Tag Archives: Marathon

The One Where I Talk About IVF …

So I haven’t always told the entire story about my reasons for running, and I feel like now is the right time to talk about it. I’ve written a piece for today’s Guardian Running Blog explaining why my running journey started.


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The One Where I Run The London Marathon …

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to write this post, but to be honest I’ve had to stop running, talking about running and thinking about running since the marathon, just to deal with the enormity of it all. So, Sunday 13 April I ran the London Marathon and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s how the day went.

Travelling to the Red Start at Greenwich I chatted with other runners as it seemed the entire tube network was clogged with runners carrying bright red bags. I met my friend B (from Secret Tuesday Running Club) and after putting our bags in the baggage trucks we spent about 40 minutes queuing for the toilet. I had been advised to queue up, go to the loo and then queue again but there was no time for that as it was ten minutes to the start of the race.



Start line self with B. she finished in 4:40!! Amazing!!

I crossed the start line at 10.17, according to the online tracker, which my family on the course were using to find me. They were all wearing TEAM AUNTIE HELLY T-shirts and were in a group of ten so I wasn’t going to miss them. Or so I thought.


The start line from way back in pen 7!

The weather was really hot right from the start and as someone who hates running in any heat over about 10 degrees, I knew this was going to kill me. But I can honestly say I loved every second of the first 18 miles. I chatted to people – outlandishly claiming IAM THE OYMPIC LEGACY to people who looked unimpressed, confused and in some cases frightened. I high fived children, took sweets from people and then remembered I couldn’t eat because I hadn’t practiced eating and running (mental) and I even had time to stop for a quick sip of G&T with some friends before I realised I hadn’t practiced that either and would spend the following seven miles wondering if I was going to shit my pants (spoiler alert: I didn’t).


Cutty Sark at 6 miles. Just before I saw my family for the first time. So happy at this point.



Crossing Tower Bridge. Woooooah!! The crowds were mental. Good mental, but certainly mental. Loved it.


Thanks Janine for snapping me swigging a G&T on my first marathon. Not sure my running club would approve of this!

It was all going so well. Right up until 18 miles and then I massively hit the wall. And to all of those people who told me there is no such thing as the wall – there bloody well is. And it’s bloody horrible. I saw my family for a second time just after 18 miles and instead of high fiving I cried like a lunatic before carrying on sobbing to myself and desperately trying to catch my breath.


The best support team – Team Auntie Helly!

I started the dreaded run/walk strategy from 21 miles and battled with the fact I hated myself for walking but also hated myself for even entering the marathon in the first place. At one point I think I might have wanted to throw myself into the Thames. My family came to see me at mile 21 and apparently I was so focused (probably on stopping myself from jumping into the Thames) that I missed them all – despite the fact there were 10 of them, all wearing identical t-shirts, screaming at the top of their voices about a metre away from me. Sorry Team Auntie Helen.


Wise words from the Lucozade tunnel take-over at mile 23. Not long to go.

The final mile, from Embankment, past the Houses of Parliament and onto Birdcage Walk was amazing. I was in so much pain, the heat was immense and the crowds were deafening. I told myself I hadn’t come to walk down The Mall so I ran the last mile and a half chanting ‘One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other’ on a constant loop like a maniac. I couldn’t look anyone in the face and I blocked out the hysterical screaming around me and I just ran.


One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other …

Finally crossing the finish line!

Finally crossing the finish line!

Turning right onto The Mall is something that still fills me with such pride and joy that I can’t think about it without wanting to cry. I have never seen anything like it. There were people all over – six, seven deep in some places, people hanging out in the fountains and all of them with the biggest smiles they could possibly muster – all screaming us along as we took those final steps. And there, just 200 metres away was the bright red finish gantry. Running past the grandstands 5 hours and 20 minutes after starting at Greenwich I felt more full of energy than I had in the entire 26 miles. I was just a minute or so away from completing my first marathon. This is a feeling I will remember till the day I die.  The proudest moment of my life and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And it was so worth it. I AM A MARATHONER.


Can’t believe it


As a footnote, I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who came to support me on the day. I genuinely don’t think I could have run it without knowing you were all there (somewhere) cheering me on. And to my long suffering boyf, Josh, I am so sorry for all of those marathon meltdowns, early morning runs and the constant talk of missing toe nails and pee colour. Let’s hope we both get a ballot place next year so we can go through it together. Whoop whoop!


