Training for the Marathon

I’m a 40 something mum of 3 and I’m running the London Marathon tomorrow. It’s not my first rodeo, but the last one was 13 years ago – in that other life I had before kids. The race is the easy bit: the crowds, the atmosphere, being part of such a massive event just carries you along. The marathon is just a victory lap round London. The training is the hard part. 319 miles have led me to this point. Here’s how it went and why I did it.

Why I decided to run a marathon

When I signed up to run, our lives felt very uncertain and up in the air, and living in limbo was driving me crazy. I needed a short-term achievable goal. The blues were getting way too close. It was just so difficult to make any plans. Put simply, I decided to run the marathon to keep myself sane. And, its worked! We’re still in limbo, but I’ve been ticking away the boxes and haven’t gone completely nuts!

My training plan – lots of ticks ✅

I’ve run two marathons years ago; New York 2007 and London 2010, so I know well how the training goes. It’s incredible how you can start from literally nothing and build up your ability. I applied for a charity place to run for the British Red Cross back in October and started running a mile or two here or there.

I didn’t think I’d get a place. My motivation dropped away and I stopped running. Then, I got an email from the Red Cross in early December. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get back into running with Christmas so close, let alone manage to pull in £2000 in fundraising. But, I drew up a training plan, adapting the official beginner’s plan to my own dates and arrangements, and went for a jog.

Getting started with the training

My first runs of 2 or 3 miles seemed ridiculous. I was kidding myself. I had to run/walk them. I think some of those first runs are mentally harder than the long runs that follow. So much self-doubt. Physically so tough. To even aim for 6 miles by the end of the 2nd week seemed like an impossible goal, but incredibly I got there.

I managed to shove in a few runs around Christmas while eating, drinking and partying far too much. By New Year’s Day, I was exhausted, hungover and had a chest infection… I didn’t run for 10 days! So, I only really got started on January 11th. That was just 14 weeks before the marathon.

The amazing thing is, if you can run 2 miles, you suddenly can run 4. Once you’ve run 4, suddenly you can run 6. There’s some kind of magic about just following the plan, if you keep ticking off the boxes, you find that you just can manage the distances as they get longer and longer and longer.

Of course, there are days when you don’t want to go, when it’s raining, when everything hurts, when you have a million other things you should be doing and the training takes time, so much time… I’m so grateful to my husband and mother-in-law for their help with the kids making it all possible. The training is brutal, in fact, I think I actually hate running!

But building up the distance is immensely satisfying. The fresh air is always invigorating. There are days when I have dreaded leaving the house, then found myself up mountains, along trails and in the forest – even when it’s raining – and feeling just so grateful that the plan had got me out and about.

Where I did my training

We live in County Wicklow, Ireland, and I did my first few runs around The Devil’s Glen, a gorgeous forest where we live. But it’s hilly! There’s a nice 5 miles from Wicklow Town to Kiloughter along the Murrough (in fact, you could go on for miles) but the track is a bit uneven.

I quickly found the best, flattest most scenic place to run in Wicklow; Vartry Reservoir in Roundwood. By now, I know every inch of those trails! It’s 4 miles around the lower lake, 6 miles around the lower lake plus the central bit, and 9.5 miles around the lower and upper lake together. It’s perfect for marathon training as you can do loops and leave water at the car. Plus it’s beautiful, of course.

The first time I made it round the lower lake (4 miles) I was thrilled with myself. The first time I made it round the whole thing I thought I was going to die (9.5 miles). The last time I ran it, I did the whole thing, plus the lower bit again IN THE SNOW and I was euphoric.

Marathon training with a dog

I ran every inch of my training with my dog Niko. He’s a lithe, fit lurcher sort of a dog, in fact a tinacaro (“binface”) street dog from Panama. He did 10 times my distances zooming around. He’s as fit as a fiddle and seems to float along barely touching the ground. When I run behind him, I admire his light feet and try and make my heavy thumping strides lighter and quicker. I now worry that I’ve created a monster. When the marathon’s over, I’ll be running a lot less, if at all! And he’ll be bouncing off the walls wondering when we’re going for our next 20 miler!

I always took treats for him to keep him going (and coming back!) and he enjoyed plenty of tasty puddles. On the long runs, I took a pouch of dog food for him to have half way. If we were on a loop and passing the car for supplies, I’d offer him water which he’d barely touch. He’d drink a lot when we got home, and over the whole next day, but didn’t seem to need much even on the really long runs.

Niko running in the thick snow around Vatry Reservoir, March 2023.

We were so lucky to have the reservoir to run round, because Niko could be off the lead most of the time, so he could zoom about and sniff things. I think being on the lead for long runs would be hard for dogs because of keeping the constant pace (although mine is barely a trot for him).

Dogs make great running buddies. They’re always ready to go, “let’s go now, can we go now, are you ready yet?” They never think its too dark or wet or early. They start whining and yipping with excitement as your arrive at the starting point in your car, making it impossible to hang around. When on the lead, all that weeing on things is a great opportunity for a breather. Seeing the pure joy on their faces running through the forest makes it all worthwhile.

Am I fit enough to run the marathon?

I know I can run 20 miles. I know that from 3 weeks ago. I know that I can finally run straight up our local “mountain”, a little hill called Carrick, which I did just three days ago. I know I can run for hours without stopping. But, weirdly, I don’t feel very fit. I’m certainly quite stiff!

The kids have had back to back viruses since Christmas and while I feel like all this training has helped me fight off their various lurgies, I havent been feeling amazing. I think I would have expected to feel full of beans, pumped and raring to go by this stage.

I haven’t been sleeping well recently and am definitely suffering from “maranoia” . I’ve had two of the craziest dreams. In the first, a giant land crab ran off with one of my trainers while I was in a portaloo. I had to run after it through grass littered with broken glass. Last night, I dreamt the course went through building sites. I got lost, soaked in a paddy field and ended up running the wrong way against the crowds.

When I started the training, I had a sore, possibly arthritic, toe. Thankfully it hasn’t got any worse, and actually might be a bit better. I’ve done some pilates sessions which must have helped, but I think I owe staying injury-free to my visits to a fantastic Neurophysical Therapist called Matt Cox. He’s taught me about using “activation points” to get the correct muscles moving you better, rather than compensating with wrong ones.

Matt Cox

This is a whole new field to me. Possibly it worked very well on me psychosomatically through the power of suggestion. Or, it’s an important physiological understanding of the body that’s massively overlooked. I’ll be looking to see if anyone else is activating their glute points (behind the head and under the ears) at the start of the race. I certainly will be!

So, today’s the expo and I’m off on the train to London to get my race pack. My training’s all done, my bags are packed, I don’t know if I’m really fit… but I am sure as hell READY!

Tracking me during the race

If you’d like the thrills of seeing me fly round the course, I think you have to download the app…

Download the TCS London Marathon 2023 App:

Note on my fundraising

Thanks so much to all of you who have supported me! I’m absolutely thrilled to have surpassed my target of £2000 for The British Red Cross, and am now running at nearly £100 a mile (sounds much better than my running time of 13 minutes a mile!)

If you’d still like to donate, please do! You’ll find my page at accepting donations for 3 months after the race.

“The Red Cross Fairy” running New York City Marathon 2007

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