Sitting in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow back at the start of March, I ordered a coffee, and a slither of hope in the form of a small piece of paper with a quotation was served alongside it.
Confucius — the Chinese teacher and Philosopher — said, "It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop". Not one previously for mantras or postcard quotes, I was shocked about how much this spoke to me. Having been struggling since the end of January with runner's knee — and a very dodgy patella — I was saddened that my training hadn't gone to plan, despite beginning it in July 2016 when I found out I had the place. It was particularly disheartening because it meant so much to be running for the Institute of Cancer Research, London after we lost my father to cancer almost four years ago. I wanted to run this for him.
On my return from Poland I decided to take a different approach to marathon training and simply do everything that I could do for it, as opposed to what I thought I should be doing (and what the hundreds of sprightly Instagram runners that I followed thought should be done too).
Preparing for a marathon
I did not drink a drop of alcohol from March 9 to after the marathon on April 23 – not totally necessary, but I’m convinced that this helped me on the day. I planned long walks with my boyfriend, and began walking about 8 km home from work the majority of days — even after my night shifts as a Crisis Management Analyst. I swam many lengths instead of beating myself up that I couldn't run far.
I had a physio session with a great Venetian every two weeks to strengthen my knee, hip and ankle. I bought a bright orange foam roller. Slowly, I began to feel like I could run again so I did: 20 minutes at first and then over an hour, building up the mileage slowly, in order to not ruin any progress.
Before the marathon, I had not run further than 10 miles. That was fine right — only another 16.2 miles to add on?!
The fact is, it was fine.
The week before I planned meals meticulously. I printed off a plan for the exercise I would complete and food I would eat until the Sunday morning of the race. I drank cherry juice every day for extra nitrates and wow, did I eat a lot of pasta on Saturday (early I might add for digestion purposes).
My ICR vest was printed with my name on, I had my jelly beans in my little waist pouch ready, and an absolutely outrageous playlist ready on my iPod — 'VLM '17'. I would do this and I would enjoy it. The truth is the more I told myself and said out loud that I was excited, the less nervous I became, and the more I believed in my own determination. I always kept the cause that I was running in aid of in mind.
The first three miles
And, finally, after basting myself in aloe vera Vaseline, I left for Greenwich.
With the tension building, the smell of deep heat and abandoned banana skins in the air was my first experience of walking up to the Red Start.
The first three miles were great. It's true what they say: the London Marathon is the biggest street party the city has. Little children waited excitedly for the runners to high-five them, and the much older children…well, they drank beers in the early summer sun as we streamed by.
The Cutty Sark was the first landmark we went by, and it was the first time my gorgeous cheerleading team saw me…and I saw them. Eyes stinging from the first large jolt of emotion of the day, I ran past and popped in another jelly bean.
Running over London Bridge was immense, a huge highlight of the marathon. Lined by charities and spectators, we jogged on through as if we were entering an amphitheatre - being cheered on either side with the roars overflowing into the Thames below.
Seeing members of ICR at mile 12 (apparent from the photo captured by the team) put a gigantic smile on my face. In that moment I was even more proud that I could run for a charity that had such a profound meaning to me, along with thousands of other people who have been affected by cancer in some way. I kept on going, another jelly bean in.