The Big Smoke

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the London Marathon, and I have been meaning to write a post about it. This marathon was my 3rd, and my 1st one at London. It certainly had a big build up to it, whilst I raised all important funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. I had a lot of fun fundraising, and surpassed the target I had set, so I am over the moon. As well as loads of amazing donations from friends and family, I put on lots of events to make sure I hit my target. At work, I held a bake-off and cake sale, a pool tournament and organised a sweepstake based on my finish time. My best friend’s mum was amazing, and organised a lot of events: a Valentine’s meal with her friends, a scavenger hunt, and a pamper party. I also dedicated each mile of the marathon to people’s loved ones who had suffered with cancer, each of which made donations. I am pleased to say that I have raised just over £3600! I am astonished and so grateful to everyone who has donated – this money will really make a difference to Macmillan and so many people’s lives.

 

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Number collected at the expo!

 

I headed to the expo to collect my number with three other excitable starters from Burnham Joggers. We enjoyed a cable car ride on the Emirates Air Line across the river Thames, and indulged in the glory of the expo for a few hours. I picked up a lovely official pint glass, some delicious flapjack, some official clothing and plenty of freebies! We had some fun trying on some London Pride running costumes too.

 

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Being completely sensible at the expo!

 

Marathon day soon came around and I was buzzing, despite concerns of the heat – this was London Marathon, after all! I got the coach put on by Datchet Dashers at 7am, and eagerly travelled into London with lots of other excited and nervous runners. The coach landed in Blackheath, and after a quick team photo, we dispersed into our start areas. I had a lovely chill out with some of my fellow club runners in the sun, awaiting the all important start!

 

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Ready to start!

 

The heat had built up to around 24 degrees by 10 o’clock and we were struggling to find shade in the start pens. It was crazily busy, and took us about half an hour to get to the actual start. It still hadn’t quite sunk in that I was on the start line of one of the biggest marathons in the world, and that I was where I watch thousands of runners on the telly – a rare viewing of the TV for me – every year!

Everyone zoomed off as soon as our pen was released across the start. I tried to contain my excitement, and stuck to my own pace, worried that I would shoot off and bonk too early. My plan was to get round, enjoy it, and soak up the atmosphere. A PB would be lovely, but I had been warned that London was a very busy marathon and it could be tricky to achieve!

The crowds were incredible. There was no moment where you weren’t being spurred on by someone. People lined the streets rows and rows thick, and the noise they made for everyone was overwhelming! I was running along thinking of each person the miles were dedicated to and saying them out loud as I crossed each mile marker. It was a very emotional way to count up the miles, but an extremely motivational way to get to the finish too.

 

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One of the best marathon cheer squads you will ever meet!

 

My favourite parts of the crowds were obviously where I saw my friends, though. I had some noisy Burnham Joggers popping up all over the course with banners, air horns, balloons, and super loud cheering. I was meant to spot some friends at mile 16, but couldn’t see them and thought I had missed them. just before mile 17, I heard my name screamed so loudly, and when I turned around they were there, along with my brother. A huge surprise, causing me to cry my eyes out for the first time that day, but certainly not the last!

When I had reached Tower Bridge, I was starting to really feel the effects of the heat. The temperature had risen, the pavements were warm, as well as all the heat from the bodies running, and the sun pounding off all the buildings. There was no reprieve from it. Small pockets of shade and the odd shower were installed on the course to try to help. I was being strict with my salt and electrolyte tablets, and trying to drink the right amount. The rest was going over my head, being sure to not use too much water, as I have run a marathon before where they ran out at mile 20 and I felt awful – I didn’t want others to suffer in the same way.

Exhausted, I pushed on, however it was getting pretty tough. I kept thinking of all those names on my shirt and the good work I was doing for charity. I figured if I just kept moving, I would still get there. There were moments where I am unashamed to say I walked. I had started to feel ill, and when I mentioned it to another runner, they looked at me like I was mental, and said, “If it makes you feel sick to run, just walk!”. It would later appear from maybe not taking enough electrolytes on for the heat, but I had been running in the snow 3 weeks previous! It was mad! I kept moving on though, and it never once crossed my mind to stop.

 

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Another magical cheerleader on the day

 

My brother and friends popped up again in the later miles, as well as a second visit from a few excited Burnham Joggers cheering me on! I did miss a few of them, but it was incredibly loud and busy. Macmillan were doing a great job cheering everyone in their kit on, and all the other runners too. At mile 25, I saw my friend, who fuelled me up with a jelly baby, some encouraging words. There may have been a few tears there as well! But, with only a mile to go, I knew I was going to finish.

