We did it. On the 6th of April, Alison and I completed our first marathon, and raised over £3,700 between us for MS and Mind. Yay!!! But we’ve taken ages to write a blog post about it, mainly because there is a lot to say and neither of us knew where to start. So, we’ve decided to ask each other some questions, and write a Q and A blog post. We emailed each other our questions, which to our surprise were almost identical. No wonder we are such a good team! And also we have been set some questions by super lovely Meg Peppin, who was wonderfully encouraging of us during our training. Anyway, here goes!
So, Alison, marathons aren’t easy undertakings are they? What did you find the hardest thing about it?
Alison: In a funny sort of way, I didn’t find the marathon itself that hard – not as hard as some of the tougher training runs anyway. Sure, there were times when it felt tough, of course there were, particularly at around the 16 mile mark and then again once we reached mile 22 or so, but it was also exciting to be finally running it and actually doing it for real! On the stretch from 20 miles onwards when so many people were walking, it felt tempting to stop running and join them for a bit…but I’m so glad we kept on. And then at 25 miles I remember saying to you that I really couldn’t do much more of this….when you very helpfully gave me some much needed perspective and told me to shut up and run – best advice ever!!
So, really for me the training was by far the toughest bit and learning through trial and error the difference that good nutrition, sensible pacing and mental strength and discipline can make.
Flora, what were your best bits that will stay in your memory?
Flora: It’s so hard to choose. Mainly, that we did the whole run together, and chatted and chatted the whole way round. I also I liked the bit at about 25 miles, when you got slightly tired (the only time in the whole run, which is remarkable), and I told you to ‘Shut up and run!’ There aren’t too many times when people get to tell Alison Chisnell to shut up and run, so it was rather fun. And you did focus, shortly afterwards saying ‘I’m fine now!’, and getting all excited about finishing. Oh, and another great memory is touching Paula Radcliffe’s hand at the start! Also, I remember the two young women in onesies, who were spectators on a quiet bit of the course. They were jumping around doing a dance routine, singing a song to encourage the runners. It looked more exhausting than our run. We were on an out and back stretch, so about an hour later, we passed them again, and they were still leaping and yelling. Amazing. Another moment was after the finish, when a seagull dumped an enormous white dollop on my head – I was wearing a cap, so it was fine, and such a lucky omen! Finally, I remember how brilliant our little band of family and friends were in working out where to stand. They managed to appear at the kerbside three separate times, which was awesome. Seeing your little girls cheering, and looking so excited, was fantastic.
Looking back, what 3 moments in the marathon stand out for you?
Alison: Seeing and high-fiving Paula Radcliffe was a real thrill and a brilliant way to start the race. Our supporters: I loved seeing friends and family along the route, cheering us on – not only our immediate families, but also my running group friends who came down to cheer themselves hoarse, one of them giving me a huge bear hug at 14 miles, another of them running a couple of miles with us between miles 14 and 16. Plus the Mind supporters were fantastic….as were all the random strangers shouting encouragement to us with such conviction and generosity. Lastly, approaching and crossing the finish line together and doing it in such a positive way, filled with a last burst of energy and with big smiles as we crossed over to the other side to such an enormous sense of achievement!
What did you find hardest?
Flora: Apart from finding loos that didn’t have queues?! Probably it was how sore my legs were for two days after the marathon. Going down the stairs was a bit painful for a day or so. I hadn’t expected that. Then when the soreness cleared up, I got a stinking cold which lingered for 10 days. All of that is par for the course, I’m sure, but the longer training runs of 20 miles had gone so well that I hadn’t anticipated to be anything other than a bit hungrier than normal after the marathon!
Has completing a marathon changed anything for you?
Alison: I have a really strong sense now that I can do anything that I want to do if I apply the same discipline, determination and relentless practice that I did whilst training for the marathon. I’ve also learnt about the power of pushing past my comfort zones and setting my goals higher than I am sometimes comfortable with. I have a much clearer sense now of my running goals moving forward: what I want to achieve, how I should do it and a greater confidence that I can make it happen. The sense of achievement from running the marathon has been unbelievable and that will definitely stay with me.
Finally, what was your biggest learning?
Flora: The power of individuals to make a difference. I was blown away by the good heartedness of the spectators, and also of our friends and families. When a person sends a single text (or email/facebook/tweet/phone call) to someone else to give an encouraging message, it is just one single message. E.g. when I send a message to a friend who is taking part in an event or is going through a difficult time, to me, it is just one single message. But for that person receiving the message, if it is one of many many messages he receives, then the cumulative effect is something wonderful. I found this with the marathon – we both had so many messages from friends and family, and people we barely know. And so many kind people sponsored us. The overall effect was just so encouraging. It felt wonderful. And then at the event itself, we saw so many locals who came along and looked us in the eye and said things like “Alison, keep going, you are doing so well”. Total strangers. But the warmth of their support was incredible. It wasn’t just random clapping. I spent almost all the run saying thank you and clapping the crowd back. All of this is a very long winded way of saying that us humans are really very generous and kind hearted creatures. And I’m definitely going to go along to at least one event per year as a spectator and cheer and shout. Also, I am much more aware that sending one little message of support to a friend is something well worth doing.
