“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

I have had so many discussions with people over the last nine months where I’m told I’m so lucky that I can run because they can’t run for more than five minutes without stopping. It doesn’t matter how often I try and explain it to them, it doesn’t seem to sink in. It doesn’t get any easier – your body just allows you to run a little further, whilst suffering the same pain. I suffer as much as them, but my brain is better trained to block it out.

I am no more able to run for 2 hours without stopping than anyone else. But, I’ve spent a year training and building myself up to it. I think that, on the whole, it is not our body saying “no”, it is just our brain. Frequently, half way round a run I will decide that I am tired and I need to walk. The pain hasn’t increased a huge amount or arrived suddenly, but my brain has tired of ignoring it. I will then walk, for all of about five steps before sternly having a word with myself because the pain isn’t changed by walking and the pain is only prolonged by walking, so you just have to get on with it.

It seems to be a common belief that some people can run and some can’t. I hate to burst the bubble, but I have to work bloody hard at it! And it’s not the muscles that need training, more than anything, it is the brain. If you don’t feel like doing a run, or your brain isn’t truly focused, you will find it impossibly hard. Whereas on a day when your brain is switched to the correct function, you can ignore all the aches, pains and hills and simply carry on.

I think that despite the next 6 months training, nothing will prepare my brain for the 26.2 miles that I’ll be running in April. Someone told me that I had to stop thinking of it as 26 miles, but 10 water stops. No matter what we do, it’s impossible to switch our brain off; on Saturday, I decided that my ‘long slow run’ would be from home to course build at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I looked on Google maps and decided it was 10 miles. Sadly it was 11 and ½ miles. Now, I can hear what you are saying – if you’ve run 10, I’m sure you can manage another mile or so? But my brain was so focused that I was going to get to stop soon that when I got to 10 and was in the middle of nowhere still, I could have cried. I just couldn’t find the motivation to keep on running. I did carry on, but it felt like another 5 miles to the finish.

Whatever the distance you are running, I can guarantee that your body will begin to tire in the last 10% of the race. Well, put simply, if you don’t have that pain that feels like you are dying, you just aren’t trying hard enough! But if I do a 10km race now, I just know that at 9km, I would feel like I didn’t have another step left in my body, even though I know I’m fit enough to do the race twice. It is entirely psychological and unless I find a way of unplugging my noddle, I’ve just got to learn to live with it!

Normally I fall into a bit of a retirement in the winter as although I would love to carry on, running alone in the dark seems a bit silly. I went out once and was so terrified that I was going to be mugged or raped that I forgot to look out for potholes and nettles; I came back looking like I’d taken a scalpel to my legs. Thankfully that was the only damage, but I thought that realistically it would be safer to run in a pack. It might also help to keep that noddle of mine motivated through the dark, wet, cold nights. So a few weeks ago, I embarked on a couple of running adventures…

My first experience of running en masse was by invitation of a friend; she said that she does hash every Tuesday and it’s the most fun way of running. I wasn’t sure that smoking dubious roll ups prior to running was that wise, but I went online to do a little bit of exploring about her kind of hash. The next Tuesday, I found myself sat in a pub car park awaiting the arrival of the High Wycombe Hash House Harriers. Clad in more hi-viz lycra than you could shake a stick at, soon everyone arrived. I was taken into the middle of the group, lit only by our headtorches and pronounced a Hash Virgin and welcomed to the group.

Then we started running; there is no easy way to describe it, but essentially one of the hashers (called the hare), has been out earlier in the week and laid a flour trail for the hash to follow. So you run through woods, fields and along lanes shouting “on, on” every time you see a dot of flour on the floor. Every so often, you’ll get to a checkpoint, where you have to find the right way to go, which often means half a mile or so in the wrong direction first. There are some other odd rules here and there to make sure the faster runners run further than everyone else. Once you’ve been lost in the dark for a good hour or so, you eventually stumble back across the pub where drinks and chips are shared by all.

