London Marathon Medal 2016

What to expect when you sign up for your first marathon

I remember saying that I would NEVER run a marathon. I ran my first half marathon and as I approached the finish line I thought I would never be able to walk again, so how people ran that distance again straight away felt crazy to me!

Well 5 marathons later, and another already booked for next year, let’s have a little look at what happens when you book a marathon.

London Marathon Medal 2016
  1. You feel all brave and hit the button to sign up for your first marathon. The excitement is great and you are raring to go.
  2. You share your news on social media and everyone is happy for you. This is going to be SO exciting.
  3. A couple of days later, when the adrenalin has worn off, you think F*#k! What the hell was I thinking of?
  4. With the fear and negativity truly ingrained, you start to google training plans. Wow, training seems to go on forever and how can you possibly run for (insert longest training run on the plan).
  5. After choosing your training plan, you actually can’t wait to get started. The anticipation of the start date of your training cycle is immense.
  6. Prior to the start date, you think about all the things that you are going to do alongside your running; eating sensibly (possibly lose some weight), stretch daily, strength train, get lots of sleep, foam roll… the list is endless.
  7. Your start date comes and you are loving life. The first run was a dream, you got back and had a protein shake, you stretched, foam rolled, you are going to enjoy this journey.
  8. Your first long run comes and goes and although you struggled to slow down enough for a Long Run you are very pleased to get that ticked off the plan. How is week 1 completed already?
  9. 6 weeks into the plan, you are glad to have gotten over your cold. You are starting to feel tired. Stretching, what’s that? How have you not lost weight? You have only missed a few sessions off the plan!
  10. Week 11; when is this going to end. It is relentless. You are tired, your runs are getting longer. You are hungry ALL the time. You are doubting that you will ever be able to complete a marathon. You also have your longest run EVER looming and that scares you.
  11. Once your longest run is completed, you are so happy to start the taper time. Although taper isn’t all you thought it would be, as you still have to get out and run x number of days a week. Even though the mileage is coming down, some of the runs are still LONG!
  12. The final weeks before the marathon, you start to feel sluggish. How can you have just completed all of those weeks of training, yet you feel the most unfit you have in a while. Why did you sign up for this? What were you thinking?
  13. You attend the expo/your bib arrives, the excitement builds.
  14. You stand on the start line of the race, all the nerves, excitement, and anticipation. Then just as you are about the start, again, it hits you. You NOW have to run 26.2 miles!
  15. You complete the marathon. It was like a rollercoaster. You loved some bits, you were scared at some parts, you wondered if you would stay alive, you constantly wonder if it is EVER going to finish.
  16. You finish. NEVER again.
  17. You can’t quite believe what has just happened. You want to eat all the food and drink all the alcohol. You take one bite and one sip and actually you don’t want anything at all. You are walking like you have had an accident. You just want to sleep. 
  18. Well, you do want to sleep, but your mind won’t let you. Also, who knew sleeping hurt! Every movement hurts!
  19. A week later you are feeling a little lost. What do you do with all this free time that you now have?
  20. You are not quite sure how this just happened, but somehow you have just signed up for your next marathon. And so it begins again!!
Chicago Marathon Medal 2019

I have written about my training cycles here. reading back over them allows me to see the progress, or to compare cycles. I think my training cycle for Manchester Marathon should have started really, but this one will be slightly different as I think a 12-week programme is going to have to suffice.

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Do you agree? What other thoughts cross your mind? Are you running a marathon in 2020? Comment below and let me know.

Chicago Marathon Medal Engraved

And Just Like that…

It’s back to reality with a thud! My focus has been the Chicago Marathon for what feels like an eternity, I don’t think I have thought post Chicago many times.

The running part of my adventure to Chicago didn’t quite go how I would have liked it too. During the end of the training cycle I remember thinking NEVER again, during the marathon I remember thinking NEVER again, after the marathon, I thought NEVER again, that’s it.

