 26.2 miles. And that is something to feel proud of.

Running has given me the courage to start, the determination to keep trying, and the childlike spirit to have fun along the way. Run often and run long, but never outrun your joy of running - Julie Isphording

Friday, 15 April 2011


Runner number 26311: trained, carbed-up and raring to go!

Thanks to all of you who have offered me kind words of encouragement and wished me luck, and a big thank you to those of you who have also sponsored me, you have been so generous and I really don't think I could find the words to express adequately exactly how much it all means to me.

Should you be watching the VLM on TV, from the comfort of your sofa, this year or even be visiting the course itself to cheer people on, you may want to look out for me... I will look like a red, sweaty, and slightly dead version of this:

The bright yellow vest in is aid of the children's charity, CHICKS,and Mik has, since this picture was taken, kindly customised it with my name on the front and back... so if you're there, and you see me, there's no excuse for not cheering me on as loud as you can!

As far as how I feel about the whole event... well, I think nervous excitement would adequately describe it. My feelings are a little in conflict with each other really; on the one hand, I feel like I'm nowhere near ready and wonder if I'll even make it to the finish line, yet on the other hand I know that I am and I can't wait to get down there and get it over with... I'm like an oxymoron! (I know that people have referred to my as such before... although they usually leave off the oxy!).

So, here we go... I'm off the pack my bags and make sure I'm ready for the early train to London tomorrow. Good luck to K, like in cake, who I know is also running... maybe we'll see each other there... and I'll see the rest of you on Monday night, once I've extracted my head from the large bucket glass of rose I plan to be drowning celebrating in with.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Running tips for warm weather

Some running tips for when the sun is sitting high in the sky, heating the world from its lofty heights and creating a beautiful 22 degree heat...

- run in the early morning, before the fiery ball reaches its peak;
- run in the early evening, once the sky has dimmed and a soft breeze has set in, whilst the tempting smell of 1st-of-the-year barbecues fill the air;
- take a bottle of water on your run, even if you're only running a 'short distance';
- hydrate properly before you run, so as not to give yourself a headache on your return.

- laze around being useless for the morning, ignoring the weather forecast, then just as the sun reaches its maximum height in the sky, when there'll be no shade in which to hide, head out for a 6 mile run;
- drink only one cup of tea and half a cup of water before you head out on said heated 6 mile run;
- forget to rehydrate fully once you've completed your run.

Some useful tips I think you'll find. I have posted them because they are tips I clearly needed before I headed out on my run today; if these tips had been readily available on t'internet before I set out today, I would have read them, reconsidered my options, and adapted my routine appropriately. As it is, these tips are now posted on aforementioned t'internet and I will therefore never be tempted into making the same mistakes again. Ever.

Distance: 6 miles
Feeling: Hot, hot, hot and very sweaty!!
Weather: A little warm!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Ticking Over in the Taper

Jimmy Carter

Fast minute sprints with 2 minutes recovery meant that although last night's club session was hard, the long recovery ensured that I finished it feeling fit, strong and full of confidence. You might also note the lack of ' ' around the word fast... yes, I actually felt like I ran fast... Okay, I wasn't breaking records - we've discussed this before and concluded that I never will, remember?- but I certainly ran faster than I have done in a long time, hitting a 6.29min/mile pace on some of my minute intervals; a long forgotten pace since my marathon training began.

And it felt great.

And ten intervals later, I realised that all the stresses and tensions of the day had dissipated and I felt great.

And that's great.

It's all great because ultimately I enjoyed running last night; and it's been a little while since I truly said that. Marathon training has been hard; and, quite ridiculously, it turns out that tapering is hard! The Sensible side of my brain, and Obsessive side are arguing with each other constantly so in my head, it sounds a bit like this:

Miss Sensible: Now, let's rest and take it easy, eat well and get lots of sleep.
Miss Obsessive: Come on... let's go for a run... just a little one, it won't hurt... come on... you know you want to!
Miss Sensible: No. Rest. You're feeling tired, it's warm outside. What good will it do you? Rest.
Miss Obsessive: Okay, okay, I'll rest... but... maybe... just a little run? you know you love it!!!

