What an incredible weekend. Some felt that for a newbie runner like me a marathon was a bit of a big jump too soon, perhaps I should have held off until 2017. With two young kids and my writing projects it would be impossible to find the time to train. Nah – let’s just go for it I thought. I love the number 16 and I wanted 2016 to be my year. The year I attempted something both extremely physically and mentally challenging. I am no athlete and like to run fairly slow and steady with the odd fast burst. My fastest 5k park run is currently 28 minutes. I come into my stride in long distance running. I get lost in it. Running is so good for the mind, the soul and the body. Running is now firmly part of my life. It gives me essential head space and much needed energy. I feel fit and almost sexy again. What’s not to love?
I spent the week leading up to the marathon in a beautiful log cabin with a hot tub overlooking the most stunning view.
I would highly recommend the golden oak cabins at Ardgartan (near the bonnie banks) for a chilled out week away. They are a 20 minute drive from Loch Fyne oyster bar and deli and the food is as the name suggests FINE! I had the mixed oysters which were super fresh and the whipped goats cheese and beetroot salad. It was such a tasty salad -indulgent and creamy cheese and the rest of it fairly clean. The butternut puree tied it all together perfectly with the crunch of hazelnuts.
I washed it down with a lovely, light South African white wine. The hubs had the king scallops which were to die for. The kids were delighted with their fish and chips, as was my Mother in Law. My Father in Law was loving his salmon and asparagus -super fresh and tasty.
The cabins are about a 30 minute drive from the Spa at Cameron House – it has a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the golf course and a lovely thermal experience. Don’t get me started on the treatments – I am an absolute sucker for a good massage or a facial. I would spend money on being pampered over a new outfit or bag any day of the week. Runners are encouraged to have regular massages too which is a bonus #anyexcuse.
Despite the week being super relaxing I had a serious knot in my stomach. Just like the feeling I had on both occasions before childbirth. So much anticipation and fear of what could go wrong. The unknown can scare us. How painful is this going to be? Am I prepared enough? Will my body cope with the demands? Am I carb loading enough? Was that glass (or three) of champagne really irresponsible? My previous running events have taught me a lot and have calmed me slightly. I have had mild panic attacks and faced walls during my first 10k, my first 10 mile and first half marathon. I have learnt from all of these experiences. I have learnt to chill out a bit and I now understand what can set me off. Like childbirth, when it comes to running events there are just some things outwith our control such as the weather and how we feel at the time. Our attitude is so important. The plus of labour is that gas and air is readily available. That certainly helped to calm me down. With running we need to power on through. So when my legs started to hurt and my feet felt like they were bleeding at 20 miles I smiled. I drew a new starting line in my mind when I felt it was all getting a bit too much. When the sun was beating down so hard from around 17 miles I took deep breaths. I paced myself. I focused on how stunning the scenery in East Lothian was. I felt thankful that the previous couple of hours had been cooler. Feelings of gratitude always help us even when we need to dig deep for them.
The screams from a labour ward can be scary. It is equally scary passing a runner who is distressed. In my short time as a runner I have witnessed people collapse, people being violently sick, some in stretchers and with an oxygen mask on. It is never nice to see but we can’t let fear of what may happen put us off. We need to trust that those who appear to be really struggling are in capable hands. That they will be looked after and get the support they need.
Ironically, the marathon was my 4th running event and although it was the hardest it was the event that I felt the most calm. The training taught me so much, especially the long runs of up to 20 miles on my own. As has my awareness work about mental health. I decided that through this I want to face my fears head on. During the marathon I was pushing my body beyond endurance and through my blog and lifestyle column I am tackling mental health issues with as much sensitivity as I can. I want to confront the big taboo topics we still fear so much. It gave me such a buzz to have so many people I have never met approach me during the marathon weekend to say they love reading my work and how much it has helped them. This makes all those hours I chip away at it SO worthwhile. It also spurs me on to keep working hard at my book (which I started writing after one of my long training runs).
I was delighted to be invited along to be official starter for the 10k and I got chatting to some very experienced runners. They gave me great advice. One of the guys who has ran around 20 marathons commented that the real marathon starts at 20 miles. I was so intrigued to know how I would cope for those final 6.2 miles. Looking back they were not as awful as I imagined. Yes, they were tough in the heat, yes I was shuffling along in parts because for me I wanted to complete my first marathon feeling strong and happy. What really helped me was encouraging other people running beside me who were hating the end. I told them ‘we can do this, keep going’. It was so amazing to see all of the signs people were holding up – especially the inspirational messages. I felt so moved watching all the crowds shouting everyone on, holding their messages with pride and offering their full support. As for all the friends and family that came to spur me on, this was just incredible. I felt so lucky to have them and also all of this footage of the big day here. I will cherish this little video clip forever. I know my kids will enjoy watching this when they are older. My 3 year old gives me the biggest hug each time she watches it and she is stingy with her hugs #winning. The footage also captures just how stunning the EMF route is. I was so impressed with the whole day from the atmosphere, to how well organised it was, how we left on time, the energy gels and how nice and icy they were to drink. There was the perfect amount of water stations and toilets on route. The finish line also had the wow factor for me. I loved the intimacy of it and the layout.
Like both of my experiences of childbirth, reaching that finish line and seeing my baby/marathon medal was such a super buzz. I had an overwhelming feeling of contentment and accomplishment. I had no regrets and all the pain was worth it. When I woke up the following day however I felt like I had been hit by a bus. My whole body ached and getting out of bed was SO painful. There were no midwifes on call to help me. There was no bed pan (much needed despite a toilet being only a few steps from our bed). Like post labour I should have been on some pretty intense painkillers but hey if I can run a marathon I can just deal with it. No pain no gain.
A few have asked me if I shall continue with running now I have the marathon medal. To me this is just the start of a very exciting journey. I am enjoying a couple of weeks off and then it is back to training for the Scottish Half marathon. I am going to be following a new plan with a twist and I look forward to sharing it and all the challenges with you. Bring it on!
ps a millon thanks again to all who have donated to our just giving page for The Mental Health Foundation. Between the EMF 10k and the Scottish Half last year and the half and full marathon this year my brother and I have raised over £4000 for the vital work that this charity do #mentalhealthawareness.