The Marathon Diaries: March Misery and the Long Good Friday

Alison, self confessed non runner, mother of two toddlers and all round superwoman, agreed to run the London Marathon for the Choir with No Name back in November.  With the big day looming, she shares with us the pain of training and the need to succeed...

Help Alison hit her target of £5,000 by making a donation to her fundraising page

Five days. Words that make my stomach flip and give me slight nausea. The fear has properly hit.

Five days. 

In five days time I'll be standing at the start line in Greenwich Park, ready to take part in my first, (and, believe me, my last) marathon. The legendary London Marathon is my target; the Choir With No Name is my motivation.

In November, I was a complete non-runner. Now, I am about to take on the 26.2 gruelling slog around London's streets (in hindsight, there are better ways to see the sights of the capital, in case you ever consider it). Am I ready? Well, as I will ever be. Which is to say, not massively…

The last month, I am not going to lie, has been truly hideous. I am not just saying that to get a sympathy vote and therefore encourage you to donate some money (though, if that is the net effect I'm not going to complain). No, March was frankly awful and I have come extremely close to pulling out at least three times. I'm proud, but also slightly baffled that I haven't.

When I first started this whole shebang back in November, it came as a relative surprise that Running Wasn't That Bad. I think I may even enjoyed at times. My fitness levels increased, I started to get to know some nice scenic routes near my new home, and even surprised myself by wanting to go for runs (steady on now, that didn't happen more than once or twice). Don't get me wrong, hauling my sorry ass out of bed in the dark (before my grumpy toddler padded into the bedroom to perform his usual routine of pulling my face and slapping me awake), pulling on some trainers and heading out into the drizzle wasn't my idea of fun. But January and February were a lesson in surprising myself. As someone who's always been rubbish at PE (last at cross country EVERY SINGLE WEEK, not that that's mentally scarred me or anything) and much more enjoying of cake and a good chinwag than anything athletic, I steadily upped my running distance targets and managed it each time. The challenge was good for me. I can do this, I thought. I even ran a half marathon, 'just to see what it felt like' and I didn't cry, and it didn't hurt anywhere near as much as I thought it would. I was slow but I did it, and got a medal and everything. Go me!

But that was before March.

By end of Feb I'd run 13 miles, and felt epic, but in March, I had to up it some more - aiming towards a big 20+ miler as the pinnacle of my training. The advice was to add a couple of extra miles each week on my 'long run' – simple, it sounded. But that's when I realised I had hit, and then, pushed through my limits (whilst quietly weeping).

The 15 miler loomed the first weekend. Then 17, then 19. Each time I barely completed them, most times I sobbed the last few miles and every time I finished thinking 'how on earth am I meant do ANY more miles next time?' I got used to dreading every weekend. I lost count of the number of times I told myself mentally 'you are NEVER doing anything like this again. It'll all be over in April'. March was long, arduous and I really regretted my stupid blasé 'yeah, I can do the marathon' bravado a few months before.

It also happened that March was a pretty busy month for me: Mothers Day (15 mile run, while my gorgeous two little children, age 2 and 5 wondered where I was, enjoyed Daddy Daycare and scoffing all the chocoalate they had bought me), a good friend's 40th birthday party, (did Long Run in the morning, and then hobbled my way round to her afternoon tea then dinner and barely stayed awake), my daughter's 5th birthday, involving organising a party for 25 excited Haribo-positive small children, a wedding, Easter, two weekends away at family, and a trip up to Derbyshire ('sod that', I decided, 'I am not going to go for my long run somewhere so hilly'. Instead I squeezed in a 3 hour run just before we left, then spent 4 hours sitting still in the car, legs seized up and I had to be carried out the other end.)

So yes, I'm getting better at juggling, but in all honesty, the truth is: I haven't seen my husband much (he's been doing the un-sponsored, un-glorified Childcare Marathon), there have been a LOT of ready meals, and most of the time none of us have any clean pants.

