London Marathon 2017 - race report

25 April 2017, 11:27

Having been seriously ill for the first third of last year, I had to defer my London Marathon place to this year. Beyond giving me a sense of humility, perspective, and appreciation for my health, it also gave me the renewed vigour in my training to not take this opportunity for granted. It took pretty much all of 2016 for my body to recover (both from the illness and my first ultra on an accelerated training schedule) and my training since January has also been a bit more experimental than usual.

On my request, I’ve been doing a lot more low carb, fat-adapted cardio training, plus my coach Barbara has been working a lot with me on muscle activation and running form. Cue lots of targeted strength training (hello Monday night 500x park bench stepups!), and my longest runs were only barely 3hrs this time around. But I felt like my previous years’ marathon pace of 5min/km (8min/mi) was still a good bet, so I set off with the mindset to try and “tickle my PB” of 3:30 by keeping a relaxed and controlled first half.

A 20min wait for a bus followed by a further 10min wait for a train (then the 15min walk from Maze Hill to the Green Start!) left me entering the start zone just as the last calls for the baggage trucks were being announced. From there I joined one of the enormous toilet queues, finally getting to the front at 9:58! It meant I didn’t get to meet up with my friend Steph (we had a loose plan to run together since we were going for the same time and in the same pen), and I don’t even know where my start pen was meant to be, but I crossed the line at 10:02 determined to not let it stress me. I opted for my usual road marathon choice of one headphone only with my carefully curated marathon playlist – easy, chilled songs at the start, getting gradually more intense throughout the race when I need the boost. Having one ear free means I can hear the crowd shout my name, or equally, try to tune out the screaming and focus on my music instead when I need to.

London marathon 2017 - mile 12 London marathon 2017 - mile 12
Looking fresh at Mile 12

This was my first big race using my AppleWatch (running the brilliant Runmeter app) as my GPS/pace watch, and I freaking loved it. I set up a custom screen on Runmeter that just shows me my elapsed time and current pace in a large font, so I did a lot of checking my pace in the first half and adjusting my legs faster or slower as needed to stay on that 5:00 target. I was toying with turning off the heart rate monitoring during the race to save battery, but in the end I kept it on more for the record of it than anything else, and it seemed to stay in the mid-170s throughout (Zone 3 for me). The AppleWatch battery itself is brilliant, but I will say that being connected to the phone through bluetooth for extended periods of time absolutely kills my phone’s (5S) battery, so I needed to run with that in a battery case. But considering I threw my Garmin in the bin after near-continuous “Finding satellite” failures plus a typeface I could barely read at a glance, I am all aboard the AppleWatch-for-running train!

For some people, running with a phone, battery, multiple gels, headphones, and salt caps might be an issue, but hey, that’s why I design activewear! With my “sew your own activewear” book deadline being the day after the marathon, my publishers asked if I could run it in designs from the book to help with marketing down the line. I’ve run all 6 of my previous marathons in me-made gear, but I usually wear a Run dem Crew shirt or vest on top. This time I wanted to both rep my crew AND show off my book designs, so I made my shorts and vest from modified designs which will appear in my book (coming out early 2018), and took the vest up to Big Teezar in Camden to get the RDC logo and my name vinyl printed onto the front. The shorts are actually a leggings design from my book chopped off above the knee (which unfortunately cuts out a lot of the design interest!) with an additional back waistband pocket bringing the pocket total up to FIVE. FIVE BIG POCKETS, PEOPLE. My vest takes the offset side seams of one design in the book, but uses the neckline and armholes of a different vest design from the book, and I tweaked the ease to be somewhere between close- and loose-fitting. I know what I like for racing, and I wanted it to be perfect!

London marathon 2017
Running through Mile 21, photo by Simon Roberts

The colour scheme started with the flame-print lycra I got printed at FunkiFabrics, using rust supplex, red supplex, and yellow chitosante down the side pockets, and reusing the red and yellow in the vest top. I was trying not to see it as McDonalds (or Serpentine!), but a friend said I was channelling Baywatch and Hulk Hogan, so I’m going to go with that!!

But back to the race – in a marathon my goal is to reach the first half as controlled and relaxed as possible, having spent minimal energy. So I settled into my marathon pace, kept things relaxed, and kept an eye out for my husband at Mile 12 in our old neighbourhood. Seeing Princes Harry, William, and Kate cheering at maritime Greenwich was more than a little surreal, and running into my 2014 #ExtraMile buddy Ibi on the course at Mile 3 was kinda crazy, but for the most part south London was just a chillaxed blur.

One thing I love about the London course is that, if you run around a 3:30 pace, you get to see the Elites coming down The Highway around their KM35 as you’re going up the opposite side of the road approaching the halfway point. This means I got to see Wanjiru, Bekele and the others in full form from only a few metres away, but also cheer on my amaaaaaazing friend Tom Payn repping his RDC vest on his way to a 2:22 finish! I crossed halfway bang on schedule at 1:46, and it was shortly after this that my first muscle issue began to appear – a curious pain on the top of my left ankle. It got bad enough that at one point I actually stopped to loosen my shoelace, but I’m still not sure what the issue was, as I’ve never had a pain there before in my life (and post-race it was definitely red and angry).

London marathon 2017 - mile 23
Looking decidedly more haggard at Mile 23…

But soon I had bigger issues to worry about, as I began to get some very tight cramps/knots in both quads at the same place – inner thigh a few inches above the knee – again, a strange place and a first for me in any run. This tightness started around the Isle of Dogs and slowed my pace by a few seconds per km. I stopped to stretch out my quads at one point to try and shift it, as well as a quick thumb-massage, but to no avail. It gradually got worse, and by Canary Wharf and Poplar it felt like I had a fist-sized rock in each thigh, making every step painful and making maintaining pace difficult. I kept telling myself “Just make it to Mile 21 [where the RDC cheer station is] and maybe Barbara [my coach] can massage it out…” Mile 21 is incredibly motivating at the best of times, but when you’re suffering, the boost it gives is immeasurable. Hell, even just knowing that it’s coming up will push you to carry on, and when I arrived to a million familiar smiles, high fives, confetti cannon, and hugs, it was just the boost I needed. I found out that Barbara wasn’t there, though (having had to cover a class that day) so I resigned myself to a painful last five miles.

The theme for this year’s London marathon was “Reason to Run”, and to be honest, I was struggling with this in the leadup. I mean, I wasn’t running for a charity, or in the memory of someone, or even a particular time. But in those last few miles, when the pain in my legs was screaming at me to “JUST WALK”, I found my reason to run. My mind fought back, and its ammunition was the mantra “You are alive, and you can run.”

London marathon 2017

The pain in my legs and ankle got worse, plus somewhere along the Embankment the back of my knee started to pop, leading me to try to stretch out my quads again after my leg nearly gave out entirely a few times (apologies to the spectators who got to hear a string of continuous F-bombs…), and finally I just realised that I needed to put my head down and push through whatever else was coming, even if it meant falling flat on my face. So I sucked it up, willed myself forward, and remembered that I was privileged not only to be alive, but to be running again. And despite all the above, I managed to pick up the pace in the last mile for a final finish time of 3:38:58 – not quite tickling my PB as I’d hoped, but still a GFA (guaranteed entry for next year) and a Boston Qualifier, so ultimately worth the pain.

