Picture this. You get an opportunity to be on the start line in your dream event so you carefully select a training plan, print it out and stick up somewhere in the house. You spend months training through all weathers (including a 13 mile treadmill run because of the ice on the pavements) and you put yourself through the pain of the dreaded foam rolling. You eat well and spend money on regular sports massages. You’ve trained hard and recovered well.
After waiting so long for race day, you expect it to be fabulous – a perfect race tied up with rainbows and glitter. Instead you get blistering heat, a sore back, tears and a finish time massively outside what you actually wanted. This is where I found myself after the London Marathon. After years of wanting to take part in the event, I had so many visions of a perfect day. Looking at the sights, seeing my family on course and, most importantly, getting the result I wanted. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
So what now? What do you do when your experience wasn’t everything you hoped for?
Be honest about your set back. I was almost ashamed to admit that I hadn’t enjoyed the London Marathon or that it wasn’t all I imagined. I told people it was a great day and, although I talked about how tough the conditions were, I never really said that I hadn’t enjoyed it. I put so much emphasis on the fact that I had always wanted to run it after growing up in London, that I almost couldn’t bring myself to say out loud just how hard it had been for me. I eventually wrote up a race report where I was honest about how I felt after the event which really helped.
Think about those that can’t run. Learning that Matt Campbell had passed away during the London Marathon made me see the bigger picture. Matt collapsed 3.8 miles from the finish line and the running community came together to complete those miles in his memory. A few days after the race I completed my 3.8 miles for Matt and it made me wonder why I was complaining about my time when someone could no longer run at all. It made me appreciate my race and the fact that I’m here to reflect on it.
Go back to basics or try something different. Just run a marathon where time was the goal? Go and do a parkrun, a colour run or something in fancy dress (maybe not the same fancy dress you ran your marathon in!). If you need a break from running after some serious training try something like a mini triathlon or tower running. I’ve run the Gherkin Challenge for the NSPCC twice and loved it both times! It involves running up the 38 floors (1038 steps!) inside the Gherkin Building in London. There’s a champagne reception when you finish and you get to admire the views at the top. It’s a short event (my times were 13m 55s and 13m 5s) but so much fun and it was a break from pounding the pavements.
Book another, more relaxed race. A couple of months after the London Marathon I ran Endure24. Yes, Endure24 involves a lot of running (it consists of a 5 mile loop which you run as many or as little times as you feel like in the space of 24 hours) but it’s super relaxed and it was something I had never tried before. It involves camping overnight and there was no pressure on time or how many laps I could complete. I went with a local running group so I also got to know other runners that I never would have met before.
Look back at your race photos. My memories of the London Marathon tell me that it was an incredibly tough and unhappy day but my race day pictures tell a different story. When I looked back at the pictures taken on course a few days later I realised I was smiling in EVERY SINGLE ONE of them. Even when I crossed the finish line knowing I was 45 minutes outside of my target time I was still smiling. My time was important to me but the crowd support was what got me through the day and that’s what you can see in my photos. Those pictures are a reminder that I still got through it even though it was tough.
Think about why you did it. After three years of trying to get into the London Marathon ballot I decided that I’d had enough (I don’t know how people try for longer than that … I’ve seen some saying that they’ve had 10 rejections in a row!). I decided that I’d do some good and take up a charity place so, after careful consideration, I ran for the Dog’s Trust. Knowing that I’d raised over £2000 towards their mission to help all dogs enjoy a happy life really pushed me to get past what I thought was disappointment. When my certificate from the charity arrived I thought about the good I had done not the time I ran.
Be around others who share your passion. A month after running the London Marathon I returned to the finish line to run the London 10,000 with a friend. She had also completed the London Marathon and talking about how tough it was really helped. Sharing stories of the support from the crowd, how we felt running over Tower Bridge and even where we were displaying our medals really helped me to be able to focus on something other than my finishing time.
I look back on London now in a more positive way. There’s less disappointment and more pride that I made it through an incredibly tough experience. I know that I want to run it again not because I want to do better than my 2018 race but because I want to take it all in next time. I want to relax and enjoy it and hold onto all the good things about running London. I’ve had a brilliant marathon experience in Chicago since then because I took my London adventure and used it to remind myself to enjoy the race.
I walked away from Chicago with many happy race memories and my much sought after PB. Proof that tough race experiences can make the next one that much sweeter.