So why is it, one-week post-marathon, I have already logged on to the Berlin Marathon website and thought more about the Six-Star Challenge! WTAF

Originally, I thought the London Marathon was going to be my one and only marathon (Read about them here). I just wanted to tick it off my bucket list and that would be that. Then when New York Marathon fitted so well with my 40th Birthday celebrations, I just had to stick my name in that ballot!

New York City has always been on my ‘To-do List’ for as long as I can remember. Surely everyone watches films and falls in love with NYC?? The New York City Marathon was 4 days prior to my 40th birthday, so that became my dream. When I got I got a place and then had a great run in New York, obtaining my marathon PB (Read here), it ignited my passion for marathons again. It also made me think about the Six Star Finish again.

Wow, wow, wow

I put my name in the ballot for both Tokyo and Berlin in 2018 but didn’t get places. So next was Chicago, so what was the harm of adding my name to the ballot for that too. When I got the place, my World Marathon Majors six-star finish was back on!

I feel like running like marathons is like child birth. The pain and turmoil at the time is intense. Then it is all blocked from your head and you think doing it again is a good idea.

I do already have the Manchester Marathon booked for next year (April), but I still keep being drawn to the Berlin Marathon ballot. It closes at the end of October, yet I know currently I don’t have the funds to apply; it’s 125 Euros.

This six-star challenge doesn’t come easy or cheap, but luckily doesn’t have to be finished in a time period. I just now need to find my dream job that will allow me the time off to go to these marathons and pay me the wages so I can afford this crazy adventure!! Not asking much am I??!hehehe

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Chicago Marathon 2019

Chicago Marathon 2019 tick. I made it pretty obvious prior to this race I wasn’t feeling all that confident about running the Chicago Marathon. My running training hadn’t been bad, but mentally I wasn’t in the right place. My long runs hadn’t quite gone as well as I would have liked them too but I just thought this was the joy of marathon training! But after my 5k run on Saturday morning, I felt really comfortable and started to look forward to the race.

Start of the Chicago Marathon 2019
When it is too cold to take your jumper off, but you need your number on display!

The Start

Due to the time difference (Chicago is 6 hours behind), the early start wasn’t a problem. The previous day had been REALLY cold, so I was unsure how early to get to the start, but headed out of the hotel room around 6:30 am.

As I walked to the lift, another girl was waiting to get in the lift and we started chatting. Other runners got in the lift as we went down and a few of us left the hotel at the same time. I had planned my route to the start and checked it lots. Out of the hotel, turn right, then turn right down Michigan Avenue. When some of the runners turned left, I turned to Amy (the girl from the lift) and said “well that concerns me”. She told me she was sticking with me so we walked and talked all the way down to the start.

It was so nice to have someone to share the start with and Amy was super friendly, she made me feel like we had been friends for a long time. We headed for the correct gate entry, but a marshal told us to go in a different one as it was really busy where we were heading. Our bags were searched and our bodies were scanned and then we were in. The sunrise was amazing and the starting corrals (as the Americans call them) were all set up around Buckingham Fountain.

Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, Chicago.
Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

We tried to locate the baggage drop, but the signage was not that great and we went to the wrong place. As we headed back to find our drop, we saw the length of the line for the toilets, so decided to start queuing. We were still in the queue when the National Anthem was played and the Elite men started. It was super cold and I was really worried that I may have had the wrong kit on! After the baggage drop ( which was really easy, once found, and no queues) I braved taking my throw away bottoms off but didn’t dare remove my jumper.

Amy was in the wave before me, but tried to move back to mine so we could run together as both of use were aiming to run around the 4:30 time. The security was tight and they wouldn’t let Amy in, so we said our goodbyes wished each other luck. I moved my way down towards the front on my Corral so that I was near the 4:30 pacer. All I needed to do now was keep warm. I was shivering SO much. We had a good 30 minute wait, but inched forward, bit by bit, until I could see the start line.

Start of Chicago Marathon
All smiles before the race.