I was heading towards St James’s Park, and I was prepared to get this done. I pushed through the barrier, and soon the 800m to go sign was ahead of me. 600m to go – that had seemed like a long 200m! 400m to go – that came along a bit sooner. The famous 385 yards to go banner appeared in front of me, and as I made my way onto the mall, I did a double take, as I looked behind me and Buckingham Palace stared back at me. This was it! Running was a difficulty, but the finish was in sight! I stumbled my way towards that promising finish line as best as I could, and leapt in the air (probably not as high as it felt), with a raised fist and a sense of relief. Cue more tears!

 

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Posing with a giant version of the medal!

 

It would later transpire that my friend who I had found a mile 23 of Dublin Marathon and crossed the finish line with, had run Manchester Marathon 2 weeks previously in exactly the same time TO THE SECOND. This has made my London Marathon time extremely special and completely perfect – I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I can’t wait to run Chicago Marathon together in October.

I attended the Macmillan post-race reception, where I was fed and watered, and had a relaxing massage and a chat with a fascinating lady. We then pottered off into town for many photographs, a delicious roast dinner with a pint, and picked up some ginormous doughnuts. I was absolutely exhausted, but I can now say officially that I am a London Marathon finisher!

 

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Happy at the finish, reunited with friends and family

 

A huge respect to everyone that was out running that day, and a massive thank you to everyone who has supported me in this marathon journey. Whether it has been putting up with my long mileage runs on weekends, making generous and kind donations to my fundraising, helping with fundraisers, feeding me, giving words of encouragement and many other lovely things. I appreciate all of it and all of you.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

 

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Enduring

Once a year, my running club hold a talk about marathons early in the year, where advice and information is offered for free to any member willing to listen. It’s actually more of an endurance running talk, which we have been told can be from 3km and further, so it is suitable for all, really. There are usually 3 people who talk about various aspects of training, and it’s always very informative, and pretty fresh. There were some really interesting points that arose from it, and I scribbled down some that I thought affected me the most last week, in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get near my computer for a few days to write about it. I’m not claiming I know everything about running, and certainly not marathons, but I have a few tricks I will throw in the mix while I’m there.

One of the highlighted points at the start was about sleep. It’s so important to get enough of it, and for it to be good quality. Having been sleep deprived for 3-4 weeks recently, I could completely relate to this. I was feeling several effects it was having on my body, including training. Although that particular month in my life was a bit of an anomaly (no boiler meaning it was freezing cold, being literally woken by cats and dogs, the burglar alarm, and the steps to the loft being opened in the middle of the night…), there are some things that I find helpful to get to sleep a bit easier. For example, I know that cleaning my teeth wakes me up a little (might just be me – I think it’s the mouthwash), so I will try to do this in advance of going to bed, so I feel drowsier when I want to get to sleep. Also, I find that although I don’t really drink many caffeinated drinks, there is definitely a time of day where you need to stop drinking them, so that they don’t have an adverse effect on your sleep. I love a herbal tea, and these are great as a warm alternative.

If you have a busy mind like I do, then I actually find it hard to nod off sometimes if there’s too many things whizzing around in my brain. I combat this by keeping a journal and/or notebook next to my bed. This helps me to empty my brain before I sleep. It doesn’t matter if you never read the journal  again, it’s just somewhere to pour out all the rubbish and emotions that are floating around in your head. If it’s something I need to remember, then I will pop it in a notebook either in the form of a memo or a to-do list. You may find if you’re forgetful, that it makes you anxious you won’t remember to pick something up or do something in the morning, so this is perfect. Even if it’s just something you’re worried about getting done in the day. Alternatives are noticeboards, posters (for motivational purposes), or whiteboards. Now, I know what you’re thinking – but I have this great mobile phone or tablet that I can write these things on! Well, there has been a lot of research into the ‘blue light’ that is emitted from our electronic devices that keeps you awake for longer and stops you getting a good quality sleep, so I think it’s best to steer away from it and stick to good old pen and paper. I also enjoy reading a paperback book before bed – it really makes my eyes sleepy.

Recovery is extremely important. This obviously includes sleep, but many other things too. I wonder whether doing an active job where I am on my feet all day effects this in any way. After suffering with my foot after a long run at the weekend, I found the next morning at work very difficult, because I don’t have a job where I can literally put my feet up; I just had to power on through it. I will briefly touch on some of my favourite recovery things below.