London marathon 2017

So what went wrong this time around? Well, I always say that I learn something from every single marathon, and the take-home lessons for me this time around were:

  1. Pre-race massages are NOT optional. A yoga session the day before helped, but I know that tightness in my hamstrings and hip flexors was likely the cause of my quad distress. I was lax on my massages this year, and I need to do better in future.

  2. I need to increase my Magnesium levels during marathon training. I’ve known for years that I’m a “salty sweater” and a routine blood test a few weeks before the race revealed my Magnesium levels were low, but I found out too late to do much about it. I took two salt caps during the race, but it’s no replacement for regular stores and likely caused the cramping issues.

London marathon 2017

But it wasn’t all bad, and I really do take on board lessons I’ve learned in previous marathons, too. I’m particularly proud of my rock-solid pacing this year, holding back and staying strictly on target marathon pace, especially in the first 10k when it’s tempting to go faster because you feel fine and easy (learnt in London marathon 2014).

London marathon 2017 splits
Check out dem splits! (the min/km column)

I was also absolutely on-point with my nutrition, taking either a gel or two ShotBloks every 5km up to 35 (I brought one for 40km, but I hardly ever take it, and this year was no different) even when I was zero desire to shove another down my face and I don’t feel like I need it and salt caps at halfway and again at Canary Wharf (30km). I also did a great job at staying relaxed in the first half, sticking to my aim of using as little energy as possible to reach halfway. In past years I get overexcited, weave around people too much, and high five too many kids (sorry kids, but that takes energy!), and it really comes back to bite me later in the race. And finally, in the latter stages, I walked through the water stations (learnt in Berlin 2014), and stopped to stretch out my legs when something was tight (it didn’t actually fix it this time, but I learnt in Copenhagen 2013 that a few shorts stops and walking breaks only adds a negligible amount of time).

London marathon 2017

Marathons are an interesting challenge. You can do everything right in training, have perfect weather (albeit a bit too sunny for my liking), the right mindset, but still have things go wrong. You just have to learn from them, come back stronger, and try again next time. I think it’s part of the reason why I keep coming back to the marathon distance – I know I have a sub-3:30 in me – I just have to get all the little pieces in place (plus have some luck with the weather) and have the right day. But there’s no rush – I know my day will come.

London marathon 2017

Virgin Money London Marathon, 23 April 2017, 3:38:58

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London Marathon 2015 - race report

28 April 2015, 13:11

This was my 5th marathon, and my second time running London. I’ve always said that I learn so much from every single marathon I run, and this time in particular, I was really trying to apply the lessons learnt from last year’s London marathon (namely – do NOT set off too fast, even if you feel good!), and Berlin marathon (sticking to a pacing plan can make a world of difference in a race).

So with those two lessons firmly in mind, the first half was always going to be crucial for me in terms of reigning my speed in and running it as relaxed as humanly possible. I kept repeating to myself to expend as little energy as possible until at least halfway.

The first few miles were spent enjoying the moments, making memories, running into friends (and seeing Marathon Talk‘s own Tony’s Trials for the second year in a row!), and being surprised by friends cheering at points along the route (shout-out to Dommy, Linda, Stephanie, Sarah, Cat, and Simon!). In general, I find the first half of the course (bar the Cutty Sark) to be incredibly dull. I know the area between Miles 6-12 particularly well, but it still doesn’t make them any more interesting! At least this year we were blessed with my perfect race weather – cold, cloudy, and slightly damp – so south London wasn’t the baking hot, shade-free torture zone it was last year.

London Marathon - Mile 12 cheer

As always, my first major highlight was passing home at Mile 12, where all the neighbours came down to the end of the road to cheer me on. I grabbed a quick kiss from my husband, waved hello to the in-laws and a surprise friend from out of town(!), and applied a bit of Body Glide to prevent further chafing from my me-made sports bra neckline (never a problem before this race, and the Body Glide stopped anything from developing further). My husband said afterwards how much fresher I looked this year, and I definitely felt that, too.

London Marathon - Mile 12 high five
Running past home at Mile 12, very happy to see my husband, neighbours, and family!

In terms of my goals, the first half was hugely successful – I ran it relaxed, easy, and averaged only about 10 seconds under my goal pace of 5min/km (8min/mi). For me, mentally, however, the race only really starts to get fun once I pass Tower Bridge and the halfway point – I much prefer the course north of the river for some reason, even though many hate the desolate Isle of Dogs.

Last year, I utterly hated the London crowds. It felt like 3 1/2 hours of people shouting at me, at a constant din turned up to 11, with no respite from the heat, crowds, and shouting. This year, I definitely noticed more patches where the support was quiet (maybe due to the less-nice spectating weather?) and I made a point to appreciate those when they came. Psychologically, I dealt much better with the crowds this year than before.

A little after halfway, I noticed my left hip started to ache, and then occasionally give me sharper points of pain, but this is something I’ve become accustomed to in road marathons – running for such a distance on the hard surfaces really does a number on my hips in particular (I imagine that running the same distance on soft trails wouldn’t, though I’ve yet to test that theory). Since this was a pain I’ve had before, I didn’t panic, but instead reminded myself that “it’s a marathon – it’s supposed to hurt” and concentrated on improving my form. This is the first I’ve really tried this technique, but I was very impressed – when I made the mental note to pick up my heels, land on my forefeet, and pull my shoulders back, it was like I’d popped a painkiller. So I kept reminding myself of this as much as possible, and I credit it with my finishing the race with only two blisters and a bit of stiffness in my legs and shoulders.

So by the time I went through Canary Wharf at 30km I was feeling a bit ragged, but still not too bad – not as relaxed as the first half, but nowhere near as broken as last year! From Canary Wharf, I pretty much just counted the miles til I got to Mile 21, where my crew was waiting for me.

London Marathon - Mile 21 big head
My “big head” at Run dem Crew’s EPIC Mile 21 cheer point. Photo credit: Sarah Mac

They’d put up signs all along the course the night before the marathon, and I honestly got a boost every time I saw one – I even gave our gunfinger salute to quite a few! But even experiencing the hallucinogenic high of Mile 21 last year didn’t diminish the impact of it all over again this year.

Big head appreciation
Showing my appreciation for my “Big head” at Mile 21. Photo credit: Gemma Brady

To see hundreds of familiar faces all cheering you on, shouting for YOU, getting so excited that you’re some celebrity runner, seeing your face blown up to a billboard size, then shouting and cheering back at them all while a confetti cannon bursts overhead… just epic! (Though I don’t recommend open-mouthed cheers while confetti is falling, hahah!). Just after we passed Mile 21, another runner commented to her friend “Now that’s what I call support!”.