The Race

I listened to the music, I took in the atmosphere and felt quite relaxed. The announcer made a joke about how good we were as we’d given everyone a head start and then the countdown happened. As we approached the line, the announcer shouted “I see you Ruth, you go girl” so I crossed the line with a huge smile on my face, thinking that maybe this was going to be a good day.

The first part of the course went under a tunnel and there were supporters there shouting and cheering. I had my name on my vest so my name was shouted so many times and this happened for most of the race; the Americans love cheering. I remember reading lots of signs which made me smile, but annoyingly I can’t recall any of them now.

In the early section, we had to cross the river a few times and I was surprised to see that the bridges were metal and not solid, so not the easiest to run over. I spotted my mum in the crowd on the left, but typically I was on the right side of the course! I cut across, going slightly backwards and got to the middle to shout. It was noisy so it took a few shouts to get her attention but I did, I waved and continued on with a big smile.

My GPS was so off and clicked 1 mile in 8 minutes something and way before the 1st-mile marker. I knew it was supposed to be bad so I had turned my watch to just time, so I had no idea of pace. I took notice of the main clock so I could keep a check at each mile marker. It felt like I was really holding back and from my calculations, I was running around 10:10 pace. This felt ok, so I just tried to stick to this pace.

Marathon runner
Concentration!

We were heading out of town to the north of Chicago and the streets were lined with people shouting my name. My legs did not feel as fresh as I would have liked but I just went with it. I remember that around mile 6/7 we could see the lake and there were parks around us. It was really pretty, the sun was beaming down, yet there were lots of gusts of wind too. We then turned and headed back to town.

I can not recall at what point it went wrong. But I know around mile 13, we cross a bridge again, which was just down the road from my hotel. I thought if I was to see my mum again, this was likely to be the place. I then worried that if I did see her, I might cry as I wasn’t sure I wanted to carry and run that distance again. It just felt a LONG way.

Half way

I went through halfway in about 2:07. I’m not sure how I felt about this; Was it too fast? I did think if I can keep this up that would be a huge PB! (So that probably indicates that it was too fast!) My fuel belt was old and I wear it for every run. It’s always been ok but one of my gels slipped out in the early miles and I was constantly having to adjust them as they felt like they were sliding down, so I carried three in my hand. I then noticed I had lost another one, so had to adjust my fuelling plan.

Chicago Marathon runner
Smiling for the camera, not sure I was feeling like smiling.

The water stations were very efficient and long. They handed out Gatorade for the first section of the station and then water at the end. I had taken water at miles 3, 6, and 9 miles. Around mile 14, I decided to stop and walk through the water station, so that I could make sure I actually took on water, as trying to drink from a cup and run isn’t always that good, even with me pinching the cup together.

I knew as I walked through the drinks station, there was no way I was going to be running a PB, so I set myself a plan. At mile 18 and mile 22 I would need to take get, so if I concentrated on running in blocks of 4 miles at a time I could walk the drinks stations at those miles. Three blocks of 4 miles felt achievable.

I don’t really remember much about this section, apart from thinking it was quiet on support and the sun was bright. That may not have been the case, it’s just that I was concentrating so hard on putting one foot in front of another. Around mile 17, I spotted Amy stopped on the side of the road stretching. I stopped to her to check she was ok. It was so good to see a friendly face. Her knees were starting to hurt, so I told her my plan of walking drinks stations and we decided to run together.

Chicago Marathon runner.

After stopping to walk the drinks station at mile 18, my legs were really stiff and it took time for me to get going again. The plan was to run to 22 miles, but Bio freeze had a station at mile 21, where they were spraying legs with bio freeze and they had fans to dry it quickly. I don’t know if it was psychological, but it did help my legs for a bit.

The true second half

Miles 22 to 25 seem like a blur. I know we ran as much as we could, we walked a lot of the drinks station as I was really thirsty. Running past someone that had beer, omg it smelt sooooo good. I just wanted the race to be over so I could have a beer. Then there was a beer station. They were serving it in shot cups, so we took one. Amy downed hers and even though it was me that wanted the beer, I had two sips and couldn’t stomach anymore!

