The Pain and the Glory

Today is the 1 year anniversary of the day I started the couch to 5k programme (and found running for 60 seconds a bit uncomfortable).

Today I am hobbling about with a big grin on my face, blisters on my feet and very sore bum muscles as I completed my first marathon yesterday.

I was extremely nervous as I removed myself from the safety of the loo and set off towards the start line from my house, clad in Lycra, my very special running top with my name and the thin blue line flag on it and a foil blanket which looked like a space-age super hero cape billowing behind me (although I definitely didn’t feel like a super hero!).

The start was bustling and a couple of blokes were running a warm up, bouncing up and down on top of a cherry picker while someone was shouting motivational things through a tannoy but I was in too much of a blind panic to hear anything they said – 26.2 miles lay ahead of me and I seemed to have accidentally placed myself in the middle of the 4hour pacer group full of athletic-looking people with serious expressions and club vests. Too late to move back a bit – as I hastily shoved my headphones into my ears and tried to put my phone into the pouch behind me, the race began and I found myself surging forwards towards the blue archway… and through it…

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The cheering from the start line and my frantically waving children faded behind me as I began the 7 mile stretch towards Doune. The serious club runners passed by me one by one on the long, straight road as I trotted along at my own, sedate pace (Liz McColgan’s mantra ‘do not start too fast!’ running through my mind). Just after the first water stop by the safari park, I saw the first runner of the day puking on the grass verge… I winced as I suspected she had a long day ahead of her.

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After the long uphill, bit of downhill, bridge, castle, steep uphill, I saw the first of the Doune supporters cheering and enthusiastically thrusting tubs of jelly babies at the runners (this was the beginning of what would turn out to be the consumption of my entire body weight in jelly babies over the next few hours). I was pleased to see a friend from work and his little boy and, just beyond the village and the nice lady with flapjacks, my husband and friend Abi (the marathon cycle support crew for me, my father-in-law, Patric, and friend, Darren). I felt ok at this point and flung my discarded items of clothing at them as I passed, smiling.

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The next section contained hills. I am not fond of hills but plodded on regardless, including a bit of power walking between bouts of running to preserve energy amongst the undulations. The fields stretched out all around me to the mountains beyond and, finally, I crossed the bridge over the M9 and started a lovely downhill bit into Dunblane. I was so glad of the downhill as there were many people standing on the pavements and I didn’t want to appear wobbly at ‘just’ 11 miles (I still cared about what people thought at this point). More high fives, vast quantity of jelly babies, golden post box and a dual carriageway later and I had reached the part I was actually looking forward to – a 2 mile steady downhill section into Bridge of Allan. My husband met me at the halfway point and yelled at me to carry on. I started to notice a few runners looking pained and limping at this point – it was a good place for the physiotherapist tent to be and I suspect they patched up a fair few people.

I ran past the Run4It running shop in Bridge if Allan and remembered the time I attended an evening of talks there in May last year giving advice for half marathon runners. The talks were followed by a 5k run which was a gentle stroll to all of the other people present but which left me gasping for air quite a distance behind the main group with a kindly chap who took pity on me and stayed back with me having a one way conversation as I was unable to speak (and hadn’t yet completed the couch to 5k programme at that point, and was a total beginner). Now I was running a section of that very same route but as part of a marathon and this was a reminder of how far I have come (physically and metaphorically).

When I reached the university grounds I realised, as I approached the 16 mile flag, that this was the distance I had covered in training and that the next 10.2 miles were a complete unknown. So I took a deep breath (partly to try to get rid of a painful stitch) and continued into the unknown with the rain and sweat making my eyes sting.

At 18 miles the course turned towards the Ochil Hills for a 4 mile square of country lanes – I could see the runners who were 4 miles ahead of me on the other side of the roundabout heading towards Stirling town and started to feel like I was entering the difficult section mentally at this point. The runners had thinned out and there weren’t many people (or jelly babies) supporting in this remote section so I took my phone out of my pouch to look for some motivation… there were 55 messages on Facebook and numerous text messages from friends – my fingers were so swollen that I couldn’t respond properly to any of them but reading a few of them cheered me up and I turned up my music and power walked onwards as fast as I could manage, desperately trying to hold in the wee I needed as the next toilets were many miles away.

