The Diary of a Wannabe Marathon Runner Age 44 1/2




So, I am about to start a 20 week marathon training plan. I have been running for about 3 years and have 2 half marathons under my belt, but that’s as far as I have gone….so far. I took up running to see if I could work up to running 10k – this was a real challenge for me as I am not blessed with natural stamina nor running ability and I wouldn’t say that I’m blessed with a particular talent for sport although I did manage to make a relatively decent account of myself in the 4 x 100m relay team at school…one year. Anyway, I have a more natural disposition over a shorter (ie. very short) distance and when faced with the handful of PE lessons staring down the end of a long cross country course, I was pretty much near the back all the time and inevitably finished it walking. Over the past 5 years or so I have tried to keep reasonably fit but this has been based around circuit and spin classes at the local gym. I started to run to see how far I was able to progress and have always had the marathon in the back of my mind. Alongside this was a desire to remind myself about the value in setting goals, working out how you are going to achieve them, dealing with setbacks along the way and celebrating success when you achieve what you set out to.

The training plan I’m going to follow is contained in a pretty comprehensive ‘Run Your First Marathon’ book my husband helpfully bought me for my birthday last year. I have read it cover to cover a couple of times over the past few months and broadly it means I will be running 5 days a week for the next 20 weeks which sounds okay until you convert it to months – 5 DAYS A WEEK FOR 5 MONTHS! From my amateur knowledge of running and training, this seems pretty intense. The book is written by an American Olympic Marathon Coach who clearly knows what he is doing as his wife is an Olympic Bronze Medallist – Deena Kastor. I fear that I may not be of the same pedigree as her! As well as the 5 days running (days off Monday and Friday – hurray!), I can choose to do cross-training on one of my non-running days (that won’t be happening!) and am also supposed to do stretching and strength training – how I’ll fit that in, I don’t know. The training plan also advises that I should sit down every opportunity I get, get off my feet and allow my legs to rest when I’m not training (that’s going to be difficult!). At the beginning of the book it suggests that I ‘reduce all current sporting activity obligations’ as I will need all my energy to complete this plan and I wouldn’t want to get injured ‘playing beach volleyball or softball’ – erm I have successfully achieved this advice without too much effort!! The book advises that I will be testing my physical and mental abilities harder than ever before – I’ve had 2 children and without wishing to challenge the author’s advice before we start, I reckon, therefore, that I have pretty much been tested to the max as far as my physical and mental abilities go and the marathon will have to go some to test me even further.

While I’m not doing this over the next 5 months, I’ll be trying to hold down a full time job and co-parent 2 children under 10. Training therefore fits around these commitments – the time of my training is never the same midweek – lunchtimes or evenings depending on what I’ve got going on. Saturday I will time to do when one of my children is at a class for an hour in the early evening and Sunday morning for my ‘long run’ is pretty much a banker. I suppose that I should say from the outset what I am trying to achieve timewise – my first goal is really to get round without walking, timewise I hope to complete in between 4 and a half and 5 hours ( I have allowed for ‘comfort breaks’– no Paula Radcliffe moments here!). Better crack on with it then!


Day 1, Week 1

Oh cr@p, I got the book out tonight to check how many miles to do for tomorrow and have misread the instructions and today I should have done some cross-training. Excellent start Esther! Okay, just forget about it and move on – nothing you can do about it! I will swap my Friday rest day this week for a swim to compensate.


Week 3

Okay 2 weeks down and so far so good, it’s looking a bit cold this week though, as temperatures are below freezing when I’m scheduled to go out in the evening. There’s much in the news this week about the tragic death of Emiliano Sala. My first evening out this week does not go well, I have wrapped myself up so much that I can’t feel my feet and hands and my body doesn’t seem to be able to regulate temperature in any way as I have insulated it so much from the outside air temperature. I start to think about all the people who will be sleeping out tonight and how many of them may not be here tomorrow – they won’t hit the headlines in the same way as Sala though. I also think of all the statutory and third sector staff and volunteers out there tonight trying to help reduce the risk of death of those sleeping out and how cold they must be too – hats off to you all. My second night out this week and its equally cold as the night before. I decide to see how long it takes for my hands and feet to ‘warm up’ from the point at which I start to run. I start to feel my feet after about 20 minutes and my hands after 30 minutes – how do you keep warm if you are sitting on the pavement or in a park? Again, I just hope no-one sleeping out dies tonight but realise this is probably optimistic. Scandalously, I doubt there will be any media coverage around this. It probably won’t even be recorded anywhere.

