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34 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Dan at Runner's Forum has kindly said I can post extracts from my book, Running on Empty here. I hope you all enjoy them. They are meant to reflect the rather nutty life I led while I was training. For me as a total beginner it was a steep learning curve, and I felt a fraud most of the way through. But fraud or not, I did manage to run a marathon and I hope it won't be the last I run!

It's also not to late to join my competition, for which entries are coming in hot and fast. Suggestions so far include: Keep on Running, Ready to Run, and my particular favourite: Highway to Hell. So go on, send me an email at [email protected]... you know it makes sense!

I've had to cut this in half, so here's Part One

Running on Empty: Diary of a Marathon Mum


Let's get one thing straight. I am not a runner and I have never regarded myself as exceptionally sporty. In fact, apart from one glorious summer when I discovered I was quite good at the high jump, I don't think I have ever spent much time in my youth doing anything athletic. Think of the geeky kid with the National Health specs, who was always chosen last for the rounders team, and that pretty much sums up my sporting career while I was at school. I hated PE and did my damnedest to avoid it. So what turned me - a serial non-runner - into the kind of idiot who thinks she can run a marathon? Here is my story of how I - the unlikeliest marathon runner in the world - managed to do it, which I hope will inspire you to take up a similar challenge of your own.

Having said I was unsporty, my teens were dominated by tennis, which I played endlessly with my brother, and swimming, which I still love. Neither of which, though, felt remotely as if it had anything to do with organized sport - they were pastimes for home which I enjoyed, that was all.

As I left home and went to university, tennis fell by the wayside, though I continued with the swimming, and I cycled everywhere (a pragmatic choice, as it was cheaper then the bus). Both activities kept me fit, and thin, without it seemed to me at the time, a lot of effort. It was once I started work that the rot set in. My job was pretty sedentary, I was living in London so used the tube, and then I got married, and after a year of married life found that sheer contentment had rendered me a stone over my normal weight.

It was time to take some action, so sporadically throughout my twenties, I used to find myself in high-impact aerobics class- you know the sort, full of beautiful people who don't have a hair out of place, are impossibly thin and never seem to sweat. The classes used to make me feel unfit and inadequate, but I persevered. I still had no interest in running whatsoever. Running to me meant jogging: a boring and dull pastime, remembered chiefly from school in terms of me and my classmates being sent on a run by our PE teacher (who no doubt wanted to put her feet up in the common room while we were out) on cold wintry days. We would trot down to the local boys school in our deeply inadequate flat white plimsolls (this was the days before Nike), and our skimpy little PE tops and shorts. Said boys must have thought all their Christmases had come at once, but we naively had no idea of the effect our scrawny pubescent bodies would have on the average teen male, which may have been just as well. The lucky few with boyfriends would hive off behind the bushes whilst the rest would stand gawkily about hoping that whoever the favoured boy of the week was, might take notice of us. I was under no illusions about my luck in this enterprise (as I said I was geeky and wore glasses) - but youth is ever-hopeful and whispering in the depths of my being was always that little voice that treacherously offered hope saying, This week it could be you…. Hmm some chance.

But I digress. As my running experiences had involved precious all running and maximum embarrassment, it wasn't an activity I was particularly keen to turn to. Until one sunny afternoon about twelve years ago, I found myself in a discussion about running at my sister's birthday party. Everyone was talking about taking part in a women's Fun Run. To me at the time the thought of putting Fun and Run in the same sentence was complete anathema, but full of wine and bonhomie, I was conned by my sisters into taking part in a Flora 10k. I only agreed because I thought they were all going to do it. Sisters are doing it for themselves and all that. I have four sisters, one of whom was abroad, but the other three had been keen as mustard. I felt I couldn't let the side down. So like the fool I am, I duly applied to take part in this great event. Roll on a few weeks, and to my chagrin, I discovered they had all pulled out bar one - my twin sister. I would have done the same, but somehow she persuaded me to have a go.

