A Marathon-length blog post about running the London Marathon for Mind…

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My blog posts tend to be Marathon-length. For once, this one deserves to be…

I DID IT!!!! 

And here’s how it went…

PROLOGUE… 

I’d hoped to be packed and able to relax by Saturday night but being in bed for two days during the week with a cold has blown that out of the water a bit. I’ve been planning scrupulously for months; I know I have everything I need; packing is just a matter of bringing it all together. Predictably, I get to bed too late but still manage to sleep for the 5:30am start. I’m still full of catarrh. The weather is dark, dank and horrible. It’s actually sleeting. I do not want to run a Marathon in this. I don’t even want to go outside in this. How is this morning even allowed to call itself April?! But, I remember the London 10K when the weather looked apocalyptic until the sun broke through at 9am and it was glorious. Sure enough, by the time we get to Canary Wharf, there is blue sky. I’m nervous about using up my phone’s juice but I have a scroll through some good luck tweets and texts. I spot a tweet from Clare Balding, saying she’ll try and read out tweets from charity runners on Radio 2 in the afternoon. I tweet her to tell her I’m running for Mind (Did anyone listen to it, by any chance…?). London seems oddly quiet at first. I’m expecting lots of happy people in zany costumes, instead everybody’s in Swedish-made running kit and looks as tired, edgy and in need of the loo as me. Mum and I dive into the Travelodge by Greenwich DLR which has kindly opened up one loo on the ground floor for passing runners. I am greatly relieved. I have regressed to toddlerhood and want to tell strangers about my bowel movements. My nerves get worse as we head up to the top of a heaving Greenwich Park and closer to my bag drop and goodbyes. There’s a first day at school atmosphere. Until two days ago I hadn’t seen my parents for four months and now I don’t want to leave them for a few hours. I am nearly 32; this is ridiculous. I have no idea where I’m going and need the loo again. It’s all a bit frantic and time is ticking. I find the right-numbered baggage lorry, and starting pen. Phew. Big relieved sighs. A DJ is shouting out motivational blather in a booming Geordie accent over pounding drums. As we wait for the off, I spot another Mind runner, Na (pronounced Nai, short for Naomi). and her friend Ellie who is running for Breast Cancer Care. Their names are on their vests. I start to introduce myself, then remember my name is also on my vest. The sun is now streaming down despite the chill. “Why didn’t you bring sunglasses and sun cream, idiot?” yells my inner critic, before remembering it was practically mid-November when I left the house. Then, woohoo! I see my mum waving alongside me in the fenced-off spectator area, snapping photos with her iPad. I didn’t think they’d get near. Mum’s relieved. She did not like saying goodbye to an anxious and disoriented me and is happy I’ve found my bearings. “I love you mum,” I say, chuckling and rolling my eyes to disguise the wobble in my voice.

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I AM RUNNING THE LONDON MARATHON

Miles 1-2 ‘So this is happening…’ 

Everyone warns you it can take ages to get from your pen to the actual start line but it all seems to happen fairly fast. My need for the loo has increased from a nice-to-have to a really-want. Not ideal. There are Portaloos right before the starting line and lots of men are diving in but I’m too nervous to queue now and decide to wait until the next opportunity. As I’m crossing the start, my running armband loses its stick and I fumble to fix it. I calm down and settle in. The most universal Marathon advice is not to start too fast, and to treat the first half as little more than a light jog. What they don’t tell you is how difficult it is to judge your pace at the beginning. At half a mile, my Fitbit announces I’m running a 9-something minute mile. Wow. It’s not just too fast, it’s the fastest I’ve run at all since last year. But, it means I can afford a toilet stop after ten minutes. There’s barely a queue but some impatient people decide to wee behind the Portaloos. We’re on a motorway bridge, in full view of traffic. “I don’t care! They’re never going to see us again!” trills one woman. I take the dignified option and wait. People are unimpressed at themselves for needing the toilet so soon. “This toilet situation is crap. Literally,” one geezer grumbles as we rejoin the race. For a moment, everyone seems to be cheering on somebody called Vinnie. I don’t understand it. Is he famous? Is Vinnie Jones here? Why is he getting all this attention? I look to my left and realise Vinnie is dressed as a rhino. Fair do’s.

Miles 3-6 ‘Where am I? I don’t do South of the River!’

The next few miles are a blur of smiling children and chicken shops. I realise that in my haste to slow down I’ve slowed down too much and am now some way off my target pace. But I can’t seem to make myself go any faster. To be honest, it’s a bit tedious at the moment. I don’t recognise anywhere, and no-one is calling out my name yet. A bloke in a balcony flat above a shop has rigged up a booming sound system, like they do for the Notting Hill Carnival, and is shouting amusing encouragement. But all I can focus on is my pace, which is pants, and my bunged-up breathing, which is too. My eyes are stinging, my nose is starting to run. I keep checking my belt and inside my bra to make sure I’ve still got enough tissues. God knows what it’ll be doing at Mile 18. And it’s getting warmer. I have long sleeves on under my vest. Just as I’m thinking I could really do with some motivation, a sound system pumps out C’est La Vie by B*witched, contender for worst song in the history of recorded sound (nicely parodied by Smack The Pony). Unlike previous events I’m not running with music yet (I’m rationing it to save my phone’s battery. I’m allowed it after halfway, when I’ll really need it).

Miles 7-13 Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge 

I’m still not sure where I am, and a bit despondent that I’m running so slowly. “Where’s 10K?” I keep wondering. I remember it’s at Cutty Sark. “Where’s Cutty Sark?” I wonder next. “Ooh, there it is, and there’s the Observatory!” I’m still chomping at the bit for the halfway point, when I’m allowed to put music on. I’ve never run without music for this long. It’s hard, even with an atmosphere. I focus on getting to Tower Bridge. In the piece about doing the Marathon I wrote for the Durham alumni magazine, I said I hoped running across Tower Bridge would feel as iconic as graduating in Durham cathedral. It does feel iconic. The view is the kind you really want to stop and savour rather than run past. It’s misty, which gives it a certain romance. And it’s over a bit too quickly. But I try and take it in as best I can: The river, City Hall, the Gherkin. Just afterwards, at the halfway point, I spot the Mind cheering squad, with a photographer. “MAXINE, MAXINE, MAXINE” they chant. Hooray! I feel much better now!

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My 95-year-old Grandma drew this “well done” card of Tower Bridge for me.

Miles 14-18 The surprisingly good bit

The supposed worst bit of the Marathon; the bit where everyone slumps, around Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs, is actually my favourite. The sun’s out, I’ve got my music, I recognise where I am, this is fun. My traditional view of Canary Wharf (dystopian hellhole for people who got rich on being extroverted and good at Maths; whoop-dee-bloody-do…) changed recently when I went carol singing there with Mind and some bankers joined us. I’ve been here often enough now for various professional and personal reasons that the enveloping skyscrapers are oddly comforting. Don’t Give Up by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel comes on from my playlist. I spot Charlotte and Naomi, friends since school, on opposite sides of the road at Mile 17 and squeal incoherently at them. They’ve been tracking me on the app. I want to stop and chat but I also don’t want to cause a pileup so I carry on. The spectators are lovely: “You’re doing great!” You’re looking good, girl!” There’s even another Maxine who exclaims: “That’s my name too!” From now on, fluids are all-important. I develop a system for drinking so that I don’t get too sickly from all the sugar: bottle of Buxton water in one hand, bottle of Lucozade in the other, alternate sips of each. By now I’m long out of tissues and have to ask the St John Ambulance ladies for more. This feels a bit silly when there are people clutching their limbs. My leg isn’t broken, I’m just sporadically ejecting snot. But, an impediment nevertheless.

