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Lynda Cartwright – London Marathon 2017

My London Marathon – Lynda Cartwright

At the beginning of October 2016 I received a letter informing me that I had been unsuccessful in the ballot for the 2017 London Marathon.  I was relieved and disappointed in equal measure.

However, the following day I realised that actually, this was something that I really wanted to do, so I applied to Refuge for a charity place and five days later found out I had been successful with my application – now I was properly worried!

Every year I would sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and bacon sandwich watching the marathon with a lump in my throat, marvelling at all the amazing people and thinking, “I’d love to do that one day” but now I’d got the actual day – Sunday 23rd April, 2017.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 3 cancer and spent most of that year having surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  Ironically, I walked the Race for Life at Trentham in June and the effort required literally, nearly killed me.  The following day I was admitted to hospital with Sepsis and had to have emergency blood transfusions.  It was after that little blip that someone said to me, “You will have to run a marathon once you’re better”.

That comment settled somewhere deep down and was never quite forgotten.

A year or so later I started walking and those walks turned into very long walks.  When I completed a walking marathon in Manchester for the Shine Cancer charity I thought that was the peak of my athletic achievements and the marathon mission was accomplished.  But like Forrest, I kept on walking further and further (London to Brighton, round the Isle of Wight in 24 hours and the entire Cotswold Way in 3 days).

Then almost three years ago in the summer of 2014, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app and thought I’d give running ago.  I stuck religiously to that app running/walking/wheezing up and down the canal towpath and the day I ran 30 minutes without stopping I thought I was an Olympic athlete.  (Clearly delusional, everything hurt and I had purchased the entire range of neoprene support bandages in Boots, but I kept at it).   The following summer I completed the St. Michael’s 10k in Stone and as I crossed the finish line, a friend I knew from school thrust a leaflet at me for the Stone Master Marathoners.  Well, I was pretty chuffed with my performance that day but thought it was stretching it a bit to consider myself a “Master Marathoner”.

I gathered all my courage and went along on my own one Thursday night “just to see what it was like”.  From the moment I got out of the car looking a bit lost, I was met with friendly faces who invited me in, made me feel welcome and assured me that they wouldn’t all point and laugh at how slow I was – in fact they like slow, plenty of opportunity for “mustering”.

I survived that first night, people spoke to me and ran at my pace and they seemed genuinely pleased I was thinking about joining – so I kept going – and became “A Bat”.

I saw other people who I ran with entering races and so I found the courage to do the same and completed 5k’s, 10k’s and then the Stafford Half Marathon in Spring 2016.  Approaching 50, the thought of a full marathon became vaguely possible rather than a pipe dream.

So there I was in October, with a confirmed place and a training plan stuck to the kitchen wall.

The training plan was for 16 weeks, starting on 1st January and taking me all the way to “the big event”.  It assured me that if I followed this plan, I would give myself the best possible opportunity of crossing the finishing line, so that’s what I did.  At the end of every week I put a shiny gold star on the plan after the Sunday run (because I’m that childish).

Although the plan required you to run four days each week, the only really long runs were on a Sunday so it didn’t seem that bad.  But by week six, heading out on a freezing Tuesday night to run around the streets and industrial estates of Stone was losing its appeal.  Getting out of the door was the hard part and I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t have been running with such a great group of people, and Bill, who would shout mild abuse at me if I slowed down.

Who would have thought a year on, I was looking forward to the Stafford Half Marathon 2017 being a “fall back” week in my training plan?

The two low points of the training were the Sunday I first ran 16 miles and suddenly and inexplicably my legs felt were about to explode with pain, meaning I had the embarrassment of walking back through Stone in my SMM t-shirt looking like an arthritic tortoise.  The second was the Sunday we did 18 miles and it lashed down with freezing rain for the entire duration making me think – is it worth giving up my Sunday lie in’s for this.  But it was too late, I was committed, I’d told everyone I was doing it and short of breaking a leg, I was going to have to see it through.

I took a day off work to complete the final long run of 20 miles and with Anne, Julia, “ultra Dave”, Paula and Jayne on her bike.   We had a lovely morning in the sunshine running along the canals and across fields –and discovered the magic restorative properties of dried mango.  At the end we felt good and were reassured that we might just be able to do this.

Two weeks of tapering allowed the doubts to creep back in and I spent the last week convinced that I’d done nowhere near enough training (despite all those gold stars), my foot and knee started to hurt for no apparent reason and I felt more than a bit nervous.