I should say at this point, that despite being my twin, Ginia had long held the passion for running which I lacked. So she very enthusiastically took me on a training run. The first time out we ran a mile. Or rather attempted to. I found myself stopping pathetically about four times on the way round, and developed a stitch within seconds of setting off. I was in despair - there was no way I was ever going to be capable of going the distance. But my twin is a good partner to have on these occasions and she geed me up sufficiently so that I found I could manage the mile without stopping. Was I enjoying it? Not in the slightest, and after a couple of weeks, was panicking about what on earth I had let myself in for. The closer to the day of the race, the more I felt it was something I just couldn't do. I had neither the strength the stamina, nor the mental discipline to finish the race. I had to face it - running wasn't my thing.

But then a miracle happened. We went on holiday to Crete, and I found myself running by the beach in the evenings. One of the friends we went with was a keen runner, and she encouraged me. And to my amazement, I discovered that not only could I go and run steadily for 40 minutes without stopping, but that I actually enjoyed it. This was a revelation. I came back home and went to the race with my sister with a renewed vigour. It was hard work, and I felt tired, and fairly demoralized when Ginia disappeared ahead into the crowd, but coming home on the finishing strait, I caught and overtook her, and romped home in, a reasonably respectable time of 1:03. It was great. I was on a huge high, and decided maybe running was going to be my thing after all.

Well - not quite. Real life being what it is, it got in the way rather. The winter was coming up, and I didn't fancy going out running at night on my own. There are a couple of running groups where I live, but they met too early in the evening for me to get there after work. After a time I forgot about running, and went back to my sporadic bursts of swimming and aerobics. And then my children arrived in fairly swift succession, and all thoughts of any kind of sensible exercise regime were squashed firmly to the background.

Until now. A year ago, my twin sister mentioned to me that she wanted to run the marathon. I was really keen to raise money for The Children's Trust, and had already discounted the idea of going on a trek up Kilimanjarro as wildly impractical for a mother of four. The marathon might just be doable though, I thought. Well, maybe. There was the teeny little fact that I had only ever run that 10k race, and I was starting completely from scratch. And the rather bigger hurdle of actually getting your head round the distance. I mean - twenty-six miles - twenty-six miles? Was I mad? I don't think I've even ever walked twenty-six miles, let alone run it. Best not to dwell too much on the distance, I decided eventually, and just start off small and see what I could do.

But while I didn't run, I had spent a great part of the last seven years pounding the streets of Epsom, mainly pushing a buggy. My base levels of fitness are probably better then they have ever been in my life. Added to which nine years of motherhood has given me a much huge capacity for dealing with boredom, and mentally I felt much more able to cope with the tedium of long-distance running. So I tried to run the mile to school. With the memories of how useless I had been on my first training run all those years ago, I wasn't expecting much, but to my surprise found it relatively easy. Next time I ran two miles, and within weeks I found I could manage three. And the added bonus was that it was refreshing time away from the demands of my family life. It felt gloriously liberating. Not only did the marathon suddenly seem doable - it suddenly seemed essential I gave it a go.

Like I said, I wasn't a runner. But I have become one. If I can run a marathon anyone can. Take it from me - you don't have to be super-fit to begin with, but you do need dedication, guts and determination. I have watched friends running the marathon, never thinking in a million years it was something I could do. But I did, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my adult life. And if a serial non-runner like me can do it, so can you.

Julia Williams

34 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
And here's part two

And here's part two
and actually as there's still too much text I'll post part three as well...
What on Earth am I Doing Here?

I have the hangover from hell and a cold wind is whipping right through me, chilling me to the bone. I have no idea where I am or how far I have come. I squint above me. The top of this hill has receded into the distance, and I have no idea where it is. My oldest sister Joanna was ahead of me, and I have been following her as a speck on this unforgiving hillside, but now she seems to have vanished. The few markers there were on this route seem to have disappeared too, and I have no idea where the next marshal will be. I'm not even walking now, but doing an undignified scramble up this godforsaken hill, trying not to put my hands in the sheep dung. Somewhere behind me I know there is one other runner between me and my twin sister, Virginia. What the hell made me think I was up to this?

It's all Ginia's fault. We all met up as a family at hers before Christmas, and discovering my husband Dave and I were going to be at my mother's in Shropshire for the New Year, Gin suggested we try taking part in the Morning After The Night Before run up the Long Mynd on New Year's Day. It's a five miler, "And it will be a great start to our marathon training," she urges me.
My other half is terribly persuasive. In my former life, my normal sane life, before Marathon Training became an obsession, the idea of running anywhere on New Year's Day would have seemed crazy. But running up the Long Mynd? You have to be insane. The Long Mynd for the uninitiated is a ten mile stretch of rugged hills in Shropshire, which is beautiful picturesque and all the rest, but incredibly steep. I have difficulty walking up it, let alone running up it. So in my old life, my normal life, I would never have dreamt of it.

