What I learned from running a half marathon every month for a year

What I learned from running a half marathon every month for a year

I ran a half marathon every month in 2018 – in pursuit of charity fundraising and, well, because it was an awesome challenge!

In this article, I’ve explored WHY, HOW, MY WIDER LEARNINGS, and my VERDICT on each race.

I hope this inspires you to take on your own challenge – be it coach to 5k, or an ironman!!

It’s not the objective size of the challenge that matters, it’s about what it means to you, and how you choose to approach it!

Why I ran a monthly half marathon

 

My half marathon challenge, 12in2018 Running for Refugees, was born as a concept while I was solo walking the South West Coast Path in Cornwall, UK. Because nothing makes you want to run multiple half marathons like schlepping up and down numerous precipitous coastal tracks! Ideas float in and out of your head when you’re walking; some of them decide to stick and others are happy to float off over the hills where you walk. This one stuck!

I’d run the London Marathon earlier in the year and wanted another running challenge. I had also started volunteering with an organization working with refugees in Northern France and I wanted to fundraise. Having just run the marathon, I needed to step it up once more in order for people to put their hands in their pockets again. Twelve half marathons, one per month seemed to be sizeable enough!

 

The idea sat to the side for a couple of months and then over the summer I found myself telling my friends about it as we floated in the sea at Brighton. Yes! they said enthusiastically in the pub later that day (both keen runners themselves). You could do 13, said Dan, to make it match the number of miles in a half marathon. Er, no, Dan. 12 is enough thank you!

How I put my monthly half marathon challenge into action!

 

Choosing my half marathons

 

12in2018 Running for Refugees went from a concept to a reality, as I started signing up for events. To keep things interesting, I decided to distribute my runs around the country, and others overseas. I purposefully signed up in places that I hadn’t been before and used this as an excuse to go there. I went to Edinburgh for the first time, and used a climb up Arthur’s Seat as my pre-race day stretch.

 

The one that I knew had to be in there was the Trømso midnight sun run. Not only did we get to run at night, but I treated myself to a trip to the arctic circle for my birthday, which fell 5 days before the run.

 

Later on in this piece, I’ve outlined each half marathon and what I thought of it as an event, should you wish to do one, two, three or all of them!

 

Getting people involved

 

In the strange ways our minds can work, advertising the fact that I was undertaking this challenge was more difficult in some ways for me than the running. In the past, my modus operandi would have been to do them, ask for some money along the way, and then tell people about it afterwards. I decided to do it differently this time: I wanted this to be a group effort!

I wanted to encourage others to get involved, for their own enjoyment and for the experience of the support and teamwork. I wanted to ask people to do something with me, and encourage them without holding on too tightly to the outcome.

 

Ideas to involve people:

 

  • create a facebook page and invite people to like it
  • set up a central fundraising account through totalgiving.com that people can personalize, and it all goes into a central pot. This makes things easier and has the morale boost of the total growing more rapidly
  • thank each and every contributor personally, tagging them in social media posts
  • mini vlogs, following each run, kept people up to date with what was happening
  • I put posters up in the places I was working, including the warehouse in Calais where the refugee support organisations worked

 

Training

 

There are a plethora of fantastic half marathon training plans out there. If you’re looking for one, I strongly suggest Runner’s World plans as your starting point. I also really like the Brighton Half Marathon one

 

This was a new one for me. I knew how to train for a half marathon. I had experienced training for a full marathon and halves in the past. However, what was a challenge for me was to maintain this level of commitment over the course of the year. Part of my training was accepting that, given life’s other demands, this was going to be different. So:

 

  • I allowed my training to ebb and flow, according to what was happening in life
  • I allowed and accepted the fact that I was not going to run 12 p.b.’s (more on this below)
  • The challenge here was not each half marathon in itself, it was the accumulation of them – (though the hungover one in the snow was not easy!)