Chicago Marathon runner.

The last few miles were one long straight road, the crowds were getting deeper and the noise was insane. The road was very wide but the gusts of wind were head-on at times. At one point a gust came from the side blowing my leg onto my other leg, nearly tripping me up. They don’t call it the windy city for nothing!

Amy thought she may see her family again at mile 25, so I think we ran in silence trying to spot them. Then she saw then just about 600m before mile 26. She waved and I could see that she was overcome with emotion. We just ran (probably more like a shuffle side by side in silence). I didn’t have any idea where the finish line was, but Amy told me there was a hill just before the end.

We turned right and there was the hill. Well, it was an incline, but not too bad. Even after getting to the top, I couldn’t see the finish line, then there was a left turn and I saw it. There was no sprint finish. A gentleman tripped in front of us, about 200m from the finish line, so we slowed to check he was ok.

Finishing the Chicago Marathon.
Hands up if you are glad it’s over!

The finish line

As I crossed the line, I felt pure relief. I didn’t care about the time I was just glad it was over. We hugged and congratulated each other. I got my phone out just as a text came through from my sister. That was it, I started to cry. I’m not sure why but the emotions were raw. We took our finish line selfie and went to collect our medal. A FaceTime from my daughter congratulating me was pretty special too!

Finish line selfies.
All smiles now that we are finished.

Chicago Marathon provided us with another beer at the end, which I enjoyed! Not long after finishing Amy said, I would do another marathon, my reply was NEVER again! I’m not sure I meant this, but???

Beer to celebrate

We saw the six-star finishers area and I told Amy all about it and we looked at the medal. I’m now not sure if this will ever happen – the expense alone scares me. Three stars gained, three more to get. Tokyo, Berlin, and Boston – who knows???

We were lucky that our baggage pick up was a short walk as it turned cold again pretty quickly.

Chicago Marathon finisher.

What now?

Now that I am home and I have had time to reflect, I am very proud of my run. To complete another marathon is an accomplishment. To get through the 16 weeks training prior to this marathon is tough in itself.

This marathon wasn’t just about my finishing time. I visited a lovely city and found myself a new friend in Amy. Running is such a special gift that allows me to travel, meet amazing people and challenge myself. I have already looked at the Berlin Marathon ballot and if I had the money I think I would have entered. For now, I may just have to wait and get back to enjoying my running more.

Chicago by night.
Chicago, you were amazing – Thank you

I’m sure I have so much more to write about this experience so please add questions below if you want to know anything else and if you want to read all about my training here.

My thoughts…

I had grand plans for writing this blog post on the flight to Chicago, but I couldn’t get the WIFI connection to work, so I watched TWO chic flicks instead! Instead, it is now 4:51 am and I am propped up in my bed overlooking the river in Chicago – pretty impressive view!

View from my hotel window – Wyndham Grand Riverside Hotel

I am 2 days away from starting the Chicago Marathon and I have so many mixed emotions. After completing the New York Marathon back in 2017, I decided that I wanted to be a six-star finisher. (When you complete all the World Marathon Majors events) I LOVED the New York City Marathon SO much. It was all my dreams coming true. It was 4 days before my 40th Birthday, my work was generous enough to give me the time off and I was going to New York with my husband. I had always wanted to go to New York and it was everything I had hoped for. Constantly feeling like I was in a movie scene! (I just wished it had been longer!)

With my six-star dream planted in the back of my head, I entered both the Berlin and Tokyo ballot, but didn’t get a place. Chicago ballot came and I stuck my name in the hat, assuming a similar result, but I was successful! Excellent, time to start the planning. I knew it was a little different, as work wasn’t going so well for me and I didn’t know whether they would allow the time off.

