It’s been a few months since I’ve posted anything, so I thought now would be a good time to catch up. You may remember that in one of my last posts, I announced that Steve and I had signed up to run the London Marathon for a charity called the Lullaby Trust. That was in August. Since then, we’ve started to actually train for the marathon, and opened up a whole new world of pain we never knew existed!
I mentioned in August that neither of us are particularly into running, but I don’t think anyone really appreciates just how true that is. We are not fit and healthy but just haven’t turned our minds to running, and we weren’t amateur joggers and have just stepped it up to another level. We hadn’t run at all. We started in August by doing the NHS Choices Couch to 5K Programme. That took us in 9 weeks from no running at all to be able to run 5 kilometers. The only problem, is that the Marathon is more like 42km.
So we came up with a plan. We decided that each week we would run three times, a 5K, a 10K and building up a mile each week. We were quite good at doing that all the way through September and October, but at the end of October we did a 9 mile run, from Swansea Marina along the sea front as far as West Cross- which was a huge achievement for us- but Steve injured his foot, and we were out of action over Christmas. Looking back, we didn’t do any stretching either before or after our runs, we only took water with us, and afterwards we were refuelling with a chocolate milkshake and a Chinese takeaway, so it’s a miracle that it took that long for us to get injured.
In the time that we stopped running we did a bit more research into what runners actually need to make it those long distances. We learnt about the importance of stretching, particularly after the runs; about eating sensibly beforehand, leaving time to digest food, and having little bursts of sugar along the route; about drinking enough on the run without drinking too much; and about having the proper kit.
In January we were ready to get back on it. We went onto the London Marathon website and committed ourselves to a training plan- Martin Yelling’s 16 week training schedule for first time finishers. We also headed over to Run and Become in Cardiff to have our gait analysed and invest in some proper trainers and running gear. We researched running nutrition and stocked up on SIS energy gels and protein shake. We were starting to become a bit more professional.
Unfortunately, no-one told our bodies that. Our heads had so much trouble getting over the idea that we would have to go outside in the cold to run, that for months we did all our running at the gym on the treadmill. We both now have gym memberships at the LC Swansea, which I’m not convinced are going to have much use after April! Although the treadmill was a lot warmer, drier, and easier on our knees, it was incredibly boring, and as the runs got longer we realised we would eventually have to go back outside again.
The other problem with the runs getting longer, is that they were taking more and more time. We started off doing our long runs on Saturday evenings after we’d dropped the kids back home, but as we were getting closer and closer to the gym closing on us, while the sea front path was dark with no street lights, we realised it wasn’t going to work for much longer. So for the last couple of weeks, the mini-Buntings have been pulled into our training as a support team, and have come alongside us on their bikes. Initially they found the idea really exciting, but after they realised just how far we were running, they were less enthused, and we the bribery of sweets was the main thing that got them out. It was a huge help for us though knowing that they could carry extra water and kit, and that if we needed to take off a layer, that we could just load it onto a bike. Despite the complaining they did really well- and we didn’t make them go the whole way, there’s a couple of useful ice cream shops en route that we could meet them at!
As our runs got longer we started to discover quite a few niggles and aches, and problems that came up at the same point in each run. Both of us tend to have pretty sore calves the day after, and thighs hurting when we get above 14 miles or so. I’ve found that between an hour and an hour and a half I’ll need to toilet- which I later discovered is because that’s the point when your body is starting to divert energy away to keep your core organs going, and one of the places it takes it from is your digestive system. Now, I know that it’s going to happen and I can run through and ignore it, but I did panic the first few times, particularly as most of the public toilets are closed at this time of year!
The most difficult run we’ve done was the first 13 mile run. I wasn’t feeling well before starting, and so couldn’t stomach the idea of taking any energy gels. I had water with me, but that wasn’t enough to keep me going for that distance, so by mile 9 I hit a wall. I was feeling sick, dizzy, tired and cold, and I just sat down by the side of the path and didn’t want to get up. It was only because Steve was there shouting at me that there were only (!) 4 more miles to go, that he couldn’t leave me there in the dark on my own and there was no other way to get home, that I managed to get up and finish. It taught me an important lesson about nutrition though, and that week I did more research and discovered the wonder of jelly babies. They have the perfect amount of sugar, they’re easy to carry, they dissolve in your mouth, and you don’t have the eat the whole thing in one go. For the following two long runs- 15 miles and then 17 miles, I took jelly babies and didn’t have a problem again.