As you can see, not only have I completely flipped (although I'm thinking that's nothing new) but I am also struggling a little with not running quite so much. Which is weird because, as anyone who will listen knows, I've found the increase in training and the long distances hard, so you'd think I'd be happy with this forced period of low running... maybe that's the problem - I've never liked being told what to do, even when it's me doing the telling! Or maybe it's just that I've realised, once again, how much I truly LOVE running.

Arnold Hano, Writer.
 Distance: Thursday - 3 miles
Feeling: Great
Weather: lovely

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

What's in a name?

Today, Abradypus is worried about living up to her name... a Sloth. I, on the other hand, have failed to define mine in my actions. The Magathon conjures images of a hardworking, super-type being who can run, and run, and run... yeah, right!

The thought is there... that counts doesn't it!

Actually, I'm overexaggerating a little; it's not all bad and I do have a plan.  A glance back over the week so far offers the following picture:

Monday: When I went Club running where I: failed to climb a hill without running out of breath; failed to run two circuits of a loop in the park at a fast pace without running out of breath and having to (partially) walk up the final hill; Failed to hit a 'fast' pace anywhere close to what I used to be able to manage. A successful session then... note heavy use of irony!).

Tuesday: When I visited Jo, my Physio, for a sports massage which proved much more successful (no hint of irony here, although we must note that a successful sports massage really has everything to do with the physio and nothing to do with me!

Wednesday: Where I stayed far too long at work, visited the doc's, visited the supermarket, took the dog for a walk and decided that a)I was too tired to run, b) it was too late to run, and c) it was too warm to run; which really all culminated in one excuse of d) I couldn't be bothered to run.

Now: I have made a deal with myself that I will go to club tomorrow, which will involve 'speed' work; that I will run a gentle 4 miles on Friday after work - no excuses allowed; and I will run my planned 6 miles on Saturday morning at my planned marathon pace. All of which will put me back on track for my training this week. So there. Do I feel guilty anymore? Nope, not me...

And, just to ensure I am feeling super-virtuous and completely guilt free I have given myself a timely reminder, and consequently a large pat on the back, at how well my nutrition plan is going this week... I have raised my protein intake for the week, in order to aid muscle repair before I carb-load towards the end of next week; I have abstained completely from all types of high (saturated) fat foods, those which are super processed and full of sugar; and I am eating more fruit and vegetables and drinking at least 2 litres of water whilst at work. If my calculations are correct, by the time I reach the marathon, I'll be a lean, mean running machine... Deserving of my name, I will be... The Magathon!

Distance: (Monday) 3.36 miles
Feeling: out of breath!
Weather: Much warmer than it first seemed!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Just the two of us...

Before all this Marathon palaver, you could pretty much guarantee that when the weekend arrived, if we were both in Manchester, Paula and I would run together. In fact, it was highly unusual for us to miss a mid-week run as well as a longer weekend jaunt. However, this has been a rarity lately and so it was great to get out there today with my original running friend.

I've felt quite bad recently as I've been avoiding running with Paula, and even in races told her off for trying to run with me! But it's all been for the greater good... the long distance running has really suited her and consequently she is much quicker than me and keeps a far faster pace than I'm able to. At first, I attempted to keep with her pace, and ability to increase her distance consistently from one week to the next. However, as injury struck I realised that this was silly; I was comparing myself to her, judging myself as a failure when I was unable to keep up and running myself into the ground trying to match her training regime and pace. So I stopped. I know this has been as strange for her as it has been for me; we've always run together. But as my distances increased and my training progressed, I realised it was necessary, and it worked. If nothing else, what I've learnt over the last few weeks is that it's important to 'run your own race'. Running is recreational to me and the London Marathon is an event I wanted to participate in for the sense of fun and achievement; I was never out to meet a set time, break records (some chance!), or compete against others, the marathon is my personal journey and as such, the training has to be also.