  • I swear by a cold bath before a hot one. It’s great after a long run, but can be a little testing of your steeliness getting into it. I recommend 5-6 minutes in a purely cold water bath up to your waist, so it covers your legs and just sit really still – you soon won’t notice it. Sometimes in the dead of winter, I wear a woolly hat and have a brew in there with me, but shh… don’t tell anyone! Set a timer on your phone or stopwatch, and then leave it until it beeps – remember, a watched pot never boils! Once your time is up, add hot water to your bath and enjoy a good soak.
  • Throw some Epsom salts in your warm bath too. They’re great for you after a long run, and you can get them reasonably priced online on sites such as Amazon in bulk.
  • Wear compression tights either under your clothes if you’re out, or to bed when you sleep.
  • After a race, or a hard run, especially if you are away from home, i.e. you have travelled to a race, you still need to get some recovery food or fluid in you. I like to keep a serving of protein powder in a sports bottle, and a separate bottle of water in my bag. I pour the water in the protein powder bottle when I am done running, and try and get it down me in that precious recovery window of 20-30 minutes. I find it difficult to eat immediately after a long run, so drinking my protein works best for me. I actually dilute mine a little more than the recommendation, but that’s just a personal preference.
  • Electrolyte tablets are brilliant – I recommend them during and/or after your run – it can really help keep you hydrated, especially in warmer climates. They are also great for keeping you hydrated when giving blood, so you can get a PB for filling the bag…!
  • FOAM ROLLING. Enough said really. Great for your muscles, and it only hurts a little bit…. promise!
  • Stretch lightly after a run. You always have time – stretching should only take you 2-3 minutes after your run, and if you had time to go out for 30 minutes, an hour, or longer, then you have 2 minutes spare to stretch. Hold each one for only 12-14 seconds for maximum benefit – longer can cause more muscle tears than it will do good.
  • Eat well on rest days too. It is just as important to aid in recovery. I try to have at least one day a week where I try to rest as much as possible. This means no busying about at home and NO cross-training!
  • Roll a golf ball under your foot when you’re sat down to ease out any sore spots or tension. Or as I learned today, one of those nobbly reaction balls works great too!
  • I get a massage from a wonderful lady once every 3-4 weeks. This helps keep my body ticking over, and I can definitely feel a difference between going regularly and coping with elbows down hamstrings, compared to going irregularly and clinging to the bench screaming, whilst a thumb tickles my hamstrings! I realise it’s not financially viable for everyone, but if you can afford it, it is completely worth it!

Nutrition is also extremely important. In fact, I must admit that I am not always the best at it. If you fuel your body right, then it will carry you better throughout training and racing. There is so much out there on nutrition, so I would say if you want to get super serious about it, speak to a nutritionist. But essentially, look after yourself with what you eat, and try to make everything from scratch. Pre-prepared foods are full of hidden things. Also, remember  to train with whatever you are going to use on race day, whether that will be gels, baby food, dried fruit e.g. apricots, shot bloks, etc.

There was a good model used for training in fact. Imagine a three-legged stool, where each leg represents either training, recovery, or nutrition. If any of those legs either lengthens or shortens, then the stool will become unstable and potentially fall over. It is about keeping a good balance between all three aspects, so that your stool stays upright.

Another thing to think about is how absorbed we can become in our training, that we become blindsided to our own situation. It is a good idea to have someone around you who can be your eyes when you cannot see. A good exercise to carry out for yourself is to make a list of three things that are signs you may be overtraining or underperforming and sliding down the slippery slops of UUPS (Unexplained Under-Performing Syndrome), and give it to someone who knows you well, and will happily tell you when they think you’re doing too much. For example, my main three would probably be irritability, decreased endurance/strength, and persistent fatigue.

Listening to your body is so important too. Although it is great to pass the bat to someone to watch over you, and make sure you don’t get lost down the rabbit-hole, it is just as key to check yourself. Ask yourself honestly if everything is going right. Iron out any niggles before they become major injuries, rest where appropriate – even if it means missing a session if you don’t feel right, and don’t be afraid to adapt your plan or have a week off if you are unwell, as an example. Don’t lie to yourself!

Working with heart rate can be extremely beneficial, not just to keep you running within your capabilities and not to a goal/dream time, but also to monitor things like fatigue, overtraining, and effort. I certainly could do with training with heart rate a lot more. To figure out your heart rate zones, you should measure your resting heart rate. This is best done laying in bed when you first wake up in the morning, preferably with minimal movement. I would take an average from 5 readings.

