This post is for all the people who were told they were useless at sport when they were small.
People are often surprised when they learn that I once ran a marathon. Well, ran is probably an exaggeration. Limped a marathon might be more accurate. Limped, walked, crawled, cried and tantrumed my way through 26.2 miles would probably be entirely accurate.
I started this website because I wanted to share my journey from unhappy with my body to happier with it, through the act of hauling my arse off the sofa. To admit that I ran a marathon in 2007 makes me almost feel like a fraud. “Wait, what?!” I can hear you all say “you make out like you are a normal girl who battles with exercise and cake like the rest of us, but you’re a closet marathon runner?! You sneaky fitness freak!”
Believe me when I say my story of a Marathon is exactly the opposite. It is the story of someone who was not built to run, and who ate cake the entire way through her training programme. The story of a girl who probably trained longer than, yet ultimately ran slower than, the average human being on a marathon mission.
It was September 2006 and the guy who sat next to me in the glorified call centre I was working in (who I admit I may have had a bit of a misguided crush on) mentioned to me that he was thinking about signing up for the Paris Marathon the following April. I think that I decided that it was best to indulge in a little trash talk. I think I might have said something like “I bet I could run one faster than you”.
Yep, that’s definitely what I said.
And, keen not to lose face, we both applied to sign up for the Paris marathon there and then. It was scarily simple. All I had to do was choose a charity looking for runners, pay the deposit and agree to nip to the doctors to seek medical backing that a marathon wasn’t going to kill me (oh Doctor, how thee did over-estimated me).
And so we began training. This was THE FIRST TIME I had ever been for a run. Ever. In my LIFE. I was the clumsy, shy kid with asthma at school, and so regularly got away with clutching my inhaler and sitting morosely on the grass when PE class came around. As a child, I wasn’t a runner. I was a sitter.
Now , aged 23, I was the woman with asthma I could control, and there was no teacher to outsmart. I remember my first run on this marathon training endeavor well; wheezing from my flat in Holloway, up to the old Arsenal stadium (in the darkness so no one saw me). I ran. I got into a rhythm, my feet noisily slapping against the floor, and my joints feeling strange. My lungs felt like they were gasping for their last breath.
It was hell.
I’d run about a mile.
Why didn’t I test this running thing out before I signed up?!?!
The next couple of months saw me up my running 10 times round the new Emirates Stadium, around Highbury Fields, and around and around and around little familiar patches of ground I knew in Islington until I felt safe enough to try the route from work in Pimlico to my home in Holloway.
I was getting better. Definitely no faster, but I could breathe after the first 5 minutes now. I could run through a stitch. I enjoyed seeing the river all lit up on a December evening. I think this was the point I realised that I could cope with a run of a couple of miles and actually, probably enjoy it (which I now do).
A marathon, however, was slightly more than a 5 mile jolly along the Thames. I truthfully only got about four 18 mile runs under my belt before the big day in April came, and I know now that if I’m honest with myself, I was neither physically or mentally prepared for raceday. I was petrified. My dad had kindly offered to drive me 26 miles the weekend before the marathon, so we could “test” the distance.
It was an enormous distance. I had cried in the car. There she was, the little fat kid clutching the inhaler, sitting in my dad’s passenger seat and looking up at him with a sad, clammy little face.
I think I realised at that moment that this marathon was going to be my adult hand, ruffling that sad kid’s hair and giving her a thumbs up. As I sat on the ferry to France the next day, I decided I was going to do this marathon for little, sad, fat, asthmatic me.
Marathon day itself is a bit of a blur. I can remember the expo the day before, and eating more pasta like carb-shame wasn’t a thing. I remember taking 4 imodium before the race in a panic about the horror stories I’d read about runners involuntarily crapping their pants at mile 20, and I remember certain other things very vividly- the overwhelming smell of deep heat before the race. The atmosphere of tension and excitement. The cold morning that belied the scorching heat we’d be running through. Seeing a woman taking off her whole all-in-one running kit to pee naked over a urinal.
And then the race- someone yelling “ALLEZ MADMOISELLE!” at me and tears promptly sprouting from my sore eyes. Getting to a water station so far behind everyone else that there was no water left, and slipping around on the orange peels discarded all over the floor at 10km.
I am not going to lie, after the first 10 miles, the race was absolutely horrible. I cried a lot. My knee injury that I’d battled with for months was absolutely excruciating by mile 17 and I limped through the park section (no f*cking idea which park, I was too out of it to know). In this park I was behind two women, who I just followed with tunnel vision. I look back and scald myself for being such a baby about it all now. I think during the second half of the race I was blocked more by my mental than my physical state.
But- my proudest moment in 23 years- I finished it. I bloody finished it. 35,000 people started that race on 15th April 2007, one of the hottest Aprils on record. Just under 27,000 finished it. And I was one of them. That makes me really proud.
This little kid just ran a marathon!
But when I look back on my dabble with a marathon, I now look back with laughter more than anything else. Because, almost 10 years on now, I am flabbergasted that I completed it, and the beauty of hindsight means I remember things for their amusement rather than for the pain.
The fact that only 8 people finished after me makes me laugh SO MUCH. I’m belly laughing as I type! EIGHT!! I am so shit!!! I remember a man of about 85 running past me with ease in that god awful park. It made me cry with how amazing he was (and also a little out of self-pity at being out run by an old fella).
Things that now make me laugh- I remember never getting any water, and strangers having to search piles of discarded water bottles to help me have a glug whilst I stood, looking shell shocked with hair stuck to my face repeating a weak little “merci”.
And probably my favourite memory of all- the thick white chalk line that marked the road to guide runners, and diligently following it with no one in front or behind me. I remember by the time we got to mile 24, the lorry designated to brush away this chalk line was rumbling up behind me and the other stragglers, driving at a politely slow speed to let us carry on. The men driving it must have been in fits of laughter. I was impressed at how far behind I was at that point- the organisers were literally clearing up on my tail.
The last 200m are very clear in my mind. I charged them like an injured, tiny, determined rhino. It was uphill (French sadism) and the few spectators who had bothered to stay around that long, dutifully cheered. They yelled a load of stuff in French- I grimaced a smile, and overtook a couple of people (luckily, or else I would have actually been last).
And I did it. I crossed the line to a few small cheers. I was too weak to sob, and too dehydrated to cry. I just collapsed. Right there, 2 steps past the finish line (which was being dismantled), I sat with my legs outstretched. A man came up to me and said “You must stand. Or else you will never stand again!”
I stared at him incredulously for a second before calmly telling him to f*ck off.
If you ever read this, kind French man, forgive me. But seriously, no one likes a know-it-all at the best of times.
I then had an hour long metro journey back to the hotel, where my crush and our other friend who’d run with us had been asleep for the past 3 hours. It was an additional journey of hell that I didn’t need after an epic sub-7hr marathon, and I nearly collapsed several times, but I travelled back high on life, and pretty high on myself. I’m not sure if I was euphoric due to the achievement or the dehydration, but let’s go with the former.
I will never, ever do one of these again. In fact, I think this marathon is the direct reason I spent the years of 2008-2012 refusing to exercise. But now the memories have become mainly jovial ones, I’m pretty chuffed that I did it.