Miles 19-22 ” ‘They don’t know…” 

I hit that infamous Wall at Miles 19-21. I’m amongst a sea of runners in charity vests walking in silence like philanthropic zombies. My legs hurt more than I knew legs could. I made a rule for myself that I’m allowed a walk once I get to 20 miles. I’ve no idea where this rule comes from, it just seems a good one to have. It’s difficult to tell whether the water on my face is rain or just water sloshing out of my bottle. No, this is definitely rain. My music playlist starts trolling me: Kirsty MacColl’s They Don’t Know comes on. I’ve had it on there for a good few weeks but it’s never come up on shuffle before now. Oh what timing! One of my late friends loved her so much he named his cat after her. I have a framed photo on my desk of the two of us with him wearing a purple Kirsty memorial t-shirt I bought him for his birthday one year. The song has other resonances too. I well up as I attempt to power-walk through the drizzle. I’m in too much pain to even squeal “BABY!” into the ether just before the final verse. Next is the pounding punk of Love In A Void by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Normally I’d sprint through this, today I’m barely hobbling. Oh, for heavens sake. I decide I need more fluid. What eventually gets me through the stupid wall is the stupid weather. The wind has picked up and it’s suddenly freezing cold again. I decide to keep running because otherwise I’ll cool down too much and the cold will make the pain worse. I need to get warm. I want my friends – and the Mind cheerers – to see me happy at the end. The more I run, the sooner it will be over. My inner-chivvying works. At mile 22, my legs come back to life. “Come on girl, that’s it. Come on,” a man says, as though I’m a horse. It sounds a lot more alluring in this state than it should. Lots of spectators are offering jelly babies and orange slices but they’re too fiddly for me to grab. Ditto my Shot Bloks, so I just stick to fluids. I take a drink at every station, accepting the grab-sized bottles of water with an emphatic thank you as though they’re Oscars. Just before Mile 23 I see my mum running alongside me on the raised pavement yelling encouragement “GO MAXINE, YOU’RE NEARLY THERE GO GO GO!”. I squeal. A couple of minutes later I see Ash, alias Lodger, and her colleague. Another squeal. Charis, an internet friend who’s known me since the earliest blog I kept more than ten years ago, is also here cheering, but I can’t hear her over music and don’t find this out til later.  Most internet friends from that era I have subsequently met “in real life” (one, I’m bridesmaiding for in June) so it was a shame not to speak to her but I’m very happy she came along. These two are her photos…

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At this point, lots of spectators are holding “witty” motivational signs: “You’re running London better than Boris!”. “I’m so proud of you, random stranger!” “Toenails are overrated!” I grin and give the thumbs up to “Pain first. Wine later” which is funny the first time. Perhaps less so after the third variation…

Miles 23-26 “We can be heroes, just for one day…”

On my fundraising page I’ve invited people to suggest songs for my running playlist. A bloke who sponsored me after reading my Durham alumni magazine piece suggested Heroes by David Bowie. It’s more heart-wrenchingly appropriate than he could ever know. It reminds me of the Berlin Wall, of my heritage, of doomed love, of absent friends, and of a few same-age Durham friends who are huge Bowie fans. And of my dad, who disliked him with a vehemence I’ve never quite understood. I’m near Mile 24, heading out of the dreary Blackfriars tunnel and onto Embankment, when it starts playing: “I, I will be king. And you, you will be queen…” And I start crying. I can hear my sobs and sniffs and feel the tears slide down my face. Part of me’s embarrassed/worried for my hefty expensive makeup, part of me doesn’t want to stop. It feels cathartic. This is the only place I’m allowed to have these feelings without explanation, and I just want to be left to bawl my eyes out – it’s a bit difficult in front of 33,000 other people. A girl wearing a cancer charity vest puts her arm around me and asks if I’m alright. “Just a bit emotional,” I nod. “I think it’s happened to lots of people,” she says. Or something similarly reassuring, I can’t even remember. The song finishes. Some much less profound ones follow as I run further down Embankment, and the mood lifts. I grab a Mars bar from someone to save for the finish…

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Brilliantly composed photo with the Eye in the background. Thanks Michelle and Andy!

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I spot Big Ben, which means I’m truly on the home stretch. Then Buckingham Palace, where Polly and Miranda from Mental Health Mates are waiting with Polly’s WONDERFUL banner.

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I’M SO NEARLY FINISHED. But, I remember from the 10K how those final few hundred metres down Birdcage Walk seemed to drag, and that there are going to be photographers all along it. It’s not quite over yet; I still need a bit of strength. That drizzly walk I allowed myself at Mile 21 feels like the cleverest decision I’ve ever made. “Get ready to smile for the cameras,” warns a man on the side just after the last kilometre. Most people around me are walking; I’ve still got just enough power in my legs to run. Some un-clever decisions may have brought me to a Marathon but GOD DAMMIT, a clever one is going to get me over the finish line. I AM WONDER WOMAN.  Thank you Lucozade! Thank you Kirsty MacColl! Thank you David Bowie! Thank you friends, dead and alive!  I raise my arms and smile as I cross the line, then pause for another photo with my medal and goody bag.

Afterwards…

The runner Meet and Greet area at Green Park is less than a minute from the baggage lorries but in this condition feels like an hour. The area is divided into sections with letters A-Z. My folks have promised to meet me at the letter M, and that they WILL – NOT – MOVE under ANY – CIRCUMSTANCES.  I limp to the letter M and can’t see them. We’ve been told not to rely on mobiles as the networks jam but there isn’t much choice. I ring mum. She tells me they’re just by the changing tent, just a little further along, and that my big cousin Marcos and his girlfriend are there too. I spot mum’s flame-red hair. “MUM!!!” We hug and cry and babble. She leads me into the tent and helps me into some wildly clashing layers and a scarf. I pose with dad for a shivering photo…

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Mind have laid on a post-race reception at the Corinthia Hotel near Whitehall. It’s full of gleaming chandeliers, oligarchs and minted pensioners; I’m hobbling backwards dressed like a scarecrow. We say hello to the girls from the events team (the ones who very kindly helped me out during my period drama back in Feb) and sit down for some hot tea and canapés, but they’re almost packing up, so we don’t linger. I’m given a pin badge as a memento…

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With a little help from Google Maps, we find our way to a pub in St James’s I’ve booked for a family dinner. Michelle, another friend from school, and her other half Andy have come. I can remember not going to their farewell party when Michelle moved to Edinburgh for university because it was at a time in my life when I was quite ill and hated going out. Nobody really knew how poorly I was until a lot later, so it’s particularly nice that we’ve stayed in touch all this time. The more I look back, the more grateful I am that my oldest friends bothered with me through all that awful caper… Back in the present, I’m offered a drink, and all I can contemplate is water. Food is another story. By now the sickly glucose has worn off and I’m hungry. I’ve chosen my food in advance; the manager who took my booking promised me the menu would be the same on the day. It’s not. The only vegetarian dish is salad. For a moment, I want to commit murder. I did not run 26.2 BLOODY miles for a BLOODY BUGGERING SALAD. I NEED CARBS. I convey this sentiment more politely to the waiter, who admits they’ve naughtily reduced the menu to save themselves work and assures me I can have the macaroni cheese I was promised. Food comes and everyone’s happy. We inspect my finisher’s medal. “It looks nicer than my degree certificate,” I joke. “But which did you work harder for?” Andy laughs. Good question. I could have worked harder for my degree (I scraped a 2:1 when I could have scraped a First, blah blah yawn yawn) but the reasons for that have a lot to do with mental rubbishness, so it all interlinks, really.

Heading home after dinner, I get chatting to a couple of archetypal cheery Scousers on the Tube. They’re Evertonians, so my blue and white Marathon nails impress. I’m impressed they’ve heard of the bookshop in Liverpool my friend runs. I tell them about running for Mind. They get off at Kilburn, a couple of stops before us. One of them pulls £20 from his purse and gives it to me towards my sponsorship.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Tony.”