It was, quite possibly the most entertaining run I’ve had – everyone was so friendly and I think everyone made a point of talking to me and making sure I was having fun. Everyone was a mad as me – quite proved by the fact that next week, we’ll be dressing up in Halloween clothing for the hash! Nobody took themselves too seriously – but they made sure everyone was enjoying themselves, which is just what I was looking for! I have to say, despite certain friends likening it to dogging (which it isn’t!), it’s a great way to get some exercise in.

Quite buoyed up by the friendliness and the fun of the Hash, I bit the bullet and emailed a local running club to ask if I could join them. A few days later, I got a perfectly polite email back inviting me to run with them on Thursday. Again, I found myself decked out in hi viz lycra lurking in the carpark, waiting for more people to arrive. Bravely, I walked into the club house, at which point everyone stopped, stared at me and then carried on with their conversations. Try as I might, I couldn’t hide any further in the corner than I already was, but I stood there studying my feet, waiting for someone to talk to me. Eventually, the “ladies captain” came over, asked me if I was new and told me I had to join one of two groups, but failed to tell me how to decide which group to go with. They made some announcements including the classically friendly “there is a new girl in the corner” followed by pointing and staring and then we were off.

Out of sheer fluke, I found myself with the fast group, who ran at a faster pace than I normally train at, but not so fast that I couldn’t keep up. I started to notice that we were losing people on every turn, but no one seemed especially bothered, which further motivated me to keep up! I was damned sure that I wasn’t going to get left behind in the middle of nowhere, when I didn’t know anybody! We ran a good strong 8 miles and by the end, one or two people had said a couple of words to me. I finished, cooled down and went home. It wasn’t that fun, but I think it’s what I need in the run up to the marathon. If I don’t have people pushing me to go faster and further, I’ll be lost. It’s just a real shame that I couldn’t have a laugh along the way.

So that’s how my marathon training has started – hopefully it’ll begin to pick up pace as I get deeper into the winter. In my next blog, you might even get to see a picture of the Halloween Hash!

My Marathon Mission!

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, but I think my latest project is worth dusting the old place off for.

Those of you who have been following me (on facebook, twitter or just with the night vision goggles) may have noticed that I’ve lost a little bit of weight this year. I’d like to say that I found some magic cure for being fat, but essentially I just ate less and ran more. Dull, but true. After a shaky start to the year with a bit of abdominal surgery to test my patience, I was soon desperate to rebuild my stomach muscles and get rid of the post op flop. I had to begin running very quickly because I was entered in a team Rat Race challenge at the end of March – although I found “I still have internal stitches” a great excuse to bypass certain challenges! But pretty soon I was hooked – I entered the Bupa 10,000 in London for the Alzheimer’s Society and loved the challenge.

Being a bit of a geek, I found it really exciting training and pushing myself to try and get in under the time I had set myself. I wanted to complete the 10km in 55 minutes and finished in 55.30, which was as near as damn it, but not quite close enough. So I found another 10km around a similar course just six weeks later, where I came home in 51 minutes and was over the moon! Soon 6 miles wasn’t really enough and I was desperate to see just how far I could run and I began training for my first half marathon.

In the meantime, I had spent marathon day in London and was just so overcome by how ecstatic all the finishers looked, so in a fit of insanity I entered the ballot. I knew the deal – only 1 in 8 people got in and in truth, I would be absolutely terrified if I got in and never ready in a million years. However, I soon learnt that if you don’t get in, you do get a London Marathon branded top. As far as I was concerned, that was fantastic! I could spend most of 2011 telling everyone I’d dearly love to do the marathon, if only I could get an entry and then I’d get a top that would make everyone assume that I had done the Marathon! What a great idea!

I suspect that you can see where this is going… Sure enough, just last week, I got in from work, fresh from telling everyone that I wanted to find some kind of challenge to do in 2012 to find an envelope with my name on it. Not that unusual, but when I saw the word “Accepted” printed on it, I nearly fell over. I dropped everything I was holding to rip that letter open to make sure I was reading it right. I was straight on the phone to a work-mate who laughed and laughed and laughed! I found that every time I went to talk about it, my voice rose about two octaves and suddenly seemed to spew out at high speed.

Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly excited, but that was far outweighed by the feelings of awe and terror that were coarsing through my veins. Especially when you consider that I’d given myself a few weeks off running to get my hip and lower back a bit stronger. I knew from the minute I got the letter that there was no way in the world I wasn’t going to give the Virgin London Marathon 2012 (oh yes, Olympic year!) my very best shot, but oh my God, what a mission lays ahead!

The next day I was back to the chiropractors to get myself straightened out. He seemed particularly delighted I had gotten in – perhaps he’s rubbing his hands together with glee whilst envisaging a nice holiday for him and his family after 6 months of my custom?! What had been a wind down into the winter months has suddenly changed out of all proportion and sadly, for the next 195 (or so) days, I’m going to become a boring git who runs and eats obsessively. Still, it’ll all be worth it on April 22.

As I got a ballot place, there is no need to run for a ‘gold bond’ charity, which excitingly gives me carte blanche to chose my own to raise money for. I didn’t even have to think about it – there seemed little point raising money for a charity that will have 50 other runners when I could chose one much closer to home that may only have one or two runners.

As I’m sure a lot of you know, I’ve ridden horses all my life and although I’ve never considered it to be a high risk sport, it isn’t without it’s pitfalls. This was all brought home to me when a good mate of mine was riding a horse she rode regularly around a local, straightforward course last year. The horse slipped on the ground and she must have fallen awkwardly as she knocked herself unconscious. Luckily the paramedics were on site and they kept her safe until the Thames Valley Air Ambulance could land and lift her to safety. She was at the Intensive Care unit at the John Radcliffe hospital within 15 minutes thanks to the great service she received by the Air Ambulance. The guys working were calm and knowledgable – keeping her mum calm and reassured whilst making sure Laura was receiving the best possible care. They even travelled back to the hospital later to enquire on any progress.

I am very thankful to say that after three weeks of unconsciousness, Laura has made an amazing recovery – learning to walk, eat, ride (you name it!) again. She’s back out competing and living life to the full, which is great to see.

When the worst happens, you can only hope to rely on a service as professional and quick as the Air Ambulance to get you to safety and treatment as quickly as possible. As a horse rider, I do know more people that have made the helicopter trip than most, but they are there for everyone; drivers, walkers, riders – anyone who needs emergency treatment very quickly. And all of that with no goverment or national lottery funding! It is estimated that each mission costs £1229, which is nothing if it is the life of you or your loved one at risk, so when the time comes, please dig deep and sponsor me to run the 2012 Virgin London Marathon for the real heroes.

My winter plans have changed hugely – in the next 6 months, I’ll probably go through two pairs of trainers, run around 700 miles and eat many hundreds of thousands of calories in carbs. I have already got back out on the streets, even whilst darkness is closing in. Whilst you guys are eating lunch in the office, I’ll be sprinting round Gerrard’s Cross banging out 4 or 5 miles in my lunch hour. Yes, I get sweaty and hot, but no one has complained just yet. Well, not directly to me anyway.

Another thing I’ve had to get used to is running in the dark – I did 8 miles in the pitch black last week and didn’t know whether I was more terrified of potential rapists or holes in the ground! Either way, I ran pretty damned quick and spent most of the hour and fifteen minutes promising myself that I would just have to man up and join a running club. So for the next six months, when you guys are snuggled up in front of the fire watching Eastenders, I’ll be out plodding round the streets clocking up my miles, come wind, snow and rain. But it’s all worth it – to run the Virgin London Marathon in Olympic year is just such an amazing thing – I can’t wait!

I’m not expecting the road to the start line to be a smooth one, but don’t you worry, I’ll be right here to keep you informed. You can either live vicariously through me, or read my blog and thank your lucky stars you have a more exciting life than me. Either way, I’d love it if you checked out my Fundraising Page at some point in the next 200 days. It can be found here – http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/BryonyHarper