I never thought I could run a marathon. Ten years battling obesity, negative body image and low self esteem, I had decisively written off those 26.2miles. They weren’t destined for me, and the dreams I had as a child whilst watching the London Marathon, would only ever be dreams. Assuming I would never rise to such a challenge, I decided I would forever be an average at best 10km runner. But then something changed, and within one year I went from never having run further than 10km to training for my first ever marathon, and what better way to start than with the London Marathon. This is a frank and honest account of how I went from 0 to 26.2miles, the ups and downs of marathon training and why you should never give up on your dreams. Grab a cuppa and some snacks, this may take a while!
I’m always open about how I came to running, I started running regularly to deal with stress and anxiety. I had to escape the cycle of grief I found myself caught up in and I turned to running as it gave me the mental clarity I needed. I’m sure a lot of runners can relate to the feeling of calm running can give you, by putting one foot in front of the other all negative thoughts were quiet and I could escape, even if just for an hour.
Things didn’t get easier and in July 2016 I underwent surgery following complications arising from my first cervical smear. This wasn’t something I expected to face at 25 years old, and was a frightening time. Not only because I was worried for my health, and fearful of the surgery as it was my first general anaesthetic, but the thought of taking weeks out from running (the one thing keeping me sane) added to the pressures I felt. In amongst all this I was trying to work three part time jobs and finish my PhD thesis. After my surgery I set up my Instagram account as a way to help motivate me and keep my spirits up as I returned to running. The surgery was successful, my health improved and I returned to running feeling stronger than ever, both physically and mentally.
I had been running for 8 months when I was given a place on the ASICS FrontRunner UK Team. I wasn’t a serious runner, I wasn’t fast, I had never run further than 10km, so to be awarded an opportunity to learn and grow, whilst surrounded by a wonderfully supportive community of like minded runners felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I really couldn’t believe my luck. As part of the first UK team meet up in April 2017, I ran a relay of the Manchester Marathon with Jools and Alex. I ran the last 11km, the glory lap to the finish and it was incredible. I had always assumed that I would never run further than 10km. Mainly out of the fear of running further. But that day I ran 11.39km to the finish, my longest ever run at this point. The atmosphere heading towards the finish was incredible, crowds three people deep in places cheering on the runners. I knew I wanted to do a marathon, but I thought that this would be something I would maybe have a go at in a few years time. Little did I know just over one year later I would be toeing the line at the London marathon.
Assuming a marathon was years away I thought I may as well have a stab at a half marathon. I trained, didn’t expect much (in fact I expected to hate it!) and rocked up to Swansea Half Marathon with a sense of dread. Who was I kidding? I was so far out of my depth I kept telling myself. These nerves soon passed, a decision from ASICS Teammate Aaron (@bristolrunner) to pace me worked wonders. I am forever grateful to have had Aaron by my side as I think I would have given up if he hadn’t been there rallying me to keep going. After Swansea I had the bug, and later that year I went on to run Ealing and West Coast Half, just two weeks apart. A marathon was still the dream, London was still the goal, but that was way off in the future right?!
One October evening coming home on the train after a mental day at work, I received a call from my ASICS FrontRunner team mate Corey, who bluntly said down the phone “I want to give you my London Marathon Place.” I thought I had heard wrong, but she was serious. Corey had a place, which due to circumstances she was able to transfer and she wanted to make my London dream a reality. So, on a packed rush hour train out of Charing Cross I did my best to keep calm, not scream down the phone, whilst shedding a few happy tears onto the commuter besides me.
At first I didn’t tell anybody. Part of me was in denial that it was actually happening, part of me was waiting for it to all go wrong, things like this didn’t happen to me and I was expecting reality would kick in at some point. However, in November my charity pack arrived on the doorstep and the fundraising and training began. Up until Christmas I focussed on just practicing running further for longer. I managed to get comfortable running 10 miles. I also started practicing nutrition strategies and by the end of November I had managed to reach 22km without stopping- at this stage this was the furthest I had ever run. I took some time off over Christmas and came back feeling ready and raring to go. In order to maximise my weekend I started trying the ‘parkrun sandwich’ recommended to me by Martha (@martha_runs) and I found this a fantastic way to motivate myself and break up the monotony of running alone. Just when I felt like I was getting into my stride with my training disaster struck and I took a fall whilst running. Tripping on an uneven paving stone 5 miles from home brought me back to Earth with a bang, literally and metaphorically. As after the incident, I was forced to rest and in crept all these doubts: who was I kidding thinking I could train for a marathon?!
Two weeks later I headed back up north to run the MadDog 10km. I promised myself I would take it easy as it was only the second run back after my fall and I was being careful not to tear open the grazes on my legs. It felt comfortable and I sailed to a new PB of 47:29 over a minute and a half quicker than I had completed this race in 2017. This gave me the motivation I needed and the belief that once again London could be mine.
I booked in a half marathon to test my training and sure enough I was rewarded with another PB meaning in 8 months I had taken ten and a half minutes of my half marathon time. I really felt like I was on the right track. Was this is, was I really growing into a marathon runner? But again disaster struck and a few knee issues meant I needed another ten days of rest. Thankfully it was nothing more than some good rest couldn’t fix. This period of rest again knocked my spirits, but I tried to stay positive, after all I was so lucky to be training for my dream marathon.