How to keep going

 

The challenge here was how to keep going, month after month. I admit, I got bored with the process about half way through. There were a couple that I did on my own and on one occasion,  I remember very clearly, sitting in my car at 6am, and wondering what the hell I was doing!

 

Remembering WHY I was doing it, reminding myself of the conditions that refugees were living in and what the money I was raising was going to help provide, was fundamental to continuing with my challenge

 

Tenacity, also sometimes called stubbornness, or bloody-mindedness was a big part of this challenge. I decided I was going to do it and I refused to stop.

 

This was, of course, where growing a community around the challenge made it so much more likely to happen. People came to cheer, to carry bags and food, to run with me. When something becomes bigger than you, you can be carried along in the energy of it. And, of course, the more people who you tell that you’re going to do something, the more likely you are to commit to finishing it!

 

Keeping going is also sometimes about taking one step after another on your own, when no-one else is there, when it’s cold and dark and you’re tired. It’s also about reaching out to a network for support.
It’s about digging down into yourself and deciding what approach you want to take. It’s about choice

What a kickass challenge like this can teach us!

 

Use the language of community and you will create one

 

I love talking about running and encouraging others to get involved. I also had some real insecurities around saying ‘I’m doing this, join me!’. It hits a core, age-old fear of mine that people won’t want to ‘be my friend’. When you write this, it looks silly, but it’s something I imagine quite a lot of people can empathise with.

So, I made myself do it. More than this, I created the facebook page using plural pronouns. This isn’t just me doing this, it’s ‘us’, it’s ‘we’. Not only, I found, did this create a sense for others of an existing community that they joined, but it helped me as well. I felt less alone.

I used language that projected forwards to what we wanted to create, and it helped it to grow.

THANK YOU to each and every person who became part of the 12in2018 community!!

 

A handy life metaphor to stick in your pocket and carry around

 

So many people, myself included, love running not only for the fitness and the endorphins but also for what it teaches you about yourself and the way it presents metaphors for life. I’ve found this through other running challenges, and this one was no different. The length of time it was stretched over meant the ebb and flow of life, the seasons, personal energy levels were all visably at play.

November alone presented this for me, when I ran a triple – three half marathons in the month – due to missing other months for family illness.

Truly, life is about accepting that at times it is about ‘driving on your own up the M25 in pouring rain at 6.30am with a bit of a cold’ and at other times, just weeks later, ‘running in glorious sunshine with treasured friends’. Both are needed, both are welcome, one informs the other.

 

Trust yourself

From the very beginning, I knew I could do this because I decided that I could.

While having the experience of several half marathons and a marathon helped, it was more about the fact that I declared to myself and all who asked, that I would make it happen. AND SO IT DID.

 

Take care of how you speak to yourself

 

A large part of completing and enjoying each of my half marathons, and the whole challenge was knowing how to talk to myself during the races. These runs were about my mental strength far more than my physical strength, especially as I had done less training for them than any other long-distance events in the past.

 

Before the race and as it starts:
  • “I can do this”;
  • “I trust myself. I love myself”;
  • “I know how to do this”;
  • “Enjoy this”;
  • “Run your own race”;
  • “Look at that sunshine / this rain is lovely to cool me down”
Throughout the race, mantras to keep you going.

My favourite one is “head up, heart open, smile with your eyes” – an amalgamation of yoga and running practice that I’ve brought together

 

The power of counting to 100…

over and over… and over.

If you haven’t tried this when you’re running, I encourage you to. It helps to get you into a rhythm, to regulate your breath and it gives you something to focus on. When the run feels difficult, focusing on counting stops my mind thinking about any pain, or worrying about my time in a negative way. When I’m really pushing it towards the end of the runs, I would sometimes visualize every number and see it floating off into space in front of me.

 

Run your own race

I wasn’t really fit enough for some of these half-marathons, and for none of them was I near my marathon fitness. I missed January due to a chest infection and spasms in an intercostal muscle. I was slower than I had been in the past. It was tougher physically. I was being passed by people I would previously have run past. I looked different in my running gear.

