As a very proud #TeamHeadsTogether runner at last year’s Virgin London Marathon I have been asked to share a few tips and hopefully some last minute reassurance.
Running the London Marathon for Heads Together and Best Beginnings was a life-changing experience for me. From the training, fundraising and talking about mental health it really was a liberating year but I understand that as race day gets closer the nerves can start setting in.
When I was in my early 20s I ended up being sectioned after having a psychotic episode due to the stress in my first job and not having got the right help after my Dad’s suicide when I was a teenager.
Thankfully my employer provided private medical health insurance and I was referred for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and able to return to work a year later.
Over 15 years passed, and I had been able to keep my mental health in check by following what I learnt from CBT and doing regular exercise. Obviously, I didn’t dare tell anyone that I had problems due to the stigma!
Then I had a phone call from one of my best friends John in May 2016 saying his sister Michelle had taken her own life due to post-natal depression. I couldn’t believe it and that is why we decided to run the London Marathon for Heads Together and raising money for Best Beginnings.
Having read some of your posts on social media, I can see that #TeamHeadsTogether is going strong and you are all doing an amazing job breaking the stigma.
With three marathons under my belt here are a few of my tips:
1) Don’t just Google it – Read the magazine!
I found myself continually Googling for information: where is the Marathon Expo, is it too late to book a hotel near the start, actually which colour start am I… you name it I probably googled it!
It was only after another Heads Together runner mentioned that most of my questions were actually in the London Marathon magazine sent to me all those months back when my place was confirmed.
So put on the kettle, take the weight off those legs and read. As well as answering all my questions I was able to familiarise myself more with the route and organise where friends and family were likely to be cheering us on.
2) Fuel for the race and getting in the queue for the loo
On the morning of a marathon I get the same feeling as just before an exam, I don’t want to eat and feel like I need to go to the loo.
Hopefully as part of your longer training runs you have found what food works for you and it’s really important that you stick to this on the day of the marathon. For me it is a cup of tea, porridge and then a banana and energy drink as I travel to the start area.
My advice when you arrive at the start, especially if you are running on your own, is to head straight to the nearest loo even if you don’t need to go. I have had some great conversations with fellow runners helping to pass the time and get some tips on any particular hilly bits of the course to look out for.
Then when you have done your business just head back to the end of the queue and repeat until it is time to head to the start area.
3) Don’t run too quickly at the start
It has taken me three marathons to finally realise that I am not Mo Farrah.
Even though it can be very busy at the start, the moment that air horn goes I find myself getting carried away with the excitement of all the other runners.
Just look at John and I in the picture: we were super-pumped as we crossed the start line.
Even though we realised after the second mile we were probably running too fast we kept going and it was around 13 miles that John started to slow doing complaining that he was finding it hard to run.
I will come back to this in my final point but for now I will just say on marathon day really try hard to stick to your running plan and don’t get too carried away like us!
4) The power of the crowd and fellow runners
To this day I still don’t know what our finish time was for the London Marathon.
We had done a lot of training and even Prince Harry had joked at a Heads Together event that we were going to finish in under 4 hours.
However, with each mile that passed John was finding it harder to run and neither of us had taken on the enormity of the mental challenge of running the marathon so close to John’s sisters death.
Soon after we saw our families around mile 21 John turned to me and said he felt faint. I quickly went to steady John and luckily the amazing St John Ambulance were nearby to help.
It was now touch and go if John was going to be able to finish the marathon. After about 30 minutes sitting down, John was asked if he would like to continue or withdraw from the race.
Deep down we knew that this was so much more than getting a specific time and actually it was really about supporting each other in our physical and mental health.
John agreed to continue.
For the next five miles passed slowly progressed through the iconic streets of London with me holding John for support.
I will never forget the encouragement we received from the crowd cheering ‘Come on Jon and John’ and fellow runners including every #TeamHeadsTogether runner stopping to make sure we were ok: another good reason to make sure you have your name on your shirt.
We crossed the line exhausted but exhilarated
I just want to say that in my eyes you have already got the medal. By being part of Heads Together you are part of the most exciting movement to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and raise much needed funds for your chosen charities.
I am looking forward to cheering you all on as you run on the streets of London – make the most of the last days before the race to relax!