On a quest to catch pearls of running wisdom … mingling with the stars and the onset of maranoia.

Digested read: time is running out now.  Mistakes are being made. Went to Nicky Spinks talk. Sigh, she is such a legend, that helped me believe (temporarily) that of course I can run a marathon.  Had a sports massage.  Ouch. That made me lose some training and with it confidence in myself that I can do this thing. Then I read a book and tapped into support from friends and got some motivational running bling, and well, who knows?  I’m beginning to think the actual marathon will be the easy bit, if I make it to the start, it’s all these mind games and faffing about in advance that is the real challenge.  Oh well, I am where I am, and only time will tell how this will  unfold. Did you know there is an alternative definition for maranoia by the way?  See if you can work it out for yourself!

I’ve contracted maranoia now.  I’m becoming so risk averse it’s a miracle I can even venture out of the house.  My London marathon virtual running buddies (there’s a group of us spread around the UK who met at a London running weekend and now share a Facebook group) seem to be similarly suffering.  Whatever the scope of our London marathon training programmes to date, as the countdown to London seems to be speeding up, so too our individual and collective anxiety seems to be increasing.

As I understand it, with about 4 or 5 weeks to go, you probably can’t do all that much to increase fitness in the time remaining, but there’s plenty of time to jeopardise everything through injury, illness or an over or under enthusiastic taper.  Of course I don’t feel I’ve done enough training.  Constantly rubbish weather has really not helped, I’m so over snow now, can’t believe there was ever a time when I enjoyed the beauteous novelty of it all.  The point is, I can’t change what’s happened up until this point, so instead I’m becoming totally obsessed with controlling those things I can. With this in mind, I’ve reluctantly pulled out of a Smiley mass trip to take part in a running event in the Lakes the week before London.  A mass cohort of us went to the lakes over the summer, and that was epic taking on both Helvellyn and a route round Ullswater.  At the time of booking I was thinking it might be good to hang out with Smilies whilst tapering, and a 10k is modest enough to keep the legs moving.  Now though, I’m fearful of falling on unfamiliar ground, but more so, the thought of two sleepless nights in a dorm, and not being able to control what I eat and drink and I think it’s just not worth it.   This London Marathon is a once in a lifetime opportunity, being a Smiley is a permanent state.  Not just for Christmas, but for life indeed.  It’s like joining a (hopefully) benign cult.  Once touched by its embrace, you can never leave.  I was a bit sad about pulling out of the Lakes, I may have got something in my eye whilst typing the email cancellation note out – but having seen some photos of the terrain it does look gorgeous but treacherous.  Those are ankle breaking stones I’d say.  Normally love a good trail run, but not with this timing.  Also, part of the route is known as The coffin trail.  Not a moniker that instils a runner with confidence about taking on the path with vigour…  Having made the decision, I actually feel quite relieved, so that means it must be the right thing for me anyway.  Looks lovely though doesn’t it?  Fortunately there is always next year…


I’m also seeking advice from all over the place.   I don’t know if this is actually helpful.  The problem is a lot of advice is contradictory or relates to faster, fitter runners with different goals.  There is also a huge temptation to just keep asking loads of different people what they think I should do until I land on the person who tells me what I want to hear.  Maybe that’s what we all seek ultimately, some external validation of our thoughts and experiences.  Fragile creatures aren’t we?

Anyway, in the spirit of advice seeking, and also finding things to do which might help my running without actually having to put myself to the trouble or unpleasantness of actually running, I got wind of the chance to go to a talk by the living legend that is Nicky Spinks. She of the double Bob Graham challenge.  Hosted by Kim Baxter physiotherapy it had the promising title of ‘how to stay injury free and run further with Nicky Spinks‘  The blah de blah said:

Nicky Spinks is a British long distance runner, specialising in fell running, who set women’s records for the major fell running challenges the Ramsay Round, the Paddy Buckley Round and the Bob Graham Round. She is the holder of the overall record for the double Bob Graham Round.

She returns to talk for the third time due to popular demand. This time her talks takes on a new theme and focus – she will be giving you her best tips and advice on how to run longer distances and train for ultra marathons whilst staying injury free.

A great informative informal evening for those who like to run, thinking of upping their distance or for those who just want to be inspired!

Nicky left us truly inspired last time, and we cant wait to see and listen to her again.

Though frankly she could talk about anything at all, just to be present within her orbit would surely be enough to gain endurance by association?  She exudes such straightforward positivity that I reckon it would just radiate outwards from her and so anyone in her vicinity would benefit.  Unless you were wearing lead underwear that prevented the rays from reaching you I suppose.  Lead underwear is more a diving thing than a running thing though, so I reckoned it’s be ok.