Back to running and the longer runs were getting tough. Almost every weekend I tackled a new and longer distance and the realisation that I was approaching the big 20+ mile training runs was frightening but exciting too. With 3 weeks to go I headed out on my longest run. I was aiming for 24 miles but not even 10km in I knew I was in trouble. My legs were like lead and I felt exhausted. The weather didn’t help, pouring rain and driving wind. I stepped into what I thought was some surface water and watched my calf disappear in what was actually quite a deep puddle. Soaked from head to toe I shed some tears of frustration and settled for just short of 22 miles. It would do and with that I was now tapering.
But even tapering wasn’t simple. At first I loved it. I felt refreshed, physically and mentally and was loving running for fun again. But yet again another knee issue. This time it seemed as if my knee couldn’t adjust to the lower mileage and after three straight days of rest over my boyfriend’s birthday weekend I found myself at our local emergency care centre with a boiling hot knee that had doubled in size in the time it had taken me to travel home from work. The doctor confirmed I had bursitis- an infection in the fluid behind the knee cap. With just two weeks until the marathon I was put on a course of antibiotics and booked in for an assessment to see if I would be able to run. Usually I would have been driven into a panic, but the one positive was I had no knee pain and despite the swelling and heat I could still bear weight and walk normally. The antibiotics cleared the infection and my marathon dream was back on.
The lead up to the London Marathon was so exciting. I visited the expo on the Wednesday and collected my number. Oh my gosh this is really happening I thought! On Friday I headed back to explore some more with Martha and Livvy (@thenutritiousrunner) we had so much fun exploring the stands, stocking up on goodies and eating all the free samples.
The Saturday before the marathon I was a bag of nerves and felt really unwell. Carb loading and resting didn’t agree with me and left me feeling sluggish. I was gutted to miss the ASICS X Jaybird hashrun but I needed some extra sleep and a chance to try deal with the nerves. On the morning of the 22 April I woke up as a runner, but that evening I went to bed as a marathoner.
The marathon morning was a bit surreal. I headed to Greenwich to meet Livvy (@thenutritiousrunner) and I’m so glad we got to share the start pen experience together, I would have been way too nervous on my own, and both of us were running our first marathon. As the heat built, we sat in the shade, both knowing we had a huge task ahead but hoping that we were only hours away from becoming marathoners. As the runners started to move forward I remember grabbing Livvy’s hand, we really were about to run the London Marathon.
After about a mile I pushed on, descending down into Woolwich- my London home. Reaching the Woolwich Ferry roundabout I knew the start zones were merging and I started looking for Martha. As I reached Plumstead Road, Woolwich, around mile two I was flying. This was my turf, this is where I ran on a weekly basis and this was my community. I felt emotional seeing all the communities of Woolwich coming together to support- in all honesty aside from the finish this was my favourite part of the marathon. As we headed into Charlton I realised I was beginning to feel very thirsty and started desperately searching for the water station. Finally I saw the volunteers waving the little bottles, I drank and I doused and I was on my way. Everything felt amazing, until I reached the Cutty Sark.
Six miles in the exhaustion of the heat hit me hard. I slowed and took on some energy blocks. When I reached Deptford I saw Anna. I was initially really confused, I hadn’t expected to see anyone I knew running, I was only looking out for people in the crowd and then to my horror I realised it was a Lucozade station with no water. Desperately I took some Lucozade, but with no water to cool myself with I knew I was in trouble. Soon my legs began to feel heavy and I had a bit of a cry. I had given my all to my training and I hadn’t even reached ten miles before I was forced to walk and send a desperate text message to my boyfriend saying I was struggling.
The next few miles were a blur, I desperately used my hydration powders and tried to focus on running in the shade. The crowd lifted me and I was running again, out of nowhere I rounded a corner and was suddenly faced with the looming figure of Tower Bridge. I crossed in tears, this was my dream and I was running it. I had almost made it to the half way point of the London Marathon. I was a half marathon from achieving what was once impossible.
Shortly after Tower Bridge I saw my boyfriend, Guy on the opposite side of the road. I felt a rush of energy as I frantically waved and blew kisses. But as I turned back to the task ahead I burst into tears once again, it would be another 9 or so miles before I saw Guy again, and I knew that I had a tough battle ahead. Knowing I was just over two hours in, I started searching through the faces of the runners on the opposite side of the road looking out for any of the FrontRunners. Then Matt came into view, I ran to the barrier screaming as he effortlessly sailed past, I remembered how his marathon finished in 2017 and felt inspired.