On the Saturday I travelled down on the coach with Julia and lots of other runner and supporters.  Fortified with a cheese and bacon oatcake the nerves seemed to abate, I was committed now so I just had to “man up”.

Fast forward to 8.30 Sunday morning, we were dropped off at Blackheath Common and heading towards the Red start with the rest of “the masses” as we were affectionately referred to.   This is the start area where the majority of people were running their first marathon and raising money for every conceivable charity you can think of.  Whilst I’ve got nothing to compare it to, I can honestly say this was the best and most supportive environment I could have imagined.  The organisation was amazing, (just how many portable loos are there in this world?) everyone was smiling and chatting.  I was looking out for the other “Refuge” runners in their pink and white vests, as we had become Facebook friends throughout the training and to meet them in person was just great, hugs all round, like long lost friends.  We’d shared our stories and training agonies on-line for the last four months but this was the first time we’d actually met in person.  Just as important, we then met up with Anne and, although not in our Bat colours, the three amigos were together and ready to “do this”.

I have never stood in such a diverse, focussed and happy crowd of people as we made our way to the start line and after half an hour we were finally able to break into our 5 hour lightning pace!  26.2 miles was a bit of blur in places but some of the things that have stuck in my memory are;

  • The noise of the police helicopters overhead
  • Seeing Scooby Doo relieving himself in a hedge about 1 mile in
  • The 7 foot drag queen in a gold lamè body stocking conducting a choir (my kind of church)
  • The “comedy gold” home-made signs of the people lining the route
  • The very old man playing his trumpet on his front door and being cheered by the runners
  • The drummers under the fly over
  • The children reaching out for a high five
  • Complete strangers smiling and shouting your name and encouragement
  • Other runners smiling and chatting and patting each other on the back when the hard miles set in
  • The showers (how welcome were they)

Mile after mile the crowds never stopped, sometimes it was a blur, at other times we could focus no further ahead than the next mile marker and the reward of a jelly block.

Of all the memories I will take away from London, three are very special;

To enable me to come to London, my two boys were staying with my friend back in Salt and watching the Marathon on the telly.  They had never seen me run in any kind of competitive race.  As I came down off Tower Bridge I became aware of my name being shouted amongst the general noise, I turned to look and there were my boys shouting at the side of the road.  It took a couple of seconds to register, but then I ran back to hug them both, together with Mandy and her family.  I was absolutely amazed and overjoyed and the boost it gave me at the half way point was indescribable.

Secondly, as I ran on towards mile 14, I thought I would have an energy gel and a little walk.  There I was happily walking down Narrow Street still smiling about seeing the boys, when more shouting alerted me to the official SMM supporters squad.  Emma shouting and Michelle recording me strolling along – excellent timing!

From about mile 20, Julie and I decided that “scouts pace” was the way to go, so we had a run/walk strategy to make sure we kept going at a reasonable pace.  At mile 25 I saw the “Refuge” supporters along the Embankment and told Julia I was going over to say hello.  Refuge is a fantastic charity and I will always be grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to experience the London Marathon. After a run of high fiving and more hugging, I ran back to where I thought Julia was but couldn’t find her anywhere, how could I have lost her in the space of 30 seconds!  I couldn’t see her and didn’t know if she was in front or behind, so I made the decision to run for the line.

As I approached Big Ben, it started to bong and I finally realised that I was nearly home and I was running the London Marathon.  The third memory and one that will remain with me forever, is the roar of the crowd as I turned into Parliament square – it was like running into a football stadium and from that point I wasn’t going to stop and it was head down towards Buckingham Palace and The Mall.  800m, 600m, 400m – I could see the statue of Victoria come into view and then finally the “385 yards to go banner”.   I will probably only do this once in my life so, head up, eyes forward,  I ran for the line with arms in the air, full victory finish.  Unbeknown to me, my moment in the spotlight was also on the big screen outside Buckingham Palace and Harry and Ed were in the crowd to witness the moment their mum punched the London Marathon on the nose!

So that’s my story and every cliché is true, the crowds, the atmosphere, the memories, if you want it enough you can do it.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done this alone and the best decision I made was to join the Stone Master Marathoners.

