Last year, I visited Spitfire Scramble in my unofficial role as chief-bringer-of-banana-bread to the Team Naturally Run and Run Dem Crew teams. This year, after what I can only assume was a bump on the head or a large glass of red (let’s be honest here, I’m going with the latter), I agreed to be on one of the three teams that RDC again took along to the race. 

In an astonishing feat of organisation, I managed to retrieve my sleeping bag from my parents’ house and buy myself a new tent several weeks ahead of the race. All that was left was to fling ALL my running gear into my housemate’s borrowed rucksack (apparently you can’t turn up to a campsite with a suitcase, *cough* Alex *cough*) and trek on out to Hornchurch via an hour long stint on the District line. 

The weather turned out to be wonderful – we had sun and clear skies for the entire weekend, which undoubtedly made the whole thing much more enjoyable. In fact, lolling around in a park in Essex was a lovely way to spend a couple of days. For me, it was a shame the running had to happen. 

Spitfire Scramble is a 24 hour relay race in which teams of one to eight people aim to complete as many 6-ish mile loops as possible. We were three teams of eight, which due to illness, injury, parenthood and fatigue slowly dwindled to three teams of five as time wore on. 

The course, which was largely gravelly, then a bit fieldy and ended by being a teeny bit foresty, was entirely within Hornchurch Country Park. I don’t really love running off road so this was a bit problematic. I did my first lap around four hours into the race, at 4pm when it was still pretty warm, but at least it was daylight. I sort-of enjoyed it, taking just over an hour to complete the lap.    

 

By the time my second lap rolled around, it was past 11pm, dark (really dark) and there’d been reports of kids hanging around in the park and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Our teams agreed to run all their night laps together (so in mini teams of three), but I still wasn’t keen so decided to give up on my laps until it was light. 

After this, I managed a broken 7 hours sleep (probably one of the only people in the park that night able to say that), only waking up to find myself more and more freezing and having to wrap myself in more and more layers. By the time 5am came, I was so cold I wasn’t getting out of that sleeping bag for love nor money. Running didn’t have a chance. 

I finally ran (read: mostly walked) my second and final lap as the penultimate one for our team, around 10am on the Sunday. One of our teams had managed to keep going all through the night, and as a result were our highest placing team in the overall competition by quite some way. The rest of us were feeling a little less competitive and favoured sleep and mid-table obscurity.

 
This was a great event – it’s still small enough to feel inclusive and friendly, but had built on some of the feedback from last year with better catering and more and closer toilets. I had a great bunch of teammates, and for me hanging out with them, getting to know them better, chatting running and drinking beer was the best part. 

It was interesting to also have some teams that were going for the win taking part too. Every so often, you’d here them talking tactics in the information tent, although I’ll ignore that they got a bit sexist by the end of the race, for fear of a full blown rant. 

All in all, SS was a really sociable way to enjoy running, it was something different and it (and my new awesome little tent) made me remember I actually quite like camping. Where shall I take it next…?  

I’ve been into this running thing for a while now. In fact, in a couple of months it will be the five year anniversary of my very first race. So naturally, I’m friends with, I run with and I connect with a lot of super amazing bad ass runners. People who run crazy distances week in, week out. People who run ultras, people who do triathlons, people who run ridiculously fast. All of them are doing wonderful stuff. And then there’s me.

Obviously I am in awe of all these people. They show grit and determination and a whole lot of something I don’t have. I just don’t have the bother. I really like running, but in five years I haven’t got a whole heap better. I’ve taken 11 minutes off my 10k and 14 minutes off my half marathon time, which to me is still the same ballpark. Not a massive step forward. And most of the time, that’s fine by me. But recently, for the first time, I have felt the balance of being inspired and enthused by those around me tip in favour of feeling overwhelmed, and frankly, completely inadequate.

Mostly because I’ve stayed still, just circling around myself for so long.