Thank you all x

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The one where I don’t look like Jessica Ennis …

When I started running I wrongly assumed that within a few months I would have the exact same physique as Jessica Ennis. This did not happen. At first I put this down to the fact Jessica’s training was slightly more sophisticated than running two miles, vomiting behind a tree and crying all the way home. So I gave the ‘Get Jessica Ennis’ figure plan’ a longer scope. It’s now 17 months since I laced my trainers up for the first time and my figure still resembles a beer keg on legs. Stumpy legs.

That’s not to say my body hasn’t changed since I started running. No, thanks to pounding the pavements my toes look like a bag of Twiglets, I’m missing a couple of toe nails and during the summer months  I had so many bites on my legs I looked like I had bubonic plague. And that’s not to mention the bags under the eyes thanks to those early morning Pilates sessions. It was not mean to be like this.

I’m now 24 hours away from my Christmas party and instead of Googling party dresses I’ve been Googling the lighting in the venue to make sure my bubonic legs won’t be on show too much. If needs be I’ll nip behind the chocolate fountain and only come out once I’ve drained the thing. 


What I thought I would look like … 



What I actually look like …


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The one where I fail at Pilates …

 I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m the worst Pilates student ever but I reckon I’d come a close second (behind the black knight from Monty Python who had his arms and legs chopped off).

 I decided to try Pilates after a previous failed attempt at yoga. All was good until I was overcome with … Emotion? Zen? A bottle of wine from the night before? I’ll never know what exactly happened but the result was me throwing up over myself in the middle of a class. Awful. Just awful. And to make the whole situation worse the teacher wouldn’t let me leave, so worried was she that I might throw up at the wheel of my car. So she insisted I stay. So there I was, reeking of sick, wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a mat while all around me people up dogged and down dogged without any involuntary digestive episodes.

 So it was with a certain degree of trepidation I signed up for Pilates. My knee had given way in my first half marathon and my sports therapist thought it a good idea to work on my core strength which was clearly around the same level as a new born baby.

 I put the vomit episode behind me and signed up for a six week course. It took roughly two minutes before I realised this was going to be another ugly episode in my already comical running career.

 It all started with those magic words ‘engage your pelvic floor’. I think I may have snorted at the absurdity of such a statement and I was about to say ‘You what?’ like an uncultured buffoon when I realised everyone else had a deep look of concentration on their faces as they were clearly ‘engaging’. At this point the screaming voice that so often accompanies me around a cross country course started piping up. Calm down, I thought, just pretend you’re engaging. She’ll never know.

 And it was at this point the teacher said ‘I’m going to come round to make sure you’re all engaging properly’. Shit. Finally she got to me. I tried to make a joke. She didn’t laugh. Instead she lay her hand on my stomach and told me to engage. ‘I am engaging,’ I said in a kind of squeak you might only hear while watching a particularly intense episode of The Muppets.

 What followed was five minutes of excruciating conversation in an otherwise silent room filled with people engaging and trying not laugh out loud.

‘You’re not engaging.’

‘I am.’

‘No you’re not. Pretend you need the loo and you’re trying to stop yourself.’

‘I don’t know how to.’

Long exhale of breath from her. ‘Okay, let’s try something else. Suck your thumb.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Put your thumb in your mouth and suck.’

Nervous laughter from me.

‘It’ll help you to feel your stomach contract when you try to engage.’

 So there I was, once again the lunatic in the class, laying on my mat sucking my thumb whilst wondering if this lack of control over my pelvic floor means I’m going to start wetting myself in the near future.

 The six week course was hardly a glowing success as I haphazardly negotiated Pilates movements with the gracefulness of a rabid dog. So it wasn’t a great shock at the end of the six weeks when out of a 15 people course 14 people progressed to the intermediate class and one, it was agreed, would stay behind and do the beginners course again.

 Surely second time round I would get it? Perhaps I’d be the star pupil? My optimism was misguided. I was still the worst pupil, although there were signs of a slight movement in my pelvic floor which had me and my teacher high fiving like I’d just scored a penalty at Wembley.

  Around week eleven I started to panic that I might be asked to join the beginners class again. Rather than become a veteran beginner I had a plan of action: tell her I’m moving out of the area and never shop locally again. But alas, as the last class finished and whilst everyone else progressed, she looked at me said simply ‘Helen, I think you’ll be okay with a DVD’.

 I should say at this point that she was a great teacher, every time she came over to my mat to correct yet another dodgy position she was always kind and forgiving. And I did actually take away from the class a routine for my legs and hips which I do every morning and which I can genuinely say has helped my running. I’d love to go back and tell her this but I fear there may be some sort of restraining order issued to prevent me ever joining her class again.

