In seven days 40,000 people will hit the streets for London Marathon 2019; from the elites and record-breakers, to novices, first-timers and the Sunday plodders; the lifelong athletes and those who swapped pints and cigarettes for isotonic drinks and heart rate monitors.
It will be my third marathon and I can’t wait. Lots has changed since the last blog in January, reflecting on the foot injury that followed Chester Marathon and relapsing with my eating disorder. In March I also moved out of home to Kendal, near the Lake District, to be nearer the hills that first inspired my Everest journey and will hopefully keep my mental health in check.
Luckily, I’m also back to running and training as normal – and couldn’t be more grateful. However, it was never going to be as simple as getting back to running again. There’s always other challenges on the horizon and needs to be met. Quite literally, life is like a triangle: you never know which point you’ll go towards.
I’m not just referring to the ‘Green Triangle’ YHA logo costume I’m running the marathon wearing. Sadly, the costume wasn’t big enough to qualify for the official Guinness World Record criteria of ‘fastest marathon dressed as a logo’ but the reason behind it remains the same, so I’m doing it anyway. After a delicate recovery from the tendon injury I knew I wouldn’t realistically improve my PB whilst still regaining fitness. So, this marathon became about making a difference by fundraising for YHA England & Wales to transform young lives through adventure – having realised just how we take being active outdoors for granted. The fundraising target and donations have been my reason to run since January.
My mind and body weren’t ready for the demands of a sub 3-hour training plan either. Just because you’ve done something before doesn’t always make it easier though. Training for London has been the hardest yet without the performance goals or sense of progress to provide motivation. I already know I can complete the marathon in the costume and raise money regardless. Getting out on long runs was a chore and a hard slog. Aside from occasional races, there’s been almost zero ‘mojo’ to push myself. I fell out of love with running – when it was all I wanted to do whilst injured.
Feeling so weak, frustrated and depleted wasn’t just loss of fitness. I recently began NHS therapy for anorexia and bulimia. Depriving yourself doesn’t bode well with marathon training. For every runner, food plays a big part in running 26.2. In the build-up to London Marathon each year we see people proudly sharing their carb-loading delights and Spag Bol galore – never mind the plague of guilt-tripping articles unhelpfully calculating how many Big Macs or Easter Eggs we might burn off in the process. Like many people, I had always enjoyed the flexibility with food that exercise allowed, but learnt how this equation can get dangerously out of control.
‘Just eat more’ seems the obvious answer to weight loss. That’s like telling an alcoholic to drink more. Eating disorders fill a gap that other areas of life can’t fill and are incredibly manipulative in their bid for control and self-sabotage. It seemed ironic to be listening to a great audiobook ”Stand Tall Little Girl” about eating disorders by fellow Trigger author Hope Virgo, during the 20-mile training runs.
Moving to Kendal was much harder than expected, and the blasé “I’ve spent months living in tents on expeditions, how hard can it be?” mindset braved to admit. Turns out central heating and broadband don’t grow on trees! It’s been a struggle to find any sense of belonging – feeling pretty hopeless instead.
Sometimes, though, change is positive. It helps us to grow. In the same way that training helps our bodies adjust and get stronger to run a marathon, adjusting to life changes takes time, pain and perseverance. Being comfortable for too long is never a good thing.
Firstly, it’s learning to change expectations. Of course, running in a costume is a challenge itself. After abandoning my recce at London Big Half Marathon in 50mph gusts, a couple of weeks ago I ran the Darwen Half marathon to get the hang of running in a costume. By losing the time pressure and self-comparison I’ve never had so much fun in a race before (albeit other runners were displeased being overtaken by a Quality Street in the final mile). Another week, I decided to just ignore the training plan and run whatever, wherever and however I felt like. And hugely enjoyed myself, too. Changing the scenery was a chance to start exploring the new local routes, to feel the excitement of new trails, smiling at sunrise in the hills, and the bluebell woods coming into bloom. They give a sense of hope that there’s good stuff to come and a powerful reminder of why we run in the first place.
There’s some bigger challenge ideas lined up in the summer, one of which will make use of the local environment and the other; bigger than anything I’ve attempted before. But my first challenge will be learning to look after myself and fuel properly, which is still a work in progress: a marathon and not a sprint. Next weekend I’ll run London because I can, and because many young people don’t have the opportunity – hopefully the fundraising target will help to change that.
We can’t run away from our challenges forever but at least things seem to be running in the right direction. Without doubt, the hills are one place I always feel at home, and hopefully that won’t ever change.
Good luck to everyone at London next week. You’ll probably see me coming 😉
HUGE thanks to all who’ve donated so far at www.justgiving.com/greentriangle – really grateful for all donations and support to make this worthwhile.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or want to find out more, please visit www.trainbrave.org – a fantastic new project set up to raise awareness of eating disorders and RED-S in athletes.
Big thanks also to Pete Sibthorp at Jellyhead Studios for producing the costume to such quality and quickly enough to meet the GWR application deadline!
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Re-homed, Relapsed, and Running in the Right Direction – Alex Staniforth