4 hours, 11 minutes and 47 seconds of pain, exhilaration, agony and ecstasy!

700 miles training, 6 months of going to running clubs religiously twice a week, hundreds of pounds spent on physio, sports massage and chiropractic, two pairs of trainers, countless Saturday mornings spent plodding the roads for hours on end, all summed up in just 4 hours, 11 minutes and 47 seconds on Sunday 22nd April 2012.

Imagine me looking delighted, drained and delirious all at once!

Inside I’m thinking “I’ve got the medal and I didn’t even mug anyone. Or buy it off eBay. Result!”

That’s it! I did it, I really bloody did it! On Sunday I ran 26.2 miles, something I was never sure my body was truly capable of! And in a fairly respectable time too. The time is almost irrelevant to me – I ran the whole thing, no walking and as I was told last week, “you want to look yourself in the mirror and know you ran a marathon and not that you ran 20 miles and walked 10km.” I wasn’t sure whether it was possible, but those words echoed in my head every time I considered walking and they drove me to keep going.

Last time I blogged, my training was coming to an end and all I had to do was chill out and stay injury free. Not so easy! I’m still not sure what caused it, but I started to getting severe pain in my piriformis (a muscle deep in my glutes), which made running very painful. So I put myself on self imposed box rest, took tablets and got utterly depressed that all that training had been in vain. Giving myself a whole week off, I went to run again and whilst the first two miles were ok, I limped tearfully round the final four. Knowing that I’d never get round 26 odd miles unless I sorted it out, I did nothing but swim and spend an extortionate amount of money on physio and sports massage in the run up.

Traditionally you do taper before a marathon and cut your training right down, but just three days before I’d not run in over two weeks, which was so hard for my brain to take. I was terrified that it was going to hurt from the start line and that the endless swimming and stretching had been for nothing. On the Thursday, I went for a slow 2 mile jog and nothing hurt, which did wonders for my confidence. Suddenly I could get excited about it again – ok I knew it would hurt before the end, but if I could start fresh, it wouldn’t seem so bad. I had my race number, my vest and even more importantly, John, who had taken up the role of my personal pacer through our training, had magically found himself a space to run on Sunday. Well, he’d suffered all those long weekend runs with me; it only seemed fair that he got the medal and glory he well deserved too. Suddenly the anticipation was all a bit too much to cope with. Friday and Saturday were nervous affairs marked mainly by over eating pasta and drinking litres upon litres of water.

We headed into London on Saturday night and walking back across Tower Bridge to our hotel, we saw the mile markers being built and it got even more real. Dinner was a quiet affair with Zizzis filled to bursting point with people carb loading, drinking water and generally looking pensive. As I was fundraising madly, I’d barely let a day go by without reminding everyone that I was running the marathon, which meant that all the good luck messages started flooding in on Saturday evening. It was quite simply amazing – I had no idea that so many people cared so much. It seemed that people thought I was either brave, mental, amazing or amazingly mental. The nerves kept piling up and Sunday morning finally dawned and despite the weather reports forecasting wind and rain, it was a beautiful morning. Breakfast was a sombre affair of bananas and porridge, then it was time to put the gear on and get going. For 7.30 on a Sunday morning, the city was already buzzing and full of people setting up for the day’s excitement.

Once we got to Blackheath, it was usual race procedure; we stripped to our running gear, John made the two minute trip to the urinals whilst I queued up for fifteen minutes for the ladies! Then it was time – when I collected our numbers I was delighted that in some twist of fate we were in the same starting pen (out of three start lines with 9 pens each, I was quite amazed!) However, we were in pen 9, which is designated for the slowest of people. So, surrounded by three hippos, two wombles, two stilt walkers, two naked men (except for their aptly placed toolboxes), and a guy carrying a massive metal tower, we made our way to the start line.

At my final pre-marathon hash, I was told by David (ex GM and 154 times marathon runner) that the first 6 miles will make or break your marathon. London starts downhill and bouyed up by the atmosphere, its far too easy to go too fast. Go too fast to begin with and you’ll crash at mile 22. Take it steady and you’ll overtake hundreds of people coming back at you in the last 7 miles. So with that in mind, we set off at a steady 9 minute mile pace, just soaking up the atmosphere. The first miles flew by in a haze of heady excitement; I remember so many great moments in the suburbs. The guy who stood by the first mile marker, shouting “not far to go now! Just 25.2 miles!” made all the runners laugh. The runners who kept getting the other runners (and spectators) chanting “oggy, oggy, oggy” made the whole thing seem like a big party. The pavements were lined with street parties, barbeques and hundreds of kids holding out jelly babies or desperately reaching out to slap your hand on the way past. All of the pubs were open with big loudspeakers set up, cranking out music with people cheering us on over the mic – it was so surreal to be involved in something where everyone came together for a big party.

