After 7 years of being rather sedentary and only going on occasional adventures – the odd bike ride or hike – out of nowhere came a re-ignited desire to run marathons. I’m an all or nothing kind of person, so after 7 years of doing nothing in the way of huge physical challenges… well, you know what came next.

I started training gently in November just to get my basic fitness up, before the ‘real’ training plan came into play. Sadly, it didn’t take long for my body to take offence to the suddenly increased demands I was placing upon it. I pulled my left trapezius. Then I developed shin splints. Them my right trapezius joined the party. I started to feel like a turtle (stuck shoulders) with broken legs.

It was also somewhere around this point that I decided to make another big change in my lifestyle and go vegetarian. Actually, although it sounded like a very bad idea to make the switch mid-training (did I mention I’m an all or nothing person) I felt it helped me maintain my energy levels. I switched my main source of protein from meat to quinoa, mushrooms, and Quorn on a lazy day. I immediately started feeling lighter for it. And carry the ‘veggie’ label made me reach for the iron supplements, which I’m sure I probably needed before the diet switch too!

April finally rolls around. My training plan has morphed into hours of boring cross training indoors due to my shin splints. I’m in constant discomfort, permanently hungry and really grumpy too!

Let’s cut to the exciting part – shall we?… The day of the London Marathon…

Hanging with the medics in the red start village, with Salem cat ready to go – this is Andy in his ‘day job’, and Julia in the middle 🙂

To say I felt under prepared would be an understatement of epic proportions. Cross training had served its purpose; I knew I was fit and strong. But it never really matches up to real running. And there is something psychologically important about those long runs you are meant to go on during the latter stages of training. It’s about proving to yourself that you can maintain your pace over a long distance; despite cramps, niggles, the wind blowing in the wrong direction, and whatever else may come. Slogging away on a gym machine just doesn’t get you feeling ready.

I wasn’t ready. But I was determined, and that’s like 90% of the battle with a marathon. As I was on a charity team, I was going to get around no matter what. Plus, my outfit was adorable – see the pictures. I had a cat puppet (named Salem) on my shoulder, furry ears and a tail. I think this was the maximum amount of fur I could handle in such heat. The 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon turned out to be the hottest ever on record, with 23.2 c recorded.

Queueing for the start line is when you really start to poop your pants

Having training over the winter, I think that pretty much all of us on the course were affected by how hot it was. Personally, I’m useless in the heat and nearly lost my shit around the 6-mile mark. On the approach to Cutty Sark I had been running at just under my planned pace, when my head started to spin. I’m a fainter, I have form on this. So I know I was going to faceplant the tarmac if I didn’t bring my heart rate down slowly and carefully. So I started doing this weird flying feet jog, which must have looked bizarre.
I felt as if I was back on the cross-trainer, moving in a sort of low-gravity version of reality. Honestly, I don’t think I could replicate that now if I tried!

The Blue Cross cheer squad made me smile at mile 19

It’s funny when you know you have a long distance to cover, you don’t want to slow down too much incase you can’t start up again. So I did this weird floaty jog for a while until my brain convinced my legs to just ‘let it go’. Once all parts of me had accepted a power-walk over a run or weird jog, then my heart rate started to calm down and the head-spinning stopped. I got some electrolytes in me and decided to stick with the power-walk for a while.

That turned out to be my pace until mile 20. I did try to run again briefly at Tower Bridge, just because it’s ‘the’ landmark, and then again at mile 19 where I saw the cheer squad from my charity, Blue Cross. That really perked me up mentally, but sadly my body didn’t respond. I ran a few hundred yards then my head span again. I was too hot.

By this point I was absolutely soaking wet too. I’d thrown water over myself at every opportunity, and used every extra shower station the London Fire Brigade had put up, just to keep my body temp down. So now that I’m soggy; I’m chaffed on my back from my wet Camelpack rubbing against me, and my damp feet are starting to get blistered. I’m really, truly gross at this point.

This is where my sense of humour started to give way – and my legs were going too. The power-walk turned into a sort of shuffle like you would see on an episode of The Walking Dead. I felt kind of undead too. Earlier in the course the high fives and cheers were really keeping me up, but now I didn’t even have the energy to lift my hand for a high five. I must have looked so moody – I felt awful!

At my lowest point I was convinced I had a stone in my shoe. I pulled over the side after a water station, as I had the thought that I might just need a volunteer to help me, and there were some within reach there. I tried to get my shoe off but couldn’t bend down far enough – I think my hamstrings were really tight. I felt about 90 years old! So a lovely volunteer who saw me wobbling about came and helped my get my shoe on and off. I felt so bad that she was touching my sweaty feet – I will always be grateful for the help she gave me! In that moment I just needed someone to look after me.

The conclusion of the shoe investigation was that there was no stone, only a blister that felt like a stone. Hmmm, lovely. The bad mood and shuffling continued.

Iggy and Ivan came from Cat’s Protection League and got their ‘kitten stuff’ done at Blue Cross

My spirits didn’t pick up again until halfway down the mall. I caught sight of the Cat’s Protection League cheer squad, who saw Salem the cat riding on my shoulder and cheered for me. That really picked me up. We got our two youngest cats from CPL in Mitcham, and they are the reason I got to know our local Blue Cross in the first place, as they do all the kitten stuff (first vaccinations and neutering) for cats adopted from CPL.

Andy managed to spot me on the mall, and yelled loud enough that I could find him. That was a nice surprise, as I didn’t think he’d get there in time. But then I was a whole 2 hours behind schedule by this point! Rounding the corner to Parliament Square I said hello to a fellow runner who was pretty much hopping from an injury, but he was so determined to finish. That is one of the amazing things about a marathon; it really brings out that human determination to finish a big challenge. I was so impressed he was finishing.

Then I saw it – the finish line! It’s a funny feeling, trying to run for the line when your legs are like jelly. It’s sort of like one of those bad dreams where you are trying to run away from danger but you are suddenly super-heavy and gravity pulls you down. Finishing seemed to take forever.

But then it happened – I crossed the line. A volunteer put a medal around my neck, a photographer jumped out from nowhere and took a really unflattering pic of me, and then it was done. It’s so funny that something that takes so long to prepare for, and quite a while to do, ends so abruptly. Not that I had the energy to do much more. I was really ready to down a couple of sports drinks and take a big nap.

Medaaaaal!!!!

So what did I learn?

Shin splints suck, but if you have to cross-train your way to the start line it can be done that way.

Vegetarianism isn’t that hard on your body – in fact, I feel really good for it. It’s been 3 months now for me, and I’d never go back to meat.

Adding 2 hours to my predicted marathon time and getting a ‘personal worst’ of 6:30:34 isn’t something to be ashamed of. Actually, I’m super proud that I was smart enough to slow down before I collapsed. When you are so focused on a goal you can easily ignore the warning signs. I listened to my body that day and it got me around. I know that 700-odd people weren’t so fortunate and had to pull out at some point. I’m really glad I finished.

My next marathon is Venice in October this year. Stay tuned for training updates and pics from the big day!

Want to see some video footage from London Marathon? This is some runner’s eye footage from my shoulder-mounted Go Pro, with a couple of Facebook live videos mixed in. I’m afraid the Go Pro died just after Cutty Sark – but at least you see the good bits before I’m all tired and grumpy 😉