It’s all over. It was not by best day ever, but I finished, and that’s what counts.
In hindsight, it went something like this. I was doing fine for the first half of the course. Getting to the start line took a little longer than expected, but at mile 11 I was only 10 minutes behind the time we expected. Then it happened.
Somewhere between there and mile 13 I pulled something in my foot/ankle. I say ‘somewhere’ because I didn’t actually notice.The adrenalin effectively masked the pain for the next 13 miles. What it didn’t mask was the nausea, a common side effect of trying to run on a busted ankle. So I got gradually slower and had to walk for significant periods. Eventually I found myself among the people in big costumes at the back.
I came very close to bowing out entirely. I was feeling pretty awful. Then I saw the 20 mile marker and bloody-minded stubborness took over. It was at this point I decided that there was no damn way I was losing to Bagpuss. It’s funny what goes through your mind at times like that.
Bagpuss, a man called Paul in a rhino costume and I kept pace with each other for a while. I pulled ahead of them when we hit the Embankment. Recognising Blackfriars tripped something in my mind. I managed to run most of the penultimate mile and all of the final one.
Even knowing that I was much slower than I had hoped, crossing the finish line was practically a religious event. The combination of relief that it was over and pride that I’d done it was pretty intoxicating. They cut my timing tag off and I was done.
That was the point I realised I was limping. Suddenly all the people who had asked if I was okay made sense.
My final time was 5 hours and 42 minutes. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed, but right now the pride is eclipsing all of that. I ran the London Marathon with a busted ankle. That’s a hell of an achievement. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to stay on this sofa until I can work up the energy to get to bed.
As of 9.30 this morning, I have to make good on my promise to run in costume. Keep your eyes peeled on Sunday for the big blue monster running along Victoria Embankment. For the tech savvy amongst you, my running number is 39503. If all goes well you should be able to check my time online after about 2.30.
Thank you very much to everyone who donated. The team at Fight for Sight are absolutely thrilled that we raised so much. I’m going to get halfway around the course powered by your support!
I may have reached my target but a little extra never hurts. You can still donate at www.justgiving.com/Ellen-Clegg.
For anyone who isn’t sure why I picked Fight for Sight, have a look at this article on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17748165. Fight for Sight funds research like this. The money we’ve raised could help turn the results of this study into a real treatment for the most common causes of adult blindness. Wouldn’t that be something?
With less than two weeks to go, this seemed like the time to look at what I’ve learned from the experience so far. Here’s my top tips for aspiring marathoners:
1) Go bananas.
When I started doing runs longer than about 10 miles, I got thumping headaches that would last for up to two days after the run. At first I thought it was dehydration, but no amount of fluid solved the problem. A friend suggested it was a sodium imbalance. Salt didn’t stop the headaches, but it helped. The solution came when I had to dash off to something immediately after my run and grabbed a banana to keep my energy up. Lo and behold – no headache! Having forgotten to buy bananas a couple of times since then I can confirm that no banana = headache, but eating one sorts me out in no time.
The best explanation my minimal understanding of nutrition can come up with is that the problem /is/ a sodium imbalance. Bananas contain potassium, which helps the body regulate sodium levels. Simply eating salt isn’t enough. I need some help sorting the levels out when I’ve been sweating like crazy.
Even hypermobiles like me get stiff muscles. After spending a day hobbling round like the bastard offspring of John Wayne and a Penguin, I learned my lesson. Always stretch out after you run.
3) There is no such thing as too much food.
For those of you who think marathon training is a great way to lost weight, I have bad news for you: I weigh exactly the same now as I did before Christmas. On the other hand, I am actually less interested in food than I used to me. Don’t get me wrong – I still love to cook and my idea of a fun afternoon is one that fills the cake tin to bursting (and swiftly empties it again). What I have found, though, is that I need to eat all the time. If I don’t eat enough, my training suffers, big time. So I have to eat. And eat. And eat. After a while it gets boring.
At the College conference I amused our Research Director by carrying a little box of homemade flapjacks everywhere so that I’d always have access to a snack. Train journeys, exams, the office… I have to carefully plan my days to make sure I will have enough to eat and that I don’t end up in the corner shop getting a sugar high that I will deeply regret later. Which leads me onto point four:
4) It has to be the right food.