By this time I was struggling to hold my pace, my energy came and went in waves. I spotted Lotta ahead and fell in next to her matching her pace for a little while, however I soon felt zapped again. I made the decision to ease the pace some more. People began struggling around me, medics were rushing to help those who were slumping down on the sides of the road and I knew today wasn’t a day for heroics- I just wanted to cross that finish line safely and enjoy my run. The next miles were a blur. I have very little recollection of the Isle of Dogs, it was a bit like a drunken fuzzy memory, which I am guessing is due to the exhaustion I felt. I remember hearing Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ and a feeling of pure happiness at one of the water stations when I realised they had a mist shower. I popped my headphones in for a bit and focussed on one foot in front of the other. In amongst the tiredness I kept having these flashes of ‘oh my gosh I am running the London Marathon’ and a huge huge smile crept across my tired face, I was living my dream. My mind began to wander and I started thinking of Liv, Martha, Anna and my Frontrunner team mates who were running, I really hoped they were ok in the heat. I looked at my watch and realised Corey would be up tracking me from her home in Florida. I fell in alongside another JDRF runner and together we ran/walked to mile 19, both feeling weary. Then in the crowd I spotted a banner saying ‘Go Livvy’ I stopped for a moment and then a voice went ‘are you Becca?’ it was Liv’s boyfriend Dom. I asked where she was and he said ‘she’s about twenty minutes behind you, she’s still going’ I felt a wave of relief, she was ok, we had this we were going to achieve our marathon dream.
As I headed back towards the Tower of London someone gave me an orange. Oh my word, after that I was a savage desperately hunting out any oranges on offer. I had a deal with myself, I’ll run until I find an orange then walk for a bit then run until I find my next orange. I felt like I was going crazy. My quads, hips and back were on fire. I was in so much pain, but I kept going. Then I spotted another runner fundraising for the Royal Preston Hospital Critical Care Unit, as a Prestonian this felt really exciting. We chatted for a while and it really lifted me. I thought of my charity and all the people who had sponsored me. I thought of Corey and all the families (including mine) touched by type 1 diabetes. I thought of my aunt who passed away. I thought of my parents and friends watching at home and then I thought of Guy and realised I only had a mile until I would see him- after miles of slogging it out I ran a very speedy kilometre just looking for his face in the crowd, counting the metres.
Then he was there, his arms reaching over the barrier for me, putting a water bottle into my hand. My mother in law was there too, squeezing my hand and telling me how proud she was. I felt too exhausted to cry. Guy gave me a kiss then said ‘come on get going its just 3 and a bit more miles’ only a parkrun I thought to myself. I headed off, I was digging deep now dreaming of that medal. Soon I was running parallel to the river and I could see the London Eye, I knew Big Ben would come into sight soon. This felt tough, by now my hip flexors were screaming and I had adopted a run/walk tactic to combat the exhaustion and pain I felt. I spotted Carl in the crowd and ran over for a hug, ‘you can do this, you’re going to be a marathoner’ he told me and then I cried some more. I saw the JDRF support crew, they gave me some more orange. At this point all I could think of was oranges and the finish line. Then Big Ben came into view. I was 1km away on the opposite side of St James’ Park this was where I did my lunchtime runs. The finish couldn’t have felt further away, I was fighting with every fibre in my body, my legs screaming.
When I turned the corner by Buckingham Palace it was like the whole world went quiet. There was the finish, this really was it. The pain and exhaustion suddenly passed, I wasn’t aware of anything or anyone around me. My legs were fresh, the tears came, and I let them flow as I threw my arms to the sky and stepped onto the red mat of the finish line. I had done it, I had run the London Marathon, and to my delight I had finished in 4:40:06. My bronze goal had been to finish sub five hours.
As I walked up the Mall I saw some of the other JDRF runners who gave me a hug, I was still in floods of tears at this point. I kept looking at my medal in disbelief. I had my photo taken and began to drag my feet towards the bag drop- that felt like a whole other marathon. Trying to get out of the finish funnel and find Guy I really was cursing as to why we agreed to meet at meeting point ‘Y’ which seemed to be the furthest away. I could barely stand, Guy sat me in a camping chair and started feeding me pork pies.
I felt absolutely wiped out. Our original plans had been to go for food then head to the ASICS after party but instead we headed home were I had a bath and a quick nap and then when I eventually felt up to it demolished a huge and very well earned McDonalds.
The days after the marathon were exhausting. My legs felt absolutely fine- no worse than after a half marathon, but my upper back and shoulders were agony. A few days later I enjoyed a much needed sports massage before we heading on our post marathon cruise for a week of resting, exploring and eating. It was exactly what I needed.
Just over one month on from London I’m recovering nicely. It took me around three weeks to find my post marathon running mojo. Thankfully I had a place at the London 10 mile in the beautiful Richmond Park and this forced me back into action. I am still coming back gradually and really enjoying running without a plan.
I look back at the whole marathon experience with such fond memories and a slight sense of unfinished business. The heat on the day meant I didn’t run the marathon I trained for but I loved the experience none the less. To run my first marathon in the year I moved to London has truly been a blessing and I am so lucky. I want to thank everyone who made it happen and who supported me. Corey and the team at JDRF for organising my place, my boyfriend, family, friends and colleagues who listened to me rabbiting on about my running for MONTHS, Martha and Livvy for being such amazing company at the expo and last but by no means least each and every single one of my sponsors. Your kindness, generosity and total faith in my ability to run the marathon is what got me through the tough miles. To date I have raised over £1,300, so thank you!
So would I do it all over again? ABSOLUTELY