I stomped up to the venue which is up Ecclesall Road.  I’d forgotten just how long that road is.  I mean it’s only about a two-mile walk from where I live, but what a trudge.  It occurred to me that I’m going to have to run up this route – and back down again – in a couple of weeks time for the Sheffield half.  I loved the Sheffield Half marathon when I ran it two years ago, but for the life of me I was struggling to remember why that was as I walked upwards and onwards.  Hope I feel a bit livelier on the day.

A fellow smiley had prompted me to go, and got a ticket for me.  She rang me as I was making my way up, and said I just needed to mention her name to gain entry.  I joked that I was rather hoping that mentioning her name and mine too would lead to a plush red carpet being rolled out and a glass of chilled champagne being pressed into my hand.  Oh how we laughed.

So I arrived at the place up at Parkhead shops (entry round the back) and gave my name and… guess what!  No really, guess.

That’s right! We were indeed given a glass of prosecco on arrival.  This was great news.  It’s the first drink I’ve had in months too, I’ve been completely abstemious during training.  I wasn’t about to turn that down though, and it went straight to my head, I’ve got a low tolerance to alcohol anyway, but the benefit of that is just a single prosecco  bubble up my nose and my body thinks it’s an instant party.  The downside of this is that I crash and burn quite quickly, but then again, no hangovers.  It was great arriving, an intimate sort of space, nicely set out and welcoming, and the place was packed out with people I knew.  People from woodrun, people from Smilies, people from parkrun. This is most excellent.  I saw some I’d hardly seen all winter the weather has been so grim, so it was good to catch up on people’s running goals.  A fair few are taking on the Sheffield half.

Eventually, we were called to order and Nicky was given the stage. I’ve seen her Double Bob Graham film ‘Run Forever’ before, and heard her speak before as well, but I enjoyed this event the most. It was very informal, and Nicky (yes, I feel we are on first name terms now) comes across as very genuine and ‘grounded’.  Her physical achievements and mental fortitude are astonishing, but even so, she admitted to at times being intimidated by other people’s strava records, and harbouring self-doubt.

There are too many points to summarise, but a few things stood out for me/  For example,  how relatively low her mileage was given the ultra challenges she takes on. Hence, train smarter not longer seems a wise mantra.  On an easy week she might just be doing 24 miles, up to say 45-50 on a hard week (though of course she is working from a base line of phenomenal endurance and experience already banked).  Some things sounded like common sense when she said them out loud, even though they went against some accepted wisdom.  I’m thinking of her observation that you should train to what your body needs and responds to and not just blindly do things because a training plan says you should even though you are exhausted and your body is crying out for a break.  She also tends not to ever do three hard weeks in a row (lots of training plans advocate three tough weeks, then pull back for the fourth).  She showed us some of her plans, and indeed it was true, only ever two or three at a push hard training weeks consecutively.

She told us that ultra marathon running is more an eating contest than a running one.  She recommended learning to eat at weird times, sharing how a breakthrough moment in her training programme was waking up in the middle of the night and feeling peckish. Result, her body was getting used to shoveling down food in the small hours. Staying awake all night and dealing with sleep deprivation goes with the territory of being a farmer, she seemed to be able to cope with that with at least resignation if not enthusiasm.  The main thing though that I got from her talk was a sense that you don’t know your limits unless you try things, and you shouldn’t assume things are impossible from the outset.

It astonishes me really, that you can come away thinking you can do anything after a talk from Nicky Spinks because she is clearly super human.  However, there was something in her demeanour that made the likes of me believe that there is certainly no harm in giving things a try.  When it comes to covering distance, you might surprise yourself with your endurance potential.  You don’t have to train insane distances, you don’t have to slavishly follow programmes that don’t work for you, but you do have to have an inner quiet tenacity and for endurance at least, a team to support you.

Inevitably, there was a fleeting moment of disillusion.  I’ve always been particularly impressed with her ability to down chips and curry sauce mid the double Bob Graham round.  Alas, today she revealed the devastating news that she is apparently ‘known’ for being sick on her runs!  Turns out it’s not just an eating competition, eating is only the first part of the dual challenge, you have to keep it down afterwards for long enough to gain some nutritional benefit, the initial ingestion is just the start.  She went on to explain that initially this used to bother her, now she’s learnt to just have a little gander at what’s come back, and from that revise her nutrition planning according to what may now need replenishing!  I’m never sick, well, hardly ever, consequently I don’t think I could be that laid back about the whole thing, but good to know that there are strategies to be deployed should the situation arise.