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London Marathon 2016 – Emma Dutton’s first time thoughts

If, like many thousands of others, you watched with pride as the 2016 London Marathon got under way on Sunday 24th April, you may be wondering what it’s like to gain entry train and race in your first ever 26.2 mile event. Here, SMM’s Emma Dutton notes her thoughts about all things Marathon and hopes to inspire first-time racers to tackle this famous distance…

Marathon Selfie

“I only started running with the SMM beginners group about 18 month ago so running a marathon always struck me as a ‘bucket list’ kind of thing to do, like skydiving or some such madness; I’ve watched the London Marathon for years on TV and, following a bout of jovial madness amongst a group of friends, put in for a ballot place in 2014. When the magazines landed that October, I was the only ‘lucky’ one receiving the famous ‘You’re In’ title and all my friends ‘missing out’ (not so secretly, they were relieved!)

Fast forward 12 months after a deferral for a possible operation and training time for the 2016 VLM raced round. Being a member of such a fantastic club like Stone Master Marathoners is a double edged sword to a degree – lots of varying opinions can muddy the waters however there really is no shortage of insight and support if you have questions about training and racing in general.

Knowing my own mind and needing a rigid plan to follow, I settled on a 17 week schedule that incorporated 3 shorter runs of tempo/hills/intervals and the obligatory long run on Sundays. I supplemented this by teaching my weekly spin class on Thursdays. One of my biggest tips to anyone considering a Marathon is, if you require support, to plan around the club training runs and make arrangements to meet people – it makes wimping out virtually impossible and you’ll keep getting those miles in!

I have to say that, if anyone thinks training for a spring marathon in Britain is glamorous, they’re mistaken; snow, heavy rain, freezing temperatures, it all combined with dark mornings and nights which made training tough. That said, I found it easier to head to training knowing I had two other first-time marathon runners in Julie Boulton and Julia Dando suffering in exactly the same way as me, plus many people who would ask week in, week out how training was going and offer their encouragement.

I created a series of A4 training pages by month and colour coded my running, highlighting in green where training went to plan, orange where I modified things to suit and red where training was not possible. It allowed me to still live my life, see a few gigs and plan family things alongside getting the running in. I’m hugely proud to look back at the notes I made and can honestly say I never wimped out of a training session; I had to alter some plans due to injury, most notably in the last 2 weeks where I couldn’t run at all due to a foot swelling. I suffered constant blisters on the balls of my feet (sexy) and various bits of tendinitis and inflammation so had to substitute some runs for spin sessions. But I stuck to the plan fairly rigidly, as anyone who knows me won’t be at all surprised to hear!

As the date approached, I decided to book into a hotel from Friday to Monday and make a relaxed weekend of my trip. The Expo (where you collect your number) was fantastic but I was careful not to spend too much time wasting valuable energy. I carb loaded to my back teeth and hydrated where possible. Sleep went well the nightEmma at the start before and race day was here! I headed off to Charing Cross with the many other nervous runners to make the 20 min journey out to Blackheath. Once there we walked over to the entrance, then into the waiting area to visit the loo, drop off bags and get sorted. VLM is clearly a well-oiled machine and this all ran like clockwork.

From Pen 9 at the back I believe my starting pace was where I needed to be, aiming for around 10 minute miles. The crowds were amazing, cheering all the way but I was slightly frustrated that, even at my modest pace, I was having to really weave my way through Tower Bridge looms!slower runners to try to hit my target pace. All the London sights amaze, as you’d expect – full on drum bands bashing out beats, huge crowds and finally some awe-inspiring landmarks. For me the Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge were highlights, the latter being simply mesmerising. I remember looking up at it as we crossed with a tear in my eye thinking “I just can’t believe I’m doing this!” I still well up thinking about it now!

At mile 14 my cheering squad of Michelle Miles and Anne and Jen Griffiths were on hand to give out hugs and reassurance. I actually nearly missed them and just caught sight of them and ran back, much to their surprise! Anne told me I looked amazing and soon again I was off. And, this is where I hit a glitch!

The infamous toilets

I’d needed the loo since mile 1 and really thought I wouldn’t make it to the end so chanced stopping at 14.5m for a pit stop. 11 mins, 2 unusable portable toilets. and a last minute decision to squat by a wall later, I was on my way again but paid the price. My legs were like lead and I was battling through slower runners to find any pace. You can see the dreaded toilets in this screen grab from one of the elite runners on BBC iPlayer and I’m not proud to say I’ve wee’d on the streets of London but hey, if it’s good enough for Paula Radcliffe, it’s good enough for me!

Big BenTowards mile 21 I recognised the elegant gait of Julia Dando and ran to her for hugs: what a welcome sight she was! I gathered her in to my waiting cheer squad and we all embraced, Anne force fed me a shot blok and water and off we went! I won’t pretend the last 8 miles were glamorous: legs felt like lead and I was resentful of that toilet stop as it became clear I just couldn’t find speed in my legs to get under 5hrs. I decided to enjoy what was left, as much as possible, even taking a photo of Big Ben as I approached.

