Why running a marathon isn’t the hardest thing you’ll ever do

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Fairly often, after someone has run a marathon, they either say in passing, or in a race report, that it was “the hardest thing they’ve ever done.” As much as I think it’s important to carefully consider your decision before signing up to a marathon (it’s not something to be entered into lightly blah blah blah…), I also want people to know that if I can do it, anyone can.

Really, that is the truth. No one is more surprised than myself that I ran a marathon. I’m sure anyone that was with me or heard about my experience at the Copenhagen half would also agree. Pretty much anyone I went to school, college or uni with wouldn’t have seen it coming. But even still, it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And here’s why:

I’ve been spinning. And spinning is the devil’s workout. It’s hard, it hurts and more often than not, it’s boring as hell. (Admittedly, I’ve recently been to a couple of Bangs‘ classes at Boom Cycle, which are, by all accounts, the antidote to the usual spinning crappyness.) But if you can survive the torture of spin on a regular basis, you’ll be okay.

I’ve been to track. At track you have to run really fast and try not to cry. Or be sick. And then you have to do it at least seven more times. You’ll feel like an Olympian when you’re flying round the corner into the straight, but again it’s hard and it hurts. But when you’re running your long, slow marathon pace it really will feel like the easiest thing in the world.

I had a lot of long run practice. Although a couple of the distances were altered slightly, I don’t think I missed a single one of my long runs during marathon training. And once you’ve conquered 18 miles on a Thursday night after work when the only thing keeping you going is thinking of as many words as possible beginning with A, then B, then C… Or had a mini tantrum at the entrance to Hyde Park 17 miles into your 20 miler because you had more than enough half an hour ago… Or broken down in tears in the hail in Greenwich Park and sulked off onto a bus… Or had to talk yourself out of a panic attack on a busy, sunny Saturday afternoon along the Embankment… then the glory of the day itself will be easy.

I’ve been heartbroken. This may seem a bit melodramatic, but during the marathon when I was having a tough time during the 30-something kilometre section, I thought back to December last year when I was lying on the sofa bed in my old flat crying harder than I ever have before. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to feed and dress myself that day, let alone do anything else. That day was exactly 16 weeks out from race day. For the next six weeks I hauled myself to work and out for runs whilst I was numb and sad. I rattled around my empty flat on my own. I searched for somewhere else to live when it was the last thing I wanted to do. But I got through it. And I did think back to that time when I was in so much pain, and the pain I was in whilst running paled into insignificance in comparison. If anything, it helped. I was actually having fun in comparison.

So the point of this post wasn’t to moan, or for pity. It was to say that we are all much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We are adaptable. We’re capable of not only coping, but doing well under pressure. We all go through a lot in our professional, personal and fitness lives, and sometimes it’s good to reflect on this.

Take time to appreciate how toughness (big or small) has made you tougher. You are stronger than you think.

Running with asthma

I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember. I can also remember as a child being told that it was likely that I’d just ‘grow out of it’. But I got older and older, and now here I am at 26, still an asthmatic.

Like most people, I have certain triggers that make asthma worse. The biggest trigger I have is cold weather. Asthma is a major problem for me in winter – the cold air coupled with spending more time indoors with central heating on full blast plays havoc with my ability to breathe comfortably. 

It makes training so much harder – the running in general is harder, with inhaler breaks mid run. Harder runs in turn lead to dreading runs, which in turn leads to missed runs. It’s a vicious cycle.

I remember once being at a BBQ, and getting out and using my inhaler. Bemused someone said to me “you’re a runner AND you’ve got asthma? Surely that just makes it worse.” Au contraire, mon ami. Running makes my asthma improve immeasurably. I found there was a certain point of fitness I had to get to first, but once I got past the few hard, painful runs, it got a lot easier.

As the temperature has quite a bit recently (although I’d say this is still a relatively mild winter so far), I thought I’d share a couple of tips I’ve found useful for being a runner with asthma…

Prepare

I take my reliever inhaler (mine is blue and either called Ventolin or Salbutamol) about 10 minutes before I head out. This opens up my airways ready for the extra air I’ll be using. After someone suggested I try this, it was completely obvious. But before, I was waiting to get tight chested to use my inhaler. After all, that’s what it’s for – to relieve – but a couple of puffs beforehand works wonders for me.

Cover up

For me, breathing in the cold air is an instant kick to the chest. It’s also made worse when there’s damp hanging in the air. So, when it’s really chilly, I run wearing a scarf or snood that I pull up over my mouth. This warms up the air that I’m breathing in, making it less painful. I find this is only necessary for the first 5-10 minutes, but once I’m a little warmer it’s still good to keep my neck covered up on cold days.

Manage your condition

This (again) sounds really obvious, but for a while, I just ignored the fact I had asthma. I took the attitude that I’d had it so long, there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t take my brown (preventer) medicine properly and didn’t keep up with check ups. I even spent one Boxing Day in A&E hooked up to oxygen it had got so bad. A couple of years ago, I admitted to a nurse that I was “avoiding stairs” because they made me feel so out of breath. No fit and healthy person should speak these words! Hearing myself say this gave me the kick I needed to take my own condition seriously. Now, I keep to twice-yearly asthma check ups with a nurse (even if I don’t feel like I need one), get flu vaccinated every year (didn’t do this for years either) and always make sure I have enough back up medication.

