Kate Neale, 55, took up running eight years ago. Since then she has taken part in a number of half-marathons, countless 10K and 5K events, and is very involved in her local parkrun. In April 2018, she took on the challenge of her first-ever marathon. Here she shares the story leading up to Brighton Marathon 2018 and what she has learned along the way.
55 and marvellous
I have always wanted to run a marathon. I watched the very first London Marathon in 1981 and had been inspired, and in awe. Problem was, I hated running! Fast forward 28 years (2009), add a three-year-old with a broken leg and a mum who needed some headspace. Within 12 weeks I had gone from Couch to 5K and discovered I didn’t hate running after all! Add another eight years (2017) and my husband created a bespoke glittery design for my birthday, saying ‘55 and marvellous’. I decided it was my motto for the year! Looks like it was time to do that marathon.
I didn’t get into London in the ballot again or in our running club draw, so I entered Brighton – no ballot, no waiting, a click of a mouse (and parting with some cash) and I’m in! I had been plagued by niggles and injuries for a year or two, and I wasn’t even sure if I would make it through the training, so I knew I would have to build up slowly. I started back from the latest injury in November with a few miles at a time, the longest run being four miles. It was going to be a long journey!
I also knew that I would be ‘Jeffing’ the marathon. Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run method is a structured way to run further, and often faster, by having regular short walking breaks. This means you never get completely knackered so you don’t put as much strain on your body and are therefore less likely to get injured. Having Jeffed the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October and recorded my fourth-fastest time, I knew it was the way to get this rather creaking body round 26.2 miles.
December: I entered the Race Your Pace December Challenge to help motivate me to build up the miles. I pledged to run 75 miles in the month in return for a nice red compression top in club colours and a medal. Let the build-up begin! It was a month of contrasts, as I had my first run in freshly fallen snow, ran a chilly cross-country race that everyone hated apart from the two of us who Jeffed it, and ran on a lovely warm sandy beach in sunny Spain. I missed my 75-mile target by 2.7 miles, so got the compression top but no medal. However, I ran consistently and the mileage crept up.
January: The long runs started to get longer and more varied. 8 miles over the fields, an early 9 miles along the cycle path before watching my son at the local schools cross-country, and then there was the Fred Hughes 10-mile race in St Albans! It was cold, it was windy at times, there was sleet… and then for the last two miles it snowed – proper big fat flakes of snow! I loved it! We Jeffed the whole thing and I finished with a HUGE smile on my face. I’d run 10 miles and still felt strong at the end; the only annoyance was that the ground was too slippery for a sprint finish!
February: Unfortunately, I then caught some sort of lurgy and had to take two weeks out. The training plan was adjusted and the long slow Thursday runs got longer and slower. For some reason the 13-mile run was the worst of the whole plan; nothing felt right and I hated almost all of it. There was a lot of questioning about what on earth I was doing
to myself and a fair bit of cursing! However, the 15-mile run was brilliant. It was the furthest I had ever run and was only five days after the 13-mile horror due to forecasts of a storm bringing even more snow!
It was one of those perfect runs that makes you feel so alive – on my own, among beautiful scenery and spectacular views doing something I, mostly, love. About halfway through I caught myself thinking about how I would change my training for next time. NEXT time?! Yes, next time!
March: I ran my 18-miler on International Women’s Day (8th March) with thoughts of Katherine Switzer in mind. If it hadn’t been for her pioneering run in Boston in 1967 and the campaigning she did with others from then on, myself and many thousands of women may not be in the position to train for a marathon. And this isn’t ancient history, this is within my life time. I was in my 20s when the women’s marathon was finally included in the Olympics in 1984! The distance was hard – well the last two miles were – but it was at this point that I knew I could do 26.2 miles. If I was strong enough both mentally and physically to run 18 miles on my own, I could do the marathon distance with thousands of other people around to distract me and spur me on.
And then to the 20-mile run. I was supposed to be running the Oakley 20, as I wanted the iconic hoody that you get instead of a medal – each year’s colour a closely guarded secret. I also wanted to run that distance with other people. However, the weather intervened again and the organisers had to cancel at the last minute. As a lone 20-miler really did not appeal, I spent that day sulking and looked at doing the 20-mile Gade Valley training run the following Sunday. The training plan was adjusted again and after more rest than was originally scheduled I teamed up with an experienced marathon running friend and tackled the daunting ‘longest run’. It was great running with someone else, especially someone who had done that run and Brighton marathon before. We chatted our way round the course and fully deserved the cakes at the end.
Tapering was a bit shorter than intended and less consistent than the rest of the plan, as we were on holiday for a week. My main concern was not getting ill as everyone around me seemed to be coughing and sneezing. Echinacea and Vitamin C became my best friends!
It was HARD, so much harder than any of the training and harder than I had expected.
I ran with Jeannette, who I had run the 20 miles with, and while we started off well, the temperature seemed to rise as we climbed out of Brighton and at 10 miles I had NO idea how I would do another 16 miles. It helped that it cooled down as we came back into town and by the end, along the seafront, we were being buffeted by the wind and being rained on!
The crowd support was amazing. They were so loud and so generous – I have never seen so many kids giving out Jelly Babies! There were people partying outside their houses, some very funny signs, various samba bands and rock bands along the route and an amazing choir singing Pia Jesu, which just wafted through the air.
I was so pleased to see familiar faces at different points – a local parkrun ambassador marshalling at 5K, Dunstable Road Runners at mile 13, Stopsley Striders friends with balloons and signs at mile 14 and again at mile 24 and my family at mile 25. I’m not used to that level of support from people I know and I rather liked it. It certainly gave me something to look forward to at different points.
Having someone to run with also helped massively, pushing us both. Our pace was very consistent and we didn’t seem to let up throughout the race. When, at three miles to go, my running buddy knew she was on for a PB she decided to go for it and sped up. I stayed with her, clinging on for dear life, and crossing the line just behind in 5:13:17.
I didn’t feel the elation or emotion that I expected at the finish line just huge relief that I had finished in one piece and could stop running now. The ‘runner’s high’ hit me about 45 minutes later in the hotel when I took that first sip of red wine!
Plans are afoot for the next one, possibly Belfast in 2019, and possibly as a club trip which would add a whole new dimension to the experience! By then I will be 56 and marvellous!