I also found myself questioning my decision not to run another marathon (at least not for a while). Then thinking screw marathons, why aren’t I running ultras? Everyone else seems to love running for hours on end through the countryside, why don’t I? Maybe I should get swimming lessons, everyone on my Twitter is in a wetsuit these days, after all. Perhaps I should’ve bought a sportier bike, and then I could go on longer rides at the weekends.

But then I remember. I don’t want to do any of those things. Running halves and having a modest time goal. Going to yoga and yet still not being able to touch my toes. Pootling around London on my sexy red bike. These are things I want to do.

Sure, these things aren’t the most inspiring; relative to some accomplishments they are pretty mundane. But I’ll keep doing them and writing about them. I’ll keep posting about them on Instagram. If just one person like five-years-ago-me goes for a run because of it, then that’s inspiration enough.

This photo of myself was taken exactly a year ago today.

Other than the devastating fact that this was taken in Mallorca (rather than the rainy London I find myself in right now), the next and slightly bigger blow this photo gives me is that I no longer look like that.

This photo was taken ten days into my first (and so far only) round of Whole30. Whole30 is a very quick and very effective method of achieving quite dramatic body composition results (if that’s what you’re after). You can find the reasons I took on the original challenge here, but looking at that photo I would say that my body is in the best aesthetic condition it’s ever been in.

But like I said, it doesn’t look like that anymore. I’m not saying I am now overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but in the past year my body has changed more than it ever has done before.

A couple of weeks ago, one hot afternoon (I think we’ve had at least one hot afternoon so far this summer), I came home and changed into my favourite pair of denim shorts. Or at least I tried to. I’ve lived in the same pair of stripy Abercrombie & Fitch denim shorts every summer since I bought them in California five and a half years ago. They are (or rather, were) perfect – short, but not too short, slouchy but not too boyish, light but far enough away from white. And now I can no longer do them up. They fit like hot pants and the button does not do up. I could have cried.

Last week, I did an online Nike order that included a pair of training shoes, a vest and some jogging bottoms. The trainers fit (thank GOD), but the clothes to which I’d just waved an “I’m always a small in Nike” to the laptop screen were tight. Later that week I begrudgingly made the trip to Oxford Circus to swap both items for a medium.

The final nail in the coffin for my hope of still being a size 8 came in the form of a carrier bag full of clothes from my friend Felicity. There have been many a time where I’ve raided Felicity’s far-more-stylish-than-my-own wardrobe, but not one single item in the stash would fit me now. And the clothes were so nice *cry face*

Now, I’d much rather own clothes that fit than clothes I don’t feel comfortable in, and I think the idea of owning something you’ll ‘slim into’ ridiculous, but it’s all just been a bit of an odd realisation.

I wrote about feeling body unconfident in September 2011, and I hate to admit I sort of feel the same way again now.

I really shouldn’t. In reality, my body is the strongest it has been in a long time. I cycle everywhere (as my thighs can verify), I’m running consistently good times at parkrun, I go to 1Rebel, strongdem and yoga regularly and tomorrow I genuinely believe I have a very real and very achievable chance at a 10k PB.

So I’m annoyed. I look at this photo of my improving toned arms and I’m proud. I’m confident about a race I’m running tomorrow and I’m glad. I look at my strong cyclist legs and I like them. I’m going to classes I never would have dared set foot in.

But the fact I have half a drawer full of crop tops that won’t be making reappearances this summer still gets me down despite all those things and I am really annoyed about that. Being strong and fit and healthy really should be enough.

Yesterday I ran the London marathon.

Despite the fact the medal is laying less than a metre from me, when I look at that sentence it still doesn’t seem real.

Yesterday was an absolute slog and an absolute blur at the same time. I ran for 5 hours and 17 minutes – that is a bloody long time, but there are big stretches of the race I already don’t remember.

To say that I enjoyed running the London marathon would be lying. And I hate that that’s the case. I’m sorry to anyone who would’ve run it and loved every step. I hated every minute of training for this race – once I got injured and I couldn’t do many of my long runs, the whole thing just made me really stressed out.