These steps have worked for me – obviously this is just my experience and may not work for everyone. Please speak to a nurse or GP about your condition. All I would say it’s that it is important to take asthma seriously and not ignore it – work out what this means for you.

Another thing I’d like to look into more and experiment with is the relationship between food and asthma. It was very recently suggested to me that the two could be related, which I’d never even considered before.

What are your experiences with asthma? What works for you in managing it?

Three years ago today…

Three years ago today, I started this blog. I remember it clearly, sitting in my old bedroom in Nottingham (which is now five bedrooms ago!), flicking through Twitter, I discovered Janathon. And so it began.

I personally don’t think this blog has become anything more than it was then – I don’t do it all that regularly, only when I have the passion, time or bother to say something. I’ve always found writing very cathartic, and I really think that getting problems, thoughts and frustrations out and on the internet really helps me sometimes, regardless of whether anyone reads it or not.

The first ever image on lissyruns.com – trying to perfect the selfie since 2011!

Even if I think this blog hasn’t really changed since 2nd January 2011, it’s certainly led to other things. Along with Twitter, it’s how I discovered Run Dem Crew. And after two years of stalking from afar, in February 2013 I finally started running with the crew almost immediately after moving to London.

I could go on for days about how lucky and happy I feel every Tuesday night I’m sat in a room full of so many supportive people. The crew has a lot to do with how settled I feel in London at the moment, and next year I hope to try and give a bit back to a movement that’s given me so much already.

Through the power of the internet, and through things like Nike Training Club, Team Naturally, Run, blogging, Write This Run and just generally running around London and entering races like they’re going out of fashion, I’ve met so many other truly lovely running ladies over the time I’ve had this blog. It’s so nice that we all just ‘get it’, and are supportive of each other, regardless of speed, ability or distance. I really hope that doesn’t change and look forward to many more runs and brunches to come – along with a little foreign race trip!

I have no real plans with where I’m going with this blog, but I never really have anyway. I love it; I love the progress and stories contained within it. Although some of the earlier posts are a little (lot) cringey to go back and read, to know I was once running 1.6 miles in almost 20 minutes and thinking it was the biggest achievement in the world helps me to feel like I have made some progress, at least.

Whether it’s been since my first Janathon in 2011 or only from today – thanks for reading everyone!

A reality check

The past few months haven’t been the most fun. I’ve been far from miserable, but a string of failed attempts to flee the East Midlands to something bigger and brighter in the Big Smoke have left me feeling deflated. I’ve been within touching distance on more than one occasion, so when it all falls through it’s all the more heart breaking. Couple this with spending almost every weekend (which has now turned into every weekend) on a train doing the long distance relationship commute, as well as a recent house move, and running – or indeed even maintaining a basic level of fitness – has slipped way, way down my list of things to do.

As such, in the last seven weeks I’ve managed one three mile run and one NTC class. I’ve lost fitness, tone and strength. I’ve put on weight. But over and above the thoughts of races, times and PB’s that aren’t achievable right now, the scariest thing has been the impact on my health.

I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember. I can also remember as a child being told that it was likely that I’d ‘just grow out of it’. This kept happening, I got older and older, and now here I am at 25 – I still haven’t grown out of it.

I went for my annual flu vaccination earlier this week and had an impromptu asthma check up to enable me to get a new asthma inhaler prescription. The results were scary.

Usually it’s just a few questions that I breeze through, no problems. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the nurse showed genuine concern in how I was (or rather, wasn’t) managing the condition. My peak flow meter (a device in which you blow a short, sharp breath as a measure of how quickly you can expel air from your lungs, measured in litres per minute) reading was 340 versus a more acceptable reading of someone my age and height of around 460.

Basically, my lungs are functioning at 25% less than the capacity they should be.

One other question was “do you find your asthma is effecting your daily life?” and I was horrified to find myself answering, “I do tend to try and avoid stairs at the moment”. The nurse’s – more than appropriate – shocked response also noted I was far too young to be coming out with such a statement. IT IS RIDICULOUS.

The appointment showed me that instead of ‘not having time’ to take my health (and fitness) seriously, I should be channelling my current frustrations and using them to help me focus. I ran a half marathon less than seven months ago, but I’ve already let life take over, when running could be the perfect escape.

There are several things I’m trying to change in my life, but I already used that excuse to flunk out of my Great North Run training. Time to drop that one.

Sometimes a situation is far from ideal, but I shouldn’t punish my body because of it.

New kicks #3

Every single shoe from the Nike x Liberty collaborations so far has been beautiful. Fact. It has been full blown trainer lust at first sight every time.

This time around I actually decided to splash out (with a helping hand courtesy of the boyfriend’s credit card) instead of just staring at them from my computer screen every other day.

These have even had office approval from my boss.