This weekend I ran a marathon. That's genuinely a sentence I never thought I'd type, and it still feels quite odd. Whilst I was prepared for it to simultaneously be the best and worst experience of my life, it was neither. I don't really know how I feel about the whole thing.
There are two responses you get from people when you tell them you're running a marathon. The first is the overwhelmingly supportive and incredulous, from people who are much more used to you clutching an espresso martini than doing any form of competitive sport. The second is much less enthused, from the fundraising-weary if-I-give-you-twenty-quid-will-you-stop-talking-about-it brigade. It almost inevitably prompts the question "what time are you aiming for?".
Now. I am by nature, as anyone who has ever played Monopoly with me will testify, a hideously competitive person. I don't like losing and I don't do it very often, but I suddenly found myself in a competition that I couldn't win. Not only that, but surrounded by friends who were doing much better than me in training, and were definitely going to make good time on the day. So I wasn't sure what I was aiming for, and when I had the inevitable bad training runs, I found them really demoralizing. Far from being inspiring and uplifting, I was finding the whole process a bit soul-crushing. The lowest point was when a group of us ran the Windsor Marathon Prep Race, which is 20 miles. The route was five laps of four miles and I'd paced myself according to my training plan and was running a slow, steady pace that I was really pleased with, until one of the marshals tapped me on the shoulder at 16 miles and asked me to stop running. There were only five runners left on the course and they said they were packing up, so we could run the extra lap if we wanted but we wouldn't get a time as the race had officially finished. In a move typical to anyone who knows me, I told him where he could stick his polite request and carried on running, encouraging the other four people to do the same. We were all training for the marathon and we'd just encountered everyone's worst nightmare - being made to feel like you're not good enough.
The charity I ran for was the Mental Health Foundation, and having family members and close friends who suffer with mental health issues meant I'd always been around people who were encouraged to talk about their challenges, however big or small. The first step is to realize that acknowledging you need help isn't a weakness, and the next, much harder step, is asking for it. So I told the friends I was training with how I felt; that I found it really hard to support them because their successes only seemed to make my perceived failure worse. That the faster they got, the slower I felt.
One of my clients and best friends, Vikki Stone was one of those people; a similarly competitive force of nature, and a much faster runner than me. She was also at Windsor and had finished ahead of me, so I called her to say I was going to do the last lap, even though it wouldn't count. Halfway round, I got a text from her saying she'd fought with them until they agreed to keep the course open, and that all of us would get an official time, and more importantly, a goody bag. Knowing you've got someone backing you when you're feeling so shit makes a huge difference, and undoubtedly helped me finish that 20 miles.
The same thing happened yesterday. I struggled to keep up with all the tweets, Facebook posts and texts of encouragement in the morning, and seeing my mum, my flatmate, people from work and some of my best friends on the route gave me the Mario-esque power-ups I needed throughout the day. I had some brilliant moments, some really terrible moments, and a lot of jelly babies. Contrary to what I'd been told to expect, I didn't feel elated when I finished. I just hurt a lot. But I did it, and I'm proud that I did it, and my time (5:44 as it happens) doesn't really matter. But I guess that's the lesson: Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is harder than it should be, and it's okay to tell people that, because they'll help you through it.
Ps Vikki Stone finished in 4:44.
You can still contribute to Corrie's fundraising for The Mental Health Foundation here: www.virignmoneygiving.com/corriemcguire or Vikki's fundraising for The Dog's Trust here: https://www.justgiving.com/vikkistone/