Mile 21 shout
Cheering for the cheerers at Mile 21. Photo credit: Michael Adeyeye

Then I had to concentrate on not getting too excited since I still had 5 miles to run, but I knew that once I hit the Highway again it’s a straight shot all the way to Big Ben, which is mentally so much easier to handle. It may be 5 miles, but it’s a straight 5 miles! I had to really work to keep up the pace here – I kept targeting 5min/km but I’d look at my Garmin and see 5:10, or 5:15, and have to really struggle to pick up my legs to bring it back down to 5:00. I walked through two water stations to better get my last salt cap and gel down, but I honestly don’t think it added much to my time (I’d walked through all the Berlin water stops, afterall).

I’d really wanted to burst through the last 5km like we had in Berlin, but couldn’t really get my speed up any faster, so the brilliant feeling of passing everyone at the end just wasn’t meant to be (I passed more people than passed me, according to the official stats, anyway!). I worked really hard to maintain my goal pace, though, and even though my second half was slower than the first, the stats had my average pace at 5:02/km, which is incredible!

The Embankment was a sheer wall of noise (turned up to 11) and pushing past with everything I had, I only really focused on counting down the bridges and keeping my eyes on Big Ben in the distance. Having run the course before, I knew St James’ Park feels deceptively long – after you turn the corner at Big Ben, it’s still one long mile left to go. But before I knew it, I was on the red road outside Buckingham Palace and stumbling over the finish line!

London Marathon - space blanket
Directly after the race, still in my “quiet time”

I followed my fellow race zombies to collect my baggage, then my husband, his parents, and our friend, though I had to sit down for some “quiet time” before I could move anywhere or do anything (I get this after every marathon).

London Marathon - afterwards
Afterwards, in Trafalgar Square, Photo credit: James O’Brien (as are all the other uncredited ones above!)

I’m really proud of myself for sticking to my pace plan and taking it easy for the first half – I found it much more enjoyable than last year, and even though it was still a tough race, I was able to let my cheering crews lift me up. My finish time was only 2 minutes slower than last year, but it was a world of difference in terms of experience, pacing, and control.

Considering this wasn’t my “A Race” for the year (competing for Team GB in the World Transplant Games in Argentina has that honour!) I’m really pleased. Plus it’s another GFA/BQ combo in the bag! (“GFA” = “Good for Age”, which means I get a guaranteed place at next year’s London marathon. “BQ” = “Boston Qualifier”, which means I’m eligible to run Boston Marathon should I wish to)

Oh, and I got a lot of compliments on my me-made running shorts from the crowd and other runners alike, too!

London marathon, 26 April 2015, 3:32:40

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London Marathon - Follow Me!

25 April 2015, 11:35

Tomorrow I will run the London Marathon. As I wrote about last week, I’m surprisingly chill about the whole thing as I haven’t really felt like I’ve been “marathon training”. This is my fifth marathon and my second time running London, and it’s not even my “A-race” for the year, either.

first four marathons
My first four marathons! Amsterdam 2012, Copenhagen 2013, London 2014, and Berlin 2014

So why exactly am I running this? Well, I fought long and hard to earn myself a Good For Age (GFA) place last year, and by god I was going to use it! It basically means that I’m free from the stress of fundraising for a charity, and all that entails. I also really want to see if I ran repeat my pacing success from Berlin marathon last Fall and run a steady, controlled, and even first 22 miles, and crank it up in the last 3mi (5km) to finish super strong. I also really didn’t enjoy the crowds at London marathon last year, and well, as cross country showed, I’ll try anything twice. I really am hoping to enjoy it more this year, especially Run dem Crew’s legendary Mile 21 cheer station, which was a bit of a blur of heat, noise, and confetti last year!

This isn’t my traditional, full kit layout photo, but as loads of people were asking what to look out for on the course, I wanted to show the my old-school RDC vest (which I wore to run my first two marathons, see above!), and a special version of my latest Steeplechase Leggings pattern, which has no inseams! The RDC logo is highly reflective, but a bit difficult to spot from a distance, so look for the shorts instead!

VLM kit

Since I’ve got to carry 4 gels, a pack of Shot Bloks, and a kinder egg capsule full of Saltstick caps this year, the single back pocket in these isn’t really enough, so I’ve also made a matching armband pocket to store the rest (a strategy which worked well in Berlin!).

The salt capsules are a relatively new addition, but I’ve always been a super salty sweater (I’ve been known to have a salt crust on my face after hot 10km races), and I’ve found that one capsule every hour or so during hard sessions really helps me. Like, within 30 seconds of taking it, I feel significantly better. Having tested them under race conditions at Cambridge Half and then again on a 20 miler, I’m feeling confident about using these tomorrow, too.

VLM photobooth

Whether you’re coming down to central London to cheer tomorrow or not, during the race itself, there are a few different ways you can track me:

1. The official London Marathon site (my race number is 27256), which will show my position at every 5km and guesstimates in between. Note that the tracking portion of the site will only appear on race day – Sunday 26 April (the mass start is at 10:10am BST), and that my little dot will only move once I’ve passed the 5km timing mat (approx 10:35am).

This year there’s also (finally!) an official iOS app, which means you can plug in all your favourite runners ahead of time and get updates when you latch onto a tube station or pub’s wifi (3G along the route is notoriously oversubscribed on race day). I had a look on Google Play, but there doesn’t seem to be an Android version, sorry.

These two official methods take data every 5km when I step over a timing mat, and extrapolate my pace in between. So if a runner changes pace significantly, it’s not going to reflect that.

2. Twitter – My Runmeter app will tweet from my account that I’ve started the run, and you can click on the link to see where I am, and/or reply to ANY of my tweets (including that one) to have it spoken into my ear while I run. The only issue here is that if the 3G is unavailable when I start (and it’s likely it’ll be oversubscribed at the start and finish), the tweet with the link in it won’t go out. You can still reply to any of my tweets though, to have it spoken to me (you can’t just write a new mention to me, though – it has to be a reply).

Also, do not freak out if my progress suddenly stops near the end of the race, as it did along the Embankment last year! That just means the battery on my phone died prematurely (well, it is supplying me with tunes, GPS, and spoken comments along the way!), and I’ll update it when I’m reunited with my spare battery after the finish.

3. DailyMile – join dailymile.com and send me a friend request before tonight, and you can access the same tracking link, and also any comments added to my post while I’m running will also be spoken into my headphones. The advantage here is that Runmeter will poll Daily Mile something like every 5min throughout the race, so if the 3G is down at the start, it’ll just post it at the next opportunity, then updated as it gets info from my phone. My profile is here After you sign up, hit the “Add Friend” button on the left under my photo. Note that other than for races, I really don’t use DailyMile much anymore, much preferring Strava since they actually update the site and add new features more than once every 5 years. But Strava doesn’t support the spoken comments yet!

So wish me luck, and keep an eye on the above tomorrow!

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London "Marathon Training"

14 April 2015, 09:43

VLM sign

It’s two weeks to go until London marathon, and everyone (who knows I’m running, at least) is asking me “How’s marathon training going?”

