Marathon running for beginners tip 7: A bad run is just a great story for down the pub

We’ve all had one of those runs we’d rather forget – or wish we’d never started!

I don’t know what it is about running, but there is such a thing as a bad run, even when training has been going well and you’ve eaten enough bananas.

And, like most first-time marathon runners, I’ve had my fair share of them.

That is, until I listened to a talk last week and heard the wonderful Laura – or lazy girl running – state that there is no such thing as a bad run, just a great story for down the pub.

It was a phrase that resonated with me so much, I wrote it down straight away – and thought it worthy of passing on here!

Now, I’m not saying that non-running friends want to hear all about the pain and the pounding as they nurse their pints.

But, there is something quite therapeutic about turning a bad run into a good story.

I won’t detail every disappointing step – as I’d never finish this post! But, I do have one amusing anecdote to share.

Last October, I ran a 10k straight after delivering a speech about the wonderful charity Willow Foundation, who were with me every step of the way through my cancer treatment and beyond.

I talked about the metal in my hip and the fact that running is now my world. I talked about just how grateful I am to cross each finish line in one piece.

So, imagine my embarrassment when, at about 7kms, I am stung on the bum by a hornet (who was literally clinging on for dear life). From my various surgeries, I know pain – and this was pain.

It also meant that, for 3kms, my running style was rather alternative and made it look like I was in even more pain (hip pain that is) than I was. The runners were amazingly supportive – some thinking this could be my last run (her luck has unfortunately run out). All I wanted, however, was to run in the direction of an ice pack to ease my throbbing cheek!

Thankfully, I crossed the line, came out of it rather better than the hornet and found a suitable packet of frozen peas to take away the pain.

What started as a superb race in terms of location, crowds and charity became a great running story for down the pub. I’m just glad dry January is pretty much over, so I can at least drink while telling it!

So, just remember, embrace those bad runs. Every awkward step can give you a story you can dine out on for years!





Marathon running for beginners tip 6: A little expert advice can go a very long way

One of the (many) great things about being part of the Breast Cancer Care London Marathon team is the access to expert advice – not to mention endless packets of Pop Chips and bananas – that comes with their race training day.

runTwo days ago, I was Jackie the ‘trying-to-do-a-marathon-without-breaking’ runner. Now, armed with new words like ‘cadence’ and a kit list that includes a foam roller, I feel like I now owe it to the experts to at least try to run well not just in the right direction.

Always one to enjoy a few pointers, here are a few of their expert tips to help you on your way:

  • Take a break: while every training plan is different, every 4th week should be seen as a recovery week. That doesn’t mean you get reacquainted with the sofa, but it does mean a long run doesn’t need to take a whole morning. (I like this fact, hence the position in the tip list.)]
  • Variety is the spice of life: by varying your running surface you can ensure the same forces aren’t constantly being applied to your body. Just phase in new surfaces rather than use them for long runs.
  • Roll with it: a foam roller is a runner’s best friend.
  • Hot or cold?: the recommendation to swap my warming treat of a post-run bath for a cold shower is not something I have put into action just yet.
  • Hug your legs: I love compression tights for running, but apparently, they’re great for recovery too. Not sure my colleagues would like me to sit in my sweaty ones mind!
  • Start on a pint: of water not alcohol that is. Often with race nerves, we tend to drink more and it just means more toilet queues, not better performance!
  • Break it down: thinking of the race in terms of one-hour sessions, with each hour needing a gel (or equivalent) and a swig of sports drink (if you like them), is a great way to work out what you need for fuel over a certain distance.
  • Keep eating (in moderation): while you shouldn’t overestimate the amount of carbs you need in your diet (and a lot of people don’t actually lose weight on marathon training for this very reason), if you do get injured, it’s worth maintaining your energy intake for 48hours to help repair the damage. Eating well is better than eating lots!
  • Protect your sessions: alcohol is not a complete no-no, but going for a ‘session’ before a session or getting stuck in straight after a long run isn’t great for performance or recovery.

And two of my favourite lessons from amazing Laura Fountain (or Lazy Girl Running) who gave us all a motivational chat:

  • Keep calm and don’t panic: marathon training, like everything else is life, rarely goes to plan.
  • The only thing that you can control is you: so stop pressing refresh on the BBC weather app!

Good luck battling through the cold weather!

Marathon running for beginners tip 5: If incentives work, use them!

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This weekend, I ran 30km for a Pret Love bar.

I confess it does seem quite extreme for a trip to the shops (or shop in my case) – and I can guarantee I didn’t go to the closest Pret – but as runs go (on a cold, yet sunny Saturday) – it was pretty memorable.

For those of you whose worlds have not yet been transformed by the introduction of this flapjack-style treat covered in caramel, chocolate and pistachios, the Pret Love bar is an awesome treat.

And, at 450 calories per bar, it makes a pretty good running incentive – especially if you have to burn calories just to find one.