We carried on plodding our way to Tower Bridge, where we had stood under the 20km sign the night before and it felt like no time at all before we were at the half way mark. Realistically, it was 2 hours after we’d started, but they flew by in a haze. There was so much to see and I’m gutted that I can’t remember it all already, despite being less than a week ago. There was the amazing moment where we ran round the Cutty Sark and then Dave. We ran alongside a guy called Dave for a fair while. If you saw him, you’d remember. He wore a metallic blue thong and a bunch of balloons. Although running behind him was less than pleasant, it was hilarious watching the crowds spot him and react in exactly the same way for miles.

Up until the half way mark, I’d barely felt my leg at all. At around 9 miles, I’d felt the odd twinge, but at around 14 miles, I started to feel it with every step. It wasn’t too painful at that point, but I was certainly aware that I could feel it. We went round the Isle of Dogs, which is notoriously the hardest part because there are fewer people there. In an organised moment, I had created an itinerary for my parents to follow to try and see me and the Isle of Dogs was one place I’d sent them. Although we didn’t see them, I found looking for them to be a good distraction for a mile or two. As we came out of the Isle of Dogs, we were around 18 miles, which came as such a shock to me. Although I’d been ticking the miles off and counting down to them, I couldn’t believe we were only 8 miles away from finishing.

We were  into the final third and to be honest, I was a little relieved because I could really feel my glute with every step. Stepping down on it sent a shooting pain down the length of my leg and I was glad it hadn’t started playing up earlier on. It seems my swimming and stretching had helped delay the pain for as long as possible. I think it was around 19 or 20 miles where I was just streaming expletives as my glute clutched my hamstring, aductor (and all those other muscles in my thighs that I didn’t know about) and held them tight, making every step painful. It was at this point, John suggested I tried doing the stretches I’d been taught in the last few weeks. Stumbling to the pavement, I did the “pigeon stretch”. (Imagine trying to make your legs into a swastika and you’re nearly there!) I think this photo was taken moments before I crumbled to the pavement as I distinctly remember nearly lying down in front of the photographer by accident. I think it sums up the pain…

Imagine my death face...

The only consolation is that the guy behind me looks like he’s in as much trouble as I am!

Just pausing for 30 seconds to stretch it off made the world of difference, even if it was only for half a mile that the pain was relieved I knew that we were so close to being there and being the stubborn old bag I am, I was desperate not to walk. It was at this point, that I decided to pick up my pace!! Until then, I’d been chasing John and I seem to remember (very temporarily) shooting off ahead and for the briefest of moments, letting him chase me. There was so many little things that kept me going – the guy holding the sign saying “run like you stole something” and another with the classic “pain is temporary, pride is forever.” And it was at this point, I turned to all those messages I’d received telling me what a mad thing I was doing, how mental I was or how amazing I was for giving it a go. Hell if it were easy, it wouldn’t be an achievement would it?

I made it all the way to 23.8 miles before needing to stretch again. Deciding I needed to stretch again, my leg made it’s own decision and buckled underneath me. I hobbled to the pavement and lay down, legs in the air, eye closed, screeching as I pulled my knee to my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a Medic standing over me, which was enough to get me back on my feet. There was no way I was being stopped now. John pointed at the bridge we were in the shadow of. There was a Lucozade sign saying “2.5 miles until you do something amazing”. It was so close, but so far. We got back underway and soon we were on the Embankment. Hobbling along, I saw a guy that looked even worse off than me, which spurred me on. Knowing that everyone was suffering and that I was pushing myself to the limit was enough to remind me how proud I’d be when I finished. Despite my little stops to stretch, the rest of my body felt fine and I can honestly say, I didn’t notice “the wall”. But I did notice the hundreds of people stopping and walking around us. Everyone was right, overtaking everyone in the final ten miles was the best feeling ever.

Pausing for another 30 second stretch along the embankment – somewhere near 25 miles if I remember correctly, I contorted myself again. Now I knew that I was carrying on and that I wasn’t walking, but the crowd had no idea. I could have been going to give up then and when I stood up and carried on running, hearing thousands upon thousands of people screaming my name and willing me on was the biggest rush of adrenaline ever. I tell you what, it was worth lying down just for that! I remember seeing a couple of girls cheering me on who I’d seen earlier round the course. They had no idea who I was and I’d never met them before. But for that milisecond, we bonded, recognising that we’d already met and I was still going!

The buzz of turning that corner and hitting Birdcage Walk was just unreal. I don’t even remember it – it’s like a dream. I saw the 800m to go sign and remember berating myself for getting excited. Afterall, it was still another half a mile. I’m not sure where that half a mile went though because the next thing I know, I was grabbed by the hand and pulled through that finish line! Stumbling forwards, I couldn’t believe it was over and that was it. All those months of build up and it was done. The marshall put the medal round me neck and I seem to be remember telling her I loved her, but couldn’t she have come to me? – clearly delirium had set in!