8-9 miles for my long run this week which will probably test me a bit as I haven’t gone that far for a while. All is going well but it is a bit windy – for the first 5/6 miles or so, this doesn’t matter as the wind is behind me or not bothering me. Then I turn a corner to do the last 3-4 miles and virtually get blown off my feet. It takes me a herculean effort to deal with the headwind but solider on through – very slowly – and complete the mileage I should. I do receive sympathetic looks from fellow runners as they pass me going the other way – funnily enough, no-one is running the same direction as me – they clearly paid closer attention to the wind direction than I did!


Week 4

I’ve passed a few groups of runners in the evenings who must be part of a running club. They are all wearing similar kit with fluorescent yellow waterproof jackets (Christmas presents I bet). My jacket is fluorescent orange. It was in the sale 3 years ago and was cheap. Clearly it is now out of fashion, should such a thing exist in the running world. I am not buying a new one though.

Week 5

Things are going well. My challenge this week is to fit my training in around travelling to and attending the CIH Presidential Dinner in London midweek. I get the 12.30 from Waverley and arrive in London KX just before 5 – I manage to get a fair bit of work done on the train. I get to the hotel as quickly as possible, throw my training kit on and dash down to the gym to do the minimum of 4 miles on the treadmill. It is very boring running on a treadmill and for some reason I am always slower so it takes me a bit longer than I anticipated. I run back up to my room, shower and am back down in the bar ready to go to the Dinner in 15 minutes flat. It was a great night and Jim Strang gave a hard hitting and impactful speech about his personal experiences of domestic abuse. I make sure that I limit my alcohol intake and don’t stay up too late, as I will need to be back in the gym on the treadmill to do 5 miles in the morning before I get the train back to Edinburgh at midday. I can’t do 5 miles on an empty stomach yet so I have to get up at 6.30 so that I can get breakfast and give it time to digest before I hit the gym.

Week 6

This is a ‘recovery week’, which means my mileage this week decreases – hurray!   I’m supposed to feel that I have extra energy this week and next week the book says I will feel ‘lighter on my feet’. I feel knackered. Some bits of me are starting to hurt a bit, but not the bits which have hurt in the past (my hips). This time it’s the sole of my right foot. I have not been stretching as much as I should have….a quick internet diagnosis suggests plantar fasciitis – this is potentially not good so I introduce the stretching suggested to counter this and it does seem to help.

Week 7

Okay now my lower calve hurts too. I book in to see the physio next week before anything gets much worse. I’m supposed to feel the benefit of the recovery week last week but I feel fatigued and slow. Thursday’s training introduces a new session based on ‘Yasso 800s’ – I’m looking forward to this as a change from the routine. Basically you run 800m at the ‘Goal Marathon Race Pace’ (GMRP) and take a walking recovery after each interval, equal to the time taken to complete the interval. I’m not very good at pacing and am more of an intuitive runner ie. I go at the speed I go at! Theory has it that it is an indicator of your predicted marathon completion time – ie. complete your 800m in 4 min and you will complete the marathon in 4 hours. I give it my best shot and manage to complete the 4 reps averaging about 4 minutes 20.


Week 8

I’m nursing my various injury niggles this week until I see the physio on Friday. He diagnosis plantar fasciitis and gives me some exercises for that as well as some treatment which helps. He also diagnoses tight calf muscles and gives me exercises for that too. He reckons I should be able to get past these things fairly quickly if I stick to the exercises and I’ve to go back in a couple of weeks.

Week 9

Another recovery week – thank goodness.

