May 1, 2019
Buckle up…it’s gonna be a long and bumpy one.
Marathons are strange things…a bit like relationships in many ways. One minute you love em, the next minute you don’t want to ever see them or think about them again…but deep down you also reluctantly know what you put in is what you get out.
Tough but true.
Lining up at the start of Sundays London Marathon was very weird, having run London twice before this one felt completely different…for a start I was in blue start so that meant Blackheath which was awfully confusing on my part.
I woke up at around 6.50 and had a leisurely breakfast of museli, almond milk and a banana, and got myself dressed and to the DLR…living so close to the start has its advantages.
I met a lady called Jennie on the platform at Canning Town. First marathon. In good spirits. A mum like me…nice and chatty. We became route to the marathon buddies. Everyone on route was friendly…a theme from the day really.
Training had not been perfect…it hadn’t even been good, and I am pissed at myself for that.
Having ran New York in November I was desperate to get back into training to get myself a better time. Over the winter months all was going well. I was back running Wednesday nights and the occasional track sessions with East London Runners, I was doing CrossFit Conditioning and did a few races prior to Christmas.
Things started to fall apart in January as work started to get busy.
A trip to the states, a chest infection, a child with tonsillitis, another chest infection…and before I knew it I hadn’t managed anything more than 14 miles…and the marathon was upon me.
Now this is neither smart nor clever.
I would never advocate running undertrained, especially if this was your first marathon…but this was marathon number 5, so I knew I had the mental toughness and the fitness even if I didn’t have the miles in my legs…besides I felt like a lot was at stake with this race.
My business plus size fitness movement Too Fat to Run has been in somewhat of a transitioning phase, after delivering a successful pilot programme in Barking & Dagenham last year where we managed to get almost 1000 women running with our programme.
I have been heads down for months with a small team of key people pulling together funding bids, new company structures, boards of directors and all sorts…as well as delivering other business ventures that keep me afloat.
In many ways I feel like running marathons is part and parcel of my job…but clearly it is not.
I don’t need to run a marathon once a year to prove I know what I am talking about in terms of motivating others to get active…I’ve done that groundwork over the past 9 years.
But yet…there it is that need to prove myself.
I had revised my goal though. I knew I could comfortably run a half marathon…I had been doing Sunday runs and a few races at that distance with ease.
I wouldn’t be fast…but I could get round….and I had a new plan to keep me motivated.
I have been working on a way of taking my community of plus size runners off Facebook. Not because I am anti facebook per sa, but because the platform just isn’t flexible enough for what I want to do with it…I have been wanting to develop an app for TFTR for like forever…and what better time to launch it.
So on the Thursday before the marathon it came to me
I’ll do a Facebook live at every mile…bring people with me.
The strap line for the new app based community is, nobody left behind…and I thought what better way to involve the women that support me and my work in my big day.
So back to the start line.
I met up with a few of the ladies from TFTR running, we were spread out amongst the 3 start areas…I bumped into one lady in my pen, along with two blokes Stuart and Marc from ELR which made hanging about in the cold bearable.
The first 3 or 4 minutes of a marathon are super strange.
It feels impossible to believe you will be doing this, or versions of this for the next 6-7 hours.
The atmosphere was great though and before long mile 1 was upon me. It felt weird pulling my phone out and doing the first live video…I got some funny looks…but the first few videos were short and sweet encouraging women to tune in and to check out the new app.
My running felt fine. 13 minute miles quite consistently for the first 5 miles or so, as I happily updated the women that tunes in and wished me well at each mile marker.
When the start lines all merged I felt super pumped.
A little while later I bumped into my uni friend Kathryn, she has found me at every London Marathon I’ve ever done….she ran for a bit with me at this one, while we catched up…I challenged her to run it in 2020…and I think she has entered the ballot.
As I made my little live videos, runners came into shot and I did mini interviews…including one with the Karaoke bloke…who seemed to play cat and mouse with me for most of the middle section of the race from around mile 6 to around mile 17…the world was not ready to hear me sing.
At about mile 7 a woman asked me if I was the author of The Fat Girls Guide to Marathon Running, and when I said I was she gushed at how helpful the book had been. I cried as she ran into the distance, forgetting that women actually read my stuff.
