In early October 2016, I found out I was one of the lucky ones who got a ballot place in the London Marathon 2017.
I remember the day so well. I had been agitated all day at work, desperate to get home to see if I had got in. Some of my friends had posted online about being successful which made the wait even harder. As soon as it hit 5pm, I logged off my computer and ran (yes, ran) to the train station to get home. I practically sprinted back from the station in anticipation.
I burst through the front door and the lights were out. I could see the glimmer of two magazines on the floor. One belonged to me. One belonged to my other half. I could see that one was bulky (with the commiseration top) and one was flat (presumably with the congratulations magazine). I was too excited to turn the lights on so I grabbed both magazines and put them on the table face down.
I turned the lights on and frantically opened the flat one, hoping it was mine. I saw the ‘congratulations’ magazine and then I saw my name. YES. Oh my god! It was me!
A fracture really is stressful
In late October 2016, I went to a race called ‘Cakeathon’ which was a multi-loop race. Each loop was 4.37 miles and you could do as many loops as you liked before the end of the day. At the end of every loop, you got a piece of cake or a sweet treat. Sounds incredible doesn’t it? … it was! Anyway, in the excitement of knowing I was going to run London, I ran 18 miles that day (in a really good even pace), which was my longest run to date. I was full of confidence. At least, until I got home five hours later…
I couldn’t actually get out of the car. My left knee was so painful. It felt like someone had stabbed me with a metal rod and I couldn’t put any weight on it. Oh no. Not good. The pain progressively got worse over the coming days so I took myself to A&E for an X-Ray. They were pretty hopeless. They told me I had patella tendonitis and to keep resting it. But I knew that couldn’t be right. The pain continued to get worse so I decided to go private and get an MRI.
Low and behold, it was my worst nightmare. I had a stress fracture.
I spent the next four months resting and occasionally walking parkrun. It was torture and I was miserable. I had completely given up on my London dream and wondered if I would ever run again (okay, so i’m a little dramatic).
Easing back in
By February 2017, my knee had pretty much recovered and I had reached a point where I was ready to start running again. I still had a bit of pain when walking, but I had got to a point where I didn’t care anymore.
I (recklessly) decided it would be a good idea to enter a 10 mile multi-terrain race. I told myself if I could battle through that, I would be fine for London.
To my surprise, I didn’t just battle through it, I smashed it! No pain, excellent pacing and a course PB!
As you can imagine, my 10 mile race gave me all the confidence I needed. London was back on!
I started marathon training straight away. First it was just a parkrun and a mid week 10k run, then I added in a long run at the weekend too.
It was a pretty emotional journey. My fitness wasn’t where it used to be and it was frustrating feeling tired on runs that previously would have been easy. I broke down into tears on my first 14 mile run… but it wasn’t through sadness. It was through pride. I remember running/walking the last 2 miles of that run and it was painful. I felt so unfit. But I did it. As I was approaching home, I visualised the finish line of the marathon and for the first time, believed I would get there. I would just have to adjust my pace goal.
At the end of March, I did my first 20 mile run. The ‘Fission 20/20’ race, which was a two lap flat road race in North Bristol. I woke up with a range of feelings and doubts about how it might go. Would I hydrate properly? Would my legs hold out? Would I maintain the right pace? Was I wearing the right outfit for the weather? I knew it was going to be a hot one but I didn’t appreciate quite how warm. I mean, let’s be realistic for a moment. It was March, in England. How hot could it really get?
It turns out it can get pretty hot in England in March. And I didn’t know this at the time but I was fighting off the beginning of a nasty head cold. Great combination.
We set off in a group of three. The first 10 miles were great. We hit each mile just under our target pace. And then one of the girls needed the loo. We agreed to stop and wait. Oh no. Bad idea. As soon as we started running again, my legs rebelled and went like jelly. The enormity of the task all got too much and I had to walk. I struggled to get going again but managed to finish in just over 3 hours 30 minutes.
The feeling of crossing that finish line gave me a taste of how I might feel at London. My legs were dead. My feet had blisters. I had terrible chaffing on my back. I sobbed my heart out and I looked a complete state. …BUT… I did it. And that feeling will stay with me for a very long time because it was the first time I believed I could literally conquer anything.
After the 20 mile race, my runs went from strength to strength. I had a few really good long runs where I hit my target pace AND had energy left. It was all coming together nicely and I was starting to feel really good about the marathon. Maybe I could do it. And maybe I could do it in a really good time?!
Hang on a minute. Slow down. Isn’t marathon training supposed to be like riding a rollercoaster? Damn. Okay, well I guess I’m not ready to get off yet then.
Three weeks before London (on a slow 5k recovery run), I convinced myself that I had broken my foot. I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot and I was forced to use crutches. I went to see the physio and was told there was no serious injury (just a tight peroneal), but I needed to rest until race day. No running at all. Just ice. Are you serious?
Everyone told me my dreams of running London were over again. At first I got really angry with people for saying that, but as the race approached and the bruising on my foot remained, I started to think maybe they were right. I went back to being miserable and sad Martha. If i’m completely honest, it was quite a dark three weeks, with lots of crying.
I looked up the rules on deferring my place. I had until 8pm the night before to decide. I told myself that I would go for a test run at parkrun and make a decision then.
I packed my bags, not knowing what would happen. I tried to stay positive, but I was obviously very anxious. As I shut the front door to travel to London, I turned to my other half and took a deep breath.
To marathon or not to marathon, that is the question….