Why the only way is up..

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Mile 24 of last year’s London Marathon was undoubtedly the nadir of my marathon “fun-running” career as it is the first time I have ever had to stop during a marathon because of an injury. Given that I have run 13 marathons, I consider myself to be very lucky.

I am actually not sure at what point during the race that I tore the cartilage in my left-knee, but that it was at Mile 24 when the pain became excruciating. My legs started yelling out to me to stop, so I did. I felt a momentary sense of powerlessness, but fortunately, a few minutes later, I was able to hobble to the finish-line. I can remember every step of those last 2.2 miles. I think that I simultaneously cried and hugged one of the marshals at the end.

Since tearing my cartilage last year, and having key-hole surgery at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Windsor (I can’t praise the surgeon Dr Martin Logan and his team highly enough), I have been trying to build up the strength in my left leg again. My recovery has been good, and has been helped a great deal by my physiotherapy sessions with Jon Cooke, who used to be part of the  Arsenal medical-team, and is not only patience personified but extremely knowledgeable.

Despite my good recovery, I don’t feel as though I am running as well as I did before the London Marathon. I think that I have lost a lot of my fitness and the muscle strength in my left leg. So when my friend Bridget recommended visiting Alex at the Drummond Clinic in Maidenhead, I heeded her advice. I spent an hour with him analysing my running technique, and it was an incredibly good use of an hour. Here were some of Alex’s key recommendations:

* Making a technical change to my running. He said that I should increase my cadence from 175 to 180 strides per minute. It looks like I might need to change the style of music I listen to when I am running – no more ballads!

* Trying to improve the hip and pelvic instability on the right side of my body.

* Making my roller “my best friend” as it will enable my body to work more efficiently.

* Opting for a supportive shoe. I have worn Brooks shoes for all 13 marathons, so I am going to stick with that brand, but it seems that I need to be more careful about the style of shoe I choose.

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Why marathon-runners are perennial jugglers…

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When you’re training for a marathon, you have to be good at juggling, and time-management. You also sometimes have to be innovative to fit all the training in, especially if you have work and family commitments, but it equips you with important life-skills.

As I mentioned, I am following a training-programme by Paddy Mc Grath from Cookham Running Club, and aim to run 4 times a week. This sounded pretty straightforward when I made the decision to run the marathon over a New Year’s drink, but as a working mum, it can be challenging at times when your time feels squeezed.

But when you find a solution, it can be empowering and give you the feeling that anything is possible in life and no mountain is insurmountable. Last weekend, I was unable to fit  any training-runs in (sorry Paddy!) as I wanted to dedicate the weekend to the children and have some fun-filled family adventures.

Guilt-ridden on Sunday night, I realised that the only way I could fit my long run in was to catch the 6.17am train to Ealing on Monday and run to the BBC before work. Similarly, a few weeks ago, I integrated a run into a family activity by jogging to Windsor swimming-pool and meeting my husband and boys there. I like running for a purpose.

For variety, I also go to the gym to do some strength-building exercises and try to go to the Crowne Plaza in Marlow at least twice a week. They have just refurbished the Quad Club   and it’s beautiful and one of our area’s best-kept secrets. My husband Damian and I sometime go there for date-nights (one of our many New Year’s resolutions) – I am not sure how romantic doing leg-presses and leg-curls on a Friday night is but…! We also love relaxing in the serene setting of the spa afterwards. It’s a nice contrast to the running.

Running and the resilience of the human spirit

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Running has been one of my best friends over the past 12 years, since I completed my first marathon “fun run” in 2003. Whether doing a hilly 5km or the London-Cardiff relay with no sleep for 24 hours, it has frequently taken me out of my comfort zone, giving me the feeling that anything is possible in life. It has also been like a form of meditation for me and enabled me to stay physically and mentally strong when juggling the demands of working and raising a family.

I know that I am not alone. Many friends and colleagues have told me of the feeling of empowerment and general well-being they feel when running or doing exercise regularly. If I go on a 40-minute run in the morning, it not only energises me and gives me lots of creative ideas, it makes me much more effective at work. 

Two weeks ago, a former BBC colleague of mine, the Australian journalist Peter Greste, was released from an Egyptian prison after being incarcerated for 400 days. I have followed Peter’s story closely because in 2009, I produced a Radio 4 Crossing Continents programme with him about a deadly African militia in DR Congo:

 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/crossing_continents/8366917.stm

Peter is an amazing journalist, and his positive attitude to his ordeal exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit. When speaking to the media last week, Peter spoke about how he had kept fit in Tora prison in southern Cairo by running, kept mentally fit by studying and remained spiritually strong through meditation. It was actually during a Sunday run that the prison warden told Peter that he could pack his things as he was leaving prison. Despite a long period of confinement and uncertainty, running and other daily rituals kept Peter strong.

Of course, it is unlikely that most of us will find ourselves in such an extreme situation, but Peter’s story does demonstrate that running can have huge physical and psychological benefits if we find ourselves in a difficult or stressful situation.