What an interesting and excellent learning experience.

The power of running your own race was so strong.

What is the value in comparing yourself to the person who runs past you, or the person you pass, or the person running next to you, even?

The first will probably bring you down, the second can make you superficially but falsely confident and the last means that you’re not fully in your self, but too busy watching the other and you forget to listen to your body or to enjoy the experience.

At times, I found it difficult to let go and run my own race but when I did, how much better it felt! What a message for life!

 

Celebrate your achievements!

 

It’s easy to normalize your achievements, or underestimate the power of inspiration they can hold for others.

In November, I posted a picture of 11 of the 12 medals, with one more to go: a last push for money from people. I was a little embarrassed as medals aren’t really my thing, but it resulted in a much greater response than I’d anticipated. It was amazing what people had to say, and it was a real lesson to me to hear how they viewed what I was doing.

It’s good to remind ourselves that while our own thoughts and feelings are valid and to be honoured, it’s important to gain other perspectives as well. And that it’s a great thing to be your own cheerleader!!

 

Create the compound effect

Running one half marathon is, in anyone’s books, a big achievement and I applaud each and every person who decides to do it and puts in the effort to make it happen. In this case, it was about not one, but multiple.

Most creations in life are brought about by the compound effect, by persistence: each tiny effort in the same direction helps to create the bigger outcome. This applies to running, to building a business, to strengthening and maintaining relationships. My half marathon challenge was a tangible example of this for me, and I carried it through into other parts of my life, including creating my coaching business.

 

Embrace the embodied experience

How we use our body is integral to our well-being and to our sense of self. People often talk about ‘mind over matter’ when discussing sporting or physical achievement. I personally think instead that it’s ‘mind with matter’. The interplay between our mental experience and our physical experience is a two-way street.

Using my body, feeling the strength within in, feeling it respond to my requests helped my enormously in my view of myself in other ways.

The rhythmic process of running helps to release held emotions and thoughts. It can be cathartic and flowing. I can change the way I run, the way I hold my body, and impact on the way I feel within myself. This applies when my running shoes are on or off.

This kind of challenge demands that you listen to your body.

How does it need to be nourished?

How much sleep does it need this week?

How can I move it to keep it flexible?

When do I push forwards; when do I rest?

 

Asking yourself on a daily basis, ‘what do I need right now?’ is a fundamental part of the pathway to self-efficacy and self-love.

The 12 half marathons and my verdict on each

 

Brighton Half

My home town! I love this half marathon and had run it several times before, which helped me out a lot, given my severely under-prepared state!

I highly recommend this one! Great views, fast and flat and an awesome place for you and your supporters to come to for the weekend

9/10

Enter here: http://www.brightonhalfmarathon.com

 

 Hampton Court Palace Half

My view of this may, admittedly, be skewed by the fact that I was hungover (not recommended) and it was snowing, but I was underwhelmed by this one, especially given the price tag.

The parts along the river were lovely, but too much of it was along roads which hadn’t been closed and you were funnelled along the pavement. The last 3km were on mud which was seriously churned up by the time I got there and needed spikes! Some matting or an alternative route was needed, given that it was March.

4/10

Enter here: https://www.palacehalf.com

 

 Paddock Wood, Kent

This is a lovely half marathon, run by and for runners, which really shows. There’s nothing fancy about it, it’s simply very well organised, well-marshalled, and non-flashy.

Much of it is on quiet roads in the Kent countryside. If this appeals to you, it’s wonderful, though if you’re looking for large cheering crowds, you’ll want a more urban run. I loved it!

8/10

Enter here: http://www.paddockwoodhalfmarathon.co.uk/2018-paddock-wood-half-marathon/

 

 Gatwick Half

This was the run’s inaugural year, and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops in time. It was pretty corporate and, to be honest, I ran this one to serve a purpose of replacing the one I missed in January due to injury. It was well organised and some of it was on lovely Sussex country roads, but there was no escaping the fact that much of it was running out of and into Crawley town centre. There was good music at the start!