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The one where I change my marathon plan …

So it seems that starting marathon training at the same time as starting a new job and a new commute isn’t easy. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to juggle my insanely long commute – 27 tube stops each way – with new responsibility and the beginning of a 26-week training plan for the London Marathon. What I’ve taken from this last few weeks is that I’m not good with change and I am incredibly talented at falling sleep on the tube regardless of noise levels or general shame.

So I’ve had to rethink my marathon plan. I have managed some training – a lovely 10k run near my parents’ house, two cross country and two road events with my running club and a beautiful early Sunday morning run in Epping Forest, along with my usual club training nights and circuit training. But this isn’t enough if I want to tackle 26 miles in five months. FIVE MONTHS!!

So I’m changing my training plan to a Hal Higdon Novice 2 plan (http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51138/Marathon-Novice-2-Training-Program). It’s 18 weeks long so it means the pressure is off for the next few weeks and I can get myself into a routine with my new job and then turn my attention to running a marathon.

Is anyone else struggling to train?



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The one where my confidence takes a knock …

I’m a slow runner. I know this. And I’ve accepted it. But sometimes someone makes a comment and it knocks me. A friend made a joke on Saturday night about my GNR time being slow. They laughed. I laughed. We all laughed. But somewhere in my little head a seed was planted. And two days later, I’m still going over the comment. Yesterday I bought Runner’s World magazine and instantly felt like a fraud buying it. What would the shop assistant think if I told them my half marathon time? And this is how it starts. This is where self doubt creeps in.

I’ve been running for a year now and I have improved slightly in that time, but I’m still slow. Only last week I was at running club when someone announced they had just done a half marathon in a time three minutes quicker than mine. She’s a good 15 years older than me. And she said she hadn’t done much training. My heart sank a little. The comment on Saturday was the last thing I needed.

Running is something I do for myself. I don’t do it for praise from others so it’s annoying when people offer comment on something they know nothing about. They don’t understand how far I’ve come, how much I’ve trained and how difficult I find it. For me, when I ran my first 5k in under 30 minutes, it was a massive achievement. I have no natural ability. I started from nothing. I didn’t do any sports at school. I have not done any exercise in my adult life. I don’t even go to the gym. I started from scratch and I managed to run two half marathons this year. To me that’s an achievement. I’m always going to be slow, but I’ll always make it over the finish line because what I don’t have in speed or strength I make up for in determination. So, you might have finished your marathon and be on your third pint when I cross the finishing line but who cares? If you’re only enjoyment of running is your finishing time, you’re missing out.

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The one where I realise how far I’ve come …

“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”   

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

My friend recommended I read this book ages ago and stupidly I didn’t. However, having come across this quote, I agree with everything Murakami is saying. I hate that people impose their own goals and times on my running, asking what time I’m going for and then telling me I should be running quicker or scoffing at my km times. For me, running isn’t just about the times and the distances, it’s about the challenge. When I first started running I couldn’t last for longer then ten minutes without needing to stop. I told myself I couldn’t run a 5k. Then I did it and told myself I couldn’t run a 10k. I did that too. And I never in my wildest dreams thought that I could run a half marathon, yet on Sunday I’ll be lining up to run the Great North Run – something I’ve wanted to do all my life. In fact when I first started running I used to imagine running along the home straight, right under the GNR finish banner just to keep me going. So every time I think to myself I can’t do the distance, something in my head tells me I can. Or at least I can give it a go. I may not run the GNR in a fast time, and yes people might laugh at my km times, but I’ll still be out there, challenging and pushing myself to the limits. And the best part is that I’ll be enjoying every minute of it. That’s what running is to me. And I love it.

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The one where I go completely mad …

So the Great North Run is now just SIX DAYS away and I’m trying to be cool about it whilst at the same time a high pitched voice in my head is screaming that EVERYTHING IS GOING WRONG AND IT’S ALL GOING TO GO BADLY. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll be aware that I’m prone to hysterical outbursts so just ignore the shouty caps. As it gets closer to the race, things seem to be going wrong so rather than have the calming, relaxed week I had planned, I’m just walking around screaming at myself in my own head. After the run, maybe I’ll see someone about this. Or maybe I’ll just drink a gallon of wine and resume life as normal.

Yesterday I ran my final long run. 10k in the dark – done! It was a huge relief to get it out of the way and brought home to me just how mad I’ve become as I spent most of it contemplating what I would do if I was attacked by a fox. I have no idea why. I didn’t even see a fox, yet it became my primary fear and possibly made me run faster. Incidentally, my plan involved kicking it in the nuts and screaming for help, whilst simultaneously protecting my face for race-day pictures on Sunday. Anyway, I managed to make it home without having to Kung fu any wild animals to death so the run was deemed a success.