There’s a lump in my throat. A stranger has just given me £20, just because I ran a Marathon. What a beautiful, poignant end to a beautiful, poignant day.

Back home, I sink myself into a bath of Radox salts and apply some muscle rub, before joining the family for a glass of celebratory Prosecco. I head to bed just after midnight, and fall asleep virtually as soon as my head lands on the pillow. I’ve given myself the week off so I intend to spend Monday morning horizontally going through everyone’s messages from the day before. I wake up, hobble to the bathroom, go back to bed and have a bit of a weep. Physically I’m as well as can be; the muscle lotions and potions have done their job. Mentally, I’m less sure. A friend tweets me asking how I’m feeling. I admit to being a little flat, and scared of being alone with it. It’s not always easy to enjoy “duvet days” when they remind you of anxiety and depression. She instructs me to look after myself and my limbs and then tells me she’d love to read a blog post about my experiences. And so, I write this, of course. Seriously, it was as hard as running the thing. But, similarly, I’m very glad I did it…

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS… 

I haven’t sponsored you yet. Can I still?

YES YES YES YOU MOST DEFINITELY CAN. My fundraising page is still open, and will be for a month yet.

How are you feeling?

Mentally: A mixture of things. But proud. I’ve raised loads for Mind, paid the best tribute I could to two people I miss terribly, and compensated myself and my family as best I can for my own years of mental rubbish.

Physically: My legs are back to normal with just the odd twinge. My toenails are ridiculously amazing (they look better than before I started running). I’ve booked myself a massage at Browns today, thanks to some “treat money” from my proud (and lovely) grandma. I took my mum there at Christmas for her 60th, and I traditionally always have a drink in the bar there at this time of year, for Reasons, so it all fits.

I’m still a ball of phlegm. It’s the most bloody persistent cold I’ve had for years.

Would you do a Marathon again?

Monday morning’s answer was  HELL NO NEVER AGAIN. Today’s is “I won’t say never again, but not for the moment.” Part of me is still bummed that I had a cold and wishes I could try again in peak condition, but a bigger part of me thinks I could never go through all the rigmarole again. I don’t do things by halves, you’ll have noticed, and I won’t take on anything unless I can commit to it with my whole heart. If I do another one, it certainly won’t be for a few years, and that depends on the state of my life and my body in a few years. Being young (well, nearly 32…), single, childless and self-employed are all mega-helpful to running a Marathon. It’s a huge physical, emotional, financial and logistical commitment. I truly don’t know how 46-year-olds with kids and clever jobs (like Sophie Raworth – BBC newsreader, mid-40s,  gorgeous, mother of three, 3:35 PB) do it.

Will you carry on running?

Of course I will!!! I’ve been running regularly for over a year and can’t imagine life without it! I’m taking a three week break, then I’ll be back trotting around the neighbourhood. I’ll happily do 10Ks (I loved absolutely every minute of the London 10K last year) and the odd half Marathon. I think I want my next fundraiser, if and when I do one, to be something different than a running event, though.

 What’s the best way to get through the pain of The Wall during a Marathon?

There are worse things than Marathon pain. For example:

  • Period pain, in a really bad month (honestly…).
  • Chronic pain.
  • Any invisible condition.
  • Being unemployed. Or under-employed.
  • Having a breakdown you can’t talk about.
  • The above, when you’re 18-19 years old and about to go to university.
  • Having feelings about somebody else you can’t talk about.
  • Doing nearly ten years of free PR for someone you virtually worship who, for the most part, barely cares if you live or die.
  • Taking part in a Sunday supplement feature about ” couples who disagree over Brexit”, where you have to pose snarling and finger-pointing at each other in front of a European Union flag. In a wildly alternate universe somewhere, this could be happening to me. I’ll take a dancefloor and “All the single ladies…” instead…

I’ve mostly forgotten the acute pain now. Runners who’ve given birth say it’s like that…

What Big Thing are you going to do next? 

Several people have rightly surmised that I’m a ‘do-er’ and need Things to keep me going. Whether this is because it helps my mental health, or because of never having been in a relationship remotely serious enough to define me, I don’t know. Anyway, that’s how I roll, as they say. So of course, I’m thinking of my next Big Thing.

Here are some things that are definitely/maybe happening…

  • The CLASP Walk Out of Darkness for suicide prevention, in May. This is definite. I’m doing it with lovely new friends from Mental Health Mates. Woohoo!
  • Looking for more work (copywriting and journalism) more specifically within the mental health field. I’ve had a couple of leads on this and have a small work project coming up in May. Please get in touch if you can help! It is much needed; I’ve been splurging on this Marathon as though it’s my wedding. Which it may be the nearest equivalent of…
  • Writing my new book.
  • Jumping out of a plane.
  • Volunteering for SOBS  I can’t do this til at least November as they have a rule for volunteers (quite rightly, IMO) that if you’ve known people die by suicide, they won’t take you until at least two years since the most recent. If I can help anyone not to be where I was eighteen months ago, I want to.
  • Start food blogging and possibly launch my own dedicated one, aimed at people with dyspraxia and other conditions that can affect dexterity. I know the world isn’t short of food bloggers, but reading Liz Smith’s excellent post on Dyspraxia in the Kitchen recently made me realise how valuable it could be. And how lucky I am that I learned to cook, despite my limitations, and some pretty exasperated taskmasters.

THANK YOU…

I’ve had feelings in my life that are pretty lonely and scary to experience at young ages (or any age, frankly). As anyone who has done will tell you, all you want is to feel less alone and weird. Through my Marathon training and fundraising I’ve had some incredibly touching conversations with close friends and near-strangers alike about mental health, grief and the like. Equally, it’s allowed me to share those feelings with people who can’t relate to them, and/or find it too awkward to actually talk about them. I couldn’t end this without lots and lots of thank you’s…

  • Everyone who’s sponsored me, helping me raise £2,146 (and counting) for Mind. As I just said, if you haven’t, you still can. And guess what? Added to the £700 I raised from running the London 10K last May, I’ve raised nearly £3,000 for Mind in a year. THIS IS AWESOME.
  • My family. My mum’s advice to take up running saved me, almost literally. My extended family have rallied around me so touchingly while my parents have been abroad. I have never known them be prouder of anything I’ve done.
  • All my friends, those who came and those there in spirit. Especially Ash who had to live with me and endure my endless running references. And Les, for all the coffees and drinks, and especially for coming to cook a stonkingly good curry for me during peak training week when I was knackered and jokingly said “Come and cook for me.” Maybe I should joke like that more often…
  • Bryony Gordon and Mental Health Mates. Some of the loveliest people I’ve found this year.
  • Rae Earl (author of My Mad Fat Diary, who ran the London Marathon herself a decade ago) for just being continually lovely and inspiring
  • Litsa Williams for this piece on disenfranchised grief. And Thom Dunn for this piece, 5 Lessons I Learned after 5 Friends Under 30 Died In 5 Years. Both have been helpful.
  • I read lots of people’s Marathon blogs for inspiration/reassurance alongside writing my own. One of those I liked best was Kat Brown’s. She ran the Marathon for Mind a couple of years ago, was also at Durham and Cardiff and is also a journalist (I don’t know if I’m still allowed to call myself that but she definitely is). Being on the verbose side, I was concerned my longer posts would get so long-winded, people would opt for a more accessible read instead, like Ibsen. I especially liked the layout of Kat’s Marathon Day post and the way she broke it down by miles into readable chunks, so I semi-consciously* went for something similar. (*I mean, the decision was semi-conscious, not me. Although I was pretty tired… )
  • Carroll at Fingers and Toes.
  • Alex and Kelly at Salon Fourteen
  • The Mind events team for being so supportive of their runners
  • All the London Marathon staff and volunteers who help make the day run smoothly for everyone
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I’m not joking; this really does look nicer than my Durham degree certificate…
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“Though nothing, nothing will keep us together. We can be heroes; just for one day…”
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Max’s Marathon Week 14: TWO WEEKS TO GO! More fundraising, more loveliness, more food…

