Ten years of running: Learning life lessons through the challenge, pain, passion, smiles and tears

Ten years ago this weekend, I ran my first half marathon. If you had told me that ten years later, I would be a committed runner, having run 11 marathons and 2 ultra marathons, I would have told you that you were mad! The journey has been rewarding, brutal, exhausting, inspiring and emotional. Running has become a big part of my life and has taught me many life lessons. I feel incredibly privileged that I have been able to run in some amazing places, with incredible people and that my body and mind been strong enough to support me to do what I wanted to do. So, what is the journey that I’ve been on and what have I learnt? 

Race to the Beat half marathon: September 2010 (2hr 20mins, PB)

‘When you venture into the unknown, you find many treasures’

I had started running six months earlier when I was given a new role at work. It was a role that I knew I would love but one that I also knew I could spend all of my time on. I wanted to do something that would help keep me fit and give me a focus outside of work. I didn’t want to join a class or group sport as I felt that might add stress if I had to be somewhere at a certain time each week. So I decided to take up running. I had never run more than 10km before and had only done that once, in a charity run, and had found it very challenging. I knew I would have to have a goal and so I entered the ‘Run to the Beat’ half marathon in London. 

It felt like an immense challenge and the training was very hard. The day itself was bitterly cold and there were tube problems, delaying the start time. Being a novice runner, I didn’t know to come in old warm clothes to discard at the start and so was freezing waiting for an extra hour at the start! Once I got started, I loved the run and the sense of achievement. I enjoyed being with so many people pushing themselves to achieve a goal. Immediately afterwards, I applied for a charity place for the London marathon and was delighted to get one. ‘How much harder can a marathon be?’ I very naively thought. I was about to find out!

London marathon: April 2011 (5 hr 44 mins, PB)

‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you’ 

My first marathon! I have never felt so nervous waiting on the start line. I was about to push my body a long way further than I had ever been before. My longest training run had been 20 miles and I had no idea how I would hold up in the last 6.2 miles. To say it was hard is an understatement. I remember falling into my parents arms at mile 12 and telling them it was so much harder than any of the training runs. I did the same with my best friends and godchildren at mile 18 and my husband towards the end of the race. I finished but was an emotional mess. It had taken me 5 hrs and 44 mins, far longer than I had anticipated. 

I didn’t know until a month later that I was incredibly anaemic at the time and, when I found out, the doctor told me he had no idea how I was walking around, let alone running! I needed to have a blood transfusion and recovered over that summer. 

Luckily for me I had already entered the New York marathon for later that year. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I would ever have run again!

New York marathon: November 2011 (5 hr 7 mins, PB)

‘If you dream it, you can achieve it’

An utterly amazing day! My first experience of an overseas marathon and the first one that I ran with friends (not running along together, but together in spirit). The bands playing ‘New York, New York’ as I crossed the start line, the incredible crowds with their banners, the seemingly ever uphill bridge at mile 15 and the finish in Central Park made this an inspirational experience. I fell into my husband’s arms in the final mile with a huge smile on my face and he said ‘this isn’t going to be your last marathon is it?’ and I said ‘No!’. Hobbling into a hotel bar afterwards to meet my friends, wrapped in my tin foil poncho, proudly wearing my medal and being cheered in by the entire bar is one of my life memories.

I was ready to continue my marathon journey!

Paris marathon: April 2014 (5 hrs 12 mins)

‘The voice in your head saying you can’t do this is a liar’

There was a long gap between my second and third marathons. In 2012, my husband and I climbed Kilimanjaro (starting my love of climbing) and in 2013, I had an injury when skiing which meant I couldn’t run my planned marathon in Paris. I arrived in Paris the following year having had another bad injury and so was underprepared. I collected my number from the Expo and was surprised to have been given a head torch in my runners pack. Little did I know that part of the run would be underground through tunnels near to the Seine and it was very dark! 

I have to say that I didn’t enjoy the Paris marathon. The crowds weren’t anything like in New York or London, there were very few toilets on the route (leading me to ‘doing a Paula’ at mile 8!) and the finish line wasn’t very inspiring. I was delighted to have finished having had an injury and I had raised a lot of money for charity. But when I rang my husband at the end I said ‘That’s it, I’m done. I’m delighted to have run three but no more.’

London marathon: April 2015 (4 hrs 49 mins, PB)

‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’

In late November of that year, I got a text from a friend which said that he had managed to get me a charity place in the London marathon if I wanted one. Oddly, given my Paris experience, it got me excited again and so I started training!

I arrived at the start line injury free, on a cold day and I hoped that I could break the five hour barrier, which was for me a personal goal. Whilst I had some tough parts of that marathon, as in every marathon, I fell in love with marathon running that day. I saw my husband at mile 24 and gave him a hug and a kiss and knew that, unless I got an injury, I would break five hours. And I did. I crossed the finish line in tears of joy, exhaustion and excitement. Being with so many people in my home marathon, all striving to be the best they could be on that day was an inspirational experience for me. There was never any doubt that I’d run another one. 

Berlin marathon: September 2016 (4 hrs 59 mins)

‘If you can dream it, you can achieve it’

I love the Berlin marathon! The start is amazing, with a countdown for even the slow runners like me, the route is flat and the end, running under the Brandenburg Gate, is stunning. It was a very hot day the first time that I ran it and I struggled in the heat. I was determined to be under five hours again, which meant sprinting the final mile (or what felt like sprint!). My watch gave out with half a mile to go and so my first call was to my husband to ask if I had broken five hours and I had! 

It was also my first run with what was to become my running family. Two of us running that marathon and two in support, but that was soon to change as the two in support decided to join us in running!