Although it’s such a personal battle and only you can face your dark moments on a run, it was just so good to have someone there spotting for me all the way round. Clearly I was a high maintenance running buddy, but I like to think I’d have done the same if it were needed the other way! Just knowing that if you stop, you’ll be slowing someone else up is enough to keep me running anyway!

I think the excitement all got a bit too much for me as I suddenly felt hugely dizzy, dissolved in a bit of a heap and then promptly threw up 26 miles of water. Not my most glamorous moment and certainly not a highlight, but the prompt reaction of those around me was amazing. St John’s were there within seconds, grabbing me and taking me inside to check on me. I was fine once I’d been sick, but the medic (a flying doctor) told me how pleased he was that I’d run for the Air Ambulance, the guys were all super friendly and helpful and wouldn’t let John or I leave until we were in warm, dry clothes and had taken some sugar and fluids on. Their prompt service was amazing and although I’m grateful that I didn’t need serious attention, they were there every time I had a wobbly moment to offer their help.

Clearly this has been a completely personal challenge to me, but I love that I can use something that I can do that perhaps others can’t to raise money for a cause close to my heart. Thanks to your generosity – for it was nothing that I did, it was all you guys – so far, I’ve raised £2305.40 for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance. I can’t believe that I’ve managed to raise so much and I’ve so much to thank you all for. Thank you for putting up with me being an anti social git during my winter training, thank you for letting me come to a post run pub pudding in my lycra without disowning me. Thank you for donating so generously, thank you for sending me such inspirational messages and the biggest thank you goes to John who not only ran every training run with me, giving up our weekends to the cause, he stuck by me at every step and stopped me being squashed whilst attempting the swastika amongst 36,998 other runners. That, and for washing my sicky medal…! Thank you everyone!

I promise I’ll stop being a running bore now – on to the next challenge! Having said that, I’m hooked! Everyone told me what an emotional rollercoaster it was, but it was that, tenfold. The highs (and lows) were so extreme, but the minute I stopped running, I forgot every moment of pain and just wanted to do it again. Bloody endorphines…

If you haven’t donated yet, there is still time – you know the routine, check out http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/bryonyharper and see if you can get my total up to a nice round number!

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“There will be days you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have.”

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here, but as we’re well into 2012 now, I feel it’s only fair to update you on my Marathon Mission and my progress.

December saw a last minute holiday to New York, which you might have thought along with a killer cold, would have slowed my training, but against all my better judgement I carried on regardless. I planned to have a nice restful week, but waking up at 5am every morning from jet lag, there was little to do other than abuse the free wifi and use the gym. One morning, I even searched New York Hash House Harriers, but sadly their runs cost $20 – a far cry from our £1 hash cash!

Realising that I probably wasn’t going to be able to beat my cold into submission, I gave myself a whole week off and then an easy week or so. And boy did I appreciate it! After Christmas (but before New

 

Year I’ll have you know) I was back out plodding the streets with renewed vigour. I ended 2011 in style with a 10km trail race, called the Gutbuster on New Year’s Eve. Well, there is no fun to eating and drinking too much if you haven’t been up at 6am for a sprint through the fords of rural Berkshire first! We ran round the course at a fairly stonking pace, I got my free mulled wine (and John’s) and went back to the car. Somewhat distracted by the flat tyre that I’d gained, I completely missed the prize giving. (Well it’s not something I normally need to bother with.) Anyway apparently I was the second ‘open lady’ (don’t, it’s not big or clever!) to finish, which gave me my first (and last) running prize!

So now, the proud owner of a wooden plaque, I was spurred on to enter a glut of pre-marathon ‘warm up’ races. Well, it was either the wooden plaque or the numerous bottles of wine consumed later that day – it’s hard to tell! January was marked not by races or speed, but by the long slow plod of a Sunday morning. Finding someone else foolish enough to join me on my long runs was a great boost and suddenly I found myself running from Tadley to Basingstoke in an epic 19 mile run and I could still walk at the end of it! Feeling full of confidence that I’d finished January running two thirds of a marathon, I leapt into my races.