A few weeks into our training we decided it would be a good idea to sign up for another race before the marathon so that we could experience race conditions, and so we signed up for the Cardiff Half Marathon- although this year it happened to be the IAAF World Half Marathon. After doing a 17 mile run the week before, we were pretty confident about our ability to do it; but what we hadn’t factored in was that it was at the end of Holy Week, which for us vicars is pretty busy, and so we were already fairly tired. We also didn’t realise how nervous knowing you’re in a race makes you, so both of us had trouble sleeping and were packing and re-packing our bags the night before- despite the fact we were only going an hour by train, we took way more than we would normally need!
The day of the Cardiff Half was wet and cold and windy. We’re used to just starting to run whenever we want, so we found standing at the starting line in the wind and rain for an hour was not a pleasant experience. It gave us far too much time to think about all the things that could go wrong!
The course itself was quite a nice one, you started at the castle, ran down to Penarth through town, across the barrage, through the docks to the Millenium centre, back up towards Roath, around the lake, and ended up outside the University. There were a couple of little slopes, but no serious hills or anything remotely approaching an obstacle to avoid. However, when we got to Penarth Marina the heavens opened and we were drenched within seconds. It was so wet that my sweat band got too heavy to stay on my head and fell off, so that I had to carry it for the next 5 miles, using it to wipe the rain out of my eyes and squeezing the water out. The weather also wasn’t very helpful as we crossed the barrage, and the wind tried to push us back to the other side.
It was a completely different experience running with so many others though, one that I found encouraged me rather than pulled me back- even when I was being overtaken by Spiderman! It was also fantastic having a crowd there cheering you on- particularly for Steve who had his name on his vest, that’s definitely something I need to sort out before London! Fortunately the rain eased off for most of the run. Steve was doing really well, pulling energy from the crowd, and somehow managed to notice where every photographer was and make it look like he was enjoying himself!
I was not so good at enjoying myself. My leg started hurting pretty early on, and even though I knew that I could do that distance, I started struggling. Steve was amazing though and pulled me through the race. He could tell when I really needed to walk and when to push me to keep going. He grabbed drinks and jelly babies for me from the crowd. He never left my side and made sure that we started and finished together. Just before mile 12 he was pushing to not stop until the end, but then we turned a corner to see a huge (or seemed to be!) hill, and that idea quickly disappeared. We walked- quickly- up the hill, carried on running, and then came to the cemetery where one of our college professors was playing the sax, so a much needed hug kept me going a little bit further. For the last mile we knew that we were nearly at the end, but couldn’t see the finish line. As we came about 500 yards away I saw another slope in the road ahead of us and was completely gutted. But Steve took my hand and pulled me up, and didn’t let go until we crossed the finish line. With about 20 yards to go I finally heard a shout of “Go on Steve and Rachel!” and saw Jeanette from St Thomas shouting in the stands. That was enough to finish off, and we crossed the finish line still holding hands and still running.
After the race we were given medals and t-shirts, which we still haven’t taken off yet (!) as well as the all important bananas, water, foil blankets and protein bars. It was such an incredible feeling to cross the finish line that it makes me equally nervous and excited for London. Excited because of the extra pride that will come from having completed a whole marathon, and nervous from the knowledge of how painful the half was, how much pain will be in and will we even finish it? We also discovered that, despite the fact we were side by side for the entire route, somehow our timing was logged as completely different from each other. As they lost my race pack and I was given a new bib number, I’m going to assume that Steve’s is more accurate- also because it makes more sense, and so we had a finish time of 2hr 33 mins. I’m hoping that for the marathon we’ll be able to finish in under 5 and a half hours, but just finishing will be enough for me!
We’ve still got a bit of training left to do still- a 20 mile run at the end of this week and then we’re starting to taper towards the marathon. Over the next 4 weeks we’ll be checking in quite frequently with the physio, eating a lots of carbs, and trying to get a lot more sleep than normal! We’ll also be making a final push towards our fundraising target, with a Charity night on the 9th April in St Thomas, and our sponsorship page still open at Virgin Money Giving. If you want any more information on the charity we’re sponsoring, you can check them out at The Lullaby Trust, or see back to my previous post Run, run as fast as you can (mind the pacing!)
We’re happy to take any advice, prayers and support in the meantime for all you seasoned runners who know what you’re doing! Anything that will help us complete the marathon and not die would be very useful!