My sister Facetimed me at about mile 8 to see where I was.
I thought I was doing OK for time.
I couldn’t wait to get to just before the mile 10 mile marker to see the ladies at the TFTR cheer station, and it was everything I hoped it would be…loads of faces I recognised from our race meet ups, socials and group calls, and online discussions…so many smily faces, sweaty hugs and offers of prosseco and sweets….my sister and my nephew were there too.
I didn’t want to leave them…but off I went.
I walked from mile 11 to 12…not really sure why. The sun had been coming in and out for a bit…and some kids were handing out ice poles which were lovely.
I found myself accidentally doing a FB live on the approach to Tower Bridge so just kept it going…I have goosebumps just thinking about it…the crowds were great…I crossed the half-way point in 3.24 which is only about twenty minutes slower than a normal half for me…I may have spent close to that at the cheer station to be fair.
I knew there would be more walking in the second half though I couldn;t really predict what happened in the final miles.
I’ve never really suffered with my feet. New York for example where I wore exactly the same shoes and socks and my feet were fine for walking around Times Square the following day.
I could feel something not right by about the half-way point but by 16 miles I knew they were blisters. I was among a lot of walkers by now, and that makes it hard to motivate yourself to run.
At mile 17 I bumped into a couple of volunteers I used to manage back in my working on London 2012 days, and it made me cry. I get so emotional at these things. I saw people along the course from every area of my life…I’ve never seen so many people I know…I was giving out hugs left right and centre.
Soon after I bumped into a girl, a youngish girl fundraising for Tommies..I’d been asking people as I passed them if they were OK…sometimes you can get trapped in your own head, and it’s nice sometimes to be able to share the experience.
She started to get tearful.
She had a pain in her hip, she was worried she wouldn’t complete it. I walked with her for a bit, helped her to stretch her hip, and she even did a few running sprints with me when I started to feel the cold and needed to move.
I lost her just as I was coming out of Canary Wharf
Gosh, there were bits of the route that I simply don’t remember from 2012 or 2015. I stopped for a moment at Mile 18 the memorial mile marker for Stephen Lawrence who was murdered 26 years ago. I gave a talk to runners last year raising money for the Stephen Lawrence Trust…and heard that their CEO was running it this year. I chose not to do a FB Live from this mile…and posted a couple of images and my own tribute instead.
Running near Limehouse/Poplar was weird, two of the sweeper coaches were trying to get through, but there were no real marshals at this point and I would have been run over if I had not hopped onto the pavement to avoid the back end of one of them. The treat of the sweeper trucks and the inevitable clean-up operation had kept me moving.
I was soon cheered up by a bengali man in his BMW blasting out old skool R&B, who wound down his window to wish me good luck.
The people of London are wonderful…even the drunk blokes who told me to “start running you lazy cow”
A massive highlight for me was reaching the mile 20 water station to find a small team of peeps from East London Runners who had waited for me. The slowest of their other runners would have come through hours ago…so I was truly touched. It meant so much. I just wished I could have been faster so they didn’t need to wait so long.
In 2012 I can remember literally flying past them.
I was counting down the miles now. Feet were hurting. I was starting to feel hungry and cold. We had had some rain. I could have murdered a cup of tea.
And that’s when I heard it…the whistles the horns and I knew what was coming.
The infamous mile 21 Run Dem Crew…..I look forward to this running crews cheer stations at any race I’m running…I always feel like a superstar running through…and 6-7 hours in these guys were going strong.
A massive confetti cannon shower, and a hug from founder Charlie Dark and his lovely partner Sanchia were the icing on the cake,
“Another day another marathon right?”
Still 6 miles to go. And the roads were being dismantled now. There were still crowds and volunteers but there were also runners with their medals, and heaps of pedestrians making their way home.
My lives were gaining bigger audiences now…and heaps of comments that were making me cry…my focus was on just moving forward, looking around at the other runners they were the same.
