I ran my first marathon 15 years ago today – London Marathon 2005. At the time I expected it to be my only marathon, a once in a lifetime experience. Somehow, 15 years on, I’m delighted and surprised to say coaching people to run is now my fulltime job. How did that happen?
Heading into the unknown
17th April 2005 was the day that changed my perspective on my ability, my confidence and career. In fact, it changed my whole approach to fitness and sport. Never being sporty in school, college or as an adult, starting to run was a great adventure. Signing up for a marathon was a crazy thought. At that stage I didn’t know anyone who had previously completed a marathon. I thought they were all crazy runners. Living in England I had started to run 5ks and 10k and with a few years of this distance in my legs I took the plunge and signed up for London Marathon 2005. Back at home I’m not sure many of my friends and family really understood what was involved, or what training I was doing while working in England. I do remember one particular weekend when I was home in Meath during marathon training. My dad dropping me off in the Phoenix Park and I arrange to meet him 3.5 hours later. I think it was then the penny dropped on how long a long run is.
From 10k to Marathon
I recently found my training log from 2005 with the gradual buildup from 10k to marathon. It reminds me of first half marathon in Liverpool which went better than expected. That particular race made me realise even if there is a party in an apartment all night next door to you, and you don’t get a wink of sleep, you can still do go a good race the next day. Looking back now, that half marathon was only 1 month before my first marathon. Not something I would advise now, but at the time my only mentors were books and many were inconsistent with their guidance. My bible was ‘The Non-Runners Marathon Trainer’, a book which I still reference 45 marathons and ultra-marathons later. I followed it weekly, compared myself to the expected, read everything and anything and tried to ignore the people who thought I was mad. I don’t blame them for thinking that. I wasn’t a sporty soul who would just turn up and do events like this. Most of my friends and certainly my family were not running in 2005. It was a few years before the running boom kicked off in Dublin. It was an experiment, and certainly one that was going to be a once off.
Armed with all the knowledge and information and my 16 week training plan complete, I was all set for tapering; That wonderful winding down phase of training where the head starts to go crazy and the doubts kick in. I did believe I could do it, not sure how slowly, but to run the whole way was my goal at a pace I could breathe and relax at, but without having to walk.
2 weeks to go and the build-up had started with a final run along along Swansea marina. One minute I was looking out to sea, the next minute I was lying on the ground having tripped over the painted white line on the middle of the path. Yes, it is possible to trip over a painted line. To cut a long story short, the arm was broken. Not a major break, but nothing a few months of rest wouldn’t fix. No cast, just a bandage as the break was at the elbow. A few months of rest would rule the marathon out. I was gutted. Just when I believed I could do this race, it was being taken away from me. My friends may call me Pollyanna for being an eternal optimist, but something in my head told me that I might just be able to still do it. I rested totally, and tried anything I could. From painkillers to herbal poultices to lighted candles, I tried everything – except running. I cannot remember exactly how close to the race I tried a mile or two, but I did, and it wasn’t too bad. I was going to attempt this.
The final countdown
In some ways the broken arm distracted me from the usual marathon tapering jitters, I was so focussed on the arm, any expectation I had now reduced and I would be happy just to get around. It relieved the pressure of marathon day. It was going to be a true experiment now to see how much I could do. In hindsight, sometimes the setbacks are for the best. I was more rested for marathon day and I had lifted a weight of pressure from my shoulders.
Marathon weekend and as vague as my memory is of so much of that time, I will never forget one image – An enormous poster over the entrance to the marathon expo – ‘Second Thoughts – it’s what happens before marathons’. For me it was the moment where it all became real. This is it. I’m going to run the London marathon.
My memories of race day are a total blur. I can remember the mass of at the start line, the bag drop, the enormous crowds as we started and a constant stream of supporters and cheering friends and family along the way. I felt carried all the way through Greenwich and it was only when I was crossing London bridge at 13 miles that I realised that half was already complete. The time had flown by, it was so much easier than clock watching in training alone. My memories of the second half are less clear, it’s only as I come into the last mile that I do remember the flags, the loudspeakers and Buckingham palace. I remember finishing comfortably and smiling and surprising myself to finish so strong. The strangest thing is that I have no memory of getting my medal. How can I have forgotten the one memory of the moment I had visualised for months in advance? It is funny the things we remember. My main post race memory is walking backwards down steps into a tube station after a post race party with Concern, the charity I had ran the race to raise funds for.
If only there were smart phones or facebook back then, I would have a visual memory of the day. Instead I have just one photo, a lot of jumbled up memories but a huge change in perspective.
What a difference a day makes
I wonder will there ever be another day that changes my outlook on life as much. 15 years on, I can truly look back on that day as the one that set my life in a different direction from where it was heading. Maybe running a marathon isn’t your ‘life changing’ day, but the feeling of knowing you did something that you, and many others, never thought you would is possibly the most empowering feeling there is. No wonder we can only experience the feeling once in a decade – it’s practically priceless.
Back again in 2006
The following year I ran London again. This time my mother and aunt came to see the race. Watching from the sidelines now they were able to see the wonder of the event, the faces and bodies that look so different at 3 miles from 23 miles.
Now, the memory of both of those races merge into 1 for me. In some ways, nothing beats your first marathon as it changes who you are. For me, it made me realise, if I can do this, what else can I do. It also made me think of so many other people who could also do things like this if they planned ahead, followed a plan and approached it with caution as well as respect. What once seemed impossible was now done – and the fear had been taken out of it. It wasn’t easy, but the race was indeed a lot easier than I expected. That possibly may be my rose tinted memory 10 years on.
If you are lucky enough to be in a position to run your first marathon, please do one thing – write down everything about it. Many year on you too may look back on it as ‘one of those days’.
Here is a photo of London Marathon 2006, one year later. Thankfully I am still smiling then and continue to smile on marathon days.
From a run to a career
Two years after my first marathon I set up ForgetTheGym. Once again I never expected it to become my fulltime job, my passion and a huge part of my life. I certainly never thought I would have a book, Get Running published all about running. When I first started ForgetTheGym, my initial clients were my friends, girls who had seen me change and wanted to experience the running buzz. Over the years, I’m delighted to say ForgetTheGym has expanded to coaching everyone from beginners to marathon runners, helping the enjoy running, stay injury free and add a whole new dimension to their lives. I’m so thrilled to have worked with so many runners (and wannabe runners) over the years and today is a great day to look over some of their success stories.
One day can change your life, and today, 17th April, I celebrate the day that changed mine. I might just have to celebrate with a little run…
Mary’s Marathon Coaching Programme for Dublin Marathon Starts June 2020.
Mary book Get Running, published by Gill Books is available now.
See all upcoming events at ForgetTheGym