And now for Meg’s questions:
How would you describe the impact of achieving this level of fitness?
Alison: It’s a brilliant confidence-booster and a great base from which to do more things. There are still lots of things I want to work on though to improve my fitness further – more strength, more speed, more flexibility. I don’t feel like I’ve reached a destination, more that I have a clearer idea of what I want to do for the next stage of the journey to build on it and enjoy it.
Flora: For me it brings a lot of confidence and quite simply it just makes me feel happy to be really fit. I like the fact that I can do other things, like climb hills or go cycling, and it’s all doable. Also I enjoy food in a way I never have before – it feels like it is needed and it sort of tastes all the better for that. Kind of odd, but I’ve spoken to other people who have experienced the same thing.
What resources did you find within you to get through the tough times?
Alison: I read a lot of books about running beforehand and one in particular was very strong on developing mental strength, particularly around positive visualisation e.g. mental videos of your best training run and developing a personal, positive mantra to repeat to yourself whilst running. I used both of these and some other similar techniques and found them to be quite powerful. Also, ensuring that you do all you can to focus only on the mile that you are in and not think ahead too much – to really have the discipline to try and stay in the moment and to operate from an internal locus of control.
Drawing on the experience of some of the tougher training runs was great too – the marathon wasn’t necessarily my best run in terms of how I felt, but there had certainly been a lot more ugly, tough runs in training! That helped to give a sense of perspective and also the confidence to just keep going. Someone also gave me some great advice that when it gets tough, adapt a positive mental attitude and ignore the voices in your head…which turned out to be quite wise. I must admit, I did also remind myself quite frequently in the latter stages than I never had to run ever again after this, if I didn’t want to!!
Flora: Focussing on the here and now is the big thing. Learning to love running. And keeping it all in perspective. Even when it is hard, it’s not really hard compared to other things people deal with. I feel so lucky to be physically able to run.
What tips would you give to the novice runner to get going?
Alison: So many of the blockages are ones that we put in our own path – my colleague frequently reminds me that two years ago I was adamant that I would never be a runner. The power of the mind is absolutely huge – you can do it if you want to. After the obvious advice of good trainers from a specialist running shop and a good sports bra for women, I would say use some of the apps that are available that teach you to go from nothing to 5k, on a walk/run basis, gradually increasing the running intervals. Also, join a running club – I’m a big fan of these and I have made so many friends through mine. They are for people of every level, from complete beginners right up to elite standard. If you don’t want to join a club, at least try and run with friends – it’s so much more enjoyable with other people and so often, that it how you push yourself to the next level and improve. Above all, believe in yourself and don’t dismiss your ability to do something without having given it a really good try.
Flora: Learn to love the act of running. Leave the headphones in the house. Look around you, be in the moment, enjoy the sights and sounds and smells. Find new places to run. Go off road. Explore. Join a club or find a friend to run with. Don’t just run; build strength by doing planks or press ups as a minimum. Stretch throughout the day – when brushing teeth, cooking, wherever – make it a habit. Don’t increase mileage by more than 10% week on week. Have an easy week every 5th week, then go again for the next four weeks. Only think in 4 week blocks. Read up a bit on how to run, and when you are running, think about how your gait and running style – there’s more to it than you think, and it’s possible to waste lots of energy, plus get injured, by swaying all over the place.
Finally, Alison asked a question and answered it herself. What has Flora missed out?
Alison: What Flora has missed out (which I knew she would!) is that over the course of the marathon training and actually probably quite a long time beforehand, she has become a quite brilliant and very strong runner, far better and much faster than me. I can only speculate what time she would have achieved on her own…but I know for certain that it would have been far closer to 4 hours than 5. That she ran the whole marathon at my pace, without ever once making me feel that I was holding her back or being slow, is a huge testament to her patience, strength, fitness and friendship and I am hugely appreciative and in awe of that. Thank you!
Flora: In that case I get to ask and answer the same question! What has Alison missed out? She’s missed out that she managed to do all her training on time, on schedule, whilst working in a high powered job, and devoting lots of time to her family. She’s missed out that she’s a hugely supportive and fun friend. I am glad she asked me to do a marathon and I’m proud to have crossed the finishing line with her.
Thanks for reading, and a huge thank you for all your encouragement.