Two blokes in red Bobby Moore Foundation shirts appeared to have the hump with each other, one trying to move a bit faster than the other but not willing to go on ahead, the other slightly irritated at the fact he wouldn’t go on ahead without him. It was quite funny to watch….but I daren’t comment..
Between mile 22 and 24 I saw 3 sets of people I knew, women from Run Mummy Run, my old weight watchers lady (yes from like 10 years ago), and then an online business buddy who had waited for me to come through.
Each one of those encounters spurring me on…as did the bloke handing out pork pies…I laughed and laughed, and he laughed and laughed as I told him he was out of order.
During one of my final FB lives a blister on my foot burst, making me hobble for the first time in pain. For the first moment, I wondered if I might not finish. I could not do another 2 miles like this surely?
But then we were on embankment, there were crowds again…shouts of support. People looking you dead in the eye and telling you that you are doing an incredible thing.
Big Ben in the distance, being held up by scaffolding.
I could have done with some too. My back ached. My knees were throbbing. Each step hurt.
Less than a kilometer to go.
800 meters to go.
Final FB live….more than 300 women joining me live…willing me forward.
Onto the mall….one final push.
I crossed the line in 7.10.24…my 5th Marathon in 7 years.
As I sat on a concrete block taking my trainers off to relieve the pain in my feet, I thought back to that first race in 2012…aged 34…no kids (well actually pregnant and not knowing), a normal job, a little blog I sometimes wrote about my running shenanigans.
And now me 40 years old, single parent of a 6 year old, around 3 stone heavier…and a whole heap wiser.
On the way down the stairs at the tube by the strand I felt delirious, people were rushing past me either side as I crept down the middle…a young bloke with his girlfriend checked if I was OK, and enquired to how long it took me.
Wow is all he said.
And then after a short pause, well done…before getting on the tube.
I sat by myself making my way back home to my irate ex-partner who had been phoning me from 4.30ish so he could drop our daughter off home, from 5.30 becoming quite insistent that I should hurry up and get home.
I sat on the tube and quietly wept.
Marathons are strange things.
I often think I am a strange woman.
What is it all for?
The two days which have gone past have been strange. Stories about stuff going on a little bit behind me on the route with the 7.30 pacers (one of them who is a member of my community) and the slower participants.
Outrage. Accusations. Heart wrenching stories.
I am choosing not to share or comment fully on what did or did not go on, who was to blame, what should have happened instead. I can only speak to my experience on the day.
I had a telephone call today with one of the pacers to hear her experiences, and I will contact the London Marathon to offer my experience and platform to help resolve issues moving forward if appropriate.
There are always lessons to learn….for all of us.
I don’t know if I will run another marathon. I have been saying for weeks this would be my last. I know I didn’t train properly and that showed in my time. It wasn’t about times for me, but still, I think marathons should be trained for properly and respected…so until a point in my life where I can do it justice, I reckon I will stick to half marathons.
I don’t regret getting to the start line though…I smiled the whole way around those 26.2 miles, in my red Too Fat to Run Vests of which I sent 25 of out to women around the world today….hobbling to the local post office in flipflops allowing my blisters to dry out.
More than 30,000+ women tuned into my live videos, and over 150 women joined my new community app…not a bad day in the office I’d say.
Marathons change us.
I also realised in a way I’d never really realised until this weekend something else.
Marathons are not only ours, we might run them, but they belong to everyone who comes into contact with them. The spectators, the crew, the volunteers, the local residents, the folks watching at home, our kids, our family members…no one goes untouched by our efforts.
5 epic life changing experiences.
I hardly believe that I am someone who has done that.
But that’s the magical thing about marathon running, its a leveler, from elite to back of the packer…we run the same 26.2 miles…taking us from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
And for that I will be eternally grateful.
I would like to say a massive thank you to the ladies from the Too Fat to Community who hosted our just before mile 10 cheer station. To the virtual cheerers in our online community tracking our marathon running ladies so that women all over the world could be inspired by it, and to our epic, epic, epic 26.2 milers, who smashed their goals.
Our community is super special, and is about to go from strength to strength. If you are reading this and are inspired to join our inclusive, supportive and inspirational community of runners, walkers and women interested in getting active, then head over to our new Too Fat to Run Community app.