• Helen Phillips

Meet our VLM19 Marathoners #27: Rebecca

Not everyone can run a marathon. You have to be a special kind of determined and crazy to train and then complete 26.2 miles on the day.

In my VLM19 Meet Our Marathoners Series we meet ordinary people who have battled through and achieved extraordinary.

Today we meet Rebecca, who ran VLM19 for The Mental Health Foundation. Please read on to hear her story.

Tell me about your running journey

I loved sport in School. I was a sprinter, I enjoyed the rush of running fast and ran for the school until I was 18. But I absolutely hated cross-country and used to try and hide to avoid it.

Once I left school I dropped out of sport, which I really regretted, all the way into my 20s and 30s. In my early 40s I was feeling frustrated by being tired (I’ve a very busy job and little time to myself), my mental health wasn’t in a good place and I really wanted to try and get fit. I dabbled with a Zumba class but wasn’t ever going to be a ‘gym’ person. So, didn’t know where to start.

Then, I spotted an advert for a local women’s running club (Ricky Running Sisters in Hertfordshire) advertising their once-a-year beginner’s ‘couch to 5k’ course that was due to start the following week. I think it was fate.

I joined the club in April 2016, did my first 5k 6 weeks later and haven’t looked back!

I really got the running bug and moved quickly to a 10k (first one September 2016 – thought I was going to die, it was so hard) and then my first half marathon (Cardiff – September 2017) and then my first marathon (London 2019 – still can’t quite believe it!)

I run twice a week with the club. It’s not a serious club, it’s more about fitness and friendship, but I’ve improved hugely since starting, we do running events together, it’s become a staple of my life now! I would class myself as a middle-of-the-pack runner. I won’t be breaking any records anytime soon but I’m not too shabby for a woman in her 40s.

Why did you decide you wanted to run a marathon?

On the 29thApril 1981 my dad woke us up early and told us that we were ‘going into London to watch something very special’. I was 7. We arrived early and my Dad propped me up on the wall along by the Embankment and for hours we watched these fantastic runners come by. I wasn’t remotely bored, I absolutely loved it (and I got to see Peter Duncan from Blue Peter, which made it even more special). We were drenched through but it didn’t seem to matter.

That day I decided that I wanted to run this race (it was a few years before I fully understood what a marathon was!). And so I made a promise to myself and my Dad that I would do it one day.

I also wanted to test my mental strength. My husband suffers from pretty poor mental health with severe depression and anxiety, and at times it’s been quite dark in our house as he battles his demons. I also suffer from pretty awful stress and anxiety as a result of my job, and often feel rather worthless as a result. I wanted to test my mental strength over the course of a marathon to see what I was made of (raising quite a lot for Mental Health Foundation in the process). I wanted to see whether I could feel good about achieving something that wasn’t related to work or home.

How much have you raised for your charity?

I ran for the Mental Health Foundation (an absolutely FANTASTIC charity who I am proud to have supported).

I was set the fundraising target of £1900 and have raised over £4000!

I raised around £550 with a virtual run, £600 with a quiz in a local café, £320 from a charity football match and the rest from donations from friends, family, work colleagues.

Did you have a goal for the marathon?

As first I was aiming for around 4:15, but 4 weeks before race day I got injured with ITB syndrome and so had to readjust my expectations. I was keen, at that point, to just get around and try to enjoy the day.

I learned that I needed to be kind to myself and that it really was all about ‘taking part’.

How did training go?

Training started off well. I really surprised myself as I was very focused and stuck to the plan well.

However, I then had two spells of injury (I fell flat on my face during The Big Half and had to have 10 days off as I couldn’t walk, and then the ITB problem).

I missed out some hills and tempo sessions, but was consistent with my long runs and other weekly runs. I quickly learned not to beat myself up about missed sessions, I simply adjusted my expectations instead. Within the 16 weeks of training I had 3 weeks completely off running and the world didn’t end as a result!

What do you love about running?

I love running to see myself getting fitter and being able to run further. The sense of satisfaction when you’ve complete a 14, 15, 16 mile run was amazing.

I was also aware of people’s perceptions of me changing. I don’t have children and I live pretty much for work (I’m a teacher) and I think people just assumed I didn’t do ‘other things’. I was interesting to see people really take an interest in me running further and further, and for them to view me with something other than pity (because I don’t have children – I’ve been ‘pitied’ all my adult life because of this, which is all rather frustrating and annoying…).