Another weekend, another fine display of generosity…

On Saturday, I did a second supermarket collection for Mind to bump up my sponsorship total; this time outside Waitrose in Gerrards Cross. The night before, @Afrofilmviewer (whose OH is a lucky woman…) spontaneously stopped by and cooked a delicious lentil curry. In added spontaneity, we drank three bottles of wine with it. Happily, @DuchessOChutney was up from London the next morning, and met me for a Fego breakfast of pancakes, French toast and some hangover-taming black coffee. “It’s brilliant! It’s full of olds and they’re playing Bryan Adams!” she texted as I was arriving. Also: “OMG THE CLOTHES SHOPS HERE ARE TERRIFYING AND AMAZING. There’s a shop that looks like it’s been vomited up by the Italian Mafia.” (It’s called Gita. Gerrards Cross is also popular with wealthy Chinese women whose style icon appears to be Bet Lynch from Corrie. Lady in the long silver leopard-print coat with the hot-pink shellac nails, may God bless you and keep you…).

My hunch that the shoppers here might be a tougher crowd than last week’s seemed disappointingly accurate at first.

“Who are you?” a silver-haired man in a suit asked me abruptly, within minutes, as though I’d approached him and not the other way round. For tone of voice, think somewhere between a grumpy boss meeting the new intern and Francis Urquhart talking to a muddy Spaniel.

The branded t-shirt and collecting tin would be a giveaway, you’d have thought, but there we are. I explained what I was collecting for.

“Is it in this country? It’s not going abroad?”

“No,” I said, once I’d picked my jaw up from the floor.

“OK, you can have 50p.”

“And you can take it back and go and choke on it you awful little man.”

I didn’t actually say that, obviously. But it’s probably just as well I’m too dyspraxic to work in retail because if I had to listen to people like that all the time I might do. Another man went out of his way to donate to me and praise Mind, then decided to let me know he Did Not Approve of a lady nearby selling the Big Issue. “You know what that is? It’s pyramid selling! You know how pyramid selling works, do you?” (“Gosh, no sir, I don’t! Please explain it to me!”)  

I inwardly sighed, and looked at my watch. At this rate, it was going to be a very long four hours…

After that, though, all changed, and everyone I met was super, super kind and lovely. People crossed the street, gave coins to their kids, wished me luck, told me stories, and reminisced about fundraisers they’d done themselves. A man said: “You helped my son, so I’ll help you.” A lady thanked me with a wobble in her voice. Another just touched my arm and looked at me. The day had started with bright sunshine, but by mid-afternoon it’d disappeared. As the wind picked up, so did my donations, as people enquired after my health (physical, not mental, but possibly both…), warning me not to freeze. A very nice lady named Soo-Ray bought me a coffee as I was shivering and we chatted for a while. I’d worked out I could go home when it was 4pm, I’d completely frozen my tits off or my tin was full, whichever came first. Only, I couldn’t then decide how full was full or how cold was too cold. A man bought me a tea “(You look so cold and lonely!”) and seemed to be working up to a meet-cute but was either too shy or too married to continue. By then, I was too cold to speak in sentences, so that worked out alright. As I was signing out at the front desk, a man who’d already donated, and who looked a bit like a bearded Stephen Mangan, spotted me and stuck in an additional fiver.

I had a very special chat with a man who told me he’d run the very first London Marathon back in 1982, in just over three hours. He talked about technique, warning me against the classic mistake of starting too fast, and so on. His lovely wife was with him, wearing a lovely bright pair of running shoes.

The pattern of the day mirrored my experience of university, where I spent freshers dinner listening to someone enthuse about clubbing on the Kings Road and his gap-year shooting bison in South Africa, thinking “Shit, if they’re all like this, I’m going home.” Luckily they weren’t all Like That, I didn’t go home, and over the next three years, and beyond, Durham introduced me to some of the loveliest people you could ever meet, often most memorably in situations I didn’t expect. Sometimes, it bears remembering that getting over yourself for a moment and giving things a chance is the best thing you’ll ever do…

I raised over £200 in five hours (and £28 more than last week). Special thanks to the Waitrose staff for being especially welcoming and attentive, and letting me use their loos and canteen when I needed to.

On Sunday morning I was tired from being out for dinner and the cats were being pains in the bum so running didn’t happen until after 10, and breakfast was lunch. But Penn was lovely and twee in the spring sunshine and I had Lady Grey by the Mystery Jets twice at the top of the same hill.

Two weeks to go means I’m officially tapering, and the longer runs are getting shorter. On the 22nd (two days before Marathon Day) I’m seeing my parents again for the first time in four months. And the week of the Marathon itself is a very bittersweet anniversary (to be explained…). From now until then I’m basically going to be a puddle of emotion on legs, so bear with me if you will….

I’m 80% of the way to my fundraising target. THIS IS GREAT. Please, please sponsor me and help me smash it, and help Mind help more people with mental health problems. My minimum target is £1,750. and I’d LOVE to get to £2,000.

If it helps, here are some of the groovy things your money will do… 

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Max’s Marathon WEEKS 7 & 8: Whoaah, we’re halfway there…*

(* Yes, those are the immortal words of Mr Jon Bon Jovi, which were playing in my vicinity ten years ago on the evening I found out my undergraduate degree result a day early by voicemail. It’s a long story…)

I am now over halfway through my training for the London Bloody Marathon. To accompany this milestone, I’ve made a video, which took so bloody long to upload it felt practically as arduous…

For those who are reading this squashed like a swatted fly against a train door and can’t watch the video, it’s basically a bit of My Story and a giant SPONSOR ME plea. SPONSOR ME.

Sooo….lalala, Weeks 7 and 8…

At the end of last week, Week 7, I was chin-scratching a bit about my progress. According to my training plan I was supposed to have done 10-12 miles on my longest run and I wasn’t even getting up to the lower end of that. Working from home can be more draining than you could ever believe. Some days this year I’ve felt as tired as I did when I got up at 6 every day and had arthritic pensioners on the Central Line offering me their seats. (How anyone with a huge commute ever manages to run a Marathon I can’t even begin to imagine…).   I was in Devon all last weekend with extended family for my aunt’s 70th (which was nice), leaving no time for my long run, so I had to do it early on the Friday morning instead (which wasn’t). My longest runs involve about half a mile of semi-rural road with no pavement – fine at the weekend, not so much on a Friday morning when every Hugo and Harry in Bucks is on them driving up to London from 4am onwards. Starting too slowly meant I’d barely managed 5K before getting to the point (usually 6-7K) where I had to slow down for traffic. I spent a solid five to ten minutes being forced into a plod by Volvos and brambles. I desperately glugged some Lucozade at 10K but I was pretty sure this was the slowest I’d ever run. “Start-slow-and-finish-fast” is all very well but “start-so-slow-you-might-as-well-not-have-bothered-until-10K” is pretty demoralising.

I chivvied myself that it was better to be running slowly at this point in training than injured or exhausted and that nigh-on erotic fantasies about going to bed at 9pm are just a sign I’m in my 30s and nothing else. Martin Yelling‘s Lunchtime Q&A comforted me. What matters is time on your feet, and a shonky run is invariably followed by a better one. Sure enough, my weekday runs in week 8 were pleasant. So far, contrary to worst fears, I’ve managed the interval runs (the ones where you vary the pace) without falling flat on my face, and even actually enjoyed them (for the first 5 reps out of 10, anyway….). Despite my dyspraxic shodditude at most sports at school. I was noted to be a fairly decent short-distance runner at one point – it’s nice to be reminded I can run fast for short bursts and not die.