Following my 19 mile run, I headed down to Devon for a few days of Boot Camp. Monday was a nice relaxing day at the spa, where I did a couple of hour stints swimming, but rested up for the days ahead. Day one started with a half hour warm up in the gym – just a brisk 20 minute cycle and two rowing races! We spent most of the morning being tortured by various odd looking devices in the gym; my favourite was the leg press. The resistence was set so

 

 high that when I lay down and pushed my feet against it, all that happened was that my bum lifted up! Kettle bells, weights and resistence work was all on the menu – a delight for an unfit runner like me! A short break for lunch and then the killer cardio started – an hour’s high energy spin class, which ended with the instructor driving us 6 miles from the gym and getting us to run back (on busy country lanes with no pavements!) When we got back, we had to do 80 lengths in the pool. The next day was slowed down a little by the snow, but we were driven out into the wilds of the moors (after getting stuck in the snow twice) and made to race the 10 miles home. The rest of the day was completed with kickboxing, more resistance work and circuits. All that and then the drive home to Wycombe. I know how to use my holiday!

The next weekend saw the Grim Night Terror. Yep, it’s as daft as it sounds. An eight mile trail run across Aldershot military training ground, up sand dunes and through waist deep bogs. Unfortunately (or quite fortunately as it turned out), the freezing spell meant all of the water was under 4 i

 

nches of ice, so we were more likely to suffer from a broken ankle than hypothermia this time. It was a first for me though – my first night-time, trail run in the snow! I’m not ashamed to admit that I layered up for such an event; two pairs of running tights, a thermal base layer, a winter running top

 

, a neck warmer, hat and two pairs of gloves is perfectly normal right?

Racing round that in under an hour, we were over the moon and promptly celebrated with a fat Chinese takeaway. There has to be a perk of a Saturday evening race, right?

Next up was the Bramley 20/10. Now there was a 20 mile option, which we could well have tackled, but discovering that you had to run the 10 mile course twice (including going back through the finish), we decided that would be far too demoralising. Forgetting that I had a race at the weekend, I trained hard all week, running or using the gym every night except Friday when we moved house and collapsed with exhaustion. Saturday saw a mini duathlon when I sprinted the 4 miles to the bike shop to collect my newly serviced bike and rode it home as fast as my legs would carry me. It was only when we were Bramley bound that I remembered everything I’d done in the week. That, combined with the cold weather made it a killer for me. It was only 10 miles, but we ran it as fast as we could, finishing in 1 hour and 19 minutes. (Well, 1.20 was the aim and I like to please!) But I think the pictures say it all!

Sad face in the final sprint at Bramley
Have you ever seen such sad eyes?
Struggling even from the third mile, I couldn’t get into a decent rhythm, but even with a decidedly ropey moment around mile 7, we finished in our target time. Finding a bakery on the way back to the car went a long way to making me feel a lot better about the whole thing mind you! It was just one week until Brighton Half Marathon, so with a bit of a cough working it’s way through, I did the sensible thing and rested up with just a 6 mile run on Thursday night.
 
The difference was remarkable – I felt really fresh and ready to go on Sunday morning. (Although this could have been helped by the glorious weather, having got caught in the torrential rain and gale force winds the day before!) Leaving the calculations and timing entirely up to John, I just focused on running. Having no idea what time John had plugged into his watch, I assumed it would be pretty fast, so I set off at a good old pace, overtaking people who were getting in the way, thoroughly enjoying the flat road and spending my time looking for some of my colleagues running as well. There was some confusion when at mile 5, our watches seemed to be about half a mile different to the mile markers on the course, but presuming we would find a ‘short’ mile at the end, we carried on with gusto. At about 11 miles, I started to wane, which was only made worse when at 12 miles (or 12.5 miles on our watches), we were still nowhere near home. Even at 13 miles I couldn’t see the finish line and was feeling a little despondent. Again, thankfully there were plenty of photographers there to capture my pain.
Another picture of me looking pained
 
Finally, the finish line was in sight and we sprinted through. (Actually correction, John sprinted through. I stumbled through seconds later). Elated with our amazing time – 1.46, we stretched off and I couldn’t believe that I’d beaten my PB by a whole 12 minutes. But we were still confused by our watches. It’s normal for a race to be a little bit out – after all, we all run different lines, but 0.4 of a mile? It turns out we weren’t the only ones to complain and the following day, the organisers issued an apology and revised times. So what does that mean? Well, I am now officially the owner of a 1.43 half marathon time!  That’s nearer to 1.30 than it is 2 hours. That might not mean anything to any of you, but I’m not a fast runner, so to come away with a semi respectable time is just amazing.
 
So what next? Well, I plan an easy week or so, before celebrating my 25th birthday with a nice 22 mile plod. Other than that, I’m not sure. The marathon is getting closer – just 8 weeks away now, so I just need to stay fit, injury free and aim to smash my 4 hour target!
 
In fundraising news, I’ve raised an amazing £678.40 (0r £779.25 with gift aid) for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance. Money incredibly well spent and proven this afternoon as they landed just metres from my office to rush someone to hospital. So if you haven’t sponsored me yet, check out this link www.virginmoneygiving.com/bryonyharper and see what you can give!

“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