And that feels like an odd question, because I don’t really feel like I’ve been marathon training this time around. For the bulk of January and February, I was putting four runs a week in, but I wasn’t following any strict plan. Sure, I’d do tempo on Tuesday, shorter easy runs on Mondays and Thursdays, strength training on Fridays, and something longer on Sundays, but it wasn’t to a strict, pre-ordained pace for x minutes of the run, and if I felt particularly unmotivated, I’d often cut the run a bit shorter, or go a bit slower than planned.

Post run legs

Mentally, I’ve always had this summer’s World Transplant Games as my “A-race”, and London marathon as my “B-race”. It’s my 5th marathon since I ran my first in 2012, and my second time running London. I got my own Good For Age place off the back of last year’s time, so I’ve not needed to hit up people for fundraising for it this year (though I am raising funds to get me to the World Transplant Games!). In fact, until I ran Cambridge Half in March, mentally it didn’t really feel like I was running a marathon in six weeks at all – the running I’d been doing was just what I’d be doing anyway, race or not. But my performance in that race surprised me, and showed me that I was capable of applying the same formula to other races, and that Berlin marathon last Fall wasn’t a fluke.

In fact, since Cambridge my general approach to London marathon is to try and replicate the success of Berlin – run it well paced up until the Run dem Crew cheer explosion at Mile 21, then up the pace and gun it down The Highway and the Embankment to the finish. I’m certainly hoping that a well-controlled pace will allow me to enjoy the race more than I did last year. Everyone who runs London marathon comments on how amazing the crowd support is, and I won’t deny that the crowds were bigger, louder, and more consistently present along the entire London course – much moreso than in any race I’ve ever run. But for me, the constant din of people shouting at me for such a sustained period of time (no matter what the intent behind it) was emotionally exhausting, and the crowds pushing into the road downright claustrophobic.

NYC running

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve run plenty of big city races before, and I’ve always appreciated the points where the crowds really get you hyped up and energised. But those parts are always balanced with other areas of the course which are maybe only one or two people deep, shady, and a lot quieter, too, which make you able to appreciate the loud parts more fully. Without the quiet sections to balance it, London was just constant shouting with no relief, especially if you are already in a world of pain from starting off at (insane, suicidal) “What the hell was I thinking breaking my 10km PB in the first 10km??” pace.

So I’m hoping that by keeping my pace controlled and my mind relaxed, I’ll be able to enjoy London much more this year. And if I don’t, then I’ll be making some tough choices about whether I want to run it again next year, GFA or not. There are far too many spring marathons out there I’d like to run, and I don’t see much point in running one I don’t enjoy (but as cross country proves, I’ve got to try anything twice to confirm I don’t enjoy it!).

Group with Buckinham Palace

In the last few weeks, I’ve been carrying on with the motions of marathon training – I’ve run my 20 miler (along the riverside with fellow RDC runner Pip for company), and this past week a group of us ran the second half of the marathon course to have it fresh in our heads. This course run-through was the single most helpful run of my entire training last year, and really helped me push through the pain barrier on race day to know exactly where I was in relation to the major mile markers. And since this isn’t my “A-race” this year, and I’ve not got any time pressure, having proved myself with a hat-trick of PB, GFA, and BQ (Boston Qualifier) last year, I’m really looking instead to just run it well paced, enjoyable, and with a strong finish. And if it’s not as blisteringly hot as last year, that’d be nice, too!

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Recovery

11 May 2014, 15:09

With every race and training period comes the inevitable aftermath. When you’ve worked so hard for a goal race and pushed your body and mind to their limits on race day, you really need to then take some time off to recover. As for how long you need to recover – well, this varies greatly based on the distance, your experience, and your own body.

  • Distance – Pushing yourself for a track race places its own demands and stress on the body, but the recovery time after a track race is far, far less than you’d need for a marathon. In general, the time needed to recover is proportional to the distance raced.
  • Experience – If you bang out a 5k Parkrun every weekend for three years, you’re probably not going to need as much recovery time as someone who put in the same effort level but for whom it’s their first race. Likewise for marathons – if you’re on your 100th marathon (in which case, you really have no need for taking my advice!) then you’ll likely need less recovery than someone who’s just run their first, or for someone who only runs one a year. This is also where the length of your running “career” (for lack of a better word) comes in – the longer you’ve been running, the better adapted your legs and body are to the impact and general strain that the repetitive motions make. Having a good, solid running base means you’ll probably need less recovery than someone who’s only been running a year.
  • Your own body – But here’s the tricky bit – all else aside, you need to observe how your own body reacts after a hard race, and for that, you need to make mistakes and then learn from them! I myself found the hard way that I need to take it easy for a full four weeks after a marathon or my immune system just can’t cope. So I run as and when I want for those four weeks, getting lots of sleep and rest, and importantly not fully pushing myself on speed or hill training during that time.

So for the past four weeks since London marathon I’ve been trying to put my own words into practice. For the first two weeks this was easy – I caught an awful head cold two days after the race, and this pretty much forced me to do absolutely no running, and lots of sleeping and resting, too! Then, just as I was starting to feel better, we headed off to Brittany in France for a week’s holiday. I packed my running kit, expecting to head out maybe once or twice during the week we were there, but the gite we rented was in the historic centre of a medieval town, perched at the top of a hill that would make Swain’s Lane blush, full of narrow, cobbled alleyways. And to top it off, it rained most of the week, which would’ve made the steep, narrow, cobbled streets slippery, too! So I mostly carried on resting, and eating (Brittany is known for its seafood and salted caramel everything)!

ice cream recovery

When we finally got home, I was feeling lardy and lazy enough to head out for a few river runs, and a return to Run dem Crew, too (stepping down a few groups rather than run at “suicide pace” with the Elites!), but I could tell from my heavy legs that I still wasn’t fully recovered. I’d signed up to Nike’s We Own the Night Women’s 10k this weekend, but wasn’t really in the mood to push myself (more on that later). I like to give myself room to listen to my body and my legs and see how they’re progressing, and right now I feel like I’m maybe about 80% back. I’m going to ease back into a routine over the next few weeks and start Proper Training again at the start of June. I’ve got the Bupa London 10,000 at the very end of May, which should give me a good indication of where I’m at and what my “comfortable” pace is again!

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London Marathon - race report

16 April 2014, 17:55

This was a tough race. Mostly it was down to the relentless sunshine making for a very hot run, but also because I’d kinda forgotten how hard marathons are. I think in my mind I’d figured that Amsterdam was hard because it was my first marathon, and Copenhagen was hard because I’d been so ill and hardly had any training. But surely having 6 months of perfect training in the lead up to London would make for a different experience, right?

I’d had a pep talk with Energy Lab on Friday and decided that I would set out with fellow Run dem Crew Elites Jason and Daniel, figuring that their 3:15 target pace would still be slower than my adrenaline-fuelled starting gun pace. So we set off, ducking and diving for the first few km as Jason wanted to reach the 3:15 pace crew just ahead of us. I later found out that this particular pacer was awful and had set out a full 2 minutes faster than he should’ve, and didn’t even complete the race, so in actual fact we were going much faster than 3:15 pace as we caught up and then overtook them. I lost Jason and Daniel around 5km or so, but I was feeling good and comfortable and enjoying myself, high fiving lots of kids along the way.