Week 10

Right this is one of the biggest training weeks so far – weekly mileage range 33-36 miles. This coincides with CIH Scotland Housing Festival so it is going to be a challenge as it’s a busy week. I can’t see how I’m going to get out so a couple of sessions will need to be on the treadmill. Unhelpfully I am not feeling great either. The first day of the Festival ends and I run across to the shop in the SECC to buy a banana so I can eat that on the way over to the hotel and then get to the gym in half an hour or so. I realise on entering the shop that I may have been slightly optimistic that they will stock bananas so settle on any type of fruit. After one walk round I realise that I have been over optimistic that the shop will sell any fruit at all – I go round again but can’t see any. I may have missed it but I don’t have time to faff about so head over to the hotel, quickly check in and dump my stuff in my room and get down to the gym to do the minimum 4 miles – boring, boring, boring! Once I’m done, I have half an hour to get myself ready for dinner and remind myself of my duties for the evening. I am really starting to feel quite unwell – the headache which was there when I woke up this morning has not shifted and has got significantly worse – a couple of painkillers takes the edge off. The evening goes well (as indeed does the Festival) and I head up to bed before most other folk as I am knackered. I am up at 6am on the Wednesday and head down to the gym for 6.30 so I can do 5 miles – I find an apple in the reception to eat before I start. I get it done then head over for day 2 of the Festival. The rest of the week passes in a blur and I wake up on Saturday continuing to feel under the weather. I have a family birthday to attend today so I need to get 6 miles in first thing. I’m up early to get some breakfast down me and then head out….into the driving snow. It dawns on my as I’m about half way through that this is probably about the worst thing I could have done. I’m clearly not well, have had a manic week and really should have rested up. I have form though on not knowing when to stop. (About 15 years ago I had a sore stomach at work one day but was due to go to the gym – I had a mental argument with myself about falsely using it as an excuse not to go (it’s not that bad!) and went. As I was running on the treadmill I felt worse and worse but I completed what I had set out to do and went home. The next day I had an emergency appendectomy.) I went to the family party and slowly deteriorated. There is clearly no way I am going to do the 13 miles I’m supposed to on Sunday so I decide that I need to rest at least one of my training days.


Week 11

While my lurgy has not stopped me doing anything else, I decide not to complete the first of my training days this week, in the hope that that will speed up my recovery, but I’m reluctant to miss much more than that. I’m back at it on day 2 and manage to get through what I’m supposed to. I have a successful return visit to the physio and am discharged with strict instructions to make sure I do my exercises. My long run this week takes me further than I’ve ever gone before – it was tough – I was so tired in the last mile that I tripped on uneven pavement and nearly faceplanted – that could have taken me right out of the game! Luckily I retained my balance (only just though). I need to start taking on more nutrition during my runs I think.

Week 12

Everything seems to be back on track – my lurgy seems to be leaving me but it’s probably lasted 3 weeks and happily my injury niggles have settled down. Bonus, another recovery week!

Week 14

Everything going according to the book – I pushed on a bit further in my long run last week and it was more comfortable than in week 12 which has to be a good sign. The long run this Sunday is a half marathon time trial to help assess my fitness and gauge what my target time for marathon day should be – or so the book says, anyway! I put my full effort into this and am pleased to say that I knocked 10 minutes off my best half marathon time to complete it in 2 hours. I am pretty pleased as to be honest, this is the first evidence that the 14 weeks of diligent completion of the training plan has had any impact.

Week 15

I was nervous before my long run this week – I was aiming for 16 miles which is the furthest I’ve ever run. It’s Easter weekend and it is really quite warm. I manage the 16 miles and feel okay but I got sunburn on my arm and think if it is this warm on the actual day I am going to have to take it slowly. My ideal temperature for the day would be 12 degrees. Fingers crossed.

Week 16

My midweek training has been going fine but I came unstuck this Thursday. My husband was dropping my daughter off somewhere early evening and got stuck in traffic so didn’t get in until after 7 to let me go out. I had 10 sets of my Yasso 800s to do. I managed to complete 8 but had to stop at that to pick up my daughter. I committed the cardinal sin of being 20 seconds late. On the plus side, my 800m are coming in at 3mins 40 – I think I have got over-excited at running a bit faster and am going too fast but what harm can it do! My long run this week is 18 miles. I take some money with me in case I have to stop and get the bus home. I completed over 18 miles – my phone ran out of battery and I couldn’t tell when I had done the 18 miles so I just kept going until I got home – I knew it was only about 0.2 or so further than I needed to go.

So, that’s you up to date with my progress, with 4 weeks to go. I’ve a big mileage to look forward to this week (42-47 miles), before I start to reduce ahead of the big day. If any of you out there are runners, Callum and I would be grateful for any marathon tips you may have. I’m particularly interested in any help people can give on the best nutrition strategies – I have completed most of my runs on raisins and jelly babies but am now panicking that this will not be enough at the same time as panicking that it is not time to try anything new either!

We’ll let you know how we get on, so keep a look out!

To donate please go to Callum Chomczuk and Esther Wilson are fundraising for Scottish Women’s Aid