The talk went quickly, and afterwards, a few of  us shamelessly asked for a photo.  In my defence, I thought we were all supposed to be doing The Cabaret Pose, I hadn’t understood the whole thing was a set up.  Oh well.  At least I have a celebrity picture.  I still have a gap where I want one with Jessica Ennis, (oh the photo that got away) but what with this of Nicky Spinks and the one of us Smilies with Paul Sinton-Hewitt I’m doing OK.

hanging out with the great and good nicky spinks

We left bubbling over with enthusiasm about the talk and feeling inspired.  Somebody, I can’t remember who, said ‘she’s the sort of person you just want to go up to and say please let me be your friend‘. I know what they meant.  However, I’d be happy just to follow her around gazing on her from afar, and being allowed the honour of passing her her sick bag for review when the occasion required it.

Despite being inspired to do loads of ultra-runs in future, clearly it is tremendously important to pace myself properly, so I availed myself of a lift home.  Tomorrow is another day after all..

One consequence of going to this talk, was that everyone who attended got a voucher towards either a physio session or a sports massage.  I’ve been wondering about getting a sports massage pre the marathon, so took the opportunity to sign up for one the following Monday.  I did check first that I’d still be able to run the next day.

Well, I duly went for the massage.  There were good points to this, the high point being when I asked the physio if she could feel anything untoward in my legs.  I don’t think there is anything, though my calves are really tight, I’m not aware of anything sinister.  Well dear reader she just said – unprompted – ‘no they’re fine, they just feel like runner’s legs‘.  Get in!  Get me and my ‘runner’s legs’ not a label I ever expected one of my body parts to be prefixed with.  This was very exciting indeed.   It also turned out that she’d done the London marathon herself, so loads of me downloading everything in her brain to learn from her experience.  Fortunately, she was massively positive about the whole thing, and about my capacity to complete it – albeit based only on what I said about my preparation, and really who knows until they do it.

Then the actual massage.  The thing is, I’ve not really had one before, not a full one hour massage.  I’m sure it was ultimately beneficial, but oh my it was like doing a legs workout.  I expected to feel it a bit at the time, and to be a bit spacey in the evening afterwards. What I hadn’t expected, was to feel completely wiped out for the next two days.  I was supposed to be doing a long run, but I just didn’t feel my legs had it in them, and reasoned it would be foolish to head out if I was in trouble just walking around the house.  It took a few days for them to settle.  So frustrating.  I can’t regret the massage entirely, because it was reassuring that there are no niggles there, and probably the deep tissue massage did make them loosen up a bit by the end of the week.  However, I am most definitely not taking the chance of having another one between now and London.  I hope it wasn’t a mistake, it has cost me one long run, but then again it’s done now.  I suppose if I was used to having them regularly then it might be different.  Oh well, not being able to tolerate them will save me a fortune in my future ultra running career.


I tried to keep my running spirits up by reading inspirational literature, and by sharing needy messages to my London marathon superstars Facebook friends.  Interestingly, a lot of us seem to be struggling this week with cumulative fatigue and drop in confidence.  The end is so near yet so far I suppose.   The thing is, I look at all they’ve done and its ‘easy’ for me to see that for them, of course they are exhausted, they’ve trained really hard, they’ll be fine after they’ve tapered.  I on the other hand, well, obviously my fatigue is entirely different.  In my case it’s my body saying best not bother, I’m way out of my depth and this is not ‘fatigue’ it is my body actually disintegrating in protest in a last-ditch attempt to thwart my intention to get to the start of London Marathon.  It will do whatever it takes to prevent me joining the line up.  It’ll probably find a way to hide my photo id if I make it as far as the expo, no photo ID no race number.  The pre-registration email instructions are adamant on this point.  I need to watch out…

Happily I got this book in the post the same day I had the sports massage.

running the smoke

It was recommended to me as something of an emotional read.  I don’t know what I was expecting quite.  I mean the accounts are impressive, but honestly, I didn’t find them all that relatable. I was explaining this to a fellow Smiley ‘the thing is, I just can’t directly identify with the woman recounting how she felt after winning London‘,  ‘well of course you can’t!  she quipped back ‘you haven’t run it and won it yet so you can’t know!’  Good point well made.  Joking apart though, I was hoping for less heroic recovery stories, and more, well middle-aged women, who’d come to running late who were just going to give it their best shot to find out if they could get round and then they found out they could and they did.  The stories were amazing, how these people overcame adversity of the most extreme situations imaginable (surviving genocide, losing your hands and feet to frost bite and/or terrorist attacks) to get to London, but it catapulted the tales into the ‘extraordinary’ category,  we are not sharing the experiences of mere mortals in this  compendium of collective London marathon experiences.  Hang on – here’s some of the blah de blah:

Running the Smoke tells the story of what it’s like to take part in the London Marathon in the most enlightening and enriching way possible: from the perspectives of twenty-six different runners who have been there and done it. Michael McEwan delves to the heart of these runners’ stories, discovering their reasons for running and revealing the drive that has seen them cross the finishing line. From global superstars Sir Steve Redgrave and Michael Lynagh to legends in the running world such as Liz McColgan and Dick Beardlsey, from fun-runners like Lloyd Scott who ran the 2002 race in a deep-sea diving suit, to heroes of a different kind in multiple amputee Jamie Andrew, 7/7 terrorist attack survivor Jill Tyrrell, or Sadie Phillips who has twice defeated cervical cancer, Running the Smoke lifts the lid on an array astonishing stories that are often heart-breaking, always heart-warming – and endlessly inspirational.

