A memo to myself for after the Virgin Money London Marathon 2016

This time last year I had never run a marathon, but this time tomorrow I shall have run two. This seems so crazy, especially as I wasn’t exactly what you would have called sporty at school. This year’s training process, however, has been very different to last year’s. If last year was a year of intense emotion, physical pain and grief, then this year has been one of comparative joy.

This year I haven’t followed a training programme. In so many ways this terrifies me. Like, really terrifies me. I have worked out four or five times a week, three to four of which have been running based workouts. I started off doing four runs a week and three workouts a week, but I was unwell around week four of training and told pretty specifically that I was doing too much and I was stressed. I have kept up my long runs, gone to the NRC speed session pretty much every Tuesday and normally done a 5.7 mile run commute.

This is not a lot of mileage. I frequently get asked how many miles a week I run, and the answer is I have no idea. Obviously I plan my long runs around mileage, but my run commute is just the distance between my front door and my office and whilst I could count out the distance of the various reps that I do with the NRC, I don’t. I choose not to. Instead I’ve just really worked hard at doing what feels right for my body, which has meant both learning to speed up and learning to slow down. I have somehow, and totally by accidently, learned to ‘listen to my body’ – that holy grail of fitness magazines and health blogs. This is a far cry from last year.

This time last year I was recovering from bronchitis, a glute problem and a niggling shin splint, and I thought I was massively unlucky. I was stressed beyond belief and convinced I hadn’t worked hard enough or done enough, when the reality was that I had pushed myself so hard on each run that my body couldn’t cope and gave me bronchitis, a glute problem and a shin splint. These things were not a coincidence. I’m a massive control freak and in some ways this really suited something structured like training, but it also brought out my worst highly strung self. I wanted everything to go right and I looked for faults in my training when it didn’t, but being so paranoid about it I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. The obvious answer was I didn’t listen to my body and I did too much.

This year I’m…. fine. My hamstring is a bit tight, but hey, I have been marathon training, and I’ve just learned to stretch more and use my spiky ball as a result, though I’m still no angel when it comes to regular stretching and rehab if I’m being very honest. My 20 mile run wasn’t very enjoyable, but largely because I’d been having such a great time training and feeling so good on my long runs that I’d forgotten how tough they could be, and, since I’m not a bionic woman but a flesh and blood one, running 20 miles is indeed supposed to be tough.

Last year I ran the marathon in 3:42 and qualified for Good for Age, and whilst I still have worked very hard on my training, I have done less. I don’t know what this means for my time but currently I feel strong. Last year was a very emotional experience for me, but this year marathon training has just felt really… happy.  I don’t want to dismiss last year at all as it was massively important, it was just different. I’m not a professional athlete or fitness professional where I can dedicate my time to sport, nor am I a freelancer or student where I can decide my schedule. I’m a nearly 25 year old young professional with a demanding job, enjoyment of food and wine, an amazing group of friends, and this year I’ve found a way to make all of these other things about me compatible with my hobbies of running and blogging. I may have run a bit less, been invited to less blog events and engaged with fewer people on blog content, but I’ve been really happy.

So. Why am I writing this and putting it on the internet? The answer is because I’m still a very driven and competitive person and marathons are emotional experiences for anyone. I know I’m capable of dismissing positive things about myself and my achievements and focusing on one negative in their pace. I get asked a lot about my target time, and if I’m going to beat last year. I honestly don’t know. I hope so, but equally I know that I might not and I don’t want that to take away from the real joy I’ve had by finding a way to incorporate running into a happy way of living rather than a high pressure one. I don’t want to feel disappointed and cast a negative shadow over the last four months if I don’t get a PB. I’m still a bit too highly strung and too much of a control freak to tell… but I think I may have learned to relax just a bit. I already know that this marathon is better than the last. So, here I am, going on the record and saying that I know what I have accomplished and learned this year is a lot more sustainable than a PB, or, as Americans say, a PR, and that is this – it’s a PR, not ER.

Running a marathon is so much more than physically moving your body for 26.2 miles on one day, and I as a person am more than my time. Running is not my whole life, neither am I defined by my job or by any of the relationships in my life -all of these are just a part of the bigger picture that is me. I just wanted to remind myself of this of the importance of this after tomorrow’s marathon. I am not a running time, but simply a person who really likes running. It’s a PR, not ER.

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