“When your legs get tired, run with your heart.”
I am running a marathon. Mostly in jerky, 4am hot sweats, but in actual real life too. In the rosiness of January, and buoyed by achieving two ultras last year – one on my own, in snow – I sign up for the Newport Marathon. It’s happening on April 16, which is somehow now four weeks away, and the training is not going well.
I know everyone says that but, no, really. Mishaps line the first weeks of 2023 like tupperware tubs of fizzy sweets along the route of the Cardiff Half. Nothing awful happens – it’s not 2022 – but life’s frustrations zap my energy and my time. Good people keep telling me I’ll be fine because I’ve done a 30-mile event, but road running is a whole lot different to trail running. On the trail, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk the uphill bits and stop for a cup of trigpoint tea. Treading tarmac for 26.2 miles is proper running, and the imposter in me is still such a long, long way from being a proper runner.
I don’t really have a marathon training plan, I just add two miles onto each weekend’s long run and hope that the disjointed sessions in between – squashed around work, teens, life worries and HRT – weave some kind of magic into my limbs. I do parkrun; the 12-mile version from my front door, with three laps of the park in the middle. I run through sideways rain for 14 miles and nearly get knocked into a ditch by a boy racer. And I run 20.5 miles along the Taff Trail, the last six of which hurt my legs with a creeping coldness that leaves me close to tears. I fall through the door and genuinely don’t know whether to stand, sit or lie down; my legs even contemplate heading back out and running some more, because they’re clean out of glucose and everything’s gone funny.
I thaw out with tea and the doughnut that I’ve been saving since Thursday and decide now’s a good time to check the elevation of the Newport Marathon. Dear God it’s 847ft, Google tells me. I put on my glasses and they tell me there’s a Newport on Rhode Island. I make sure I haven’t accidentally signed up for that one, watch swirls of steam drift up from my tea and wait for the doughnut to reach my legs.
In two years, I’ll be 50. I think of three of the loveliest guys I ever worked with – all journalists, one a runner – who came within the same touching distance of 50 but didn’t quite get over the line. At least two of them were cared for by City Hospice, a wonderful end-of-life organisation that makes the best difference at the very worst of times. As charities go, it’s not one of the cool ones, because whilst we increasingly know it’s good to talk, we definitely don’t want to talk about death. Most people don’t, anyway, but my teens got the mum with the gallows humour, so we talk about the what-ifs in conversations that veer from the decidedly practical to the downright absurd, and we laugh a lot about the what-ifs because, really, that’s all any of us fortunate enough to be here can do.
On April 16, I will do a marathon. I might walk a bit, I will definitely hate running quite a lot and I’m not promising I won’t sob at some point. If you could help me support City Hospice, it will make the biggest of differences when I hit that wall. I will carry with me the kindness, patience and enormous talent that made Nick, Sean and Kev the very best of writers and runners, and they will get me over the line x