One of the reasons for wanting to write this on the plane as it was mental health awareness day and this year has been one of the toughest of my life so far! Back in March of this year, I felt like I broke. I have always found teaching tough, but somehow managed to just keep going and I was always the person that thought ‘zip up your man suit’ when times were getting tough. But for some reason, I couldn’t. I could feel everything building up, yet one day a minor incident; where I felt like a work colleague had let me down, sent me over the edge. I had been having dark and negative thoughts for a while, but now I felt like it was out of control. I was signed off work and never returned to that workplace again.

Why I am telling you all this when this post is about the Chicago Marathon? Well, my training cycle started whilst I wasn’t working, so I decided to go for it. My plan was written for running 5 days a week and I was going to the gym. I thought it was going to be a breeze. No work to make me tired, miss sessions and not fuel properly.

Well, that hasn’t quite been the reality. Not working and experiencing the journey I have been on, it changes you. I lost myself for a while. My confidence has changed, my resilience has changed, my mental strength is in a whole different place.

Chicago Marathon Expo

So, I have trained harder than I ever had before, but I’m really not sure how Sunday will go. I put lots of pressure on myself to go for a PB and a pretty big one at that, but mentally I’m not sure I am capable of that. It also has put unnecessary pressure on myself which I don’t need. I have struggled to appreciate this trip as much I should.

Therefore, I need to remember that I am getting to experience something so amazing. I am in an amazing city, spending time with my mum, and hopefully able to run (walk if I need) 26.2 miles. Whatever happens on Sunday, I AM going to ENJOY it.

It’s ok not to be ok!

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Chicago Marathon Training – Week 15

My penultimate week of training for the Chicago Marathon hasn’t exactly gone to plan. If any week isn’t going to go to plan, week 15 is an ok week to do that, right? Well, thats what I keep telling myself!

Chicago Marathon Logo

If you haven’t caught up with all the other weeks training for Chicago Marathon, have a look here.

Monday – Run Club Session – 1200’s Av: 9:25

The weather was shocking for this session. The heavens opened and for the first lap, I tried to dodge the puddles, by lap two there were no puddles, the pavements were just mini streams!

We completed 1200 reps and I got slower with everyone. My legs were tired and I think my trainers ended up weighing a ton with all the water they had taken on!

Tuesday – Rest day

I was glad of this rest day, as I started my first day as a supply teacher. Not really what I want to be doing, but I need to earn money! It was a LONG day as I had to travel an hour too and from the school, so I was happy this was a rest day!

Wednesday – Tempo run 6 miles – DNS

I knew this session was going to be tough to fit in. I was still working in the school an hour away. Also, the school does not finish until 4.05 pm and my daughter had swimming at 5:30 pm. Usually, I would miss her swimming to make sure that I fit in my run, but this day was different. The problems I have had at work have impacted my family too and I knew that going back to work was worrying my daughter. She doesn’t want to go back to the time when I am at work all the time and unable to do things with her. Missing swimming would have just not been the thing to do. I consider doing the session on the treadmill after swimming and then that caused problems with dinner, so I just gave up trying to sort it.

Thursday – Run Club Session – DNS

I knew that this session was going to be missed, as I had a hair appointment. Well, it is important to have my hair sorted for the finishing photos!

Friday – Rest

I didn’t really need this rest day, but I wasn’t feeling too good today, so decided to keep it as a rest day and be kind to myself.

Saturday – Easy Run – 3 Miles – Av. 10:30

I was supposed to go to Parkrun this morning, but after my anxiety kicking in yesterday big time, and not sleeping too well last night (along with most nights this last week) I bailed on this run. The thought of being around lots of people just didn’t appeal.

So I put the music on and got the 3 miles completed in the treadmill.

Treadmill training

Sunday – Long Run – 7 Miles – av pace: 9:51

I put on my headphones and headed out for this run solo. I decided to not really look at my watch and run easy. Although, running at the moment doesn’t ever seem to be easy.

I tried to concentrate on my breathing and how I felt, but typical taper madness set in and my legs ached, my back felt like it was twinging. I think it was about mile 6 that I started to ‘enjoy’ the run.