But my life is no longer normal. It is obsessed with checking mileage, and running times, so the idea of running up the Long Mynd sounds entirely feasible. Especially when Joanna chips in and says she did it last year and it was hard going to the top but wonderful when you got up there. Oh well, I thought, if it's only one uphill bit that shouldn't be too bad. After all, I am used to downs running. (I should point out here that the downs seems like a stroll in the park, compared to the Long Mynd, but you have to remember that my mindset was seriously skewed as a result of Too Much Training.)

So that is how after a rather jolly New Year's Eve (spent with ten adults and thirteen children in my mother's three bedroom house), in which the older sprogs managed to wangle staying up till midnight - Joanna, Ginia, our brother John and myself all set off for the Run.
I should have known we were in trouble when we got there and found several incredibly energetic types limbering up and looking horribly fit. None of them looked like the just-out-of-bed-laggards-who'd-decided-it-was-a-good-idea- in-the-pub-last -night, that Jo had promised. Oh hell, what were we letting ourselves in for?

The second indication that this wasn't going to be all that straightforward was when the chap shouting out instructions about our route, seemed to keep mentioning going up. Rather a lot in fact. The trouble is he also kept wittering on about different valleys, and though I knew we were starting from Town Woods, the rest of the names escaped me. The others, all of whom have done a lot more walking round here then I have, had a much better idea of what was going on then me. I heard my bro mutter something about "That's a lot of hills," before he disappeared ahead of us in the crowds, to do his thing, as Jo put it.

Meanwhile the three of us opted to stay at the back, and started off slowly. One of the mantras of running is that you start slow and finish fast. Me? I start slow and finish slower.

Ginia was suffering with her back, so very quickly, she slipped right behind. Jo and I ploughed on but getting to a gate a third of the way up the first hill, we both felt we should stop and wait for her. Being incredibly generous, Gin waved us on when she caught up, telling us she didn't want to hold us back.

So off we set again, running in a path around the woods. Our wait for Gin has slowed us down somewhat, so Jo and I find ourselves way behind the backmarkers, and we run along a path that snakes its way halfway round the hillside, with no one in sight. Jo is pulling away from me now, so I let her go on. Very quickly now, I find myself descending down one side of the valley that opens out onto my mum's road. I know this valley well, and have walked here many times. So I feel cheered by the sight. At least I know where I am going, and I can still see Joanna ahead of me, so don't feel I'm slipping too far behind.

What is not so cheering is the view I have of the other side of the valley, where I now see all those missing runners. Who are all running up the OTHER side of the hill. It is here where it belatedly dawns on me what John was wittering on about. I was still naively assuming that I was only going to have to go up hill once. And now it looks like I have another hill to climb. But it's ok, as I can see Jo in the distance, and I proudly manage to run half way up the hill before conceding defeat.

But waiting on the other side of the hill is probably one of the most depressing sights I have witnessed in my entire life. The fell runners - those horribly fit types we encountered at the beginning - are flying down the next valley at the speed of light. This is a circular route and they are On Their Way Home. Whereas I still have to circumnavigate the next hill before doubling back on myself and getting to where they are now. To say I am beginning to feel dispirited is putting it mildly.

Added to which the sun which has been bright even if the wind has been cold has disappeared. And I'm back to one of those damned grey wintry days which make you feel so blue. But feeling blue is one thing. Turning blue halfway up a hillside is another. Can you die of hypothermia while you're out running? I suppose it is entirely possible…

Which is how I came to find myself halfway up a third hill, with no one at all in view. Eventually, I manage to struggle to the top, where I note a rather ragged banner marking the way. I toy with the idea of running down the hill to make up some time, but it is incredibly steep, and this close to the marathon I daren't risk ricking an ankle or worse, so walk sedately down it instead. At the bottom I find a couple of helpful marshals who point me in the right direction. Which is just as well as I am hopelessly lost. I toy with the idea of cheating and running home anyway - though I am lost I know that if I keep on the flat in the direction I am going in, I will eventually hit the road - but decide this is an unworthy thought of a wannabe marathon runner so struggle on.