London marathon

Cutty Sark was incredible and everything that’s been said about the London crowds is true! I’ve never, ever run a race where there were crowds the entire way like that. For the most part, I used the crowd’s energy to push me forward, but there were definitely times throughout the race where I would’ve preferred some silence for just a minute or two – hours upon hours of people shouting at you (no matter what their motive) can get really overwhelming, and the Lucozade tunnel around Mile 23 was the only respite on the entire course.

I didn’t really feel like this was a battle against the distance – this was definitely a battle against the heat for me, and as a really salty sweater, I had a sweat strategy built in to my nutrition strategy – taking 3 doses of the extra salty Margarita Shot Bloks spread over the race, but also grabbing a vital bottle of Nuun electrolyte from James (along with a sweaty kiss!) at Mile 12. As I predicted, running past home was a much bigger boost than Tower Bridge, which I hardly remember, and Canary Wharf was particularly memorable for me because it was mostly in shade. By the time I got the Run dem Crew’s epic Mile 21 cheering station, I was really feeling rundown and battered – my left hip was giving me problems, I’d had a recurring stitch for most of the race, and the balls of my feet had gone so tender that I’d been forced to flat-foot strike for the last few miles.

London marathon

I only remember brief snippets of my crew as I flew through the cheering station, but as I passed, a confetti cannon was set off in my honour, and as I looked up, I saw the brightly coloured tissue paper squares framed against the blue sky, and the image stood still for a while as time seemed to melt. It’s an image I’ll remember for an awfully long time.

I’d been told by Barbara and Claudia that they’d be waiting at the end of Mile 21 for me to give them a sign – a thumbs up, and they’d cheer me on my way. Shaky hand, and they’d jump on the course for a pep talk. Or a thumbs down, and they’d jump in and take me all the way to the end. I’d been battling the heat since about Mile 10 and in need of a boost, so I gave the shaky hand signal, and Claudia joined me for the next kilometer for a very, very welcome pep talk. I started my listing all my physical complaints, to which she just said “Yeah – you’re running a marathon!” Yes. I kinda needed to hear that! Then she talked me through the mantras and mental tricks I needed to go the next 5 miles, but pointed out that I was slouching my shoulders and that opening them up would help my breathing and my stride. With all that on board, I sent her back to help others, and carried on for the last few miles, using my own mantra of “Strong, fast, lean – you got this” over and over and over. In previous tough races, I’d been a fan of counting breaths, but for some reason this is what my brain wanted to hear on Sunday.

London marathon London marathon

The Embankment was crazy – somehow both shorter and longer than when I’ve run it thousands of times on my own and with Run dem Crew at turbo pace. I know that stretch of London probably better than any other 2.5km, and it was just a matter of putting my head down and getting to the end. As we turned the corner at Westminster and ran the length of St James’s Park, I happened to notice a familiar gait in an Anthony Nolan vest – I shouted “Honest Jim!”, and it was indeed my Daily Mile buddy who I’d never previously met in person! I’m still not entirely sure how I recognised him with such little brain, but I remember taking his hand and trying to pull him with me to the finish, but he told me to just go.

I pushed out the very last few hundred metres with as big a sprint as I could muster, and I crossed the line as the clock read 3:31, so I wasn’t entirely sure for a few minutes whether I’d broken 3:30 or not (as I couldn’t remember what my start delay was, and my phone battery died along the Embankment). No sooner had my chip been cut off and a medal placed around my neck, and my ExtraMile film crew appeared for an interview! I apologise for the state of whatever I actually said here, as it was literally seconds after I’d crossed the line and I have no recollection of what I’d said (only that I drank half of the sound guy’s water bottle!). It should make for interesting viewing when the last video goes up!

London marathon

Anthony Nolan were true to their word about their volunteers finding us at the finish and whisking us away to their post race reception – their five cheer stations throughout the course were all fantastic and huge, too, giving me a boost each time I reached the next one. The spread they laid on at the Royal Society was fantastic, too – hot food, really good massage therapists, places to sit and chill out, but the best finish line treat of all was a surprise visit from my husband, who made a huge effort to cross London to meet me there.

Going into this race, I’d told others that I was targeting 3:20, but that I’d be really happy with anything in the 3:15-3:30 range. I wasn’t as fixated on a time as three time-based goals – a new PB (previous was 3:48), a Good For Age time so I can get a guaranteed place for next year’s marathon (I needed 3:45), and the toughest of all – a Boston Qualifying time (I needed 3:40). So I’m utterly ecstatic that my final finishing time of 3:30:37 is indeed all three.

Thank you all again for all your support, comments, donations, patience, and hugs over the past six months as I worked as hard as I could to make my race dreams a reality. OMG PB GFA BQ.

London marathon, 13 April 2014, 3:30:37

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London Marathon - Follow Me Tomorrow!

12 April 2014, 10:31

Tomorrow I will run the London Marathon. It’s my first time running London, but my third marathon, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m running for Anthony Nolan, the charity who found me my anonymous bone marrow donor who saved my life five years ago, but I also felt I had to run representing Run dem Crew, who absolutely transformed my running and circle of friends since I joined 2.5 years ago, and Energy Lab, who utterly transformed my body and running style in the past year I’ve been training with Barbara and Claudia. Anthony Nolan get my vest (with “Transplantee” on the back!), but I used freezer paper and gold textile paint to add the RDC and EL logos to my shoulders, like little guardian angels.

VMLM vest stencilling

On my bottom half I’ll be wearing the biker short length of my newest sewing pattern, the Duathlon Shorts, in rainbow supplex with neon yellow and orange sides. These are essentially the shorts sisters to the leggings I wore to race Bath Half! On my feet I’ll wear my newest Injiji toe socks with the high ankles (so many freaking socks fall down at my heels but these don’t!), and my beloved grey New Balance Minimus shoes.

My kit for London Marathon

I also finally settled on my menu-err… gel strategy for the race, too – peanut butter, apple crumble, salted caramel, banoffee & margarita! The shot bloks count as three “doses” and the extra salt is really good for me, as I know I’m a salty sweater.

VMLM gels

I’m also having my husband pass me a bottle of Nuun as I run past home at 12 Miles – I’m hoping to get at least half that down my neck before I ditch the bottle. I’ve found that the electrolytes in those really help me.

During the race itself, there are a few different ways you can track me:

1. The official London Marathon site (my race number is 7948), which will show my position at every 5km and guesstimates in between. Note that the tracking portion of the site will only appear on race day – Sunday 13 April (the mass start is at 10am BST).

2. Twitter – My Runmeter app will tweet from my account that I’ve started the run, and you can click on the link to see where I am, and/or reply to ANY of my tweets (including that one) to have it spoken into my ear while I run. The only issue here is that if the 3G is unavailable when I start (and it’s likely it’ll be oversubscribed at the start and finish), the tweet with the link in it won’t go out. You can still reply to any of my tweets though, to have it spoken to me (you can’t just write a new mention to me, though – it has to be a reply).