For this fortnight’s shop (thank you Ocado, you lifesaver) I ordered a packet of a high-protein breakfast cereal from the makers of Weetabix. I was drawn in by the words “high protein” and didn’t see that they look like dog treats. Thankfully, they taste much nicer…

On Saturday morning I went to Time To Talk at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, an annual service of reflection for those affected by suicide, featuring readings, music and personal testimonies. I went to the inaugural event at the same time last year, still pretty raw from November 2014. I was there this time partly for obvious personal reasons and partly for less-obvious professional ones, of which, more another time. As arranged, I sat with M. from Grassroots, a Brighton-based suicide prevention training organisation. I met M. at last year’s event, during the post-service drinks reception in the crypt, where she very kindly rescued me when I was standing around on my own with no-one to talk to. We joked about it being our yearly meetup, and kept a lookout for anyone on their own who looked as though they needed someone. Do unto others, etc. I won’t say too much about it here because, considering it was yesterday, and I ran for two hours this morning (see below) , I’m pretty whacked. But you can read the guest blog I wrote for Grassroots after last year. The format was pretty similar this time apart from a couple of different speakers (Angela Samata who presented BBC1’s Life After Suicide, and Jonny Benjamin of the Find Mike campaign were there this year). As I had hoped, on a personal level, this year’s was slightly less harrowing. There were Moments, of course. There always are. Again, now is not the time…

Sunday’s long run was oh-so-much-better – no, unimaginably better – than last week’s. Thinking back to my half-Marathon training, I realised I needed to take energy drinks/gels slightly earlier on in the long runs so that my legs don’t go to sleep 30 seconds in and take an hour to wake up again. So, off I trotted with Lucozade and a Shot Blok (I’m alternating Shot Bloks and SIS gels the lovely @DuchessOChutney gave me for Christmas, which I keep calling “ISIS gels”…). Before I’d even taken either of them I realised that for some reason I was running faster than I had in a long time. And it was slightly killing me but somehow I didn’t want to stop. I ran my fastest 10K since last summer, even faster than I did it in the Half. Just after the exact 10K mark, having belted down the hills into Beaconsfield to Abba’s Eagle, now realising that – shit the bed – I had to run back up them home again, I stopped, still at the bottom of a hill, and cried out breathlessly “My God woman what have you done??!!”. Then I laughed because that sounds like what a man around there might breathlessly cry out to his secretary. (Maybe not on a Sunday morning unless he’s a real rat…).

I speed-walked the hills – you can’t not – but I’d run fast enough elsewhere for it not to dent my time too much. Ellie Goulding’s Army came on during one of the worst hilly segments. As usual,  I welled at “No-one fucks it up like us” and the big waily chorus “When I’m with you I’m standing with an army…”. I managed High Wycombe to Beaconsfield and back in 2 hours. Which, considering the hills, is pretty shiny. I came back not entirely sure I still had legs and a mite concerned about having to run that distance twice in two months’ time. But overall, dead pleased with myself and muchly reassured. An hour later I was looking at my training plan and realised, as it was written by a man, those mad distance targets on it were probably meant for blokes. OH MAXINE.

Next time I write this it will be MARCH. For anyone who went a couple of weeks ago or is considering going, I’m hoping to make it to the next Mental Health Mates on the 6th. Please come, it’s lovely!

I have a work-oriented mental-health related post to write, which I keep meaning to and not doing. But I will this week. Really…

Max’s Marathon WEEK 6: Old mates, new mates, mental health mates…

There wasn’t supposed to be a Marathon blog this weekend because I was supposed to be writing something for Mind Tank (I still am…). But it’s been a good week, and I’ve been especially fired up today by – GASP –  talking to strangers unpaid. So here’s a thousand-word blog about Nice Things Happening…

Week 6 began with a whimper and then a bang: I came back from a so-so run saved by Bryan Adams’s infidelity (yes, it was THAT so-so…) to a rather lovely Facebook message from a primary school friend who’s now a firefighter and most recently, a dad. He sponsored me the other week, and he’d written to me to tell me he hadn’t run himself since June, and that reading my blog had inspired him to get out again. The message was accompanied by sun-dappled photos of his running route and of him in trainers. Yes, apparently a man who pulls people out of burning buildings for a living and has a newborn baby feels inspired by a woman who trips over her own feet and worries about flea-treating a cat… Who knew that a couple of your mates killing themselves could reconnect you with so many old ones in such a touching way?

I ended the week by going to the first Mental Health Mates, a London social organised by Daily Telegraph columnist and writer Bryony Gordon, for people interested in mental health to meet for a coffee and a jog in the park (because I’ve become a person who runs 8-10 miles on a windy, rainy Saturday and then gets up on Sunday to jog…). I wasn’t sure what to expect but was fairly sure it seemed a better way to spend February The Fucking 14th than I’ve ever had the option of before (Fun fact!! I was dumped just before Valentines Day in my Dissertation term, and ghosted in early Feb three years ago by my last boyfriend…).

The only souvenir I have of my last relationship: a photo of a 90s Guardian mug. Yes, really, I can't even find a picture of him...
The only souvenir I have of my last relationship: a photo of a 90s Guardian mug. (Yes, really, I can’t even find a picture of him…)

I went in with the idea that I’d be content to manage an articulate sentence, and came away with the feeling I’d made one of my best decisions since taking up running. You know those days when everything just seems to work…? Despite not-enough-sleep I left on time, remembering pretty much everything I’d intended to bring apart from gloves. Google Maps got me to the right side of Hyde Park and back again, and London was particularly quaint (if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to see London when it’s virtually empty you’ll know how much more of it you notice). I’m reluctant to say too much else because Bryony rightly promised everyone that everything was off-record and not column material, and I still have more feelings than I can put into words, despite the thousands of them I’ve written on this subject. But, I had a fantastic time with a fantastic group of (mostly) women. Among them was a very talented writer who was arts editor of the student website at university in my first year and now writes great pieces for national papers on mental health and other subjects. Technically we knew each other but she was a much more prolific joiner-of-things than I was and other than the odd virtual nod we hadn’t spoken in twelve years. She ran the London Marathon for Mind a couple of years ago AND is a fan of Twitter and The Archers (which is basically me, with a husband and stable employment…). We started jogging together in the interests of not freezing to death in our very proper running gear designed for, well, that. We ended up jogging-whilst-chatting until I had no idea where I was going or where any of the others were (we found them…). It was the furthest she’d run in a year and the first time I’d ever run and attempted a conversation at the same time. We were very proud of ourselves, even managing a high-five (I haven’t high-fived anyone since the half Marathon. My usual feelings on the matter can be likened to a jellyfish trying to dance).

