Last weekend, along with thousands of other runners, I took part in the Vitality North London Half Marathon. It was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done.
The race itself didn’t quite go to plan; I experienced a stress fracture in my foot at the 10th mile, leaving me hobbling three miles in agony. Not ideal.
However, the brilliant day itself, and the training process leading up to it, taught me a lot about myself and the reality of long distance running.
Here are 5 things I learnt:
1 There is no typical runner
If you want homogenous, sweat-less blondes, then go to a Mayfair based Pilates class. The great thing about running is it’s for pretty much everyone: from whippet-thin teenagers to 100 year old marathon runners.
As someone who used to come last in the school cross country (grab the violin, won’t you?), I learnt that, with the right training, I was capable of running so much further than the five minute jogs I once struggled with.
While, for vanity reasons, I would prefer not to have hopped across the finish line flanked by OAPs and novelty chicken costumes, my setback at 10 miles allowed me to get a greater taste of the sheer variety of runners at the Vitality North London race.
2 The ‘runner’s high’ is real – but so are the lows
In the latter stage of my training, I became – sickening phrase alert – addicted to running.
This is not to say that I ever woke up ready to race around the block with the air of Mo Farah, simply that I became hooked on the after effects of running. These include:
- The feeling of invincibility that almost got me run over by a UCLH ambulance while running home from work (sorry, Mum and Dad).
- The mental clarity you reach from literally running away from your problems.
- The endorphins that left me grinning like a red-faced Cheshire Cat for hours afterwards.
The days that I didn’t run, I felt palpably less happy than the days I did.
The other thing I discovered was the extent of my sensitivity to sugar. Like a lot of women, I’ve always reacted badly to dips in blood sugar (read: HANGRY), so I’m generally quite careful about the carbohydrates I eat: all slow-release, wholegrain varieties, and not too many.
But here’s what I could never have expected: for the two ‘carb-loading’ days before the half marathon, where I was eating fast-release white bread, pasta and sugar, I had more highs and lows than the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.
3 It’s the boredom that gets you
Putting physical fitness levels aside, one of the most difficult parts of running long distance is – for me, at least – the sheer boredom.
The game changer for me, in terms of being able to build up my distances, was adding more external stimuli. Two hours pounding a treadmill is a prison sentence for most people, no matter how fit. Running outside, on the other hand, is exhilarating, especially in one of the Royal Parks (Hyde Park is my favourite, with its route around Kensington Palace, the serene Italian garden, the Serpentine and the hilarious ostentatious Albert Memorial).
What also helped was podcasts. For me, Freakonomics was the ultimate discovery; I confess, I listened to their ‘100 Ways To Fight Obesity’ show to get me through the sixth and seventh mile. There’s something so reassuring about listening to someone talk while you’re running, and it makes the time go a lot faster (plus, the human brain can only take so much Avici).
4 Never underestimate the power of adrenaline
I suffered from ankle and foot pain for most of my training, which, two weeks before the race, I learnt was the result of having one leg longer than the other (one of those delightful genetic mutations).
While I knew my foot might hurt during the 13 miles, I didn’t expect the searing agony I experienced at mile 10 when I got injured. Having managed to run through the pain up until then, I was so disappointed as I contemplated giving up on the race I had trained hard for over the past three months.
The fact that I managed to walk three miles further, even sprinting to the finish line, was a tremendous feat of adrenaline, considering that just 10 minutes later I was put in a wheelchair and pushed around Wembley Stadium in full view of all the crowds. Not really how I envisaged my moment of victory, but perhaps even more memorable.
5 Your support network makes all the difference
I am so grateful for…
- The brilliant people who sponsored me! Thanks to these donations, I’ve raised almost three times my fundraising target for Macmillan Cancer Support. (If any wonderful individuals would like to boost this amount, here’s the link!)
- My lovely friends who put up with my constant running chat and were understanding and great throughout (and even brought me a ‘Get Well’ card and stuffed meerkat while I was recovering).
- My lovely running buddies Rachel (aka Duracell bunny) and Nicole – it made a huge difference starting the race together, standing together grinning through the rain at Wembley.
- My flatmate, who did the first ever training run with me and looked after me when I came home crying from a bad training session, plus the handy doctor sidekick she had been dating for the best part of a decade.
- My boyfriend, who dragged his sister and I out on long runs (casually out-running us both without any training), and drove us to the race at the tear-rendering hour of 6am on a Sunday morning.
- My ever-supportive family, who were there cheering at the finish line and have since been carrying me (literally) to all subsequent medical appointments.
Have you signed up to a running event? Tweet me @ChezSpecter – I’d always love to hear from you.