In March 2018 I ran Wrexham half marathon in 2 hours, 21 minutes and 6 seconds.
11 months later, February 2019, I ran Aintree half marathon in 1 hour, 49 minutes and 6 seconds.
This blog post doesn’t give a blow by blow account of the training I did in the 11 months between these two races; instead it talks about something much, much more important – the change that took place inside my head during that time.
There is no denying that I worked really hard in the 11 months between March 2018 and February this year. I consistently ran 3 or 4 times a week , I increased my strength work in the gym and started incorporating some heavier lifting into my weekly training.
But the improvement in my physical fitness and the increase in my strength wouldn’t have been enough to see my times come down they way they did. I made dramatic improvements to my 10k and my half marathon times because I also made a dramatic change to my mindset.
To sum it up as simply as I can, once I decided I wanted to see if I could post some faster times, I had to realise that sometimes… it was going to hurt.
Prior to last Summer, whenever I was running; whether training or at an event, when my legs were tired I’d slow down or take a walk break. I can tell you the exact date and time that I first decided to stand up to that voice telling me to rest. It was 11:40am on Sunday 26th August, at the 5 kilometre marker of Ellesmere 10k.
Without going into too much detail, I’d run this race in 2017 and it wasn’t very successful. I’d fallen out of love with running after my first half marathon and my girls being home for the summer holidays was the perfect excuse I needed not to run. By the time race day came round I’d barely trained, was a stone heavier than I’d like and I just wasn’t feeling fit. It was also a scorching hot day. I hated every step of that race and my finishing time was just over 1 hour and 6 minutes. My previous 10k races had all been under an hour so I was really disappointed and felt I’d gone backwards.
Determined not to feel that disappointment again, in 2018 I made a conscious decision not to let the school summer holidays get the better of me and I committed to run at least a mile every day whilst the girls were off. This was the first time I started getting out of bed an hour earlier to be able to run, it was when I first began practicing my (now expert) skill of fitting in a run where it seems impossible. I entered Ellesmere 10k again and felt much more positive going into the race.
It rained, wow did it rain… I remember standing on the start line feeling absolutely frozen – it was more like February than August. Back then I didn’t have a Garmin, just a basic FitBit which I used like a stopwatch and I’d decided not to look at it during the race. My PB was just over 58 minutes and I was hoping to get under that but really, I just wanted to finish knowing I’d run as fast as I could.
At the halfway point I was tired and I remember thinking that there was no way I could maintain my pace for another 5k. But that thought creeping into my head coincided with a downhill section of the course and I convinced myself to keep going, to see if I could get to the 6k marker and the water station. I managed it. So then I thought, push for one more kilometre Laura, if you manage that then it’s three quarters done and you’ll be nearly home. to be honest, the awful weather was a motivating factor – I was so desperate to finish and get out of my wet trainers!
I missed the 7k marker, maybe because I was distracted by the pain in my legs, maybe because I was totally focused on the people in front of me, trying desperately to keep up with them and not lose ground.
Everything was telling me to slow down a bit. My chest hurt, my legs were tired and heavy and my tummy ached after every bit of incline. But this time, I wasn’t giving in.
This race ends with a lap of the school field and, as my feet touched the grass I craned my neck round to try and catch a glimpse of the finish line clock. It said 50:47. My heart sunk. Obviously the digital display was faulty and the middle bar of the 8 wasn’t working. I was so gutted… I’d run as hard as I could and I’d missed my sub-58.
Except I hadn’t. I ran around the top end of the track and I saw the clock change… to 51:00. I actually squealed when I realised what I’d done… from somewhere I found a sprint finish and crossed the line with a chip time of 51 minutes and 20 seconds.
I learnt an awful lot about myself during that race and I know for sure that if I had looked at the time whilst I was running, I would have slowed down. I would have seen that I had plenty of time to spare to achieve a sub-58 and, without a doubt I would have slowed my pace – I might even have allowed myself a little walk break.
That day was a huge turning point for me and my attitude to my training changed. Before I’d even got home that day I was wondering if I had a sub-50 minute 10k in me and I started training for it straight away. For the first time ever I incorporated intervals into my training, I started including faster runs and made a rough plan in my diary at the start of each week so I knew when I went out for a run what I wanted to achieve.
In November 2018 I got my sub-50 at Wilmslow Festive 10k. Someone I really respect sent me a message the day before and it just said… “49:59, that’s your target, be brave”. Never has anything stuck with me more.
I ran 49:10 at Wilmslow. I drowned out the voice that was screaming at me to stop for the last 3 kilometres with Eminem and by repeating it over and over like a mantra… be brave Laura, be brave Laura.
Because it does hurt, you do have to be brave. But it’s also temporary. And it’s worth it. The race will always hurt. We don’t train to stop the pain, we train so we can tolerate it.
I’m not special or unique – I feel fortunate that a number of factors came together for me one day last August and unlocked something inside me. It can happen for you too. There is more in you than you think. You are capable of more than you know. If you’re curious to find out… get comfortable with being uncomfortable and push on…