So, I've purposefully neglected Paula over the past few weeks - sorry Paula! - but in doing so, I think both of us have become more aware of our own abilities. Saying that, I've missed my running friend on the long plods around Manchester and so it was great to set off with her today... twice: we massively misjudged the weather, and wrapped up in running tights, coats and caps we were unlikely to have dropped down from heat exhaustion before we made it 10 miles, so we doubled back and dropped them off. With my old (not literally... although she is older than me... anyway...) friend back beside me, the sun shining in the sky and my legs screaming from the past weeks' work, the 10 miles flew by. I even tried out a fruity energy bar on the way and survived the experience - a new potential candidate for the marathon me thinks.

With just 2 weeks to go now until the big day, I'm starting to feel a little apprehensive. However, I'm being good - focusing on my nutrition, tapering my training and I've been working on my PRB; I know I can complete this. All of you, friends and family have been amazingly supportive too: sponsoring me, encouraging me, supporting me and even baking me good luck cakes - thanks Diane! So much so, I reckon that by the time I hit the tarmac in London on April 17th, I'll be filled with so much PRB, I'll be thinking I can win it! Well... almost!

Distance: 10 miles
Feeling: good
Weather: sunny and windy.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Say No More...


Distance: 4.63 miles
Feeling: :-)
Weather: Just stopped raining, feeling warm.


I got lost on last night's run. Not geographically lost - I was perfectly aware of where I was and how to get back - I've lived in the area for 7 years, I'm not that bad! No, I became lost from the rest of the group. However, this did occur as a result of my own inability to follow simple, geographically related instructions and whilst I was running up and down the same stretch of road waiting for the rest of my club to come back to me, they were somewhere else entirely waiting for me to catch up to them!

This bizarre situation occured because I was feeling too wimpish to run up 'Evil Hill'; this is the steepest hill in the world in Chadderton; a quiet country road which stretches only about 100 metres but oh, is it a killer! Since we set off, I found I was struggling; tired and sluggish, my breathing was sluggish and my legs felt like someone had tied them down with lead weights and I was hanging precariously off the back of the group. So when Pete offered me a way out of Evil Hill: 'You're on your taper period Maggie, it's not about pushing yourself... it's up to you, but you don't have to run up it, we'll meet back up with you', with visions in my mind of the others waiting for me at the top of the hill, whilst I had slowly died with every step taken up it, I took the easy option!

The others took off up the hill and Pete gave me instructions to meet back up. This is where it all went wrong. Misinterpreting the instructions, I believed them to be coming back in my direction and promptly ran up and down the same road several times until their return. Their return never came. Completely oblivious to the concern and confusion of the others as to where I had ended up, I continued plodding up and down the same road. Up...and down. Up...and down. Up...and down. 'This is strange' I thought to myself, 'Surely they'd be back by now... maybe it's further than I thought.'... Up... and down. Up... and down. 'I wonder what the time is', I pondered as my watch signalled another mile run... 7.53pm? 'That's not right!' Realising that, as happy as I'd been in my own little world running back and forth along this quiet country road, there was only 7 minutes left until club finished, that I was just over a mile from the finish point, and that I had clearly not got the instructions right, I promptly set off back to the track!

So you see, not technically 'lost', but lost all the same! As the light faded and I realised I should maybe have kept a closer eye on the time, my rescue arrived! Completely baffled as to what I could have possibly have done wrong, the others had set off back to track expecting to at least come across me on the way. Splitting into two groups, they had covered both potential routes back to the track and had still failed to find me! So, realising I was well and truly lost somewhere in the wilderness of Chadderon, Pete had set off on a rescue mission in his car! As it was, quite handily, I became 'unlost' at the bottom of another massive hill, so I even managed to avoid running up that one! Bonus I reckon!

Needless to say, I'll take the butch option next time and run up the hill! On the plus side, I managed to clock up around 4 miles what with running back and forth along that road...

Distance: 4 miles (approx... the garmin did record the rescue journey in the car as well!)
Feeling: Lost!
Weather: warm and windy.