Inspiring Stroies

Sarah’s Journey to the London Marathon 2023

LONDON MARATHON 2023, what a journey!

In April 2019 I ran the London marathon and had a fantastic experience. I had been given a club place from the Triathlon club that we were in at the time which was a real gift and so I soaked up every moment of the day. Obviously because I had enjoyed it so much I entered the ballot for the following year’s race! I never dreamed that I would actually be successful in the ballot so didn’t think any more about it.

A few months later, in July 2019, I found out that I had breast cancer. Routine screening had picked this up. It really was a huge shock and I remember so many different emotions from this time. As a triathlete, cyclist and very active person I started to think that the life we knew and loved was over. However, one thing that I was certain of was that I wanted to stay as active as possible throughout whatever treatment I needed to help me both physically and mentally. This is where parkrun became so important to me. I had my surgery then began chemotherapy at the end of September. Shortly after I found out that I had a ballot place for London 2020! I was so pleased and knew that come what may I would try to complete it again!

By the following February I was finishing my radiotherapy and had also started on my hormone treatment (Exemestane with monthly Prostap injections). Up to this point I had naively thought that I would be running the London marathon in April 2020! However, I soon realised that I would need longer to recover and get fit enough so I deferred my place for a year. In the meantime Covid appeared and changed everybody’s plans! London 2020 got cancelled and I had no idea if and when I would get to use my London place.

I carried on running, cycling and walking, knowing that it was only doing me good and also put my name forward to be an ambassador for 5kYourWay in Shrewsbury. This proved to be one of the best things I could have done! Our Shrewsbury group was formed over a Zoom call with Georgie in August 2020 but we had to wait nearly a year to launch due to the pandemic!

Somewhere along the way I had the chance to review my marathon place, they gave me several options, the final one being April 2023. I really wanted to go back to London in April as this is where I feel London marathon really belongs on the calendar. So I deferred again until April 2023. It still seemed ages away…

In 2022 I entered a few running events, 10k’s and a couple of half marathons to give me a confidence boost as well as regular participation at parkrun. I could see how my treatment and medication side effects were impacting my times but in all honestly I was just glad I could still pin a number on and participate in running events.

At the start of 2023 I knew I had focus properly on the marathon in April. Because of the side effects of my medication (fatigue, joint pain and muscle pain, savage hot flushes and poor sleep) I knew that I would find it hard to train for a marathon in the same way I had previously. I deliberately booked a couple of completely different training events as part of my preparation. I also tried very hard to ignore what everyone else was doing for their marathon training! Previously I used to do certain running events as marathon training but I was reluctant to do these again for fear of comparing my times pre cancer and now (comparison is the thief of joy!) so I booked a couple of off road events, one in February and one at the beginning of April.

I knew that as I had a ballot place I would like to use that to do some fundraising independently for MOVE/5kYourWay as I believe so passionately in their work, so I set up a justgiving page. I hate asking people for money but actually found people to be very generous and supportive. As the fundraising progressed, so did my motivation to get to the finish line.

I was trying to run regularly and consistently throughout January, increasing my distance carefully. Unfortunately I had to ease back a bit at the end of January as I was having some piriformis issues so had to be sensible and address that. Gradually I picked the training back up and was able to start the first of my off road training events, the Hardwick Hobble. This was a lapped event on an estate in Derbyshire, you could do as many laps as you wanted up to ultra distances. It was my first event of this type and I really enjoyed it. I put no pressure on myself and managed a respectable distance of just under 12 miles which I was happy with. Onwards and upwards, I kept ticking off the training miles but I was finding that the longer runs were taking much more time to recover from than previously so I knew that the long runs would have to be more about damage limitation. Thus I decided to focus less on how many miles I had run and more about time spent on my feet.

Going into my second training event I felt pretty good about my preparation all things considered. On April 1st I did the Shropshire Way half Mammothon with Helen and Georgie from MOVE. This was a brilliant day! Thirteen hilly, muddy off road miles in the beautiful South Shropshire countryside. I was totally out of my comfort zone! I knew that this event would be more walking than running so counted this as a ‘time on my feet’ training day. We had a lot of laughs as we slipped and slided through the mud, a really good event complete with pie at the finish! It wasn’t conventional marathon training but it still counted as a good day of training I think.