Mental health is also important to keep you on track. Look after your psyche, and keep a positive mind and home environment where possible. There are some fantastic books out there for just this: “mind management”. A favourite of mine is the Chimp Paradox, but there are other great sporting specific ones, such as The Winner’s Bible. Remember the skills and techniques taught in them, refer back to them if you need to, and practice them. Create a good support network around you. I also find displaying achievements helps me remember how far I have come from being a complete non-runner to completing marathons, triathlons, and everything in between. I have a PB medal display, and a scrapbook with all of my racing memories in. Have a good mantra, such as “I can, and I am”; i.e. I can do it, and I am doing it now”.

Educate yourself. Listen, read, absorb, and talk. Any advice can be good help, but stay true to yourself – there can be a lot of different opinions about things out there, so don’t get lost in trying too many things out at once. Listen to podcasts such as Marathon Talk. Read books, websites, magazines, blogs, etc. Visit running shows, talks, seminars, and even take part in training courses.

Find a plan. Make it your plan. Stick to your plan, and this one plan ONLY. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, just worry about doing your plan. Got it?

Keep a training log, so you can track how everything is going. It can be good to refer back to if you are having a particularly bad week or so, you can look back and see if your heart rate was increasingly high over a few days, you had poor sleep, you may have been overtraining, or maybe you have had some niggles that have developed into something worse.

I am also finding that fitting fundraisers/fundraising in around training can be tricky. This can be about planning around races you have signed up for, social commitments, etc. I like to incorporate some running events into my training, and this can mean adapting my plan for mileage, or possibly running to/from an event or before it. Sometimes due to family commitments I have found that doing my long run straight from work mid-week is an option. This means that I would finish running at a similar time compared to if I had run with my club but started 90 minutes later.

I hope some of my things help or inspire you in your training, and that you may enjoy some of the notes I took from a much vaster talk, where I condensed down the bits I considered simpler to digest and reflect on online.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

For Those About To Run, I Salute You

Marathon season is drawing to a close. A lot of people I know have been out and about, running all through winter, getting their miles in, and training hard for one big day where they have to run 26.2 miles. A feat that, for some, may seem too much and a little bit crazy!

I am one of those mad men – or women – who have been beavering away on evenings and Sunday mornings to get the mileage in for the main event. Marathon training is certainly not something to be taken lightly – it is a big challenge and I cannot stress enough to anyone looking to attempt their first one: it is time-consuming, and it is hard. That’s not to put you off at all, I just think it is something to consider before going for it.

A few things I have learnt from marathon training:

  • Hours of your time will be devoted to one day. You will have to sacrifice a lot of weekend mornings to get your long runs in – Sundays for most. This also includes beers the night before – unless you enjoy a hangover run! I was fortunate enough to have the support of a lovely bunch from my running club who met up religiously every Sunday morning for a long run, and we all followed roughly the same plan.
  • The support of a running club is the biggest help. I am part of Burnham Joggers. They have been wonderful to me, and having such a great club behind you, especially with an injury, was such a big help. Loads of us trained together, with pace sessions, hill sessions and long runs in all different pace groups. There was also plenty of virtual and real-life support on the day. Amazing!
  • Eventually, even I get tired! Yes, you heard – after months of training like mad and squeezing in a long run every Sunday morning for weeks on end, I started to get tired and just couldn’t wait to finish the marathon in the end, and claim back some of my weekend!
  • Vaseline and baths are completely under-rated. Vaseline to keep the blisters and chafing at bay, baths to soothe the pain afterwards. I would sit in a cold bath for 6 minutes when I got back from my long runs. I even started to enjoy them?!
  • Keeping training interesting can get tricky, but it is do-able. For our 18 mile training run, a big group of us met at Black Park (a local, beautiful country park), and ran 6 miles out and down the canal, ran back the same way, and then finished the last 6 in a 10k race, raising money for a Stroke charity. It was a great plan to help get a long run in, with a medal at the end, and support when you needed it the most!
  • A lot of long distance running is, for the large part, a mental battle. Your body CAN carry you 26.2 miles (with the correct training, obviously), but that chimp we spoke about before will try to do or say anything to make you believe otherwise. Mental training is just as important as physical training!

Event day soon loomed. I took part in Brighton Marathon on 9th April, with my running buddy Zoe, who had also been suffering with injury. The course is pretty flat as 26.2 miles go, with only a couple of hills, and the worst one being in the 1st mile. The route was fairly interesting, although there were a few parts running back on yourself.