The very welcome view of the Peak marked the entrance to Stirling (closely followed by the unsavoury pong of the sewage works which motivated me move faster to get past it to fresh air again). The speed bumps felt like mountains but I felt triumphant as I staggered over the 40km tracker mat… just the distance of the kids race which I had done with my daughters on Saturday left to go.

More speed walking, I was actually passing people now for the first time; more desperate grabbing of sweets; a high street with people who had been wearily clapping for hours and I finally turned up the road to the finish line. I have run up that road several times before but it has never felt so difficult – what sort of sadist would finish a marathon on an uphill section which requires Sherpas to navigate (even if the daffodils are pretty)?!?

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At last! The finish line!!! The blue arch of glory! I could hear very loud and enthusiastic yelling to my right – my family screaming at me to run! So I stared intently at the timer display and ran through thick, imaginary treacle towards and under that hallowed arch and out the other side.

I couldn’t quite believe I had done it!

I stumbled in a daze into the tennis court medal area and found Kevin, one of my fellow Liz McColgan challenge first time marathoners. He had finished just ahead of me and was also a bit dazed and very relieved to be in one piece. My thoughts turned to the other people I knew who had run – Patric, Darren and Steven in the marathon and Barbara, Sian and Aline in the half marathon. I hoped they were all ok and had finished in the times they wanted. As I staggered away from the goody bags area, my husband found me and I had the most fantastic hug and a little cry. I was the proud owner of a lovely medal and a pair of very wobbly legs and I was looking forward to a lot of guilt-free cake.

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In the middle of the night, I awoke from my food and prosecco-addled deep sleep to find a small child invading my side of the bed so, being unable to carry her back to her own bed, I relocated myself to her bed instead. As I lay down under the Paw Patrol duvet, I checked my phone to see what time it was and noticed that I had 38 unread emails which had definitely not been there hours earlier when I went to bed. Who on earth would be emailing me at 3am?! The emails were all from JustGiving telling me that donations had been made to my marathon fundraising page for Care Of Police Survivors (COPS). I couldn’t understand why, all of a sudden, so many people would donate to my page… but then I realised that all of these people were police officers or related in some way to policing. It turns out that UK Cop Humour (a great page with over 254,000 followers on Facebook alone) had shared an earlier post by COPS with a link to my fundraising page, encouraging the night shift to help me to meet my target of £500 (I was about £60 off my target when I went to bed). Thanks to that amazing gesture and the kindness of the policing family and lovely people who have never met me, as well as my generous friends and family, my marathon fund sits at £1236.50 plus gift aid at the time of writing this. I am totally stunned and so, so grateful! It makes the pain entirely worth while and I hope COPS can help someone in future with that money.

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This whole experience has been such a rollercoaster, from the moment I decided to sign up for the marathon while feeling very emotional cheering on the amazing runners in Stirling last May, to battling through the 5k mark, then 10k, followed my first half marathon in the pouring rain. Then the moment I was chosen to be coached by Liz McColgan; the 5k around Holyrood Park in January; battling through the blizzards which seemed to last for months; the low of my first DNS for the Coniston14 race; the pain of the longest long run while ill and the joy of feeling better. The tapering, maranoia, excitement, the start line and the finish many jelly babies later.

Would I do another marathon? I have decided to never say never – life is too short for that.

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The night before…

Pre-race checklist:

– Elaborate photo shoot and interviews for various media outlets, involving elite athlete and Provost of Stirling. ✅
– Dye hair magenta. ✅
– Do Childrens 2k race with daughters and smile as their proudly wear their medals. ✅
– Drive the length of the course, taking note of water stop locations and sheer massive distance of it. ✅
– Eat way too much in the pub. ✅
– Take obligatory photo of kit and post onto social media with appropriate poo emoji. ✅
– Charge All The Devices. ✅
– Panic add many (probably annoying) songs to playlist. ✅
– Write final blog post. ✅
– Panic a bit. ✅
– Bed.

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Please, please help me to the finish line tomorrow by donating anything you can to Care of Police Survivors: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/erica-gilchrist1 Thank you!