Yes, this is London
Yes, this is a London street…

 

London, you beauty
I have to run 18-20 miles around here on my own in March. I am extremely likely to get extremely lost. Oh well, it’s pretty…

On a completely different but still me-being-gushy-and-reflective note: There’s been a bit of bother on the Mind Marathoners Facebook group recently. This week someone left the group, upset at being made to feel rubbish by the glut of more experienced runners posting triumphant selfies of their 15-milers or despondent whines about “only” running an 11-minute mile. I’ve felt twinges of this at times when skimming the posts there and have had to remind myself balls-to-all-that. The best thing about doing the London 10K and the Oxford half last year, despite the unimaginably bloody awful events that triggered it was how personal it felt and the utter lack of self-doubt I had around it. I did it entirely for myself and my two late friends, without giving a monkeys about anything or looking over my shoulder to see what anyone else was doing. As someone who spent my youth unhealthily obsessed with the notion that other women were more capable than me (FFS,  I chose my university on the recommendation of a soap actress I interviewed for a piece when I was 18…) deciding to run was one of the most refreshing, liberating experiences of my life just for that. I still have the dregs of that unhealthy, misery-inducing competitiveness and envy. As an act of self-care I have to be aware of the sort of people or situations which exacerbate it and do my best to tape it. Like someone who knows their relationship with booze can be a bit on the problematic side, it’s about knowing when to – proverbially – put down that drink or not have any more; only, my equivalent of a double vodka is a woman who’s better-looking/richer/less awkward and clumsy than me and doesn’t realise that her existence is a reminder to me of Why I’m Rubbish, or that if she doesn’t come for coffee with me, my brain will tell me it’s Because I’m Awful….). ANYWAY. MY POINT ISTo anyone doing the Marathon for a mental health charity, know that I think you’re absolutely bloody wonderful whether you run it in two hours or ten. And to those who can’t – as in physically can’t – run, anything else you do in support of mental health is wonderful too. 

I will now stop gushing and eat this, because, Happy Valentine’s Day to me from me.

[Insert usual friendly prod if you’d like to sponsor me].

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Max’s Marathon WEEK 5: Toe-lyoaks: Toenail drama, period drama, cold photoshoots, big ambitions…

A lighter week this week, to adapt to my training rhythm before the longer runs gradually start to kick in. Tuesday’s run was 20 minutes, which hardly seemed worth going out for. But life’s been so trying recently, an “easy” week on one front was probably a good thing. Later on, the nail lady up the road who does Shellac removals tipped me off about a pub that might be interested in doing a Marathon fundraiser for me (They haven’t replied to my email yet so I’m guessing the answer’s no but, very lovely of her to suggest).

On Wednesday, my business mentor, Judi, came round. As well as being an expert in dyspraxia and dyslexia she’s an ex-Marathon runner so she’s pretty much the best person in all the land for me to have a two-hour morning meeting with at the moment. Afterwards, my friend Les aka @Afrofilmviewer took me on a lunchtime photo shoot as a mood boost. The shots have more of an ethereal “grunge band promo shoot” look than the suited-and-booted professional set he did for me before Christmas. If I’m honest, I enjoyed the natter over cheese and chips in the pub more than the shoot. This was entirely the freezing weather’s fault, not his. I look narked off because I was really, really cold and squashed into a leather jacket that’s meant to hug your figure, not fit over four layers of clothing and make you look the size of Canada. Anyway, he’s super-talented, and if you want to be photographed you should definitely talk to him. You should talk to him anyway because he’s super-smart and super-interesting.

In the early hours of Thursday, my left big toenail (black since my half Marathon) almost-but-not-quite fell off. Pulling it seemed likely to hurt/make my bedroom resemble an abattoir, but I wasn’t sure if I should run – even a short one – with it hanging off. I panic-rang the first Google result for “chiropodist Bucks”- an affable chap called Dave – who told me to let the nail fall off by itself rather than pull it, and to put a toe bandage around it. He said it was probably OK as long as it wasn’t hurting and to call him again if it started to. I put a crappy undersized plaster on it and went for my half-hour evening run and it was fine and dandy. I stopped at a chemist’s on the way back, which, naturally, sold every conceivable foot care product except proper toe bandages. By the time I went to bed it was nearly all the way off and bleeding. It’s still clinging on for dear life, and hurting every time I catch it on something. A motherly family friend suggested I should get it looked at just to be safe, so I might, if someone will do it for less than half a mortgage. Meanwhile…

My protected toe...
I found this toe bandage in Boots the next day but it’s useless and keeps slipping off, so I’ve ordered a proper toecap from a physio website for the same price.

Friday: No running, but I had to go to John Lewis to pick up my bridesmaid’s dress* for Lotte’s wedding in the summer, which involved a bus journey across town and a preamble of bureaucracy akin to applying for a visa, so it felt like a bonus run. I saw a couple of joggers around the Cressex Industrial Estate and was immensely glad I wasn’t there for the purpose. I used to pass through sections of it on the 40-minute walk from school to my childhood home – I can’t think of anything worse than having to run it… (*the dress is utterly gorgeous, incidentally: midnight blue, simple, elegant. I can’t wait to wear it in June. Hopefully not having ingested an entire high street, post-Marathon…)

Saturday involved a jaunt to Stratford for a meet-and-greet with other Mind Marathoners. I was meant to RSVP ages ago and didn’t realise (slow clap….) but someone had pulled out at the last minute, so I could go. Most charities lay on events like this for their Marathon runners: a chance to meet other runners and hear presentations from personal trainers and seasoned Marathoners on things like training and nutrition. A polite nutritionist gave us an earnest talking-to about eating a balanced diet. Then a plucky personal trainer told us training was more important than diet and being able to eat crap is the whole point of running Marathons… We were in the very pleasant surroundings of the Timber Lodge cafe, on the north side of the Olympic park. Less pleasantly, I suffered a Severe Womanly Mishap. (The kind that used to appear in Sugar or Just Seventeen magazine under the heading “YOUR MOST CRINGE-TASTIC STORIES.”) Historically, my periods tend to be heaviest the morning after they start. Since running, they tend to start deceptively light, stay that way for a couple of days, then suddenly turn stupidly heavy for a couple of hours. You can guess the rest… I cleaned up as well and discreetly as I could. Like the worst sitcom you’ve ever watched, my train home was then delayed for an unspecified amount of time because gale-force winds had brought down a tree near the track. Luckily I caught a fast train before too long and was able to get home, dunk my things in cold water and bury my tired face in leftover Quorn bolonganise while giving thanks to the inventors of long jumpers, big coats and plastic chairs. Thank you very, very much to the Mind events team ladies for their kindness, discretion, water and painkillers. Considering how chronically awkward I am, the whole thing was much less embarrassing than it could have been. Thanks also to fellow first-time Marathoner Jayne (sp?) for the chat, and for the lovely home-made energy bars she brought along for the event, which I sampled in between awkward dashes to the loo…

Sunday: my “long” run was this morning (a very manageable 50 minutes). It was lovely: my running sunglasses (free gift from the Oxford Half) made their debut and the big chorus of Ellie Goulding’s Army came on just as the sun was streaming across the hill that goes up to Penn Village (the lyrics remind me of They Don’t Know by Kirsty MacColl…). If my brain will kindly let me and not think of something else that needs doing, I intend to spend the rest of today listening to the Archers omnibus (Rob has his own Twitter account now because of course…), and read a bit. I’ve bought Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind Of Girl and Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake because a literary consultant at TLC recently compared my writing to theirs and said I should, “to enforce confidence in your own considerable abilities.” The Arts Council paid for the read, which was very nice of them. TLC have also said that after I’ve finished the book I can have a second read with a 5% discount, and with the same reader. Hooray!