6/10

Enter here: https://www.rungatwick.com/

 

Edinburgh Half

I loved this one, in large part due to the spectacular location. Mostly flat and in an awesome city with phenomenal natural landscape around.

The run begins in the old town and it’s pretty exciting getting to run down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh! This well-organised, friendly run then finds it’s way down to the sea and along the coast to Musselburgh. I definitely recommend it!

8/10

Enter here: https://www.edinburghmarathon.com/events/half-marathon/

 

Trømso

Something magical happened here for me. It was definitely one of those runs where your surroundings just carry you along. It was a real privilege to come here and run – it is every bit and stunning as you might imagine.

The event starts and finishes the in the town centre – and it was wonderfully bizarre to run down into the town in the early hours. Make sure you go for a drink afterwards (only one, you’ll need a bank loan for a second one), to see people stood in sweaty lycra in a bar next to locals dressed up for a night out.

If you’re considering it – DO IT.

9/10

Enter here: http://www.msm.no/midnight-sun-marathon.242498.en.html

 

 Bath (not the main one)

This one was just madness! It’s an insanely tough run, with an additional 5km to the usual half marathon route. I think it might have now been cancelled! It was very, very hot the day we ran it, and while the marshalls were completely fantastic with providing water, it was very tough. It’s one to do for the beauty of the Bath hills and the insanity of it – not one for a pb!

5/10

Enter here (maybe): http://www.relishrunningraces.com/bath-running-festival.php

Folkestone

This is a good half marathon if you’re a fan of a well-organised, flat, there and back along the coast. It’s not a mega special one, but it’s a goodie nonetheless. Folkestone has a lot more about than people often imagine, and I highly recommend heading to the pier afterwards to eat from a wide range of fantastic food stalls on offer!

7/10

Enter here: http://www.folkestonerotary.org/half-marathon

 

 Grand Union Canal

A flat, point to point run, starting and finishing in a beautiful park with the joy of the canal along the way. I really enjoyed this run. The leaves were turning and it was a spectacular vision of golden leaves by the water as we ran along.

At times, you felt a little funneled by the towpath, so you either needed to head out and create your own space or give yourself over to what was happening around you. The downside is the distance between the start and finish, but the (extra cost) shuttle bus is well-coordinated. A good run.

7/10

Enter here: https://findarace.com/events/grand-union-canal-autumn-half-marathon

 

 Conwy

I really loved this one and am signed up to do it again! Starting and finishing in front of the spectacular Conway, with a run into Llandudno, the best part is undoubtedly the Great Orme!

This limestone headland forms the central part of the race. Up, up – and up – you run, on a road that hugs the side of the hill, until you reach the top and have a glorious view out over the sea and across to Snowdonia. You’re rewarded of your efforts with 2 miles of steady downhill – all with this vista still in front of you, before you make your way back to finish by running over the bridge to the mighty castle. This is one to do!

9/10

Enter here: https://www.runwales.com/events/conwy-half-marathon/

 

 Downton (New Forest)

A very pretty race, well-organised and complete with free-range ponies and donkeys along the route! It’s nicely undulating, with a couple of bigger hills. Although it’s a road race, you get right out into the forest for good stretches of it and as it’s not a busy run, there was plenty of peace to enjoy your surroundings.

8/10

Enter here: http://www.racenewforest.co.uk/running-races/downton-half-marathon/

 

 Victoria Park, London

This one was a disappointment and an anticlimax to end the challenge on. It felt like a pure money-spinner, which is backed up by the price. Six loops of the park were highly repetitive (though something you knew before you signed up), with much of the marshalling by people paid to be there rather than volunteering or wanting to. I am completely in favour of people being paid properly for their time, but it meant that a number of them were disinterested or looking down at their phone.