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The Final Countdown

I spent much of Sunday watching the London marathon and the fact that 26.2 miles is a VERY LONG WAY slapped me across the face like a particularly large, damp haddock. I watched the elite runners and wheelchair racers glide along and I watched the ones who would finish at 7 or 8 hours plus purposefully striding past the Cutty Sark while others were collecting their medals. The sheer determination of every one of them was an absolute inspiration and I found myself blubbing at the stories of those who had battled way more than just the marathon.

And, in 5 day’s time, I will attempt to summon that determination to reach my own finish line.

What on earth have I let myself in for?!??!

The first road closure signs popped up around Stirling last week – I passed four of them on a single short run and there were more everywhere I looked. I couldn’t even take my mind off it at the swimming pool because there were notices there too! It really brought it home to me that the training has nearly finished and that the Big Day was looming and so began full-on, classic maranoia (marathon paranoia). I started to have strange dreams, phantom aches and pains and immediately reached for the antibacterial hand gel and first defence nasal spray.

I dreamt I was running the marathon but it involved having to solve escape rooms along the route and go through packed pubs and down water slides with z-list celebrities and the marshals kept closing roads in front of me. In the section of the route through Stirling University the route went through the actual university buildings and I got lost in the corridors and lots of students were staring at me wondering why a sweaty lunatic was running through their faculty. At the end of my dream it was dark and after ‪7pm‬ when I finished and my kids were crying because they had waited at the finish for so long and wanted to go home!
In another dream I had to take my daughter to dance class in the morning of the marathon and had to commandeer a kid’s balance bike to get to the start area on time.

Truth is (and you might already have guessed this), I am incredibly nervous about the marathon. My training has been compromised at times by snow, illness and life logistics and my longest long run was ‘only’ 16 miles due to me having a nasty bug at the time. The next 10.2 miles will be completely uncharted territory for me and I just don’t know if my stupid inner chimp will get the better of me or not.

There is only one way to find out.

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Just 5 days to go! Please help me to fight my self doubt and just get on with it by donating anything you can to Care of Police Survivors: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/erica-gilchrist1 Thank you!

3 Weeks To Go

In three weeks and five minute’s time I will be standing at the start of the Stirling marathon course (probably cacking myself and curled up in a ball of nervous excitement and dread).

How did race day creep up on me with so much stealth and cunning? Last time I looked it was 5 months away!!!

Last Sunday I completed my first run as a 40-year-old and it happened to be the longest long run on the training plan. However, I had been suffering with a grim flu-type-bug for over a week (which had led to my first ever DNS the weekend before at the Coniston 14 mile race), so I only covered 16 miles while struggling to breathe and producing inordinate amounts of snot (so glamorous). It was the furthest distance I have ‘run’ (there was a bit of walking involved too) and, although I was struggling and feeling unwell, I was pleased to be far fitter than I was for my last 10 birthdays and beyond.

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The DNS (did not start) at Coniston really knocked my confidence and I felt genuinely sad to watch the runners heading off along the road away from the start, following the shore of the lake. I cheered my father-in-law off and then sat in the car and e-mailed Liz McColgan for advice about how to avoid losing fitness and train when the lurgy had floored me (I was extremely lucky and won an opportunity to be coached by Liz McColgan through the Great Run Company and she is available to help remotely when we need advice). She replied almost immediately and, with some ideas and reassurance that my fitness would not dip after just a week or two of compromised training, I felt a bit better and wandered down to the lake with my mega pack of tissues to watch the runners on their way to the finish along the opposite shore.

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My father in law finished 4th in his age group in a time of 2hrs01. He was disgruntled at being beaten by two runners in his 70+ age group from Fenland Runners. “Fenland is flat!!!”. The Coniston14 course was definitely not flat.

This week I have been experiencing the Marathon Doubts… the slow 16 miles seemed like a very long way and my body was creaking like an ancient Austin Metro with fingers swollen like fat sausages by the end of it. How will I manage another 10.2 miles (that 0.2 is very important)?!?!

I suspect that the maranoia will only become more pronounced as the tapering begins.

Think of the cake. Just think of the cake. Keep going.

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Now that the Big Day is so close please help me to fight my self doubt and just get on with it by donating anything you can to Care of Police Survivors: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/erica-gilchrist1 Thank you!