Just adding extra cake to your diet to make up for the extra calories leads to sugar highs swiftly followed by crashes. Running during a sugar crash feels like trying to pull a lorry behind you. Every step is hell. I don’t recommend it. What works best for me are simple carbohydrates like bread and potatoes with pate or cheese. Really basic stuff. My body loves it. Spend some time experimenting with different combinations to figure out what best suits you, then stick to it once you get close to race day.
There is another issue to consider. It’s a bit embarrassing. Apologies to those of you with a delicate constitution, there really is no polite way to discuss this.
Runners trots are your worst nightmare. Believe me. There is absolutely nothing I have faced during my training that is worse than the knowledge that if I don’t find a toilet soon there will be hell to pay. For me, what works best is a combination of a low fibre diet for two or three days ahead of a long run and medication a couple hours beforehand to make sure there are no accidents. I thought I was on my own with this issue, so a big thank-you to the Runners World forums for support and advice.
5) There are more runners in the world than you might think.
Since I started on this crazy plan I’ve been beset with support and advice from all sorts of angles. Colleagues who I have barely spoken to before have admitted that they, too, have the running bug. At the aforementioned Conference it was a great conversation starter. I met a man who has done over 20 marathons and will be in London again this year (hope to see you there, if you’re reading this), and another who suggested elbowing your way to the front of your starting block so that you don’t spend the first two miles slaloming around other runners. Sound, if morally dubious, advice.
My mum and brother are both obsessive triathletes and have given me a lot of support throughout my training. Thank you both.
6) Support can come from the most unexpected places.
I always knew my examiners would be a good source of donations. Fight for Sight is, after all, a cause close to their hearts. But the level of generosity has been quite astounding. I can’t thank you enough.
My colleagues have been unflinchingly supportive. They have donated online, they’ve bought biscuits, chocolates and hot cross buns, and they have patiently listened to stories of aches, pains and blisters with every appearance of being interested.
Then there are the complete strangers. The people who give big thumbs up when I puff past them on a frosty morning. The lovely chap who turned back to check I was okay when I tripped over a rock cunningly hidden in the mud. The kind man on Freecycle who gave me a sewing machine to make the costume. The Big Issue seller outside Morrisons in Brentford who waves me into the final two miles with a big grin every Saturday morning. I’ll probably never get to tell any of you this, but you’ve made the hard miles much easier.
7) Dogs love runners.
Almost every week I’ll end up with a dog or three in my wake at some point in the run. Last Saturday a very excitable husky puppy liked the idea of running so much he literally leapt for joy, much to his owner’s surprise.
8) Don’t believe the hype.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m doing all my training without the assistance of sports drinks, energy gels or even shoes. Well, okay, I’m wearing wetsuit shoes to stop my feet being torn to shreds by gravel, but at £6 a pair they hardly count.
Despite dire warnings from more experienced runners I’ve had no problems with lack of energy, cramps or hydration. I’ll admit to a slight electrolyte imbalance but, like Eric Wimp, all my problems can be solved by eating a banana. My running fuel consists of diluted fruit juice and a squeezy tube of honey, and that does me just fine. If you’re thinking of taking up running, or getting into it more seriously, and you’re put off by the expense of ‘proper’ gear, don’t be. I’m not saying that the mass marketed stuff doesn’t work – it clearly does – but it isn’t the only way.
9) Missing the odd session doesn’t matter.
No matter how dedicated you are, things happen. Last week I missed my pace run because I was exhausted and running a temperature. I’ve missed a couple of other training sessions in the last few months as well. In the long run it doesn’t matter. Just don’t make a habit of it.
10) Jon is wonderful.
Last but by no means least. My fantastic partner has put up with months of whining about achy muscles, stress about fundraising, obsessive training sessions and 7am alarms on Saturday mornings. He helped me drag a 1940s cast iron sewing machine from Chiswick to Isleworth so I could make the cookie monster costume. He’s even come with me on most of the shorter runs and the first few miles of the long ones. That practically makes him a candidate for beatification, surely?
Finally: at the time of writing I am within £175 of achieving my fundraising target. Help me get there: http://www.justgiving.com/Ellen-Clegg
I was hoping to post this last weekend, but a combination of poor diet during the week, lack of sleep and rain defeated me. I turned back at 15 miles.
This morning I ran 26 miles. Well, I ran 22 miles and ran/walked the rest. I hit the wall at around 20 miles as I was passing Hammersmith Bridge. It was awful. I was so close to catching the train home. I just kept telling myself I’d get as far as the next bridge, and by the time I got there I knew I could keep going. By the end, everything hurt. When I got in, I sat with my arms across my thighs for a bit to catch my breath. When I took them off there were white marks across my trousers from the salt on my skin. Even now, almost 4 hours later, I can feel the last dregs of adrenalin in my system. But it felt amazing.