My latest mind-mess is that my train tickets for me and my spectators came on Friday and have the wrong date on them. Newcastle Metro are blaming me. I’m blaming them. And that’s where I’m at. Having tried to get through to their customer service people for four hours, I was already quite ‘tense’ when they eventually answered the phone and told me they won’t refund or exchange the tickets. It was at this point I started crying (idiot) and having what I believe to have been a minor asthma attack (double idiot). So I’ve launched a Twitter campaign to shame them. So far one guy called Dangerous Steve or something tweeted me to tell me his arrived and they had the right dates. Great. That sent me breathing into a brown paper bag and fighting back tears for at least an hour.

I still have six days of this nonsense. By the weekend I expect I’ll be on Prozac and wheezing into a paper bag while simultaneously karate chopping the entire cast of Farthing Wood. No animal or customer service assistant should come near me right now.

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The one where I get a marathon training partner …

Yesterday a great thing happened. My mate B (of Secret Tuesday Running Club) got her place for the London Marathon. We decided to run it together months ago and when I got my place and she hadn’t heard about hers I was worried I was going to have to run it on my own. There’s no way I wanted to go out and do those long winter runs on my own. I even suggested that if she didn’t get a place she might just run alongside me. She did not like this plan. But worry not, Marie Curie came through and offered her a Golden Bond place. About time too. They said they’d announce their places two weeks ago and we’ve waged a Twitter campaign to get them to hurry up ever since. A few more days and it was about to get nasty! Sorry Marie Curie, I think you do a wonderful job.

So, let’s time travel back a few months to how this (some might say ludicrous) plan came about.  I remember this conversation on one of our lunchtime runs about six months ago …

Me: Do you think you’d ever run a marathon? 

B: No, I don’t think I’d be up to it.

Me: Me neither. I just can’t imagine at the end of a half you’ve got the the whole thing to do again. My body could never handle it. 

B: And I don’t think I could do the training. Who has that much time for training?!

Me: I know what you mean. Let’s just stick to half marathons. 

B: Yeah.

Then, after watching the marathon on TV and reading Alexandra Heminsley’s brilliant book Running Like a Girl (you really should read it), in which she went from novice to marathon runner, this happened …

 Me: B, I’ve got something major to ask you. And I couldn’t do it over text. It had to be face to face because it’s important. Very important.

B: (With a look of terror on her face) Oh god, what’s happened? 

Me: I think we should run a marathon. I’ve given it a lot of thought and if Alexandra Heminsley can do it, we can. 

B: Err.

Me: There may be Jaffa Cakes at the end *.

B: Okay.

 So that’s how this whole bonkers plan came about. We also asked fellow STRC member H to join the marathon train. She looked at us like we’re insane and said no almost immediately (she’s a very clever person).

 And now the hard work really begins and weirdly we’re both looking forward to it. Last night we talked about how excited we are for those long winter runs. Maybe H had a point, maybe we are insane. Only time will tell …

 *  B once said at the start of a race ‘I could really eat some Jaffa Cakes’ only to find a massive bowl of them at the finish line. Thanks Castle Point Joggers!


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The one where it all becomes very real …

Last night, after sifting through all of those Visa bills and final demands (that was a joke, Dad) I came across the most exciting piece of post since I sent away for Tony the Tiger bike reflectors from a packet of Frosties. Weren’t the eighties greeeeat?! (that was awful and I can only apologise).

Anyway, in the post was my GREAT NORTH RUN RACE PACK!  As you can tell by my screamy capitals I was unusually excited by this. So happy that I whooped like it was 1989 until of course reality dawned on me that the race pack was a signifier that in just four and a half weeks I’m going to run 13 miles. It’s not like I haven’t done it before, I ran my first half in April, but it didn’t go exactly to plan. Firstly, it was too hot (I have to have very specific running conditions before I stop making excuses for my slow time) and secondly my right knee gave way after ten miles so  I ran the last three miles screaming out in pain like a mental patient undergoing electric shock therapy. The whole experience was pretty terrible. Even more worrying than the broken knee was the fact I was smiling on all of the official pictures. I tell people it was probably just wind.


Right there is the confident face of a winner. Oh wait, not it isn’t!

Anyway, the reason I ran a half marathon in preparation for my half marathon was to settle my nerves so on the day of the Great North Run I could just get out there and enjoy it. This did not happen. Now, I’m terrified of my knee giving way again. Why or why do I do this to myself? Suddenly this shit just got real.

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