Action photo from last long run this training cycle.

Seven miles completed and that’s training completed. My pacing was a little all over the place but I am planning on sticking by a pacer at the Chicago Marathon, so hopefully, that will help me with pace.

Copy of Copy of Chi Marathon Week 11-3

Chicago Marathon Training – Week 14

Why is it during week 8 of Chicago Marathon training you can’t wait for it all to be over, but now in Week 14 you feel like you need more time. I do feel I have been training hard, but I know there is so much more that I should have been doing! It’s the same every training cycle and each time I say the next will be different!

If you haven’t caught up with all the other weeks training for Chicago Marathon, have a look here.

Monday – Run Club Session – 800’s Av: 8:32

My running was feeling like it was going a little Pete Tong of late. So I had no idea how this session was going to go. I went on the longer warm-up and it felt pretty hard and fast, but I just gritted my teeth and went with it.

We started with a 800 loop. I ran it hard and came in with a time of 4:10. We then set off for a 1600 (2 loops) and told to keep the same pace. I actually run that rep in 8:19, which I was pleased with. I felt like i’d given everything, to be told we had another 800m and should try to go faster! Yeah right, I thought.

The three amigos after training
All the smiles once the session is over.

3:55 for that loop! Wow, but I really did feel now that I had nothing left. Another 800 loop and the coach told us not to slow down! I worked hard and was surprised when I clocked 3:48. That had to be the last one! Yep, you guessed it, the coach called for one more. I really felt spent, but couldn’t let my time increase! I set off, working hard, after setting off my shoelace came undone! Bang goes my quicker every lap!

Tuesday – Rest day

ZZZzzzzzz….

Wednesday – Tempo run 8 miles – av. pace 9:10

I had company for this run, as I talked my husband in to cycling. I knew he wasn’t keen on doing it, but came with me anyway. It always makes runs SO much easier when you have people to go out with.

I felt good at the start and looked forward to sending good splits to my coach. When I got to 4 miles, I turned round to head back and thats where it started to fade. I felt like I was working really hard, but my pace was just fading fast. I tried all the mental tricks I could think of, but by the last mile I decided it was a cool down mile. I stopped looking at my watch and tried to work hard until the end. My fade wasn’t as disastrous as I thought it was going to be, but trying to run faster is HARD! (I think i’m over it!!!!)

Thursday – Run Club Session – Hills – Av 8:42

Hills, I was tired and I got maranoia! Another hard session, which I just had to grind out. The loops were around 400m and included a rather challenging hill. Then to top it all off, we finished with an undulating 1.5 mile loop.

Friday – Rest

Yipppppeeeee

Saturday – Easy Run – 3 Miles – Av. 10:30

I thought about Parkrun, but when my daughter came into my bed for cuddles in the morning, I wasn’t moving. She is already growing up too fast, so these moments are the best.

Instead I used the treadmill in the afternoon to just get these 3 miles out of the way. My old watch used to always track slow on the treadmill. Since I have changed to the Garmin Forerunner 645 it reads really fast. I think it recorded 9:35 pace, when actually I think I was closer to 10:45 pace. I kept it super slow and easy, although very few runs are feeling easy these days.

Sweaty Selfie after a treadmill run
Sweaty selfie after the treadmill.

Sunday – Long Run – 13 Miles – av pace: 9:51

As soon as I saw my plan had 13 miles for today, falling on the same day as Northampton Half it seemed a no brainer. If you are logging long miles for a marathon, why not collect all the bling on the way!

I really didn’t know how to approach this run and now that it is over, i’m really not too sure how I feel about it. My race report is here.

MNDA vest and medal
MNDA vest and medal

So, that was week 14 and this time in 2 weeks I am hoping that I will have completed the Chicago Marathon. This training cycle has felt REALLY tough, so I will just have to see what happens. For the next two weeks I need to sleep well, eat well and stay healthy. Nearly there!