The worst day of them all was Good Friday, the day of the now legendary (and, now I look back on it, I can nearly almost laugh at) Nearly-As-Bad-As-Childbirth-Run.

It turns out, there is a lot of debate on 'running' forums I have read about which is worse: a marathon, or childbirth (I will tell you definitively this time next week).

Good Friday was slated as my longest training run of 21 miles, and boy, that was as close as anything else I have come to the experience when giving birth. Like childbirth, I sobbed, yelped, and at one point just started loudly swearing. I said at least three times 'I just can't do this!' and thought I had stretched myself beyond my mental limit. I left in the midday sun (not the wisest move I've ever made), on an unseasonally hot day, leaving my kids behind begging me not to leave (nothing like a good guilt trip to put me in the right frame of mind). I made every mistake in the 'rookie runner' book: thought I'd be fine running purely on a diet of hot cross buns scoffed quickly beforehand and five hours broken sleep (that toddler again); got deydrated so had to stop to beg two cafes to give me water; got the delightful 'runners trots' half way round and have to make a quick dash (I am forever grateful to the amazingly accomodating Kingston Sea Scouts for emergency use of their facilities); got chased by a crazed daschund; had to slog mile 16 through throngs of shiny, happy people enjoying their bank holiday smugly wandering aimlessly along the river with ice-creams who DIDN'T MOVE OUT OF THE WAY DAMMIT; had my phone battery die half way round, so no distraction of podcasts or music to jolt me out my misery, and finally, miscalculated the tide times and had to run through some ankle deep stinking Thames water on the flooded path. Eventually my freezing cold, wet, blistered feet gave up, and I had to divert my route away from floods, adding on an extra mile to get home. Boy, it hurt. Mentally and physically. Running, it turns out, is almost entirely a psychological thing. And I just crumbled. At one point I started texting husband at home with increasingly sorry self-pitying then angry outbursts, demanding him to come and pick me up. (Turns out, he didn't get the messages til it was too late). What ended up being my nearly 22 miler was the worst I have felt, mentally and physically, for a long time. In the end, I half hobbled, half limped round the last 3 or 4 miles sobbing to myself. I felt like a total failure.

And yet, here I am. Preparing on Sunday to do that all again. Except another 5 miles on top.

Yes, I've learnt my lessons. And, yes, in hindsight, at least, I got round. And to be honest, it has made me realise that, even if I walk or crawl, I'm still doing it, right? But I do really want to run it all. Since Easter I've also managed to get a knee injury, and at one point it looked like I might have to pull out completely. A very strange thing happened that day: I realised, despite all the hideousness of March and April's training, more than anything else I really do want to do this thing. I realised I'd be gutted if I couldn't.

So this week is all about the mental preparation (and frozen peas on my injured knee). I CAN do this, and I WILL do this. I realised too that more than anything, I want to do it for all the awesome people who are part of amazing, life-changing Choir With No Name, for whom I did say I would do anything (and frankly, this is coming pretty close to it).

My dream, when I started all this, was to raise 5K for the choir but that seemed ambitious to say the least. Due to some incredible, jaw-dropping generosity of friends, family and strangers, I am nearly about the £3.5K mark. I never really believed I could raise £5000, but then, I never really believed I could run a marathon, and now look. So maybe...who knows? (I did say, if I reached my target, I would sing a CWNN favourite song every mile.)

Whatever happens, I'll be lining up on Sunday, with the 36,000 others, in my delightlyfully dayglo yellow CWNN running top, ready to go. Hopefully this time, unlike my Good Friday run, I'll be attacking it with more sleep, (husband on night-toddler duty too now, give that man a medal, honestly), better hydrated, more pasta, more positivity. And, I hope, no crazed daschunds.

Alison will be running the London Marathon on Sunday 24th April for the Choir With No Name. Go on, help her make her dream come true of hitting the £5K fundraising mark: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/alisontsang and if you want to, come down to cheer her on! 

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