Well this is a post I never envisaged writing in my wildest dreams but here we are! I ran a bloody marathon and I thought it would be good to a) document it for myself b) shed some light and maybe some inspiration on anyone who would like to run one themselves. If you'd like to know how I got into running in the first place you can read my post here and just to put it out there I'm no expert!
Honestly? I've always thought it would be pretty cool to do a marathon but here are two main reasons why I decided to run one. The first is I basically got a bit carried away when I got into running and read a book called Running Like a Girl. The book was all about running a marathon and the writer's experience of falling in love with running. I really related to this book and was reading it when I was doing the Couch to 5k. That teamed with watching the London Marathon in 2019 led me to get a bit over excited and apply to do a marathon myself. I couldn't even run a 5k at this point but I felt so inspired and thought I'd set myself the challenge. I'd found running to really boost my mood and help with those bad mental health days that we all have and I wanted to aim high. A lot of people around me at the time had their doubts, thinking I'd bitten off more than I could chew, telling me it was "a nice dream to have" or would say " you do realise a Marathon is a big commitment and it's going to be hard!" At that point maybe I hadn't realised what I'd taken on but I'd be damned if I'd let anyone tell me that I couldn't do it which is what people were trying to tell me in a round about way.
I then decided I'd run for charity. A lot of people raise money for cancer charities which is fantastic however I wanted to give back to a cause that has effected me personally and to say thank you really. Without going too much into it, like many people I've had my own personal battles with mental health over the years but if there's one thing I've learnt (and even more so through running) is that sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and not doing anything to actively help yourself will make it so much bloody worse. So a little part of this marathon was me sticking my finger up to negative feelings and allowing them to ever have gotten the better of me. With that in mind, I decided the charity I wanted to raise money for was Mind. Their website is fantastic for reference and advice on mental health which I've looked at in the past but that's just the tip of the iceberg with what they provide for people. For me it just felt like the right charity and would motivate me to succeed at a marathon.
I started training for the marathon just before Christmas and loosely used a training plan put together by the Fire Fighters Charity. With working on shift I planned my running days around my shifts rather being regimental with my training days being set days of the week. Running long distances after a night shift realistically for me would never happen so I chose to do my longest runs on my rest days and the shorter runs on day shifts or before my first night shift. I generally ran three times a week rather than four as I found this more achievable and for cross training I would go for walks with the doggo. A lot of people asked me how I managed to get the miles done in training and honestly I think it's all about mentally preparing yourself. Your body will do the miles, you've just got to believe you can do it and trust the process. I never worried about how long it would take me to complete a distance so I never felt that pressure and just enjoyed the runs as best I could. Don't get me wrong, some runs I didn't want to do and I would struggle but as many runners say, you never regret a run. Building up to longer mileage and hitting those mini milestones made me confident that I could do it and for me it was all about making the time to do the training. I'm no athlete so admittedly I was still having a few drinks on the weekend and having the odd takeaway but I never let that interfere with my training! I trained for 17 weeks in total which sounds like a long time but those weeks soon slipped by and I was ready for the main event.
With COVID-19 going on, my marathon day changed dramatically. I was originally going to run the Manchester Marathon but with social distancing and all the rest it just wasn't meant to be. Unfortunately I can't make the rescheduled date in October and having done my longest training run the day the news broke that it would be postponed, I decided to run my own race. I'd ran 20 miles that day and I felt ready to run the full distance in two weeks time so I decided to run my own marathon where I live and keep to my word of running a marathon to raise money for Mind.
Chris put together a running route for me which was bang on 26.2 miles door to door around the area we live. It encompassed self isolating back roads in the countryside to ensure I wouldn't come into contact with anyone on my route and he also came with me as my support crew to fuel me. Unlike an official event, there aren't any fuelling stations to grab a drink or have a snack in the Lincolnshire countryside (!) so Chris rode beside me, passing me a drink or a snack whenever I needed it. For fuel I had a selection of jelly babies, flap jack, jaffa cakes, water and lucozade sport. All very sugary and carby which is perfect for a marathon even if you do get sick of the taste half way through. I wish cheese would work the same!!