And struggling is what I do. I am cold and wet and hungry. My head is thumping and I feel sick. My feet are stuck in the mud as I stagger round and up, round and up another hill. I have lost all sense of direction and every bone in my body is aching.

Eventually, I come around a corner and find myself back to the spot where I saw the fell runners. I run down the hill, mainly in relief at the fact that I have got here at last. But here I have another depressing experience. As well as the run, there is a shorter, three mile hike for families, and blow me if most of the walkers aren't on the home straight. I'll be buggered if they beat me.

So spurred on, I force myself to run and find I'm upping my pace again, and finally, I'm, out back onto the road and past my mum's house. Resisting the urge to dive in home (who would know? Well, I would) - I stumble on past, down the stream and into the field where the race ends. I encounter some runners who finished ahead of me who gee me up and say, "Go on, race home," but much as I would like to I have nothing left. Normally at the end of a run, I sprint on home, but not today. I don't think I've ever ached so much in my life.
Dave, various siblings, outlaws and children are waiting for me as I fall over the line.
"Are you the last?" enquires Matty, my six year old godson politely.

Not quite. Ginia and one other runner follow me in.

Marathon runner - me? Not bloody likely after this debacle. I am in deep shock. I have never felt so humiliated or useless in my life.
But on the other hand. I did run five of the most gruelling miles of my life in an hour and seven minutes, which was only twenty minutes behind my super-fit bro. And a touch of humility is good for you. So perhaps all is not lost…

34 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Running on Empty Part 3

MARCH 2005
Places to Piss in Surrey

Yesterday I finally managed to run 20 miles. I am just approaching the period of marathon training known as tapering down. You build up to twenty miles, and then for the next three weeks slash your mileage so your muscles can strengthen and get bolstered with enough glycogen and carbohydrate supplies.

I have been slowly increasing miles since Christmas, and managed seventeen miles a fortnight ago. This takes me to the middle of Canary Wharf on the map, but I was keen to do the twenty miles as that takes me just out of Canary Wharf and starting on Commercial Road, which is three miles from Tower Bridge, which is three miles from the end... so psychologically a good place to reach.

Anyway last week I was meant to run nineteen miles, but got hit by a rotten cold so didn't run. In the meantime I lost my trusty laceup boots, which I walk everywhere in. This might seem insignificant and if I wasn't marathon training, would be. But the mantra of late marathon training is that you don't change anything you are doing. ANYTHING at all. And now I know why.

As I couldn't find my boots I have been slobbing around in a pair of old trainers. Which are too small for me, and rubbed my big toe, which in turn caused some kind of compression to a muscle (lord alone knows which) in my foot. Net result by Thursday my foot was feeling a bit achy. I bunged one of those hospital strappy things on it, and went out running regardless. Which would have probably been fine had I not gone running with our mate Danny and Dave.

Danny is a serious runner, and much younger then we are. Dave is not a runner and deeply unathletic, but suffers from Male Pride, so had to run as fast as we were. In fact at one point he was ahead, but then I took them up to the downs and he slipped behind. Meanwhile Danny who had been running slowly, upped the ante and we ended up hammering it home. So net result was foot very unhappy, and I could barely walk on it for three days.Yikes! I thought to myself maybe I've got a greenstick fracture, but thankfully it responded to hot and cold treatments.

Then I had to buy myself some new trainers - again should have gone with sameas before, DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING, except my local sports shop didn't have the same ones, I didn't have time to shop around, so I got some of same make but slightly different. Am fully expecting blisters as have read in marathon mag that fifty runners got blisters last year from having worn new trainers on their last long run. Whoops. That will be me then...

Anyway. The day finally arrives, when I think this is it, go for it girl (was simultaneously heartened and depressed to discover Virginia had already done her twenty miler!).

First off it is pissing with rain, but I have a fetching rain jacket provided by the London Marathon team at a mere cost of £25 and that actually does the business, so you can run in the pouring rain and remain relatively dry. I decided to break the run down into two five mile sections, followed by a three miler (so I have done the half marathon), then one five mile and a two mile.

