What marathon training is teaching me about making change

View from a hill

Since late last autumn, I’ve been training to run the London Marathon on 21 April. Even typing that sentence gives me a little shiver of excitement. I’ve wanted to run the marathon (any marathon, really, but especially that one) for a really long time. This wasn’t the first time I’d entered the ballot, and when I found out I’d got a place I was petrified as well as elated. That’s because until about two months ago, I wasn’t sure I could actually envisage myself running that far.

Now I can. I have yet to actually do it, but I feel certain that it’s possible. That’s a seismic change, and it hasn’t happened overnight. It’s happened over a period of months (or decades, if you count all the running I’ve done for fun since I was a teenager), and it’s only happened because I made it happen.

I’m susceptible, like many, to the need for instant gratification. I like quick wins. I get bored if things don’t happen fast enough. So I’ve actually impressed myself with my ability to return week after week to the long run, cranking out slow miles around the Somerset countryside. My routes get a bit dull because I don’t like running through cow fields, especially, and I’m not super-keen on running where there are lots of dogs off leads. I will do hills, though. I used to hate hills, and now I actively seek them out. Uphill is kind of awful, but the down is so worth it.

It’s a cliché, but it turns out that keeping going is literally as simple as not stopping. Podcasts also help, and audiobooks. I should dedicate much of the training for this marathon to Jo Nesbø and The Redbreast. The back lanes around Wells are almost interchangeable now in my mind with the cold streets of Oslo (where I have never been in real life). I keep expecting to run into Harry Hole around the next corner.

A couple of months ago I attempted my longest-run-ever-at-the-time, which was about the length of a half marathon. I designed the route to end at my brother-in-law’s house, where I’d rendezvous with my husband and stepdaughters for a lift back home. When I arrived I felt as if I’d trekked to a pole, and I looked a bit like that, too. It was like the part in Top Gun: Maverick when he walks into a diner near the start of the film, having crashed to earth after a catastrophic test flight. People on their way to pick up a morning pint of milk looked at me as if I was an alien. (Or perhaps that’s how they look at everyone not from that neck of the woods.)

I look back on that longest run with fondness, but it’s since been surpassed. Week by week, mile by mile. I now know I can do 22 miles, with a lot of elevation (up and down the Mendips four times in a row). So I hope 26.2 miles on the relative flat will be OK. Whatever happens, I’m proud of what I’ve done in the past few months to rewire my brain to the point where something I couldn’t previously conceive of has become feasible for me. I don’t care too much how long it takes. I’m just grateful to have been reminded that real change can be gradual, and it can be earned.

(If you would like to sponsor me, this is my fundraising page.)

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