So, I did it! I ran the Virgin Money London Marathon last month, crossing the finish line at exactly 15:05:05 on 23rd April, after being on my feet for 4 hours, 58 minutes and 46 seconds. And it was exhilarating, and exhausting, and loud, and life-affirming, and painful, and uplifting.
The marathon hasn’t just been about those 26.2 miles, though. It’s been about four months of hard work; of winter training runs and hill sessions; of heading out in horizontal rain; of ice baths and early nights; and of fitting it all in around the most important people in my life. Which is why I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned along the way…
1/ It’s tiring and time consuming
Marathon training is a little bit like motherhood. Motherhood is pretty all-consuming. It requires you to give more of yourself than you have ever done before. As a mother, you give, and give, and give. I give my love. I give my time. I give ALL of my patience until (I admit) it sometimes runs out. I have given up unbroken nights of sleep. There are times during this parenting journey where I have almost given my sanity, rocking my screaming first born, alone, in the darkest hours of the night. I give my cuddles and my “magic Mummy kisses” to grazed knees. I give far too much energy to the endless stream of clothes that trail in and out of the washing machine.
It takes patience, tolerance and strength, but it is also rewarding and life-affirming.
Marathon training asks a lot of you, too. It also takes patience, tolerance and strength, and it is also rewarding and life-affirming. (Mind you, it doesn’t tread breadsticks into the carpet. So it’s actually easier.)
2/ You need to be flexible
Now obviously, it would have been lovely to have found a training plan and then stuck to that four- or five-runs-a-week schedule for the full 16 weeks without a glitch. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work like that, especially when you have kids. For anyone wondering whether you can train for a marathon on three runs a week, yes you can. I did. This was the only way I could (a) comfortably fit the training into my week and (b) leave myself with enough energy to look after my children. Of course, I didn’t always manage the three runs. Kids get sick. Half terms meant no childcare. My husband sometimes worked evenings or weekends. In which case, I ran twice a week. Or I ran for half the time my training plan stated. Flexibility is key. If it doesn’t go to plan, don’t beat yourself up. Do what you can and move on. As a mum, you can’t worry about how many sessions you might miss. You just have to do the best with the time you have. Which brings me to…
3/ I didn’t go it alone
Without the support of my husband, it would have been far harder to get to the start line of this marathon. The fact is, marathon training (especially those longer runs of 13 miles plus) takes up considerable time, and if my husband hadn’t been around to parent our kids as much as he was, it would have been far trickier. I’m lucky: as we’re both self-employed, I was often able to fit in my training during daylight hours, even in winter – a big motivational boost. But it wasn’t just my schedule that had to adapt to allow for all those training miles; his did, too.
That’s not to say it was always easy. He’s not a pushover (nor would I want him to be). Sometimes (often) there was a battle for the spare hours in the day, but we compromised. It worked. Just.
4/ Try to work on your core
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of interviewing four-time World Ironman Champion and mum, Chrissie Wellington, who gave me some top advice: “Focus on having a strong core, because that will carry you through, especially in the latter stages of a marathon.”
And if Chrissie Wellington tells you your core will get you through, go and do some strengthening exercises, pronto.
As with everything, I never had much time to set aside for this, but a few planks here, while the kids were playing shops, a few sit-ups there, in-between popping the fish fingers in the oven and waiting for the kettle to boil to cook the peas, and I pretty much got there!
Did I feel strong during the marathon. Yes. Do I now have abs like Chrissie’s? No.
5/ It will restore your faith in humanity
Race day itself is like a giant, multi-coloured, glittery endorphin hit. From the unwavering crowd support to the high-fives from all the kids; from scoffing jelly babies to blaring music; from iconic landmarks to unwavering camaraderie among runners, it’s just inspiring.
Yes, it was hard. Yes, my legs hurt. Yes, I got stitches.
But even when you’re exhausted and think you cannot run another step, you do. You do because of your supporters, and the crowd, and the overwhelming sense of goodwill that sweeps you along. if you want to see some good in this world, head to London on marathon day. The camaraderie, grit, determination, support, positivity, love and generosity will lift you up. And you might never come back down. I haven’t yet.
6/ Remember to pack an extra medal in your race bag
OK, this is important if you are determined to wear your OWN medal around your OWN neck, because YOU just ran 26.2 freakin’ miles. Bring along an old race medal for each of your children. That way, when they’re begging to wear your race medal, you can simply fob them off with lesser models, and your hard-won new bling will remain firmly where it belongs.
I wanted to train for and run this marathon in part to show my children I’m more than just their Mummy, but mainly to remind myself that I’m more than just their Mummy. It’s so easy to get lost in the snack demands and snot wiping, in the cuddles and kisses, in the meal cooking and plate scraping, in the bath time and bed battles, that sometimes it’s important to simply head out of the door and be me.
That is what this marathon meant.