3. DailyMile – join dailymile.com and send me a friend request before tonight, and you can access the same tracking link, and also any comments added to my post while I’m running will also be spoken into my headphones. The advantage here is that Runmeter will poll Daily Mile something like every 5min throughout the race, so if the 3G is down at the start, it’ll just post it at the next opportunity, then updated as it gets info from my phone. My profile is here After you sign up, hit the “Add Friend” button on the left under my photo.

The ExtraMile film crew will also be shooting me at various points throughout the race, so you can look forward to seeing the highlights of my race a little while after marathon day if you’re unable to follow my progress as it happens.

VMLM Expo selfie
Best marathon expo selfie ever??

Mentally and physically, I think I’m in a lot better shape now than I was for either of my previous marathons. I was a nervous wreck before Amsterdam because it was my first, and then I was under a lot of pressure to get a GFA time in Copenhagen despite only having 6 weeks to train due to severe illness. This time around, I will genuinely be happy with quite a wide range of time, but I’m targeting the 3:15-3:30 area, which will be a big PB for me should I pull it off. I’m totally grateful to my body for actually giving me a full 6 months of dedicated marathon training without getting sick (my immune system is “special” and the same as a 4.5 year old!), and I’ve been able to devote an awful lot of time, energy, and effort into making tomorrow go well. My mantra for the past few months has been “April 13th Me had better appreciate this!” so I“m looking to cash in on all that training!

And again, should you have any spare cash (even a fiver helps!), my fundraising page is here.

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A test run of the London Marathon route

28 March 2014, 15:44

One advantage of running a race in your home city is that you can scope out the route ahead of time if it’s in a part of town you’re not familiar with. My first two marathons were in cities I either hadn’t been to in ten years, or hadn’t been to ever, so the best I could do ahead of time was study Google Streetview and videos of the course.

But for London marathon, I knew that I wanted to run the route at some point before the day – specifically, the second half when I knew the exhilaration would’ve worn off from the start, and when the route starts to twist and turn through Docklands. I hadn’t really picked a date to do this, but last weekend my blisters from the Spitfire 20 were still open and therefore not up to a muddy hill run, so I took the opportunity to run the London marathon route from Mile 12 to 26.2 instead!

London marathon training run

Luckily, my friend “Pistol” Pete was up for joining me, so we set off from mine to the end of the road to pick up the course just before Mile 12. We were armed really only with a printoff of my friend Daniel’s excellent turn-by-turn directions of the London marathon course, but I did have my phone in case we got truly lost! Pete had also run London before, but he was also relying on the directions as much as me, as he said things look so different on race day!

The Shard from Docklands

We only managed to get lost in the Canary Wharf section, but that’s mostly due to poor street signage than Daniel’s directions (and Canary Wharf in general feeling like some anonymous Midwest business district!). So that added a little bit of distance onto our route, plus we had to detour to the river near London Bridge where the actual route goes through a tunnel that’s normally closed to pedestrians.

But even with those few deviations, I have to say that I feel so much better about the second half of the course now – I know how the Isle of Dogs meets up with Canary Wharf, how the route goes through Poplar and Limehouse, where RDC’s famous “Mile 21” will be, and that, for me, mentally, once I get back onto The Highway, it’s just a straight shot all the way down to Westminster. I have a feeling that the last mile, where we turn up at Westminster Bridge and run the length of St James’s Park, is going to feel really long on the day. I’m hoping by that point I can ride the wave of the crowd!

If you’ve got an hour or two of an easy run planned for this weekend, I highly recommend running a portion of the route if you can – the areas which seemed a bit desolate and scary now seem familiar to me!

If you’re not a follower of my sewing blog, you may have missed that I released a new sewing pattern this week! The Duathlon Shorts are perfect for running or cycling with integrated pockets and optional crotch padding. If you don’t sew, I also do custom orders!

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Two Minutes of Training Tips

19 March 2014, 21:50

My latest video for ExtraMile has just gone live, and this one’s all about my training tips for London marathon day.

It’s really fun for me to watch these videos and see which bits the wonderful production team decided to use out of our full day of shooting! It was a cold but beautiful spring day only about a fortnight ago, and I even got to get my trail shoes muddy… They wanted to film me running in a park where I train, which for me is Hampstead Heath for my Saturday hill runs – unfortunately we couldn’t film there so we moved instead to a nearby park so I could still run up similar hills. If you’re wondering why I’m wearing a backpack – well, that’s just because it’s how I run on Saturdays with all my gear packed inside!

If you missed my previous videos, you can watch the first video here, and my reasons for running here. Apparently my face is also on big posters in some of the Virgin Money stores, too, but I haven’t seen Big Me in person yet!

Oh, and if I’ve inspired you, please consider donating to my fundraising here, or even better, if you’re aged 16-30, joining the bone marrow donor database here.

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My perfect race playlist and an imperfect run

20 February 2014, 12:28

If you missed it, I wrote up a piece for Extra Mile earlier this week talking about how I choose songs for my race playlists and using music as a tool to both motivate, but also to slow you down in those first few miles when you get overexcited! There’s a new competition on the site, too, based around your running playlists, so it’s worth having a look at that, too.

I also had another full day of filming for the Extra Mile project yesterday, too, complete with full makeup and the return of That Wig!

Extra Mile filming

I had a great time joking around with the other guys and the crew, but it’s amazing how tiring just standing around looking pretty can be! I woke up this morning feeling absolutely exhausted, even though yesterday was a Rest Day. I had a 1hr30 tempo run in my plan for this morning, but that seemed hopelessly optimistic (it’s really tough even on my best days!). It was all I could do to drag myself out the door, and I went out thinking I’d maybe do 10km and see how I felt. Well, I felt sloppy & annoyed at everything & demotivated and then it started to rain! So I cut it short at Blackfriars and only ended up running a third of what I should’ve, but when things are going that badly I find it’s best to just cut your losses and live to run another day, as it were.

I’ve resolved to rest hard today to hopefully ensure I don’t get sick, and make up for the lack of rest yesterday. It’s been ages since I had a bad run but good riddance to this one!

How do you cope with a bad run?

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Why I run - in 3 minutes!

14 February 2014, 14:32

I’m so excited today because my second ExtraMile video has just gone live! Watch below to get a glimpse of the moorings where I live, learn about why I’m running the London marathon for Anthony Nolan, and what the deal was with that blue wig in the first video

It was a super cold and rainy day when we filmed it last week (yes, the production team turned this round in a week!), and the pianist they hired in for the day was such a dude – he started playing the songs I mentioned from my running playlist totally off the cuff – Groove is in the Heart, Get Lucky, Hey Ya! We were all working with numb fingers so I’m amazed I look as relaxed as I do!

There’ll be a few more videos coming up between now and 13 April, plus profile videos from the other three amazing Extra Mile runners, too.

