Smile, though your legs are aching

Jenny Fairclough | 02 July 2013

I can’t believe it’s all over, but it is. I completed my first running marathon in 5 hours 9 minutes and 26 seconds on 26 May in Edinburgh, and I can honestly say it’s the hardest physical challenge I have undertaken so far.

It wasn’t quite the sub five-hour time I was hoping for and that should have been well within my grasp from all the long training run indicators, but I couldn’t have been prouder when I crossed the line and received my medal and finisher’s T-shirt.

There were so many positives the week before the event – first was my late discovery of Laura Fountain’s Lazy Runner book, which I read only days before the marathon. When I had to resort to walking intermittently as a result of unexpected leg cramps after mile 14, I heeded Laura’s advice and walked with my head held high and a smile – especially when I spotted the official photographers!

Also a week before the marathon I was lucky enough to meet Fiona at my weekly running club, whom I discovered quite by chance was also going to be running in Edinburgh. We agreed to meet before the start of the race and, despite agreeing to stick to our own running plans (as we didn’t know each other’s running pace), we stayed together until mile 14, when I started with my cramp issues. It wasn’t until after the event when we were reunited that we discovered we had finished within a minute of each other. We still can’t quite work out how we missed each other, but it was so frustrating that we couldn’t have crossed the finishing line together. Fiona was so supportive to me in the first half of the race and I think I would have tired even earlier if it hadn’t been for her encouragement. I now have a new running buddy and friend which is an unexpected bonus of my challenge.

My third positive was when a colleague at work thoughtfully tried to find out if there is a patron saint for marathons or running – apparently there is not one, but the closest one he suggested is St Sebastian who is patron saint for athletes. However we’re not sure a saint known for being shot with arrows is the ideal choice for a marathon!

My favourite is St. Michael, patron of battles – he has a nice big sword for the struggle, wings to really keep moving and fleet-looking footwear. He has the scales to remind us runners to keep everything balanced and sound until it is sprinting time. That sounded like a winning combination for a marathon and I needed all the backing I could get. I do have to confess, however, that there was no sprinting on this occasion, only a moderato shuffle with a fake Wallace and Gromit grimace to appease the official photographer in the final 200 yards.

It’s easy to get carried away with the glory of completing an extreme event like a running marathon. However I want and need to stay grounded about why I completed this challenge in the first place.

First is the affirmation that I am lucky enough to have survived breast cancer, so I run because I still can. During the toughest times in the race I reminded myself how far I have come since my own recovery from breast cancer, and how I can now help to make a difference in my role as a breast cancer care volunteer and as someone who can support other people who have breast cancer.

Second, I was honouring and remembering anyone who has lost their struggle with cancer or any other life-threatening diseases, as were so many other altruistic runners on the day. There were so many people running for so many different and deserving charities, and what was so special on the day was the seemingly limitless support and attention that the charity volunteers and spectators had for each and every one of us – especially when we were struggling and needed a ‘lift’.

Last but not least, I have been committed to fundraising for Breast Cancer Care during this challenge to help them carry on the amazing work they do in supporting the many women and men who need practical and emotional support of the very best kind, the kind that I too received from Breast Cancer Care when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, and throughout my subsequent treatments.

I am so grateful for the fantastic advice, encouragement, emotional support and generous donations I have had from family members, friends and colleagues. I am thrilled that my target is already well exceeded and is now in excess of £1000. To see my Wallace and Gromit grimace and how my fundraising is going, visit my JustGiving page.