See what I mean?  Just to be clear, running in a diving suit doesn’t sound like a ‘fun run’ to me either, and Lloyd Scott who did this, was actually a professional footballer at one point, so not really starting off with a C25K (Couch to five k) fitness baseline.

lloyd scott marathon

Impressive yes, but not an account that helps me believe I could do that too.  I’m going to put it out there and say that I’m confident I most definitely couldn’t.  Some challenges cannot be achieved by positive thinking alone.  Fact.  Consequently, right now I want to hear stories from the more seemingly mundane end of the spectrum of human experience.  Of the apparently ordinary people, who stepped out of their comfort zone and found they could take on London too.  People who might actually make me believe I have the capacity within me to get round also.  I think it’s still an achievement to get round even if you didn’t have to triumph over adversity to get to the start line.  Plus, actually, I believe that most people have their own remarkable stories that might not be quite so immediately headline grabbing, but are truly inspirational nevertheless.  Everyone I know who runs, runs for a reason.  The book also has a strong focus on elite athletes, again, their achievements are impressive but way out of my league in terms of providing personal inspiration.

The book also has a disappointingly high proportion of accounts from  men, it’s not that I’m not interested in their stories, but it wasn’t very inclusive, and I need to hear women’s voices right now. It made me wonder what the gender split is for London.  I asked Google and haven’t tried that hard to research it, but it seems there is most definitely a majority of men who take part, around two thirds of marathon runners are male according to this Guardian report from 2015.  I think it’s shifting though, interestingly, there is a suggestion that women do better with endurance events – though that may be they are less likely to take them on unless they’ve trained adequately in advance.   I think only five or so of the 26 runners stories were from women, not very inclusive.  Having said that, it did make me want to get there. It also made me want to redress this imbalance.  I wonder if I could somehow gather together all the women I know who have run marathons, and get their stories.  Most people I know who run, run for a reason, some are indeed amazing athletes, but others have achieved great things through sheer bloody minded tenacity.  Juggling running goals alongside a myriad of other practical demands (work, family, physical and mental health) and physical as well as mental challenges.  Those are the stories I want to hear and share. We should celebrate the achievements of those within our own running communities, there is just as much tears, tenacity, triumph and talent closer to home as further afield.

I also note increasingly how runners, well, the women I know anyway, support one another hugely, we are back to external validation perhaps?  I have found I really need people around who tell me this is achievable for me.  I don’t care if they are crossing their fingers behind their backs as they say so, I need to hear this.   Thank you everyone, from the bottom of my heart who has not laughed in my face when I have outed myself as attempting to tackle this, and more thanks a-plenty to those who’ve nurtured me along the way.   Running a marathon isn’t as much of a solo endeavour as you might think.  Maybe on the course, but getting to the start, that’s a different thing altogether.  For me, training for this marathon has been contradictory.  In some ways it is by its very nature isolating, especially if like me you can’t find a runner of a similar pace to train with, and ultimately, only I can get out the door and do the training runs myself.  On the other hand, I’ve been astonished by the generous support, advice and encouragement others have freely offered up.  It is an amazing thing this marathon voyage, it seems so many of the clichés are true.  It is indeed a journey.  It will be an emotional roller coaster, and yes, I will probably cry all the way round. That’s the annoying thing about clichés though, they become clichés for a reason, because they do reference common truths.  Oh well.  I’m happy to embrace any number of clichés or motivational phrases if that’s what is needed to get me round!

believed she could

Speaking of which, a gift came in the post from one of my London marathon superstar buddies, and it gave me a fantastic and timely lift.  I won’t be running London alone at all, I’ll have my running buddy with me every step of the way!

support every step of the way

Not long now.  I need to channel all the positivity I can.  Guess I have to train my mind to be positive as much as train my body to keep moving forward.  In the meantime, I leave you with some alternative definitions of maranoia.  Maranoa is also a region of south-west Queensland in Australia. That could get confusing, they don’t seem to have a running club there.  Coincidence?  I think we all know otherwise.


You’re welcome.

Counting down now, counting down.



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