The Beast and Self Doubt

A red warning for snow has been issued for the Central Belt of Scotland…’. I sighed and concluded that this was probably not an optimum situation for marathon training.

I had already bought a big pile of food a few days earlier but the gannets had already eaten it all, so I trudged off into the Siberian wilderness (also known as the Raploch area of Stirling) to buy as much as I could squeeze into my rucksack to last a couple of days. It was eerie to see the usually busy streets totally empty and the school buildings closed as the snow clouds darkened but it turned out that everyone was busy stripping the shelves at Sainsbury’s of blizzard survival essentials such as Irn Bru, bread, Irn Bru, milk, and Irn Bru.

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My training plan involves three runs per week, with the longest runs being on Sundays. I had occasionally adjusted the timing of some runs and had missed one or two due to illness, childcare arrangements and snow and ice earlier in the winter but, before the Beast from the East arrived, I had stuck as closely as possible to the plan and felt reasonably confident that all was going well.

But the Beast heralded the ‘self doubt’ phase (at least I hope it is a phase!!!).

For almost a week high winds and heavy snowfall pummelled my area and one training run was missed… then two… By the weekend mild panic had set in and I dug out my fleecy leggings and went out into the snow with yaktrax ice grips attached to my trainers to attempt something resembling a long training run.

It was good to finally be out of the house in the cold fresh air and away from the squabbles of bored children but running on a slippery, slushy, lumpy snow and ice mix was very hard work. Some of snow reached half way up my shins. I managed 9 slow miles before hobbling into a much needed hot bath and worrying about how long that 9 miles had taken to travel.

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The snow finally began to melt just as my husband headed off to work away from home last week, so another two mid-week runs were missed while I was chief after-school club taxi driver, bum wiper, chef, etc.

The self doubt crept closer and closer. What if the missed runs mean I won’t be fit enough for the marathon?

On Mother’s Day I did my own, private half marathon (as per the plan). I decided to incorporate the last part of the marathon course into my run to make me think of race day and reaching that finish line (and to imagine the cake which would be eaten after the race to celebrate). I saw so many jolly-faced runners all zooming about effortlessly as I plodded along in an ungainly manner through Cornton and Bridge of Allan. But, however undignified my running style, I was still out there covering the miles (albeit at the pace of a comatose newt after a heavy night down at the pond).

Unfortunately, at about mile 6, I realised that I hadn’t accounted for that part of the marathon course which involves a very busy A-road with no pavement! I couldn’t bear to turn around and go back the way I had come several miles to the only other river crossing, so I found myself hacking my way through the brambles, spiky low-hanging tree branches and thick, oozy mud like a cross between Bear Grylls and the kids from ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’. I might have sworn quite a lot and ended up climbing over two fences after 2km of feral exploration in order to find a bit of pavement again (and to avoid actually finding a bear, having to drink my own pee or losing an eyeball to a malicious twig).

I swear that the final couple of miles of my solo half marathon were definitely further than standard miles.

More self doubt. A marathon is such a long way! How will I manage twice the half marathon distance in just 7 weeks?!? But many, many people just like me do manage it. If they can, then I can too (I think?).

Now that I’m at the business end of marathon training… I have so many miles to travel over the next 7 weeks until the big day… please help me to fight my self doubt and just get on with it by donating anything you can to Care of Police Survivors: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/erica-gilchrist1

Thank you!

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On My Mind

One of the reasons I started running was to have some time to myself to think without small children dangling from my arms and legs. As much as I love my children and their fondness of accessorising my limbs, sometimes I need time to process thoughts with clarity and with minimal interjections from the Paw Patrol.

Today marks one year since my friend Katie’s death. She was an amazing person who loved life and lived it as well as she could – no excuses – despite the limitations of cystic fibrosis. Her hand-painted Doc Martins gave me a firm kick up the backside and prompted me to put my trainers on and go out. The impression she has left on me (and many others) is as strong and positive as ever. Earlier this month I attended another funeral. I had never met her, but this funeral was for a tiny but feisty little girl named Robyn whose personality shone brightly throughout the short time she had. I was reminded of Katie when the lady leading the service said “we must all do the best we can with what we have”. I suspect that Robyn and Katie would have been friends and I imagined Robyn with her own tiny pair of outrageously decorated boots kicking all of the people there forward and onwards.

