November 19, 2018
So it’s two whole weeks since I ran the New York City Marathon.
The hype has died down, my jet lag has gone…and life moves on.
Already I am thinking about my training plan for London 2019…and thinking about my goals for that race.
As marathons go, New York City Marathon was a big one. Unlike any other race I have ever taken part in…and somehow I feel like a different person for having completed it…but perhaps I say that after each of them, and perhaps each one does actually change you.
Unless you have covered 26.2 miles by foot with thousands of people watching you along the route, and via the powers that are social media, it’s unlikely you can truly grasp the magnitude of the experience….and it doesn’t move you (apologies for nicking the NYC marathon slogan for this year) then there must be something wrong with you.
People often ask, how long did it take you…to which the answer nearly 7 hours is kind of a non-event in my brain.
Because it’s not about the time.
Reducing it to that single element is pointless in my view.
Because when it comes to marathons for so many of us it is never about the time, in fact for many of us, well for me at least it’s not even about the running.
There is something about the act of putting one foot in front of the other for hours and hours at a time, in a strange land, being cheered on by people you have never laid eyes on nor will you again, that brings me hope. It reminds me of the power of the human experience.
Running a marathon teaches you everything you need to know about your self.
It teaches you about your power to endure whatever may come your way, the power of positive thinking (yet not in a “lets just pretend that there are not risks involved”) and it teaches you to appreciate the world we live in, the opportunities that we have if we should so wish.
When you prepare for a marathon you become super aware, hyper-aware of your body and its needs, its capabilities and it’s restrictions…the things which it can not do, even if you want it to.
I have written before about the power of wearing lycra for all to see.
There is nowhere to hide in Lycra.
There is nowhere to hide on a marathon route.
Even if you are tucked up among thousands of other runners you are still 100% visible.
“I see you baby” comes the calls from random blokes
“Yep you Julie…I see you doing your thang”
I swear someone actually shouted that out to me…reminding me once more that I was far, far away from home.
I have found it particularly hard to describe the impact of this trip. Not only the race but everything about it.
Running the New York City Marathon had been a goal of mine for more than 10 years.
I made it happen.
And I made it happen in ways I could only have dreamed about, with my story going viral on the internet, with articles being shared across heaps of different countries in all kinds a languages, being invited to all kinds of exciting things…doing New York on my terms and not just as a tourist, if that makes sense.
There was one thing I felt a little disappointed at though, and that was my lack of good photos.
I’m rubbish at taking photos at races….and sadly the race photographers on the course just didn’t really capture anything I would be willing to share…they were just a bit shit really, catching me at weird angles or in dodgy lighting at the finish line.
I asked a random bloke to take a photo of me with my medal at the end…the photo is kinda soulless, perhaps alluding to the slight loneliness I felt having nobody to share that moment with me.
Running the race by myself meant nobody captured any of the pre or post race emotion…and so it felt odd to have gone through this experience without being able to share some aspects of its truth. The written word can only go so far.
The day after the race though I saw the photos from Martinus Evans the guy behind the podcast 300lbs and Running, and I got all emotional.
I had been interviewed by him a couple of years ago, and we arranged an adhoc meet up in Central Park where we hung out briefly with some other runners including @iamlshauntay...who took this brilliant picture…but I didn’t see him on the course on race day.
But I have just watched his vlog from the experience with mixed feelings…on the one hand it was great to see him go through similar race preparations at the expo, and making his way to the start with the same fears I did…but I hardly recognised the actual race itself.
You see, Martinus finished in darkness, long after the mile markers had been taken down. The sweeper bus being there from as early as 5 miles. It’s there for all to see in his video, because this is the reality for a lot of back of the pack runners… it’s not always fun and it’s not always pretty.
I don’t say those things to shame, nor to put people off trying long distance running, but the truth is marathons are not the same for everyone. I worry sometimes that people see my photos and race reports and think “Yeah, I’ll give that a go” without thinking about what it actually means to take part in a big race like this.
I wrote about this in my book The Fat Girls Guide to Marathon Running comparing the experience from the London Marathon the two times I have run it, once in 2012 in just short of 6 hours and one in 2016 in just short of 7…the difference in atmosphere and my experience between the two was extraordinary….that hour meant the world of difference even though I’m not particularly driven by times.
Some of my readers thought I was being unfair, that I was suggesting you should be able to run a marathon in a certain amount of time or not at all.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. This was about my mindset, my ability to stay mentally strong.
Like seriously in 2016 if someone had offered me a roast dinner at mile 16 I would have sat on the curb and ate it…I swear, I felt like I had been on my feet for years….I wasn’t sure if I could carry on.
In New York, I shared a room with Nikki, one of the ladies from my community who took 11 hours to complete London earlier this year, this blog post ( about her went viral after she was fat shamed on the route. We have spoken at length about how difficult being out on the course for this amount of time is.
