On the 8th of February I received an email through from the London Marathon ballot informing me I had been successful in securing a place and its safe to say since then my body, mind & soul have been through an incredible journey to get to where I am today.
I applied for the ballot the last few years with no success and to be honest was definitely NOT expecting the email I got through. I was both delighted and terrified all at once. The first thing I did was let my family know and their immediate reaction was something along the lines of “you know how hard it is right” and “why would you do that”. I specifically remember when I told my nan and she said “why on earth would you do that, you are bloody mental”. To be fair they were all right, my running career to date hasn’t exactly been shrouded with medals! The first long distance cross country race I competed in at primary school I had to get escorted off the course half way through from an asthma/panic attack, much to mums humiliation on the finish line, so they had every right to be a little sceptical about my new venture.
At the time I was also having a few issues with my knee and was finding it painful even running 3-5km which was my regular route so my first stop was the doctors and physio to ensure I was all fit and healthy and not going to do any damage to myself when I began training. I got the all clear and a few physio exercises to do, so I just began running smaller distances but trying to fit in around 3 runs a week just to get used to the structure and get some mileage through the legs.
At the time my nan was very unwell and unfortunately, we lost her in May. After this, running became my connection to her and my time to look up at the sky and talk to her. It almost became therapy for me. It was at this time that I remember starting to really enjoy the running as well. I would say by this point I was comfortably completed 1-2 x 10km runs a week and really starting to see a difference in my running ability (spurred on by nan of course!).
Come June, the 16-week marathon training plan started. The first few weeks were very basic and so I adapted a little to where I thought I was distance and pace wise. At the time though we were all starting to taste that summer post lockdown freedom and fitting the training in around my work and social life became really tough, especially as the distances increased and the hours clocked up! I could feel myself dropping off my plan. The thing was the marathon just felt so far away and I almost felt like I had too much time to ‘put it off’ and procrastinate, so I signed up for the vitality big half! I swapped over to the big half training plan and really enjoyed this one as it had a mixture of normal long runs and also interval treadmill work where you had to really push yourself and I began to see progress fast.
I loved every single second of the half marathon! I have never competed in a race before and the buzz of the crowds and atmosphere was absolutely amazing. I hadn’t completed a half by this point and was unbelievably nervous that I would end up with another childhood cross country escort off the course performance. However as soon as I set off, I just knew I had it in the bag and was beyond proud to complete the course in 1:51. This was the confidence boost I really needed, plus wearing my medal felt absolutely amazing and I just did not want to take the thing off! I would say it was at this point in my training that I sat back and thought to myself “you know what Ciara you are now a runner”. The transformation had happened, I was running for my mind and soul rather than years of running to ‘burn calories’ and I was enjoying every second of my runs (once I had found the motivation to get moving post work which never got any easier!). It was my ME TIME. MY THERAPY. My body was also changing shape and I have lost weight through this process completely naturally and without trying to achieve any weight loss goal or target, it has just adapted to my new sporting abilities and I am the most confident I have been in years with myself.
Fast forward to the last 3 weeks and the training has got unbelievably tough! I have now completed a 26km, 29km and 35km (22miles). These are the longest runs you have to complete throughout your training and yesterday I finished off with the big one. For the next few weeks the training now tapers off to allow for recovery and rest before race day. The biggest thing I learnt from these runs is the mindset that is required to run a marathon. Physically your body is absolutely shattered and in bits, I mean my longest one was 3hr50 and I can tell you by half way my legs were already screaming. What you have to tap into is the mental strength required to push yourself through. It is amazing the things your mind brings up when you are by yourself for this length of time! I think about everything, the past, people, work, money, the future, relationships… you name it your mind takes you there! You are not only battling with your physical body, you are battling with your inner demons, and it can be a really hard place to be! When you finish you are absolutely drained and don’t know whether to laugh or cry but there is that voice in your head that tells you did it all by yourself!! Every time the distance increases you get past your last hurdle and tell yourself “We are in new territory now let’s see what you’re made of”. On all of these long runs I told myself that I wouldn’t stop and I still couldn’t believe it at the end of each one when I hadn’t! I have amazed myself with what I have personally achieved with this training and I never big myself up!!!
So yesterday marked the end of the big training runs and I can safely say I now feel mentally & physically ready to take on the marathon in 22 days. When I left for my run yesterday it was raining and I asked nan to just clear the skies for me, seconds later the most beautiful sunshine burst through. The second I finished I looked up to the sky and said:
“You know what Nan you’re right I am bloody mental…but you know what…WE GOT THIS”
Lots of Love