The main part for me was the support. Almost the whole way round, we were inundated with supporters, music, and entertainers. It was all a bit overwhelming, but in a good way, I must add. The start is in Preston Park, which you may not recognise by name, but maybe by location if you have been to Brighton. It’s the big park to your left on the main road into Brighton, and it’s not too far from the sea front. The park was full of people – an astonishing 12,500 runners would take part that day. Luckily, I found my running buddy at our pre-arranged meeting point with ease!

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Preston Park, at the Clock Tower, before the race.

Zoe’s family was a fantastic support – they met us at the start area and cheered us on at the first mile; then we saw them again at the halfway point, and also at the finish. My friend had been kind enough to give me and my boyfriend a bed for the night. They both waited for us at around 8 and 11 miles, and then at the finish, also taking some really lovely photos for us and making us laugh! We also saw some Burnham Joggers, who had completed the 10k that same morning (before the marathon had even started), and we saw them at mile 6.

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Mile 1, heading away from the park

The rest of the course was lined with supporters, cheering everyone on. It was incredible! There were plenty of drummers, providing us with a beat to run to – even giving us a boost. Live bands played in several places, as well as a group of cheerleaders on a stage, who we passed twice, dancing to loud, upbeat music, and funnily enough, cheering us on! Around miles 14 to 18, the route took us through housing estates. You would think this would be a boring part of the course, but I was again astounded at how the local residents had welcomed the race. Families were outside their houses for hours on end, handing out drinks and sweets to runners. Some had their garden hoses, sponges with buckets of water, and water pistols out, trying to cool everyone down. I think I may have forgotten to mention until now that we were running on the hottest day of the year. It was 21°C at midday and we were ROASTING!

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Mile 11. Still smiling! Photo credit to Chris Parry-Morris (winner of the secret photography competition)

The only negative that I have to say about the entire experience was the water stations. By the most part, they were well-stocked and there was water to go around. However, when we started getting further into the race, we were shocked with the news at a drinks station that they had in fact run out of water. Other drinks stations were overflowing with cups of water that would probably not get drunk by the end. It became more frequent the further we got round the course, and I couldn’t help but feel awful for the people behind us, who would have been out in the heat and on their feet for even longer than we had by the time they reached the point we were at. The organisers did apologise, as it was hotter than expected, and they reckoned that there was 3.5 litres of water for every person around the course. There may well have been, but I think it was poorly distributed.

Back to the race, though. They say the marathon starts at 20 miles, and we sure did start to feel it. The route gets a bit quieter around this point, as you head out for a lap around the power station. In some ways, this was a pleasant break from the endless support that had covered the course so far. Approximately 2.5 miles later, we were heading back down the sea front, with stunning views of the sea in glorious sunshine, and it was nice boost. The support was back: from people relaxing in the sun, to others wandering around. Just what we needed to carry us those last few miles.

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Team colours and still smiling!

As we neared the 26 mile marker, a big grin crossed mine and Zoe’s faces. The end was in sight , and Zoe apparently had a bit of a sprint up her sleeve! We had spotted all of our loved ones and they had given us the biggest cheers of the day – they knew we were about to accomplish our goals as well. We crossed the finish line, absolutely exhausted, in a comfortable time of 5:16:06. A time that is plastered on the back of my medal, on my medal hanger display, my trainers, and just about anywhere else I can get it! We had run a marathon! Having that medal hung around my neck was such a fantastic feeling! I have a t-shirt that I am extremely proud of (even if they had run out of my size and I was stuck with a large).

What an incredible experience it was. I was exhausted afterwards, very glad of a bath and some food, and plenty of sleep that night – it was a very early night for me indeed!

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Relaxing on the beach afterwards. Sun, beer, medal, and goody bag. Perfect!

Now for the soppy bit. Sorry folks! I could not have finished this race without the support from my friends and family. My sister, who could not stop saying good luck when I left for Brighton on Saturday. My friend Chris, for welcoming us into his home, giving us a bed for the night, and for his support and excellent photography skills on the day. My boyfriend Chris for driving me there and back, and putting up with all my long hours of training, especially at weekends. As well as listening to me moan about my injury and being there for me. Zoe for being my marathon buddy, getting those training runs in together, and bringing not only her own support around the course with me, but her wonderful family to cheer us on too. Burnham Joggers, especially Julia for popping up along the course and all those who trained with me on Sundays – you know who you are, for all their support in training, cheering, and congratulations. My best buddy Katie and her mum for believing in me, for their love and support, and my lovely post-race bling! I could go on and on, but I would just like to say thank you to everyone else I know for putting up with my training, injury, listening to me go on about marathon this, marathon that, and your general love and support.

Never say never, especially when there are Autumn marathons to eye up! And for those about to run,  I salute you.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x