A few other things I really, really need to start doing soon…

  • Meeting more brilliant women writers who’ve written about mental health. There are loads: Daisy Buchanan, Bryony Gordon, Kat Brown, Stephanie Merritt, Martha Roberts and Nell Frizzell to name a few. I had the privilege a few years ago of interviewing the lovely Rae Earl, before she had a blue tick on Twitter and was being called a genius by every media darling in the country, and we still stay in touch (we’ve only ever actually spoken via phone and internet because she emigrated to Australia which is a bit far for coffee and cake…). But other than Rae I haven’t been the most proactive at actually talking to people properly. I think part of the problem is that, often, people’s stories have so many parallels with mine and we have lots of media woman friends and acquaintances vaguely in common I sort of feel as though I know them already and forget that I actually don’t, if that makes sense. I’ve signed up to #mentalhealthmates next weekend, which I hope is a step in the right direction. I’m also going to the annual Time To Talk About It at the end of the month. It was pretty harrowing when I went this time last year, for obvious reasons but I met a lovely lady from Grassroots, a Brighton-based suicide prevention charity, who let me guest-blog for them about it and I hope she’ll be there again.
  • Plugging my copywriting/social media skills to mental health organisations as I’m now pretty sure this is what I want to do with my life as my sole or main income for the foreseeable future. I think a lot of people believe I do this already when in fact I don’t. My clients are charity/disability-related but not directly mental health related. Which is ridiculous, quite honestly, as I can’t think of a more appropriate way for me to make a living at the moment. This probably needs a “HELLO, I’M BRILLIANT, PLEASE HIRE ME” blog post to itself, doesn’t it? Right. I’ll do one of those. Soon…
  • Arranging some dates to do fundraising collections outside supermarkets Bafflingly, this seems to be harder the closer to the supermarket you live: the Tesco Express two minutes up the road practically told me I need the CEOs signature in goat’s blood, the Waitrose in the next town said “Yeah fine, bung as an email…” If you’re grocery shopping in Bucks and you see a blonde outside with a Mind tin in the next ten weeks, it’s probably me…
  • Working out what an interval run is and how I’m supposed to do it without breaking anything.Interval runs” start next week. They’re the part of your training designed to up your stamina. You run at different speeds rather than steadily all the way through, and are supposed to run fast for short bursts, then rest. I’m more comfortable running at an average speed rather than slowly or fast, and fast runs increase the risk of injury which my dyspraxic propensity for tripping over everything increases the risk of as it is. Given the choice between completing ten minutes faster and breaking my ankle in training, well, you can work that one out. Martin Yelling, who wrote the training plan I’m using, was doing a Friday lunchtime Q&A on the London Marathon Facebook page so I asked “How do I do interval runs without falling flat on my face like a ninny?” sort-of-thing. His advice: Find a “safe” surface (flat with no traffic, such as a park or trail), and then:“Hold off the pedal and run fast but so you feel comfortably in control – and happy you’re not going to hit the deck!”

A good aim for life in general there, I think.

Have you sponsored me yet? Do you want to? Yes? Jolly good! DO IT HERE!

And, if you feel like sponsoring another extremely worthy cause this week, a lovely Archers fan has raised nearly £40,000 for Refuge through a JustGiving page, The Helen Titchener Rescue Fund. Because for every fictional Helen, there are real ones…

Max’s Marathon WEEK 2: “Don’t fall over out there, will you…”

Thank you for your kind comments about my Marathon training blogging so far (Week 1 is here if you missed it). Those who’ve known me a long time will know that I’ve blogged just about every significant event of my adult life. The rare events that are too private to put online seem all the more significant for it. There’s a thinkpiece in there somewhere but let’s not, shall we?

Anyway… 

This post’s title comes from the thing most frequently said to me this week, besides “You’re mad.” Yes, thank you, I am trying not to fall over out there.

Without wishing to sound like the world’s smuggest pain in the arse, running in the cold is actually pretty pleasant, as long as you layer right, do it during whatever daylight you can grab, and run at a fairy steady pace (fast enough to keep you warm but not so fast that you overheat in your winter kit). You want tops that’ll keep you warm whilst wicking sweat away from you, that are light but well-lined, and don’t chafe or ride up around your middle as you’re running. At the moment, my cold-weather kit is a choice of two well-made running jackets, running gloves and a Helly Hansen thermal top I’ve palmed off my mum (currently in South Africa sending me daily beach photos), plus my warmest running leggings (from Gap – which make my legs look like they’re invading a Mediterranean country…), and a hat.

As for falling over: when I know a surface is likely to be slippery, I take extra care so am safer. To be honest, I’m more likely to fall over in my bedroom than on ice. Most of the bruises and bumps I get come from accidental injuries I can only vaguely remember occurring, which can make for some mildly awkward work meetings (“No, really, it’s OK, I have dyspraxia, not a violent husband…”). That said, I had a couple of near-misses this week along the same stretch of pavement, where I managed to steady myself from tripping up just in time. I thought I knew every bump and ridge along that road by now; apparently not.

Once again, the weekend long run was my favourite of the three. My weekday morning runs became lunchtime runs because I was too tired, because I went to bed an hour late (this is A Bad Thing – afternoon runs screw up my working day, which is annoying, even when my working day largely consists of admin, payment-chasing and waiting for repairmen. However, the runs themselves were fine…). My Pilates teacher recommended doing four runs a week instead of three. My half-Marathon training plan had four – I rarely actually ended up doing all four because the Saturday run often got squeezed out for something else, and when I did do four I was too tired to function, so I’m sticking with three for now.

Things I learned from this week’s running…

  • I am self-aware enough to move a long run to the day I’m not going to be tired and hungover.
  • …But not enough to actually get to bed early. For God-knows-what reason I still didn’t manage to fall sleep until 3am the night before and lay awake composing running playlists in my head and then downloading songs from iTunes onto my phone (it’s an extremely good thing these facilities didn’t exist when I was 16).
  • Cold weather makes you look like a newbie even when you’ve been running for a year. Fiddling with Runkeeper’s startup screen and then putting your glove on quickly enough not to lose half an hour to it is practically harder than the run. My leggings have a handy key pocket sewn inside the back at the top. Slightly less handy when you miss the pocket and end up having to fish them out of your crotch mid-pavement….
  • I’m still as ropey at data entry as I was when it was 90% of my job. I entered one of my workouts wrong. It didn’t matter, but still.
  • Hot showers might not be terribly good for my leg muscles. But it’s January and freezing, so nerr, quite frankly.
  • Adding new songs to my running playlist was an awesome decision: Love Is The Drug by Grace Jones and Money For Nothing by Dire Straits (because, yes, I am actually a 46-year-old man. I hide it quite well sometimes…).
  • Putting Love In A Void by Siouxsie and the Banshees back onto it was also an awesome decision. I took it off a while ago because I got bored with it, but re-instated it this week and it came on during the open-road stretch. Marvellous. Ditto Elaine Paige. Regular readers will know I get a bit more emosh at I Know Him So Well than is generally socially acceptable for anyone.
  • Another running music tip: Hole’s grunge-tastic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman, (from the soundtrack to The Crow’s sequel)Thank you, red-lipsticked-lesbian-Courtney-Love-fan-who I-met-at-a-conference, for reminding me.
  • This week, I had a dream about vegetarian sausage and bean stew (I made it, it was good, as was my butter bean and halloumi cous cous). And a dream about going to the Marathon Store to buy a sports bra and then worrying it was too expensive. Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me…
  • I can never, ever make pasta without inadvertently making enough to feed the Chinese Army. I’ve known this for about thirteen years. BUT, I can freeze it and eat in March when I have to run 16-20 miles and will probably barely be able to remember my own name, let alone how to cook from scratch, so that’s all dandy. I wrote this freezer note to myself by way of a reminder…

freezer

I had three more lovely sponsors this week: THANK YOU Michelle, Chrissie and David. And thanks to David for this message:

“I read in Wiki that people with dyspraxia have problems with coordination and prefer structured environments, so you being a marathon runner and journalist make me think that you are slightly bonkers and also makes me admire your courage and determination.”

