‘Failure I can live with. Not trying is what I can’t handle’
When I was a schoolgirl I used to run the 100m for the school. I have always loved watching athletics and have always been entranced by the magic of the Olympics. To have the opportunity to start and finish a marathon in an Olympic Stadium seemed too good to pass up when some good friends suggested running the wonderful Amsterdam marathon which I was privileged to complete last Sunday.
The training for this marathon has probably been the hardest training round that I’ve ever had and I’ve learnt a lot of lessons from it.
Firstly, as much as I would like to think that my body can cope with anything, it really can’t! After completing the amazing Race to the Stones ultra marathon in July, I was back marathon training within a week. I also spent most weekends in August doing some wonderful mountaineering training, which was very special but equally very challenging and tiring. My body has therefore been exhausted and I have picked up some minor, but annoying, injuries. This has meant that I am not able to run at my usual pace and so the long runs in particular have been hard.
Secondly, having a purpose is very important to me. The Amsterdam marathon didn’t obviously fit in with my adventure plans. It isn’t one of the six major marathons and isn’t directly helping me train for my Peak Lenin expedition. It was just something that I thought would be special to do. This lack of purpose made the training mentally hard.
Thirdly, there are just some things you can’t control. I don’t get colds very often, maybe one a year, but when I do, they tend to be quite bad and involve an extremely irritating cough. This arrived four days before the marathon!
So I arrived in Amsterdam with a bad cough, a slight fever and some injuries. Not the best way to arrive for a marathon! I still, however, felt incredibly lucky to be there. So many people aren’t able to do the things they love and even knowing it would be tough, I was excited. The quote at the top is something that has always resonated with me. I would try my best – if I couldn’t finish the marathon, that would be fine but I certainly was going to try!
The morning arrived and the weather was perfect – cold but dry. The start in the Olympic stadium was wonderful. There were lots of spectators and the pens, where you wait to start, were all together in the middle of the track. This meant that I could spend time with my friends beforehand, which isn’t usually the case as we all run at different speeds and so usually are split into separate pens very early. This was therefore special.
We set off and I deliberately went at a steady pace as I wasn’t sure how my breathing would hold up with my cough! It was hard work but I was able to run and so I simply adjusted my expectations for my time and tried to focus on enjoying the run.
The first half was lovely – the route was great, the crowds were really positive and I felt ok. I looked down at my watch at the 2 hour mark and was, again, amazed at the incredible achievements of Eliud Kipchoge the weekend before when he broke the 2 hour barrier for the marathon. I was at about 12 miles and he had completed the entire race! As he says ‘no human is limited’. I felt very inspired to keep running even when I knew I was pushing myself far beyond where my body wanted me to go!
At the half way point, my fever got worse and so I stopped and took some nurofen and strepsils… I’m not sure what the wonderful volunteers handing out the water thought as I brought out my medicine cabinet from my running leggings! The second half was therefore very tough.
There aren’t many hills at all in the Amsterdam marathon, as you might imagine, but there was one at 36km which was incredibly unwelcome! A lovely woman who was running alongside me at that point wouldn’t let me walk up the hill and encouraged me to continue running, and I was so grateful for her support. We didn’t speak the same language but we shared a special moment.
At about 40km, I started to believe I could finish it, which I had doubted at points in the third quarter, and I started to look at my time. I had hoped to complete it within 4 hrs 45 minutes and I now realised that I could go a bit faster than that. I therefore set myself little targets for the final 2km. When I went under the 500m to go banner, I looked at my watch and knew I could get under 4hr40 if I could run the final 500m in under 3 minutes. Now in my training, that would be absolutely fine but at the end of a marathon when I was ill, I knew it would be hard! But I set off in what I felt was a sprint (although I’m sure it didn’t look like it!).
The final 300m is very, very special. You run under the Olympic Rings, under the Olympic banner of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (faster, higher, stronger) written in the Olympic colours on the side of the stadium and then run into the stadium itself. The crowds were huge, made up of friends and family and everyone was cheered on. I was in tears as I ran towards the finish line. Inspired by the crowds, by being in an Olympic stadium and by the support of my wonderful family and friends, I managed that last 500m in 2min30 which is very quick for me!
It was my tenth marathon and the toughest one I have done. But, goodness me, it was worth it to have that finish! My friends all achieved fantastic times for them and so there was a lot of celebration afterwards!
I would never have believed I could finish one marathon, let alone ten, and it reminds me that we can all achieve our dreams if we have purpose, passion and, most importantly, a huge amount of support. And by trying, we can often achieve much more than we think we are capable of.
Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me – it means so much.