Oh, and if I’ve inspired you, please consider donating to my fundraising here, or even better, if you’re aged 16-30, joining the bone marrow donor database here.

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Watch me now!

5 February 2014, 12:11

I talked about the filming for the London Marathon #ExtraMile project a few weeks ago, but I’m pleased to report that both the Extra Mile site and the first video are up now!

I’m one of four runners being followed on our journey through to 13 April, but the site is open to any runners who want to share their story, training, and generally just get a little pick-me-up when it’s cold and grey and you really don’t want to do that run that you know you’re meant to do… Oh, and there are competitions to be won, too, like the first one for £100 to your fundraising target.

Anyway, have a watch of the first teaser video, which features me in a fetching blue wig!

ExtraMile video screengrab

It’s under 2 minutes long, so you can easily have a look while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or even stretching after a run…

If you need further inspiration, read through my friend Chris’s account of the Flatline 10 race I took part in on Saturday. I ran 10 repeats of Swains Lane in 1:28!

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20 miles in the mud with friends

30 January 2014, 15:22

I ran my first 20 miler of my current training season on Saturday. All my previous 20 mile runs have been done on my usual Thames river route, however – from Tower Bridge to Putney Bridge and around, and while long, the route there is pretty flat.

Saturday’s 20 miler, however, involved a bunch of hills, including three trips up Swains Lane, a several trail hills steep enough to have steps cut into them, and your usual, run of the mill inclined meadows. Oh, and there was ankle-deep mud for a good portion of the route, too! Needless to say, this was significantly tougher than my previous long-long runs, but luckily I had excellent company.

Hampstead crew collage
Thanks very much to Richard Keller for the photos!

I totally love my Saturday trail runs around Hampstead Heath anyway, but running with a great group of people makes the time pass so much more quickly, and also it means there are others there when you start to get a bit low on blood sugar and can’t remember which way you’re supposed to head next!

I knew I had a long session in my plan, so I got up to Hampstead Heath early enough to get one short loop in on my own, then once I met the others at the meeting point, I carried on with the faster group for one large loop around. Finally, only Cory and I were left needing to run further still, so he and I valiantly set off to do another large loop just the two of us.

I’m so, so glad he was with me, because I probably would’ve just done the shorter loop on my own since I know it much better, but we were definitely able to prop each other up and take it slow. Plus there’s the added fun of cursing that long, steep stretch which now has a full stream running the length of the path that kills me every time!

So after 3+ hours of running, Cory took this shot of me:

Me at the end of my muddy 20 miler

I’m mostly smiling because I survived! We then ran together back to the tube, where we refuelled, put on warmer, dry clothes, and generally caught every crazy look from other passengers staring at our muddy legs.

Want to know what the hardest part of running 20 miles in muddy hills is though? That last, perfectly flat one kilometer home after I’ve been sat on the tube!

No trail run for me this Saturday however – it’s the return of Flatline 10! Yes, that’s ten repeats up and down Swains Lane for a time trial, and most definitely the toughest 10 miles you’ve ever run. It’s organised by EnergyLabs but open to all – just meet at 10am at the top of Swains Lane (so go to Archway tube if you don’t want to do an extra uphill before it eve starts!).

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Starting the #ExtraMile

17 January 2014, 12:54

I’ve been working from home for the past few months while I launch my new sewing/exercise business, but on Wednesday I braved the rush-hour tube to spend a day of filming with three other runners as part of the Virgin Money London Marathon #ExtraMile project.

A whole day of talking about running, plus I get my hair and makeup done, and a great healthy lunch as well? Twist my arm then…!

Two of us are raising funds and awareness for Anthony Nolan, the UK’s bone marrow donor database, and the other two are running for Walking with the Wounded, a charity that helps wounded servicemen readjust into civilian working life. All of us had some pretty incredible stories to tell, and it was eye-opening to listen to each other speak about our pasts, journeys to running, and why our charities meant so freaking much to us. I really can’t wait to see the finished footage, it was looking really good in real life!

We were each asked to bring in four objects that inspired us or told a story about our running – you can see a sneak peek of one of mine here!

Extra Mile filming

This is just the first bit of filming as the four of us will be followed in our journey to London Marathon on 13 April. We’ll also be writing blog posts about our training and backstories, and I’ll be posting up the video links once they’re edited and live!

Until then, if you’re really, really quick, you can enter to win a place at the Virgin Money London Marathon as an #ExtraMile runner, but the competition closes tonight (17 April at 9PM GMT). You know you want to join me!

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In deep

14 January 2014, 12:49

January is the time of year for people to start new exercise habits, new training plans, and – if they’re running a spring marathon – wake up and suddenly realise they’ve got to start training ASAP.

But for me, I’ve been training for London Marathon since November, and I’m now in my third monthly plan from my trainer. November was all about getting back into good habits after a 6 week planned break, December was where she really upped my mileage and introduced me to “doubles” for the first time (that is, two runs on the same day), and January is taking this all further with one of those doubles as a tempo run, plus running my main tempo session with the fastest, “Elites” group at Run dem Crew, too.

In a lot of ways, I really enjoy being a slave to a good training plan – I enjoy the consistency of it, not having to think about how far or fast I should go, and knowing that if I push hard for three weeks, there’s a stepback week at the end of it for me. For instance, last week I ran 7 times in 6 days for a total of 73km (nearly 46 miles), which I’m pretty proud of.

The weather has not been the most optimal for running this month, and I feel sorry for the resolutioners, because this really is the worst time of year for running anyhow, let along when you’re new to it and everything’s a painful slog. But with the wet weather comes the great opportunity to run the trails and get muddy.

Muddy trainers

I’ve spoken before how I really don’t enjoy cross country, and some of you were confused at how I could enjoy trail running. I mean, they’re both off-road and muddy, right?

Not so much – my Saturday long, trail runs are a great mix of road, paths (some gravel, some woodland), open fields, hills, and some flat stretches here and there. There’s always something to look out for – tree roots, cars, pedestrians, dogs, steps, flowing streams, bridges, boot camp classes – and you’ve got to judge these hazards while moving at speed with other people and keeping your forward momentum going and your core strong to prevent any sudden movements that could lead to injury. The solid and flat bits allow you to regain something approaching normal form, and it’s a great workout overall.

Watching the Cross Country championships in Edinburgh over the weekend just made me jealous – sure, the course was entirely in open fields with some hills (and a single, hilarious hay bale to jump over!), but where were the Somme-like levels of mud I had to endure during my horrible two cross country outings? If English cross country was like what you see on tv, I might’ve actually enjoyed it. But in reality, it’s not like that at all.

The main difference between my Saturday trail runs and the cross country meets is that you there’s variety in the former. I don’t mind mud when it’s just one of a mix of experiences (and I’ve got the right footwear!), so I vastly prefer trail running to make me a more well-rounded runner.

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Half marathons in preparation for London

8 November 2013, 11:56

The cornerstone of marathon training is undoubtedly the long, slow run (LSR), but nearly every marathon training plan you’ll find also incorporates a half marathon race a 4-6 weeks before the full marathon. As my next big race is London marathon on 13 April, I’ve been looking around trying to decide which half I should enter.

