Marathon Musings

A huge congratulations to everyone who ran the London Marathon yesterday. I, like many others, watched from the sofa as forty thousand ran the streets of London, raising money for some incredible causes. I want to shout out my friend Rob Wiles, who was raising money for Children with Cancer UK. As the TV coverage reminded me, there were even more people running “virtual” marathons around the world, for those who couldn’t (or chose not to) attend in person. This was something that Tim Peake set a precedent for when he ran the marathon from the International Space Station back in 2016 and I wonder if this will continue as an option should everything finally return to normal…

For once, while I was watching from my sofa, I felt enthusiastic empathy rather than jealousy at their fitness – my legs were only just back to normal after my own marathon the weekend before.

I am not, and never have been, a runner…. but I can walk. It’s a family trait. Growing up, I hiked around the Peak District with the Guides and went on long walks with my family. My parents, now in their 70s, still choose to walk the 4 miles into their city regularly, and My great grandparents were still walking miles well into their late 90s… So when my friend Juli asked if I’d be interested in walking a marathon to raise money for Cancer Research UK1.

Within minutes we’d both signed up to the 2021 Shine Night Walk – 26.2 Miles (42 km) – a full marathon around London overnight, the week before the main “London Marathon”. The training plan seemed easy enough – an hour and a half 3 times a week and then a long walk at the weekends, slowly increasing up to a maximum of 20 miles.

The first weekend we did a 10 mile walk locally. If you regularly walk short distances, suddenly doing double your normal amount is quite a step up. I remember Juli pushing me to do the final half mile when I’d had enough. Lockdown, and more importantly not walking as much as I would normally have to with the daily commute, had really destroyed my stamina.

What followed was 8 weeks of daily training – pushing myself further than I felt I could go, particularly the long walks at the weekends. Every single time we did a long walk, those last few miles where the hardest … whether it was 14 miles or 20 miles. Evey time we were proud of ourselves that we’d done it.

On the 25th September, we made our way into London and ended up walking a couple of miles to get to the start point. Our 9.45pm start time seemed a long wait as we watched the 10k and half marathon walkers start in the hours before us. Once we got going, much like all the runners from yesterday, the atmosphere support from everyone else around us was amazing. IF I’m honest we set off at a far faster pace then I knew was sustainable, but it was hard to slow down while we were excited to get going.

London by night can be beautiful – we did have to dodge the cars and night busses, as well as people leaving the pubs and clubs (something the marathon runners didn’t have to deal with!) – and it was a lovely clear night. Volunteers along the way gave us encouragement as well as directions, and there were plenty of pit stops with snacks and water if it was needed.

We stopped once, at the half way point and then powered on. I barely noticed the miles until we got to mile 20. That was the furthest we’d walked in our training and my body started giving up. That was my wall. Juli had a similar problem, but we both kept encouraging each other for that last hour and a half. Even though we were mentally and physically tired, walking through the night rather than the day, our feet were sore, and we were eating fruit mentos to keep us going.

Around mile 25 we got a slight adrenaline boost as an argument kicked off near us – that was the only time that I felt glad that there were other walkers and marshalls around. I saw the 25 mile board, but Juli missed it. The smile on her face as we crossed the final bridge and the marshall told us we were nearly there, deserved a picture. We sped round the corner and got to the finish at 5.28am, 7 hours and 35 minutes after we started.

Despite stretching for over an hour and drinking coffee and hot chocolate until the trains started running again, I hurt for four days afterwards, but it was worth it. The day I woke up and felt back to normal I was enthusiastic to sign up for the next one. I can see how people get addicted to marathons! This won’t be my last.

Finally, congratulations to everyone who ran the London Marathon or achieved any other marathon this year. You are all amazing.

  1. My giving page if you’d like to donate is at Janet’s Giving Page | Cancer Research UK Giving Pages

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.