Now, not wanting to bankrupt anyone by saying that incentives are a great way to go the distance, I have to say that, if they work for you, it does make sense to build them in to your training plan.

I have been told I may be a bit cheap running all that way for just one sweet treat (in fact, I think the shop assistant thought I had just trotted up the road for one) but I am in no doubt just having a target certainly helped me clock up those miles.

So, whatever it is – cake, wine, chocolate, extra carbs, jewellery, clothes, or a sweet little oaty treat (which is also good for slow release energy I hasten to add) – you owe it to your body (or your training plan) to dangle the carrot that works for you.*

I make my carrot a bit bigger next time!

*no part of this post was written with health advice in mind. You have been warned.


Marathon running for beginners tip 4: Make the training plan work for you – not the other way round

This week – for anyone training for the 2016 London Marathon – is not just the first week of January.

It is week one of a 16-week training plan designed – I am sure – to push most first-timers over the edge (if my hair is anything to go by, I am already over that edge!)


If, like me, you spent the Christmas break finding – and then beautifying – a training plan (oh yes, and a bit of light exercise too), you’ll know that with every printed drill and race comes ONE MASSIVE COMMITMENT.

I confess, I have two plans in my possession (a non time-specific one and one that suggests I might get close to 4hours 30mins if I follow it religiously – although I’m aiming for five).

But, it’s only week one, and I’ve already decided, I might just follow my own.

This has very little to do with a desire to break what must be tried and tested rules of the road and a lot to do with the metal in my left hip and my  work schedule.

I know I risk injuring my hip and qualifying myself out of the running race forever with every run – so I need to run when my body says I should, not when a piece of paper dictates I must.

And, I know, that if I try and run at lunchtimes or after work three times a week, I might actually implode – after my inbox that is!

So, I have taken a rather brave decision to go with the running flow.

That doesn’t, however, equal slacking. I have clocked up 58k this week and just completed my longest ever run (25k no less).

My body feels great, so I have to push it to the edge – even if it is only week one!

The secret for me is timing. I have found a route to and from work that means I can commute on the run (at 17.5k, it is quite a workout).

An early start, the promise of free coffee at the end and the fact I actually HAVE to get to work is proving a great motivation so far.

I will do intervals, I will do strange short runs up hills.

But, for now, I am just happy to be going in the right direction and racking up those miles!

Good luck marathoners – and anyone else in a pair of trainers!

Marathon running for beginners tip 3: Fall over your clothes and you’re more likely to get in to them!

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It is fair to say that there is not much I wouldn’t try in an attempt to improve my technique and motivation levels.

But, even for an enthusiastic running beginner, there is a line I won’t cross.

Sleeping in my running kit is the line.

I get it. The hardest part of running is getting started. Sleep in your kit and you’re nearly out the door before you’ve even woken up. It makes sense.

But, for someone who loves the thought of cosy pajamas (imagine eskimo) and and a soft duvet, the thought of snuggling down in my compression tights and a pair of blister resist socks is not something I can associate with a good night sleep. Yes, after my mastectomy surgery I slept in a sports bra. But would I do it voluntarily? Nope.

So, I have adapted this particular recommendation and think I have found a compromise.

First (if running can form part of your commute), take your clothes to work the day before (ideally with those lucky knickers you love wearing) to get them out of the house.

Next, lay out your running kit right by the bed, so you need do nothing more than roll out into it. In fact, it would be inconvenient to dress in anything else.

Then, you have no choice but to hit the road.

Try it and see if more of those running sessions that seem such a good idea at 10.30pm the night before actually happen in the morning!

Snap my run: ponies in the New Forest

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The run: 8.5km run with university friends that started and finished in Nomansland (a real place not a no place) and wove its way along the roads and across the beautiful common ground of the New Forest.

The snap: It’s a rare treat to have a quick (long enough to take a photo) rest and be thankful in the company of a New Forest pony. While it did nothing to warn me of the large hill I was about to face, it did remind me just how important it is to run in beautiful places that inspire you (not on treadmills that make you feel like you’re going nowhere).

I feel so grateful that I had the chance to run in the sunshine with friends and breathe proper fresh country air (not the stuff London pumps out). Who says exercise isn’t fun!

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Race day five: Fast walking the Breast Cancer Care Pink Ribbonwalk



Date: 4 July 2015 (overnight)
Organiser: Breast Cancer Care
Vest: Breast Cancer Care Pink Ribbonwalk T-shirt
Race number: 13441
Distance: 20 miles
Time: 4 hours 45 mins
Pace: 13.19 min/mile
Calories: 1,888
View: 4/5 London at night – best city in the world
Difficulty: 1.5/5 pretty flat, with a few flights of stairs and crowds to navigate
Banana count: one banana and quite a few love bars
Goodie bag: 3/5 complete with an interesting coconut drink, T-shirt and free meal/drink at the end
Chip timing: no, the watch did all the work
Position: joint fourth
Medal: yes

The run
Ok, so I should start by declaring that this is neither a run nor a race. It is, however, for people who like walking at least, one of the best nights out in London you could ever have. There may be no alcohol or dancing, but as a way to see this remarkable city, it is a spectacular sight-seeing tour.