I chose it in order to finish in London and hold a celebration afterwards, and it’s certainly handy for Londoners but I can’t whole-heartedly recommend it.

It didn’t stop me feeling happy and relieved that I was done!

2/10

Enter here: https://www.runthrough.co.uk/event/victoria-park-race-december-2018/

 

If you’d like to learn more about my challenge, or share exciting details of your own, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

 

To learn more about how I incorporate the types of approaches I’ve started to outline here into my coaching work, and how we can work together, get in touch via the contact form below!

We know communication leads to understanding. Thank you for reaching out so we can begin!

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Writing to yourself has some serious power in it. I wrote a letter to myself on a day that I was feeling great. I’d just come back from seeing friends, going to yoga and had eaten a big meal: three things to make me happy! I decided to write it to be read when I wasn’t feeling like that. The idea is not to gloss over how I might be feeling or what might be going on when I read it, the day might have felt shit, or great or anything in-between, but rather to remind myself what I can believe about myself and that no thoughts and feelings are permanent.

The ideas in here are more natural to some people than others. This isn’t about arrogance, or ignoring the things to acknowledge and change, but about being your own supporter.

I encourage you to write your own letter to yourself. Create space and time and write it solely for yourself, uninhibited. It’s for YOU. No one else has to read it unless you want them to.

Please feel free, as others already have done, to copy this and change it to suit you.

 

‘Dear self,

I’m writing to you from a place of strength and self-belief. A letter to read when you don’t believe. When you think that you can’t do it. When you think there’s no point. When you think that no-one will want to join you in what you’re doing, whether it’s work or life. When you’re comparing yourself to others and feeling inadequate. When you’re thinking that you haven’t made the progress that you ‘should’ have.

Because you have made progress. You are moving forwards. Even on the days or weeks when it feels like you’re not, you are. You’re moving forwards inside yourself.

Believe. Believe. Believe in yourself, for you are a force. You are a force of nature who is complex and wonderful and intelligent and kind and funny and beautiful. You are going to do a lot of great things. You have already done a lot of great things. You have already helped a lot of people, have already touched a lot of lives in positive ways. You are loved and you will always be loved.

And love yourself. It’s important to love yourself. To accept yourself. Be kind to yourself. It’s okay if some days we do things that are simply good enough. Good enough is good enough. You are an incredible woman.

It’s okay that some days don’t feel right. It’s okay that some days feel wrong. It’s okay that some days you feel wrong. You’re not wrong. It’s just that the words you’re hearing right now are telling you this. It’s just that the voice that tells you this is stronger right now than the one that knows the truth. It will keep coming back, and you can keep saying, respectfully, I hear you and I understand why you’re there, but I don’t need you. You’re there, you can say, but you’re not right.

Remember to bring the lightness. Remember to celebrate the small things. Remember to breathe; remember to release the tension. Remember to laugh. Remember that nothing is as serious as you might think. Remember that no-one is judging you in the way you might think. Remember that everything will pass – whether it’s feelings or thoughts or the situation, or your version of the feeling.

Remember you can do it – whatever you want it to be.

You have gifts. You are sensitive and kind and intelligent and funny and caring and sexy and wonderful. It doesn’t matter what others are doing. It matters what you’re doing.

Be kind to yourself x’

We know communication leads to understanding. Thank you for reaching out so we can begin!

Dear friend, who held my hand and didn’t let go…

Dear friend, who held my hand and didn’t let go…

Dear friend who held my hand and didn’t let go,

As we sat in the pub and I asked ‘what if it never gets any better, what if this is what it’s always going to be like, what if I’ve destroyed my life’, you reassured me that it would improve. You told me that it would, because nothing stays the same, everything is transitory and things will change. And they did.

When I arrived for a fun night of comedy (which it was!) there was never a flicker of frustration or sadness or annoyance when the first half an hour was talking about my terror. And then we moved on, and it was okay.