Having spoken to others also running London, this seems to be a common topic of conversation now as everyone starts thinking about their 2014 race calendar, so I thought it was worth sharing my shortlist…

16 FebruaryBrighton Half (registration now closed except through charities), Brighton, UK

23 FebruaryHampton Court Half, Surrey, UK

2 MarchBath Half, Bath, UK
2 MarchSemi-marathon de Paris, Paris, France (Great race, but I’ve gone the past two years running!)
2 MarchSilverstone Half (Is it just me, or does the course look really dull though?)
2 MarchReading Half Marathon, Reading, UK (No way am I running this after Sophie’s review of last year!)
2 MarchEastbourne Half, Sussex, UK
2 MarchTunbridge Wells Half, Kent, UK
2 MarchRoma-Ostia Half, Rome, Italy

9 MarchCPC Loop The Hague, The Hague, The Netherlands
9 MarchMilton Keynes Festival of Running, Milton Keynes, UK
9 MarchCambridge Half (registration now closed except through charities), Cambridge, UK. (thanks to StrayTaoist in the comments!)

16 MarchSpitfire 20 (Miler) and its sister race, the Tempest 10 (Miler), Surrey, UK
16 MarchLeith Hill Half – plus a “Wife carrying race”!! the same day. (thanks to GoodGym for suggesting this on Twitter!) Dorking, UK

Anyone ran any of these that they could sway me one way or another? Have you signed up to any of these, or one I’ve missed? Right now I’m kinda leading towards either Surrey/Guildford, Hampton Court, or the Spitfire 20, but I could be persuaded…

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London Marathon - One Way or Another

25 October 2013, 11:39

If you’re a runner in London, you will inevitably be asked if you’ve run the marathon. “Why, yes, I’ve run two marathons!” you might reply, only to get the response “But have you run THE marathon?”.

To many average Londoners, the London Marathon is the only marathon. I’ve also been asked if my other marathons are the same length as London. To people who don’t run, London Marathon is the event, and many are only marginally aware that other marathons exist in other places in the world. So if you’ve been asked this same question for the last ten years like I have, there comes a time when you just need to suck it up and try your hardest to get a spot for London.

But that’s the other thing that non-runners don’t seem to realise – it’s really not easy to get into London Marathon. Unlike most other marathons, you can’t just sign up, pay your money, and turn up. There are only a few ways in:

How to get in



  • Sign up with a charity and agree to fundraise. This is by far the most common way to get into London, but with the going rate of £2,000 and many charities requiring you to be financially liable if you don’t raise the target amount, this isn’t one to be taken lightly. And many charities only get a handful of spots each year, so there’s competition for them, too.

  • Run another marathon in a qualifying “Good for age” (GFA) time. This requires a few years’ notice, and a lot of training. The times for men are particularly tough to achieve, and you need to apply in a short window of time around June/July the year before the race.

  • Get a ballot place. Feeling lucky? You can enter the ballot a year in advance, but you’ve got to be quick, as the limited spaces to be included in the ballot draw usually run out in a few hours. Yes, that’s just to enter the ballot, not to get a guaranteed spot! Ballot places are usually very rare indeed – last year only two people from my 200-strong running crew got in this way, though this year there are more like 10-15 for some reason. I know plenty of people who have entered the ballot for 5-10 years and never been successful.

  • Enter through your running club. EA-affiliated running clubs can apply to get a small number (usually one or two) of places to give to their members. But if you’re not already in a running club, you’re not going to get in this way anyway (and if you are, then you probably already know about this!)


(There are also two other ways of getting in if you’re faster than GFA, which Simon Freeman details nicely here)

I’m running it!

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m running the London Marathon in April 2014. So how’d I get my place? It’s more convoluted than you’d think…

When I ran my first marathon in Amsterdam last Fall, I was ecstatic that my 3:48 finish time was under my young female 3:50 GFA qualifying time, and I’d told everyone who’d listen that I’d be running London. At London marathon this year (like every year), I cheered the runners streaming past the end of my road, and I thought to myself “that’ll be me next year!”. Then London Marathon’s organisers changed the GFA times, without warning and without a notice period (when Boston Marathon changes their qualifying times, they give 18 months notice, for example). They only moved my age category by 5 minutes, but it was enough to strip me of the GFA place I’d thought I’d had for six months. This was a major blow.

After a few weeks of moping, I resigned myself to having to go the charity route. Ever since Anthony Nolan found me my anonymous bone marrow donor in 2009, they’ve been my charity of choice, but they’re also the official charity of the entire marathon this year, so they’ve got loads more spots and exposure! I’ve signed up with them, agreed to a fundraising target, and also agreed to do interviews, promotion, and anything else they need to help promote their good works. By the time I run it, it’ll be my 5th year since the transplant, so I make a good PR “success story” for them, too!

Melissa at Houses of Parliament
(Photo compliments of Anthony Nolan!)

But that’s not the end of my London Marathon saga, because while I was away in Mexico, I discovered that I was actually successful in the ballot, which I completely wasn’t expecting! So this means that I’m now free to raise whatever I can for Anthony Nolan, but without any pressure to hit a specific fundraising target. This is great, because I’ve got enough time targets of my own without adding any monetary ones into the mix!

My goals


I know April seems like a long way off, but I’ll be starting my training in a few short weeks, and while I’ve been on my scheduled break I’ve been thinking about what I hope to achieve in London.

Ultimately, I still don’t feel like I’ve had my best marathon time yet. Amsterdam was my first marathon, and though I trained hard and consistently, when I hit the wall at 30km I just didn’t know how to cope (I’m much better prepared now). And Copenhagen, well, I had barely any time to train after a serious bout with shingles left me in severe pain over the bulk of my training period, so it’s no surprise that I wasn’t able to perform to my peak on the day. In fact, it’s really a wonder I got as good a time as I did, considering!

So first and foremost, my goal is to run strong for the entire race. I feel pretty confident I can maintain a comfortable 5min/km (8min/mi) pace throughout, which would put me in around 3:30-3:35. This is my gold medal time, one I’d be thrilled to bits with. At the very least, I want to go sub-3:45 so I can earn my GFA for 2015 and rub London Marathon’s noses in it! But all of this is very contingent on my staying healthy through the winter, and not catching any major illnesses, which has been a theme of every winter since my transplant. I’m hoping that working with Energy Labs on nutrition and training, plus the added time since the transplant will improve matters this year.

Come April, I’ll be running on home turf, on familiar streets, with the course running right past the end of our road. The crowds will be cheering, I’ll run through Tower Bridge on the road for the first time ever, and I’ll pass through my crew’s cheering station at Mile 21 on feet made of pillows. I can visualise my crossing the finish line on the Embankment, and the elation and relief, but the time on that yellow clock is still a bit fuzzy. Bring it on.

If I’ve inspired you, please consider donating to Anthony Nolan on my behalf.

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