Do not, however, underestimate the effort required for this trip round town. Twenty miles is no walk in the park, so if you do attempt the full distance (there are 5 and 10 mile options), you do need at least a few long walks under your belt! And, by long, I mean 17 miles plus.

The route
What can I say? The London Eye, The Tate Modern, The Globe, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge (to name but a few) and even a circuit around the Royal Albert Hall make this city route to rival all city routes.

It’s not as easy as picking up a postcard – the path by the Thames is packed at 11pm and Oxford Street always feels like a scrum even when the shops are closed. But, there is something really special about the city at night (especially when you’re enjoying it for Breast Cancer Care). The course is designed so brilliantly, it really helps you join the dots between landmarks

The run highlights
If you live, or have ever visited London, think how many times you’ve walked an empty street, crossed a completely clear road or become a city sight in your own right (everyone loves a charity walker in a bright pink T-shirt). Londoners often see the city by tube, which means we don’t often really see it at all.

This city has been my home these last 12 years. But, I have to say, doing this walk made me see it for the first time with fresh eyes. When you’ve walked from Tower Bridge to the Royal Albert Hall then by the entrance to the Chelsea Flower Show (when it’s on), starting and finishing at the Imperial War Museum, you realise just how close the Capital’s landmarks are. Who needs a tube, when you have a pair of walking trainers and enough energy to stay up most of the night.

I confess, I thought I’d be spending the night part walking, part taking photos. The absence of photos on the blog, however, wasn’t because my phone died, but because my mum and I (she was walking with me to celebrate us both surviving days in the chemo ward last year) decided it would be a bit of fun to try and keep up with the group leading the walk (safety in numbers after all). At mile four (doing 8-minute KMs), we thought we were doing well (we were aiming for 10-minute KMs). At mile 18 (still doing 8-minute KMs), we thought maybe we should have made the most of the rest stops rather than ploughing on (I think the marshals thought we were a bit crazy). In fact, at one point we were going so fast, the man adding glow sticks to the pink direction arrows to help them stand out was behind us even on his bike!

Biggest highlight? Crossing the line joint fourth. I am not sure my mum quite expected us to finish in 4hours 45mins, but she certainly appreciated getting to bed before 5am (although she didn’t appreciate me walking her up to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral the day after).

Most welcome sight? A cup of tea waiting for us at the finish line tent.

Running tips

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Take time to read the ribbons: lining the paths before the start and at the finish were rows of pink ribbons, each one containing a message linked to one of the walkers (and their motivation for taking part). Certainly worth reading before you go, so you can be reminded of the inspiring stories at 2am when your legs start to protest.

Watch your wave: if you, like me, quite fancy aiming for the front, then make sure you inch towards the start line before you’re called (as long as you aren’t so early you end up in the 5 mile field). If the start line is at the Imperial War Museum again, they limit the number of walkers to 50 per wave for safety reasons.

Rest and be thankful: maybe do as I say, rather than as I did. With cereal bars, water, enough bananas to feed a small nation and plenty of smiles from volunteers and BCC team members, the rest stops are certainly worth stopping for. Definitely make sure you carry water with you though. It is amazing how sweaty and hot you will get even in the early hours.

Print the downloadable map: be sure the read the information booklet and e-newsletters sent to you before the big day. The last newsletters will contain a link to a downloadable map, which will reply come in handy. I took a quick glance at the route and then, contrary to advice, left it to the people in front of me to lead the way. It is my own fault we ended up taking a few detours when we couldn’t immediately see the pink course arrows.

Get talking: a real highlight was finding out more about fellow walkers and the stories that got them to the starting line. Thankfully, unlike running, talking seems to aid performance rather than help take your breath away.

Fast Facts

  1. 31,000,000 bricks were used in the building of Tower Bridge. In 1952, the bridge began to open with a double-decker bus still on it. The number 78, (driven by Albert Gunton), managed to accelerate and jump a three-foot gap. Albert was awarded £10 for his bravery.
  2. The 32 capsules on the London Eye are representative of the 32 London boroughs, and each one weighs as much as 1,052,631 pound coins
  3. The Royal Albert Hall hosted the very first Sumo tournament to be held outside Japan in the sport’s 1500-year history, in 1991
  4. Oxford Street was once the road connecting Newgate Prison with the hallows at Tyburn. Condemned prisoners were driven down the street from the prison and hung from the Tyburn tree at Marble Arch. There’s still a round stone in the road, marking the original location of the hanging tree

To run/walk again? Definitely. Not sure I’d be able to compete on time though.