I was now just three weeks away from London. A week later I unfortunately jolted my knee while out walking and was quite concerned about it so did very little running in the final two weeks before the big day. I became very anxious about whether or not I could get round on the day, I wanted to get to that start line so badly! By now my fundraising had gone really well and was now over £1000. This gave me a massive boost and the determination to get the marathon done however long it would take.

We travelled to London on the Friday before the race, I registered at the expo with my friend Vicki, who has done several endurance events with me previously, this  was actually very emotional. The enormity of the journey I had had to get there suddenly hit me. On the Saturday morning I did an interview with Radio Shropshire which was quite surreal as I was sitting in my pyjamas in a London hotel room! I had a nice day planned on the Saturday including going to a matinee performance of one of my favourite musicals, Les Miserables. This gave me the chance to escape mentally from the pre race build up and also the chance to release a lot of emotion!

On the morning of the race I didn’t need to rush as I was in a late starting wave. I ate some breakfast and then saw a bit of the TV coverage in our hotel room before setting off for Greenwich and my start. The rain decided to pour down while we were waiting and continued for much of the day. This didn’t worry me too much as I quite like running in the rain and would prefer that over heat!

Eventually I crossed the start line, by then I was quite excited to get going. I set off very steadily, aware of my knee and not wanting to make it any worse. Soon I was ticking along at a steady pace and was running past Cutty Sark. I knew that after the next landmark, Tower Bridge, I would see my family not long afterwards. This motivated me hugely to keep going. Seeing Tower Bridge was emotional, it is the most brilliant experience running over it! A mile or so after that I spotted my cheer squad and waved like an idiot at them. I felt so lucky to have my husband, daughter and sisters there to support me as well as a couple of my nieces. It all started to feel much harder from about mile 15 but I kept pushing on. The crowds really do help especially when so many were shouting my name out. Somewhere between mile 15 and 20 a lady shouted ‘5k’ at me, it was Suzie, a Didcot Ambassador! It was so nice to see her but I really didn’t have the energy to say much more than ‘hello’ to her, I was trying so hard to stay focused on getting to the finish line.

When I got to 20 miles I realised that I only had two more parkruns left to do! I could see my pace wasn’t too far off what I had anticipated and was hopeful for a finish under six hours. At mile 22 I saw my family again, no time to stop and say hello but lots more waving like an idiot! I was so tired for the last few miles and focused all my energy on getting to the finish. It was amazing running through Westminster and along the embankment, knowing that I was so nearly there. Once I saw Buckingham Palace I knew I had done it. It was such an emotional feeling running over the finish line, it really had been quite a journey to get there. I felt so proud but also so privileged to have been able to go out there and choose to suffer (words borrowed from Lucy Gossage!). It certainly wasn’t an easy accomplishment but I achieved it in 5 hours 48 minutes and 56 seconds having given it everything. This was evident shortly afterwards when I came very close to passing out, fortunately my family had found me by now so they looked after me until I felt a bit better. My finisher’s medal is a very special one because of what it represents and my journey to achieve it.

Post race it still feels a little like a dream! I am so thrilled that I could do the marathon proudly wearing my 5kYourWay vest and that I was able to raise some money for this brilliant charity.

I am now looking forward to my next challenge, the Yorkshire Three Peaks with MOVE charity in September. So far six of our Shrewsbury group have signed up and whilst this will be a big challenge for me I think there will also be a lot of fun and team spirit along the way. I also think I will feel less pressure doing this challenge compared to the marathon and it will definitely take me out of my comfort zone!

Having a cancer diagnosis is never good but I can honestly say that becoming a 5kYourWay ambassador has been one of the good things to come out of it. That, and meeting some amazing new friends through our lovely Shrewsbury group. I love helping others affected by cancer to keep moving, stay active and motivated and ultimately this also helps me too! And if I have inspired someone else to challenge themselves in whatever way then that is a bonus.