The point to all of this, of course, is that I know I can go the whole distance. I’m not going to hit the wall and conk out. That’s good to know.
I was also in the local paper this week. The article is online if you’re interested. http://www.hounslowchronicle.co.uk/west-london-news/local-hounslow-news/2012/02/28/isleworth-woman-defies-disability-by-running-marathon-109642-30424125/
They made a lot more of the hypermobility than I was expecting. I’m not entirely comfortable with their slant on things, to be honest. From the article it sounds like I’ve got some kind of awful, debilitating disease, instead of a chronic condition that is only a minor irritation as long as I manage it carefully.
For those of you who don’t know me well, I have hypermobility. All this actually means is that my ligaments are a bit loose. It makes me more prone to dislocation and subluxation than most people, particularly in my knees. In practice, if I keep the muscles around my joints strong, I’m no different to anyone else. I’m certainly not doing the marathon to overcome the condition. I’m running the marathon to raise money for an amazing charity in the hope that the money I raise will get us one step closer to being able to treat some truly debilitating eye conditions. I sometimes have to cope with painful knees. Some people have to cope with no eyesight. I know which position I’d rather be in.
If you don’t want to go blind either, click the donation link: www.justgiving.com/Ellen-Clegg.
Injuries are something I haven’t discussed here yet. Most people who are training for a marathon seem to get one at some point. This week I got mine. I’m hoping it’s the only one.
Strictly speaking I haven’t actually injured myself; I’ve got a genetic condition called hypermobility. Essentially, all my ligaments and tendons are a bit loose, so my muscles have to pick up the slack when it comes to keeping my joints stable. It’s actually part of the reason I run – my knees are particularly problematic, and running keeps the muscles around them really strong.
Of course, it also puts my muscles under a fair amount of strain. Training is a balancing act between building up the strength of my muscles and not pushing them too far. This week I’ve got the balance wrong. The cause, I think, was running 18 miles last weekend and then getting on a plane. Being stuck in a cramped space does my knees no favours at all. Whatever the reason, I spent quite a lot of this week with a knee the size of a grapefruit. It was no fun.
Obviously, I couldn’t train like that. Being stuck on the sofa when you want to be training is incredibly frustrating, but I know from past experience that pushing myself when my knees are playing up only results in more pain. So I sucked up the frustration (and some seriously strong painkillers) and waited for the swelling to go down.
I finally got out for a run this morning. A few days off hasn’t done too much harm, it seems, so I’m still on track for the big day.
I’m also well on track to be running the whole 26.3 miles in a cookie monster outfit. There’s only £600 left to go. With your help, I’ll get there. http://www.justgiving.com/Ellen-Clegg
Having had such a rubbish day a couple of weeks ago, I am pleased to report that this week has been much better.
On Thursday, I hit the halfway point with my fundraising. As of this morning the total stands at £1,145, which is brilliant. Thank you so much for your support. It’s really encouraging to know that all my friends and family are rooting for me, especially when my feet are hurting as much as they are right now!
On Friday, the lovely Lizzie from Fight for Sight asked if she could do a press release about me. How can I say no? It’s all for a good cause. I promise I’ll remember you all when I’m rich and famous.
Then today, I ran my longest distance so far in a record time. 17 miles in the frankly miraculous time of 2 hours 35 minutes, which is almost 1 minute per mile faster than my intended marathon pace.
I’m paying for it now, though. Everything hurts like crazy. Jon is looking after me, and I’m sure I’ll be back on my feet in time for my next run on Tuesday.
If you haven’t donated yet, you’ve got plenty of time. The address is www.justgiving.com/Ellen-Clegg. If you keep giving at this rate, I’ll have to start sorting out that Cookie Monster costume.
Today was a very tough training session.
I’ve been up in Manchester most of this week running the exams. It always means that my normal routine is thrown out and my diet isn’t as healthy as it would normally be. I found out the hard way how this can affect my training. Even though Friday was a pretty healthy day and I ate the same sorts of things as I usually would before a long run, I found that I had almost no energy after a few miles. Making myself run the rest of the 14 miles was a real test of willpower.
So I’m putting that behind me – next week will be better, especially if I manage to get close to 50% of my fundraising target. Come on guys, you can make it happen: http://www.justgiving.com/Ellen-Clegg