What isn't so great about training?

The hardest for me were hills and tempo, because I did them on my own and I like neither.

My husband accompanied me on my long runs on his bike, as I’ve a reputation for falling over and he was worried I would fall in a ditch or something! My mid-week runs were with girls from the club. I work very long hours and found getting out to do the extra sessions so hard.

I also found the fuelling bit quite difficult as I’m not known for eating well during the day. I was continually dehydrated as I could quite easily go through a day in school without drinking anything (awful, I know – and I’ve learned not to do this through training).

Do you have a post run treat?

Chocolate milkshake – a posh one from Waitrose!

What's on your running playlist?

My ‘emergency song’ is Young Folksby Peter, Bjorn and John (weird choice – I know!). This song is always on hand if I’m going through a difficult moment running. I also really love a bit of Prodigy and I felt so sad about Keith Flint’s death that I listen to this a lot.

Do you have any running superstitions?

This is probably going to sound a bit odd, I have several of the same sports bras in exactly the same size and colour, but I always wear the exact same one for a race (I can tell by the tag).

Who would you love to present your marathon medal?

I would love Colin Jackson to present it! As a teenage runner, Dad used to take me to the stadium in Cwmbran (sound wales) to watch Colin run. He’s been a bit of an idol to me since then.

What were you most looking forward to on race day?

The roar of the crowds, seeing my running family and real family dotted about the course, and reliving the feeling of watching it as a child from the ‘other side’.

Tell me about race day?

To get to the start, I got the coach that was put on by the Chiltern Harriers Athletics’ Club and despite feeling a little bit out of place (they are very serious runners!) it was a great way to arrive. It meant I didn’t have to worry about engineering works on the met line or having to walk a lot.

When I arrived at the Red start, I managed to meet up with around 8 of the other MHF runners and we had a great time preparing and keeping each other calm. After queuing for the toilet several times, I joined the back of zone 4 in red start about 10 minutes before the zone closed and kept myself calm by chatting with runners around me and trying to keep warm. We were quickly moved into position on the road leading out of the park, and before I knew it we were off.

I was aware that my ITB would probably flare up and so dropped my pace to a sensible one and took some deep breaths. I didn’t let the masses of people surging past me really quickly phase me, as I remembered all the advice about sticking to the pace. I managed 4 miles before my ITB started to remind me that it wasn’t fixed, but felt ok.

However, by mile 6 (which was my first meet point with my friends) it was really beginning to hurt and I panicked. I stopped to speak to my husband and the girls and put on Votarol and Deep Freeze, told them I was ‘hating every minute’ and ‘never again’ and jogged on. Yikes.

The next part is a blur but I do remember, very clearly, at about 10 miles having a word with myself and reminding myself that it was only my ITB, it wasn’t going to kill me, and my leg wouldn’t fall off. I reminded myself that there were people running with life limiting conditions who didn’t moan. So, I refocused my mind and decided that I was going to enjoy this day and weirdly from then on, although in pain, it didn’t bother me at all. I smiled the whole way (ok, maybe not that bit between 20 and 22 miles where it’s a constant stream of petrol stations and kebab shops … ) but genuinely I loved it.

I screamed and waved at all my friends who met me around the course, and all the photos show me smiling and having the time of my life. I got to 23 miles and had a little bit of a walk as my knee was pretty sore by then and spotted two of my students which lifted me no end. And then I saw Big Ben and realised that home was in sight – I got a little bit teary at this point.

Birdcage Walk arrived and I drew level with a woman running for Cancer Research UK who was crying, so I stopped to ask her if she was ok. She was called Claire and she was crying because her mum had died and she was running in her memory. I grabbed Claire and told her to run with me as we only had about 600 metres left to go. We ran along together and chatted – I was trying to distract her so she wasn’t crying in her finisher photos. We turned the corner and she was smiling and we ran over the line. I discovered myself on the coverage of the TV, when I watched it back later, and I look like I’m having such a brilliant time – my mother, watching at home, thought I looked in pain (as only a mother can tell).

How did you celebrate your achievement?

A reception with the other lovely MHF runners and then a massive greasy burger with my lovely husband. I don’t even really like burgers!

Rebecca You're Awesome! You smashed VLM19!

If you're already thinking about your next marathon, maybe you've got a race this autumn or you're entered into one next spring you'll be pleased to hear I'm opening up Marathon Club Hub.

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