The thinking behind marathon training is that you start slow and finish fast. You are meant to conserve all your energies and put on the pace in the second half. I seem to do all my runs too fast at the beginning and lose pace towards the end. So, yesterday I thought I would play it nice and slow.

So accordingly, I set off at a brisk walking pace (my nice sports massage chappie tells me that walking for a mile counts as a good warm up), diverting into Epsom briefly to use the loos in the Ashley Centre. This is important. VERY important. Being as you need to be really hydrated if you are stupid enough to go running long distances, but you also need to make sure you have a fairly empty bladder if dire consequences aren't to follow on said run.

I could probably now write a book on places I have pissed in Surrey - a deserted pathway leading under a roundabout by the M25, a wood on the way to Oakshott which I thought was fairly secluded till I realised I was bang opposite a cottage that I somehow had failed to notice, and various discreet bushes on my many and varied routes in the environs of Epsom. Added to which I had the further complication of women's things this month (sorry boys... look away if this gets too gruesome) - and am likely to have this happening for the marathon itself.

In anticipation of this I have managed to purchase some industrial size tampons, and on my way round develop a master plan in case of emergencies involving an empty raisin box for disposing purposes (amazing what years of dealing with small children does to your innovative skills!). Fortunately it didn't come to that, so hoping the industrial style tampons will do the trick come race day. Thinking it most unfair that men don't have these problems, but then again I haven't suffered from nipple rub ... yet ... so it could be worse.

Anyway - I set off very slowly and go to Leatherhead in 1hour 10 mins. So far so good. I stopped for a drink and some raisins (well I might have needed the empty packet...) and then went for the next five mile section, which took me via Oakshott, Stoke D'abernon and Fetcham via several incredibly windy long roads and more hills then I care to mention. The one coming into Fetcham was particularly killing. But my next five miles was achieved in an hour. Yay! I'm upping the pace. Maybe I am getting the hang of this. Then it was on to Bookham revelling in the fact that it was only three miles - up another long hill with huge houses bearing tacky names like Robin's Wood, and Mon Repos and large lawns - everywhere in this part of Surrey looks the sodding same, I could have been on theroad to Oakshott for all I knew.

Bookham came in a blissfully quick thirty minutes though, and I was pleased to discover that the High Street was very short as predicted on the map - unlike most of hte roads I run down which seem twice as long as I think they're going to be. Feeling rather knackered by this time, I walked out of Bookham, as I really couldn't face yet another hill.

Then I found myself on a major road with no sign of the roundabout I was searching for, and no pavement, so I ran on grass, with my back to the traffic (very dumb I know, but I couldn't find anywhere to cross). I eventually arrived at the point I was hoping to reach, but it was one roundabout down from where I thought I would be, so I had two more hills to negotiate until I reached the nirvana that is the roundabout at Leatherhead which means I am on the home strait.

By this time every part of my body is not just aching, it feels as if I am about to fall apart. You couldn't even call the movements I am making jogging anymore. I'm doing a kind of slowshoe shufffle, except it's not at all slick. I probably look as though I about to keel over at any moment - I certainly feel like it. So I am heartened to meet two chaps coming in the opposite direction who look somewhat worse then I do. Hmm, wonder if they've run seventeen miles...

Anyway I made it through Ashtead in an hour and ten minutes, but by then I am in agony. So I walk most of the way back from there, and finally make it home in 4hours 35 mins. Current prediction for the marathon on that time is about 6 hours. Oh dear. However, I did run up about ten hills, and am hoping that as the marathon is flat I might be able to limp in in around five hours. BUT importantly, I now feel it is not only achievable, but I will do it. No probs...

And I am rather proud to think last year I couldn't even run a mile. And now I've done twenty....

34 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Oh I was terribly slow! I'm more of a tortoise then a hare. So I did it in 5:28. Would like to have another go and get it under 5hrs. My twin sister who's b*** stupid idea it was in the first place is insanely optimistic and reckons we can do it in 4:30, but me, I'm realistic!

I'm self publishing the book (I have worked in publishing for 18 years so it's somewhat less daunting then doing the marathon!) and hope to have copies out within the next month or so. If you want to be on my mailing list you can emal me at: [email protected]

Thanks for the interest!
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