Awww. Yes, David, I think I’m slightly bonkers too. About once an hour…

Next week, I am doing a presentation on Mind and mental health at the local boys’ grammar school who have very kindly agreed to fundraise for me. Also on a mental health theme, I’m off to see Ruby Wax’s Sane New World with one of my besties on Tuesday evening. Excited for this; her shows are supposed to be very good. I’ll report back…

Max’s Marathon WEEK 1: In which I’m flat as a pancake and a weekend run lifts me

Run schedule: 2x 30-min steady runs, 1 40-min run  (10 mins slow, 20 steady, 10 slow)

Here we are then: my first week of training for the London Marathon. And oh, sweet November, what the devil has happened to you? I was so busy and contended in the lead-up to Christmas. This week, I’ve been a procrastinating-and-eating machine. I’d hoped that once my parents left the country for their globe-trotting adventure and work started again, things might go back to being vibrant. They’ve yet to. I had a bit of a weep in bed last night after coming back from seeing The Danish Girl at the cinema. That hasn’t happened for a while. And this week has greatly consisted of me inwardly repeating: “No, duckie, you’re not on the verge of a breakdown; it’s just January,” to myself.

Runs 1 and 2:

My first two runs were OK enough in that, well, they happened, in weather when going outside voluntarily goes against every sensible human instinct. Once I got out, I didn’t notice the drizzle or the apocalyptic lack of evidence of the sun rising, and came back to my desk feeling accomplished. But they were stiffer, and slower, than a 5-6K should be. My fitness has definitely gone down since my half marathon, even though I’ve run at least once a week. At one point I was so slow I was sure Lobster could’ve overtaken me with a fag hanging out of his witheringly sarcastic mouth. It felt as though running and I had reached the end of our extended honeymoon period. The breathless infatuation had gone and I was thinking about all the ways it gets on my wick and trying to remember I still love it. It wasn’t so much the running itself that was annoying me but the thought of all the logistics. The timetabling: even the shortest run takes two hours out of the day for me – warmup, cooldown, stretching,  eating, showering and hair-washing all add up, especially when you’re not blessed with the world’s nimblest fingers and toes. I honestly don’t know how people with big commutes, kids etc manage it. And the food cravings! The other day I ate two Mars bars, one after the other. (I did that during my half Marathon training too, but in the tenth week of training, for Pete’s sake, not WEEK ONE). I even started to feel nervous about eating too much and carrying too much weight for the race, which is ludicrous: I started running last January and was a twig by the middle of April despite having comfort-eaten for a whole month before it was even Christmas. In terms of food intake, I had two Christmases in 2014 (well, one of them more of a Shitmas but you know what I mean).

Running is also proving difficult to me in one or two other ways I hadn’t bargained for….

Whining-on-a-tangent #1: Marathoning while single. I realise acutely that relationships aren’t the Disney answer to everything and one may cause me more trouble than it ever solves. Jumping on the nearest available person just for the sake of it at this time of year has never served me well in the past and would be an even worse idea currently. And I prefer to save most of this sort of griping for trained professionals and 3am text chats with friends. But, there comes a time when being single and only ever meeting kindred spirits in mega-inhospitable circumstances gets to be a bit buggeringly annoying. A lot of other Marathon bloggers seem partnered-up, and it would be so nice to have someone I could talk to about all of this who I knew would listen. That said, if I did, I probably wouldn’t be doing it. And I’d probably end up looking out at the rain every morning and opting for a different sort of exercise. Hooray celibacy!

Whining-on-a-tangent #2: My paranoid, overthinking brain. I almost talked myself out of blogging my Marathon training because of being convinced no-one would ever read it or care. Objectively I know this isn’t really true. Several friends have even promised to read it. Over the past year, lots of people have been truly amazing to me and done some absolutely lovely kind and generous things: cards, gifts, coffees, dinners bought and cooked, cute animal GIFs, running advice and encouragement. BUT BUT BUT….. it’s those who I can’t quite seem to win over that play on me and make me think I have done something wrong or that they might be keeping me slightly at arm’s length for some awkward reason I’ve yet to discover. It is truly wonderful to have had so much support from so many people during a rough patch in my life (in some cases, complete strangers or people I haven’t seen in decades). But, it’s the people who I thought might look out for me a bit more than they have that I’m reminded of again and again. I’ve worked through this in therapy over the last few months and thought I had it taped but it keeps gnawing away. No matter how many great friends I have around me, it’s the more emotionally-distant ones I feel insecure about. I know it partly goes back to my teenage journalism and the internal chaos that brought about. But it stings. The rational part of me can compute different lifestyles, different priorities, different responses, etc etc etc. The emotional part of me just feels rejected and shoves another load of carbs into my face. I’m an Anglo-German who was raised on Mike Leigh films and gritty ’90s northern dramas where people have brutally honest and deeply personal conversations loudly at the drop of a hat, and all emotional problems are resolved over a cuppa/pint/sing-song. This is – sadly – incompatible with my reality as a busy middle-class home-counties woman surrounded by even busier middle-class home-counties women, mostly too busy to need friends.

Tangential whining out of the way. Onto….

Run 3 (the Weekend Run)

Run 3 of the week was supposed to happen on Saturday morning but didn’t due to me staying up to watch Amy and Arrested Development, struggling to get to sleep afterwards and then realising I still had proofreading work to finish in the morning. Oops. Never mind. From now on, all my weekend runs are on Sundays, and the day’s delay left me actually looking forward to it. I woke up tired, despite having had (according to my new Fitbit Surge) a solid eight hours’ sleep. But, once I was out, alongside a smattering of other runners and the neighbourhood’s seven churchgoers, it was pretty marvellous. I wore my turquoise Aldi neck warmer, even though it felt a bit silly. It chafed a bit annoyingly at first. I quickly realised I was probably wearing it the wrong way up and felt more silly. But warm. Lovely and warm. I found my stride. And there was SUNSHINE and DAYLIGHT! Lovely sunshine and daylight! Run To You and All I Really Want came on during the marvellous open road bit where Hazlemere ends and Penn begins, and I felt like I was 14 and listening to drivetime radio. My average pace wasn’t bad. Still not great, but better than during the week, and room for improvement isn’t a bad thing at this stage. And Night In My Veins by The Pretenders and La Roux’s Kiss and Not Tell came on while I was stretching afterwards, making it much less tedious and more wryly philosophical than usual. (“You’ve seen the future, now, a love that is blind. Makes you want to kiss and not tell…”) Is it idea of ‘blind love’ that scares some people, or just the realisation that it isn’t?” I wondered, like a carby Carrie Bradshaw. It doesn’t matter. I felt uplifted. Running did its job. Bring on next week…

Ambitions for week 2:

  • Actually remember to start my Fitbit at the beginning of my run. It was a Christmas present, and is supposed to be a backup to my RunKeeper. Not much use if it isn’t on because I forgot about it and then forgot to press the start button twice… (using it to track my much-maligned sleep patterns may prove to be an interesting experiment…).
  • Use up the last fakon (vegetarian bacon) rashers in the fridge from Christmas. They look like shoe insoles and are impossible to cut into elegant pieces. The carbonara I made the other day looks like I’ve cut up a cock and thrown the bits into a spaghetti. But tastes better, happily.
  • Make better friends with avocados. Every time I use them the kitchen resembles a gunge tank in a 90s gameshow and I violate 208 healthy and safety codes trying to cut them in half. They are also annoyingly good for me, however. I had avocado toast at Le Pain Quotidien last week and it was divinely good. As was their hot chocolate, which is also a great winter-running food (apparently – not that I care if it isn’t…)
  • Buy and eat some fish. Yup, I’m marking my 20th year of vegetarianism by eating fish to give my iron and protein levels a hand during training. Eating Fish for Dead Men: the dark sequel to Salmon Fishing in the Yemen…. (Sorry; my sense of humour has got so black of late, I could make Sarah Silverman flinch…)
  • I have set this week as the week to write a Slightly Difficult Email to someone I don’t know. So good luck to me with that.
  • Abba came on Spotify as I was writing this “Chiquitita, you and I cry. But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you…” My running playlist could probably do with a bit more Abba. Couldn’t everyone’s?

If you’ve made it through this waffle, I’m overjoyed. I would be even more overjoyed if you’d sponsor my Marathon and tell everybody!