I can remember doing the Geneva Half Marathon a few years ago, when literally 30 seconds after the race started I found myself with the sweeper bus behind me making a really annoying beeping noise. The prospect of having to run for 3 hours with the bus escorting me gave me the motivation I needed to speed up and over take 30 or 40 runners, and get enough distance between us so that I didn’t see the bus again. I really think I would have given up if the bus had followed me the whole way.
My ego is delicate. I personally need to feel like I am winning. I like the challenge of being able to run for as long as possible, plus I don’t want to be faced with being asked to walk on the pavement, or being gently persuaded to jump on the bus….because its quite possible at that point that I might just give up.
I have the utmost respect for Martinus, and all of the back of the pack runners who have experiences similar to his, it isn’t about the time, its about the journey, the personal challenge, the challenge that isn’t often about race day, but the ability to even get to race day in the first place and give it a shot.
On a post on his Instagram accompanying the image above he wrote,
On July 1, 2012, I created @300poundsandrunning after my ortho doc told me I was fat and going to die. I told him I was going to run a marathon. He laughed at me and said I was stupid. That day I downloaded couch to 5k, and got on the treadmill. The first day of couch to 5k I couldn’t run for 15 seconds. I felt discouraged, maybe the doctor was right? As much as I wanted to quit I didn’t. I kept repeating week 1, day 1 of c25k until I was able to complete the workout. Eventually, I finished the program and ran a 5k. Then a 10k, half marathon, and on Oct 20, 2013 I ran my first marathon in my hometown of Detroit, MI.
Sound familiar? What is it with these doctors?
But its not like once you have run a marathon you can always run one right?
He went on to write
Jan 2014, I get in a bad car accident. That accident was devastating because I got chosen to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. It would take me until July 2014 to get healed from those injuries. Early Sept 2014 I get into another bad car accident. That accident put me out for another 7 mo. By then I’ve gain all my weight back and I wanted to die. I don’t start running again until Sept 2015. By Nov of that year I develop Achilles tendinitis. I don’t start running again May 2016. Fast forward to yesterday… In spite of all the injuries incurred since 2014, I conquered! In spite of the sweeper bus passing me multiple times, I conquered! In spite of not having markers up and asking multiple police officers for directions to make sure I don’t get lost, I conquered. I finished the 2018 @nycmarathon ! Here’s the moral of the story don’t ever give up on your dreams. It might not happen this year or for me fives years but your dreams can come true. When you have a setback and you have to start over don’t quit. As you can see from this extremely long post. Getting to your dreams means persevering through the fits and starts. It also means you might have to do some unconventional things but you will get there. Many people asking what’s my secret, well here it is: CONSISTENCY & PERSISTENCE. It’s not sexy but when is hard work ever sexy? But that is the key. I hope this finds someone who needs to see this. If my 354lb butt can finish this marathon you can!
But I do say this.
Marathon logistics and race infrastructure are not always kind to slower runners. Medals run out, water stations get packed away, spectators go home…for many runners they won’t experience the epic finish line experiences that they pictured in their head, that the race organisers lure us all in with…which is why it is so important for these stories to be shared, and not just those of the 4 hour, 5 hour, or even 7 hour marathon finishers.
New York Marathon did an incredible job of waiting for the final runners to come through, with an MC, and crowds and the race director personally greeting them…other races could learn a lot…but still the fact remains, that most marathons are still banking on 99.9% of runners to complete their race in 8 hours or less.
Last week I read the race report of a runner from my traditional running club, one of those speedy 3 hour something runners, and yet due to injury in the lead up he ended up having to walk long sections of the race finishing in 4.56.07 still 2 hours faster than me.
His race report was beautifully crafted though, and I identified with so much of what he remembered from the race. It was also a brilliant reminder that runners of all abilities can have a bad race, or at least a race which is different to the one that they planned for.
And even for those people where the running is actually the thing, the other stuff still seeps in…it’s almost impossible for it not to.
Every time you line up at a marathon you know that there is no guarantee that you will finish it, I know it sounds dramatic but it is true. A lot can happen on a 26.2 mile course. So you embark on it just like you would any adventure. You prepare as best you can, you try to stay positive, you give it your all, and you try to enjoy the experience.
I haven’t really had a proper run since New York. I’ve been tired, busy with work, connecting with my little one who missed me terribly while I was away (although she did enjoy showing off my medal to her friends).
At the weekend we did one lap of my local parkrun. We ran some walked some, we chased each other and tried to avoid the mud. It is weird to think that one weekend you are running 26.2 miles of New york City, and the next you are taking almost an hour to get round 2.5kilometers of your local park with a 5 year old in tow.
It’s not about the running
It never is.
It is about the connections you make.
With other people.
With the world.
Look deeper people, don’t just ask me about my finish times…or question why someone would choose to train for months on end, or fly half way round the world to run for 7 hours straight.
Just because it doesn’t make sense to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold enormous value to someone else.
Running is a broad church…there is room for all of us.
I didn’t manage to get a good running photo, so instead, I hired a local photographer to capture me the day after in Times Square