And so, reminded once again of what I have to be thankful for, I endeavour to do the best I can with what I have. While I am out running, I often think of them and I think of my family – the stresses and strains my husband faces at work; the challenges my youngest daughter faces as she heads towards big school; the growing resilience and understanding of the world which my oldest daughter is developing; my parents and sister in North Wales; my worries about the children at work and the lives which some of them are experiencing…

Sometimes my thoughts leave me with a heavy heart and I need that time to process my sadness. Sometimes my thoughts are filled with happiness – the certificate which my daughter brought home from nursery announcing that she ‘happily joined in with group time’; the concerto for violin and kazoo which my other daughter treated me to; spring flowers emerging from grass verges; medals for team GB at the Winter Olympics; the anticipation of chocolate and a hot bath.

Running is about more than ‘getting fit’ to me. It is not about being fast or competing against others. It slows down time for me so I can stop, think and take in a moment of clarity before returning to the noise and constant rush of my everyday.

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To read about Robyn’s story, please see this link. Her mums are raising money for the Glasgow Children’s Hospital to buy comfy chairs for parents to cuddle their little girls and boys in the NICU, which will be a beautiful legacy in Robyn’s memory. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/remarkablerascal-robyn

To help me reach the finish line of my first marathon, please give just a few pennies to COPS, who look after the families of police officers who have died on duty. Thank you.
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/erica-gilchrist1

Adverse Weather Conditions

The thing about spring marathons is that the majority of the training for them takes place in the winter months… and, in Scotland, the winter weather can sometimes be particularly unfriendly for runners.

On Tuesday last week I woke to a slight covering of snow but, being short on opportunities to do training runs, I went out in it anyway and slipped around on the half slush puppy/ half powder snow mixture, taking a few photos as I went of the midwinter landscape. At this point I thought the snow looked lovely and quite enjoyed looking at it as I skated along.

On Wednesday more snow had fallen and partially melted before freezing again and forming a bumpy, unpredictable ice rink all over the roads and pavements. I realised a few seconds into my Wednesday night run that I could not even walk on the pavements, let alone run on them… but, having battled for half an hour to get into my sports bra, I was not willing to abandon my run. Instead I took to the grass verges and followed them towards my local pub. Here I resisted the temptation to go inside and enjoy their fine food and drink and, instead, ran around and around on a patch of grass outside the pub until I had reached 3 miles (while onlookers inside the cosy pub watched this complete muppet doing laps in the snow with slightly puzzled expressions as they tucked into their scampi and chips). I then trotted home back along the grass verges feeling smug about remaining upright. The snow started to lose some of its appeal at this point.

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Around and around outside the pub

Thursday and Friday passed… more snow and ice (especially on Friday when I got stuck several times in the car on the nursery run and the schools were all closed from lunchtime). I was in the process of cursing my lack of access to a treadmill when the local leisure centre and gym also closed due to the ongoing blizzard.

Saturday – another very slow run emulating a Z-list celebrity attempting to figure skate on prime time TV. With all dignity left far behind me, I staggered and tiptoed my way through 5 miles in -4 degrees and found my mood much improved through a bit of fresh air and exercise after several days cooped up with one hyperactive child and another poorly and grumpy child.

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Sunday’s forecast was for yet more snow so I managed to squeeze in one more training run before the dark clouds swept in once again. This time the snow and ice had softened (it was a toasty -1 by this point) and it felt like I was running on powdery snow sand and hard pebbles of ice… my calves were burning from working so hard to prevent me from falling but I made it home in one piece moments before the huge, flumpy flakes fell once more.

Monday saw Storm Georgina finally melt the snow with torrential rain and the roads, finally clear of ice, disappeared under flood water.

Yesterday I finally returned to the training plan. Running on snow and flood-free pavements again felt great and, even with planned walking breaks between each interval of running, I scored a new 10k personal best time! This was particularly special as it was actually a few seconds faster than the only pre-kids 10k I did in 2009! I was very happy with that and will make the most of being able to run on actual pavements, rather than inches of ice… until the next blizzard arrives.

If you would like to kick my rear end towards the finish line of my first marathon, please help me by donating to Care of Police Survivors! https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/erica-gilchrist1