Yesterday was hard. I had been having stomach ‘issues’ in the few days leading up to the race and on the day itself they didn’t go away. I ran from 8 mile onwards with my stomach constantly cramping. From half way I had to adopt a walk/run strategy as it was so uncomfortable. Stress does funny things to your body.

I wouldn’t have got through the race without two people – Stephanie and Michelle. Steph was with me at my house before the race, made my breakfast, taped up my knees and escorted me to the start. She was then at 14.5 miles, exactly where I needed her and got me round the bleak Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf section and in to mile 21. She was my marathon saviour.

Michelle then took me from mile 21 to the finish, and was pulled out by a lovely and understanding marshall with 400m to go. She took me through the miles where I just wanted it to be over and reminded me to just take it all in and enjoy the moment – “smile, you are running London”. By this point, I was much happier walking, so we did. We walked a lot of the Embankment stretch and she helped me appreciate the spectacle I was a part of.

For the first 8 miles, I was flying. I was tucked in a few metres behind the 4:30 pacer, I passed through 10k at 1:03 and I loved running around Greenwich and Cutty Sark. But after that, it was just tough. After a loo stop, I never really found my rhythm again. There were several moments where I did not know how I was going to make it to the finish line. But somehow I did.

I’m really, really glad I’ve run the London marathon. I’m so grateful I got pulled from the ballot and I’m over the moon I got to experience my hometown run from the other side of the fence.

But I’m also content knowing that marathons aren’t for me. I’ve run two and although I’m proud of myself for doing them, I have no desire to do another one anytime soon. Maybe that will change at some point in the future, but right now, no.

I’m really thankful I knew I loved running before training for this race. If I had been through all the training and running the marathon in isolation, it would have put me off running for life. Running a marathon is hard. And it’s really quite far. I can’t wait to just stick to halves.

Today I feel a bit dazed and a lot broken.

I’m so glad it’s done.

———-

Massive shout out to everyone who I saw on the course:

Sarah in Rotherhithe and then right at the end

Angharad from my work

Laureen and Lawrence in Bermondsey

My mum at mile 13

Gosia who had loads of balloons for me at Tobacco Dock (so sorry I didn’t see you!)

Charlie who managed to get my attention from the other side of the road

Vicky for the hugs in Canary Wharf

Kiera, Beki, Becca, Jen and Elle – the TNR ladies at 23.6 who gave me a boost for those final couple of miles

Leeanne for the call out over the megaphone at the final corner

And of course my amazing Run Dem family at mile 21 – it was a total blur of noise, tears and confetti but knowing you had my back made my race

To say my training hasn’t gone to plan would be an understatement. The furthest I’ve run in the last few months is 15 miles, I’ve probably averaged less than 2 runs a week and ever since my knees started hurting in the last couple of miles of the Brighton half back in February, I’ve been confused as to how some runs can be awesome whilst others leave me crying in pain. 

If it wasn’t for a brilliant run at the Berlin half a fortnight ago, the likelihood is I wouldn’t even be contemplating trying to attempt a marathon on such shoddy training. But it was such a good race and I’m feeling a massive confidence boost from how strong I felt throughout. I definitely finished with more to give… how much more that could have been I have no idea. 
  
Having missed so many of my training runs, I’ve (sort of) made peace with the fact that running London isn’t going to be the speediest or most pleasurable experience. My knees will hurt, I’ll feel knackered much earlier than I would’ve liked and I may well have to call on the offers of help I’ve had from friends. 
I was never going to set any records, I mostly just want to keep up my New Years resolution to always run happy. I’m going to try and remember this for as much of the race as possible. I keep going back to the feeling of how lucky I am to have a ballot place in one of the world’s greatest marathons. 
  
The next two weeks are all about ensuring I am as well as I can be on race day. Being well rested might end up being my biggest asset – it sure as hell won’t be being well trained. Good food, lots of sleep, no booze and some gentle miles are in store over the next fortnight. Keeping calm in the face of growing hype all over my social media feeds will be enough of a challenge as it is.