Finish LineThe turn into the Mall was everything I had dreamed (literally, just nights before) it would be and I picked my part on the finish line for least people in front of me for a great finishers photo (vain). I lifted my index fingers to acknowledge this years push to #oneinamillion and that was it; 5hr 4min! I am not ashamed to say I cried as I went to collect my medal: relief, frustration but overwhelming pride in what I’d achieved.Finishers Photo

 

Running the marathon has taught me so much;

1. Don’t short cut the training plan; you get out what you put in
2. Personally I would overestimate my time very slightly in future to start perhaps 1 pen higher up and stand a better chance of getting a strong pace from the start
3. Wee early on and quickly!
4. Agreeing a strategy on where to see friends and loved ones on the course helped me keep pushing on for guidance and support
5. Allow yourself to ‘feel’ the whole event – the sound, atmosphere, the exhaustion. It truly is a personal endeavour to behold. And that feeling on the finishing line is like nothing else!
6. Prepare to catch the bug
7. No matter where you start with your running, with adequate training and commitment, you can achieve anything you set your mind to

I know I’m not the fastest runner and don’t doubt everyone could comment on the 04min part of my finishing time – trust me, I’ve agonised over it and will probably do so for a while yet. But I gave my all on the day, felt real pain and did my very best. I knew within minutes of sitting down waiting for the gang to get to me that I’d definitely do another and would recommend London to anyone! I simply must beat that time!

Huge thanks to everyone; my family, friends and fellow bats for the support. It’s been an amazing journey and I’ve LOVED it; so much so I feel slightly bereft to have left it all behind. If anyone wants to talk to me about my experience I’m around on Facebook and at club runs: I will even show you my medal!

And to think, I couldn’t run a 5K when I first started jogging 18 months ago and look at me now! I’m as proud as punch! The ballot opens on Monday 2nd May – who’s with me for London 2017?!”

Emma ran the London Marathon on behalf of the Douglas Macmillan Hospice – if she has inspired you, please consider a donation at her Just Giving page here.

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Dusk ’till Dawn Marathon – 31st October 2015

Race report: Phil Cape

Some of the last minute runs this year have been the most fun. The Dusk-til-Dawn was a kind invite to Tim and I a couple of weeks ago from Roger Taylor, who was already booked in with friends Linda and Tracey.

DtD_BriefingThere were three distances to choose from: a half, marathon (our event) and 50-miler in loops around Buxton. The biggest concern pre-race was sourcing fancy dress kit. Tim turned in a great Dracula outfit with inflatable bat and lightshow, Roger did a grim reaper and I went with a bit of a ghoul mask.

The race briefing from a Thriller Michael Jackson at Buxton Community School was relaxed and the other runners very friendly. A festive grim reaper, complete with scythe was introduced, the deal being if they caught you, your race was over.

A sunset start was followed by a good climb out of town to Shining Tor and the moors beyond. Stars in a clear sky and peace in the middle of nowhere are part of what makes night-running so enjoyable. The other bit being the people you meet on the way…. like the guy from Portsmouth who had driven up during Saturday, was doing the 50 before a sleep in the car and return home drive.

DtD_GroupThere were checkpoints every few miles, some of which gave food and drink (normally after a right good hill) and with the kit-checks before the event, I would recommend it as a good introduction to how ultras work. This was the first event where my GPS watch really delivered and it pretty much took us round the course like we were on rails. Those who know how bad I am at navigating will understand how big a deal it was to find this crutch; and Tim and I had a point to prove, having added 5m to a marathon in Baslow earlier in the year. The course was quite technical at times with at least one guy twisting his knee in a rabbit hole on a downhill.

We carried punch cards that needed marking every now and again – great spot by Tim at the first of these that I missed completely. The majority of the hills were in the first half of the run with some great trail-running before the return to town at the end. Over time, the half-marathoners turned off, then we did, leaving the 50-ers to complete their run within the 14hrs. There was a toughie hill that felt like it was half way around, the rest was fine.

DtD_MedalThe final run-in to town was a giggle with revellers perplexed by runners blathered in mud and stinking of manure.

Back to the finish for nice cup of tea followed by a great morning watching the bats do well running and supporting at the Flying Fox. Ideal weekend.

Nice touch from the organisers was a message a couple of days later saying that they’d donated leftover food to a charity – proper feel-good event.