Chicago marathon: October 2017 (4 hrs 14 mins, PB)

‘I can and I will. Just watch me’

After the Berlin marathon, I got a personal trainer to try and help me get stronger, to see if I could maintain my pace for longer in the marathons. I arrived in Chicago after a great training period, with lots of PBs as the weight training paid off. But the weather had other ideas – it was the hottest marathon I’ve run with temperatures of up to 27 degrees. 

This was another marathon that I loved, despite the heat. The American crowds again were amazing, I was running with my husband and friends, and I felt strong. Despite the weather, I ran a huge PB on that day, and a time that I wouldn’t have imagined even a few months earlier. I crossed the finish line and was given a bag of ice to cool myself down, as were all runners. Meeting my husband and hugging with bags of ice on our heads is another of my life memories. 

I was now on my way to achieving the six star medal for those runners who had run the six major marathons of the world. I only had two to go – Boston and Tokyo – but both are incredibly hard to get a place for and so that was still a dream but not something that I thought was likely.

London marathon: April 2018 (4 hrs 53 mins)

‘One day I won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day’

My running family all signed up to the London marathon to allow us to all run it together. It was the toughest marathon I’ve ever done. It was the hottest London marathon on record and I have never before doubted I would finish a marathon but on this one, I did. The heat was unbearable and I could only take one mile at a time, take water on board and then carry on. I’ve never been so glad to see the finish line! I felt delighted to finish it, privileged to be part of it and proud of myself for not giving up.

Race to the King ultra marathon: June 2018 

‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’

Late in 2017, having dinner with a couple of friends, we decided to run an ultra marathon. One of us had done this before but two of us hadn’t. I thought that someone would drop out or get injured, leaving the other two to be able to gracefully decline to take part but it didn’t happen! So I ventured into the world of ultra running, which I loved! It was a different style of running – it was actually running and walking, it was much slower and it required you to get your fuelling and hydration right and to have a strong mental approach. The first training run which was longer than a marathon was a real achievement but I arrived at the start line incredibly nervous. I was running 85km! 

It was brutal, rewarding, utterly exhausting, fun and ultimately, incredibly inspirational. Running into Winchester Cathedral close with my friend hand in hand in pitch blackness to be cheered in by our family and friends was amazing. I was an ultramarathoner! 

Berlin marathon: September 2018 (4 hrs 19 mins)

‘No human is limited’

I returned to Berlin in 2018 to build towards the six star medal for all of my running family. I was going to Nepal three weeks later to climb Mera Peak and so I knew I had to come back injury free! Again, I had a wonderful time and got close to my PB. It was the race in which Eliud Kipchoge set his world record and to be part of that race, despite taking over double the amount of time that he had (!), was a huge privilege. 

Boston marathon: April 2019 (4 hrs 40 mins) 

‘Don’t give up your shot’

I am not quick enough to achieve the Boston marathon qualifying time and so was very grateful to get a charity place to be able to run. Boston is known as a tough marathon, due to the hills towards the end of the race, and it didn’t disappoint! The weather was also tough – biblical rain at the start, then heating up to create a sauna like atmosphere and then torrential rain for the last four miles! Despite that, I loved this marathon. The crowds were, once again, incredible, unicorns (the symbol of the marathon) were everywhere making it feel like a carnival and the finish line is the best I have seen. It is a long stretch for about a quarter of a mile with the flags of all of the runners on each side of the road and crowds ten deep. As usual, I was in tears! And I was one marathon away from the six star medal! 

Race to the Stones ultra marathon: July 2019

‘The body achieves what the mind believes’

My second ultra marathon – 100km! I was better prepared for this but getting your body and, importantly, your mind to cover this distance is incredibly hard. My friend said at the start ‘you can’t outrun this, you need to outthink it’ and that was so true. There were moments of pure joy – running through a corn field with my husband who had joined me for a part of the race – but moments when I absolutely questioned my sanity! The finish was amazing and I felt an immense sense of pride and happiness.

Amsterdam marathon: October 2019 (4 hrs 40 mins)

‘Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must. Just never give up’

A great marathon with friends, including one of my friends who I had met exactly a year previously climbing Mera Peak. I was ill with a very bad cold and probably shouldn’t have run but I wasn’t prepared to give in, so I ran and goodness was it worth it! Finishing by running under Olympic Rings, into an Olympic stadium filled with crowds cheering you on was a very special moment. My tenth marathon! 

Oulton Park marathon: March 2020 (4 hrs 13 mins, PB)

‘Your speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward’ 

This was meant to be Tokyo, running for my six star medal, but as with so many things this year, the plans changed when the Tokyo marathon was cancelled due to Covid. I was determined to run a marathon and felt incredibly lucky that we were able to run in the final marathon to be run in the UK prior to the lockdown. It required my husband and I to run ten laps around a car race track in Oulton Park! Not Tokyo, not a six star run, but very special. Wonderful stewards, hills, wind stronger than anything I had run in previously, two PBs, lots of smiles, some tears and the last piece of normality before all of our worlds changed. 

And so what next? As soon as we can run the Tokyo marathon, we’ll be there! And in the meantime, I keep running, challenging myself with new goals and enjoying being part of such a wonderfully supportive running family. And what have I learnt? All of the quotes above but, more than anything, the fact that we can all push ourselves to achieve so much more than we would ever think is possible with purpose, dedication, support and love. 

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey with me, in particular Matt, Steve, Jemima, Leo, Jonathon, Helen, Ian, Dan and all of my wonderful family, friends and colleagues who are so supportive, cope with my injuries and hobbling and always ask how I am doing. I genuinely wouldn’t be able to do this without you all. 

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