When I reached out and phoned someone, you, as I was having an enormous, and thankfully rare, panic attack; when I was at the point that I couldn’t feel my hands and feet and couldn’t see a way out of it, and you were walking home from work, you talked me through it, you helped me bring my feet back down to the earth and my mind from a swirling hell and you helped me to feel solid again. And, without belittling it, you made the whole process seem normal.

When we hung out in the evening at your house, and I stayed on the sofa overnight, you may have known that this was because I wanted to stay somewhere else other than my own bed, where I woke up every morning at 4am in panic, and maybe thought in some way that being somewhere else would help; but whether you did or not, you simply got the spare duvet out for me, as you knew I would have done for you in my house.

When I’ve looked after your daughter, it has been a joy to do so, and I’m pretty sure that sometimes you needed me to, and sometimes you knew that I needed to, and made it happen. When you send me videos on whatsapp of your young daughter, who I would jump in front of a bus for by the way, saying hello and chatting to me. And on the occasions when I sat on your sofa and struggled to respond to her proffering of a book or toy in the way that I normally would, or may have done even the day before or after, you explained so calmly to her that ‘she feels a bit sad at the moment’ and talked about kindness and love. And that meant so much, partly that it was okay to be sad in your home, and I was filled with love for the fact that you gave the words to your young daughter to start to understand and articulate emotions, and that all of them are okay.

For months, I felt like I touched the bottom (though I’m certain there’s a trapdoor to further down) and somehow kicked and found my way back up to the surface. You manage to allow it all to have depth and have gravity and you take me seriously, but without catastophising it or making me more worried through your concern.

Thank you for making this loving friendship feel so unconditional: it isn’t conditional on us having fun, though often we do; it isn’t conditional on my being ‘okay’, though often I am; it isn’t conditional on my being able to fully explain myself and where my head is, though sometimes I can, because you understand, or if you don’t, that’s okay. Thank you for it being unconditional.

Thank you for simply hearing me, and making me feel heard. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences with me as we talk.

Thank you for making me feel accepted, whatever element of myself you saw and experienced, however dark or light it felt. I felt less afraid of the different parts of myself when I showed them to you and you didn’t walk away. It helped me be more okay with walking towards those parts of myself instead of running away.

During this episode, as I have struggled, I have been overwhelmed by the way that so many people, family, friends and colleagues, have responded with love and acceptance. Some people in my life have found it hard, and that’s been challenging at times for me, but I understand why it is. So many people have heard me and accepted, and been positive. When I have reached out to people and shown my vulnerability, it has been truly incredible the responses I have received from so many people.

And maybe the pressure to get ‘better’ has come partly from myself, and perhaps I have heard it from some people. It’s natural that people want you to feel ‘better’. That’s natural, and I understand. But this isn’t a linear progression to ‘better’, I don’t think. There are good days, and good months, and, I think, great years, but not ‘better’. And one thing I’ve learned is being okay with there being times, days, whatever, when it’s not okay, and being okay with that, instead of pushing and pushing for it to be so, which is both exhausting and counterproductive. And within that, you’ve been someone who has taken each day or each conversation as it is, without question, or comment, or comparison, just as it is. Thank you. And thank you for being one of the people who came to me repeatedly: it’s one thing when people pick up your call and it’s another to dial the number, especially when you don’t know what emotions you might be met with at the other end.

It may seem like no epiphany that sharing each part of ourselves in this way with friends is so powerful, that we find part of ourselves hidden in the words and hugs of others. For some, this is easy and natural. For others, it takes time.

You’ve told me repeatedly that I don’t need to say ‘thank you’, because friendship isn’t about having to be grateful: it’s what we do, and it’s reciprocal. I’m going to own the fact that I am proud of myself for kicking against the bottom and finding my way closer to the surface again. But I am grateful. I am grateful for you being alongside me the whole time, and for making it the most natural thing in the world.

We know communication leads to understanding. Thank you for reaching out so we can begin!