When it came to the actual run I wasn't as nervous as I'd anticipated. I slept like a log the night before whereas had I been in Manchester I suspect I'd have been full of nerves the night before and barely slept! I started running and loved the route Chris had chosen. It was lovely to run a different route and see things in my area that I would never normally notice in the car. From daffodils to sheep, quaint houses to lovely landscapes- it was a pleasure to run through the countryside. My spirits were high and I was feeling fine up until Chris started playing voice clips from my family and friends cheering me on and encouraging me. It made me so emotional and I don't think they will ever fully understand how appreciative I was of their support that day. Hearing someone you love saying "come on Kat you can do it" really gave me a boost to continue as well as cry because everyone was being so bloody lovely. Chris would send videos back to them of me saying thank you and plodding on with the miles and the messages I received got more and more inventive. Friends played the guitar and sang, filmed themselves and all sorts. It was bloody amazing and spurred me on no end.
Running wise I didn't stop. At no point did I walk or take a break, I just went and went and went. The struggle came for me just after the 18 mile mark. I knew I was able to do further, having run 20 miles in training but for some reason my head started to struggle. What if I couldn't do it? What if I let everyone down? I felt tired and after every step my head was shouting at me to stop. If there's one thing I've learnt through running this past year it's never stop. You will regret it and kick yourself for it. The pain is temporary whereas disappointment will haunt you.
Miles 20-24 I had a bit of a paddy and looking back I feel sorry for Chris!! I was whinging at him about how I wanted to go home to which he said "we're going home!" and I would then say "I want it to be over now". How he kept his cool I don't know but he kept encouraging me and telling me how well I was doing which helped so much even if it didn't appear to at the time! I can't explain what went through my head during those miles but my head went to a dark place and I think that's where I "hit the wall". I can honestly say though that that was nothing compared to where bad mental health can take you and I focused on that during those tough miles. I've been through worse, I've experienced worse and the whole point of this marathon is to give back to Mind and prove that you CAN get through the dark times.
Miles 24-26.2 I went really really quiet. Chris was still chatting to me on his bike but I was grunting back at him in response. All I could focus on was getting the final miles done. My left hip was giving me sharp shooting pain, my lower back was sore, my boobs were stinging from chaffing and I could feel a blister forming on my left big toe. Now my mind was determined but my body was screaming to stop. Would I give in now? Heck no. I knew where I was on the route, I was so close to home and if I stopped running now I'd still have to walk to get home. I'd really slowed down at this point due to everything hurting and feeling exhausted but I just had to finish and I knew I was nearly there.
For the final half a mile I ran alone and Chris went ahead to meet me at the finish. I looked out over the fields and at the sun making its way down in the sky and thought how lucky I am to have my health and the support network of my family and friends, especially during what has been such an uncertain time recently. And then I turned the corner of my road and I could see Chris smiling and cheering me on and it was over! As you can see from the video below the realisation of what I'd just done hit me all of a sudden. I'd run a marathon...what!?
My marathon may not have been what I'd pictured in my head for months and months on my training runs but it was my marathon none the less and I'd set out to do what I'd said I would. In a way it was more personal to me than a big official event. The area I got to run has meaning to me, my family and friends may not have been with me in person but they were certainly with me in spirit.
It's been a few weeks now since I ran my marathon. Would I do one again? At the time I remember saying never again and for now I feel like I've done what I set out to do but never say never eh... It's by far the hardest thing I've ever done and I think that in some ways it was harder doing such an isolated race as I didn't have the crowds to cheer me on or the adrenaline you get from a race scenario but regardless I did it.
I also smashed my fund raising target. I'd aimed to raise £200 for mind but instead raised over £500 which is just awesome and I'm so chuffed at the well wishes of everyone who sponsored me.
So what's next? I'm still running that's for sure and I'm enjoying being able to run for fun as and when I choose to rather then having to stick to a regimented training plan. As for future races or challenges all I will say is never say never!
Have you ever run a marathon or set yourself a physical challenge? I'd absolutely love to hear your stories! In the mean time I hope you enjoyed my marathon story and that maybe it inspired you to push yourself and smash a goal of yours.