How I accidentally became a marathon runner…
by Julie Pemberton

Me, a Marathon runner? Surely not!  I don’t particularly consider myself to be a natural runner, in fact I wasn’t a runner at all until about 18 months ago. Funny how these things creep on you before you’re aware of how much your life will change!

A small bit of background: I have a dog and therefore spend hours trudging up and down the Taff trail and incorporating muddy fields as a means of keeping him and me sort of active. It occurred to me after passing a very well behaved collie and its jogging owner looking luscious in pink lycra (the owner, not the dog – never was very good at comma grammar rules) that if I could run with my hound then we could actually get a bit further and investigate new fields (he gets car sick so walks have to be done from home). About the same time a work team with me in it entered the 5K muddy run where I realised actually all sorts of people of different shapes, sizes and backgrounds were all far better at me at charging round a field full of obstacles wearing silly outfits.

And so the slog began; a couch potato app on my phone, lots of shouting at the dog for too many wee stops and a general loathing for getting cold and wet far from home.  At least if you’re dog walking you can wear big boots and a proper waterproof coat. Feeling sorry for me, and probably fed up of listening to my moaning, a mad triathlon- type colleague suggested I do the Mo-Run 10k with her just to see if I could plod a little further than my comfort zone. And so on a brisk but sunny November morning I completed my first proper run. The feeling was amazing, I think I shed a tear or two and I had a moustache-shaped medal to hang in my wardrobe.

Little by little the realisation sunk in that if I could get from 0 to 10K, then I could probably push it on steadily and get from 10k to 20k and maybe strive for a half marathon. It was the year of the world Cardiff Half, but I knew there was no way I’d be ready by race day so I chose Swansea which gave me a few more weeks and months over which to structure my plan. But I was getting fed up with the Taff. I knew every piece of moss, every blade of grass, and every tree where I’d given up previously, puffed and out of breath and cross with myself . So the mad triathlon friend and I Googled running clubs. Lo and behold Women Running Penarth  miraculously met around the corner from my workplace. Perfect to fit in before and after shifts, and they sounded a very lovely and welcoming bunch. I turned up one Thursday morning, introduced myself as a newbie runner that had just entered herself into a half marathon, and very graciously they took me running with them up Lifeboat Hill (thanks Elaine!) without laughing at me. Week by week, run by run we explored the hills of Penarth. There is a certain advantage during training runs when you don’t have a clue where you are or what’s around the next corner. Then with Swansea race day lurking, I joined in with the Sunday crew. Again, very patiently they extended their runs in the blazing sunshine until we’d ticked off 9, 10 and then 11 miles. Lovely Lynne E. even turned up on race day, recognised me out of the thousands, cheered me over the line and took my photo! Dedication!!

At some point I let slip to the Thursday hill tacklers that I was crossing the threshold of maturity and would hit 50 at the beginning of this year. Perfect opportunity they said to do a marathon, why not enter the club ballot they said? Terrified at what friends and family would think (I’m not a runner, remember?) I thought again of those images on the TV of the London Marathon. All shapes and sizes, carrying things, wearing fancy dress, some in very teeny shorts, but all managing to get to the end somehow.  Maybe I could possibly? It would take some doing, lots of planning, plenty of organising… But if I’d got from 0 to 20k slowly and steadily, then it’s just a case of adding on a bit each week isn’t it? Just keep running – bit by bit. I entered the club ballot with a mad spurt of enthusiasm and daring…. And didn’t get picked!! That foxed me slightly – I was reserve, which meant I was supposed to be ready to step in in case the amazing Helen did something nasty to herself. Dilemma. I had to do the training if I was to be a worthy reserve, but then I was surely not going to do all those miles unless there was a medal and a t-shirt at the end??  So I discovered Liverpool. A rock and roll marathon with a band playing every mile along the way. Perfect. (On the day itself fab running songs like ‘Go Jonny Go Go Go’, and ‘Like a bat out of hell’…. Every little helps as they say, and I recommend them for your playlist if you’re struggling).

And so I did it (obviously, otherwise there wouldn’t be much point to this story!) Lots of advice, lots of hills with the Thursday crew, lots of pretty Sharpie colours crossing out each day on my Plan, and lots of eating. Oh my gosh – so much eating – which meant lots of shouting at people when I was hungry and grumpy and lots of food shopping which isn’t my strong point.  And a small amount of cider – well a girl needs some treats doesn’t she?

A week later I’m still riding on the high, an absolute crest of a wave.  All the clichés of an amazing emotional experience are true: my work colleagues are stifling their yawns and avoiding me in the corridors in case I mention the M word. I have hogged everyone’s Facebook feed when I rarely comment or ‘like’ anything. Yes it was hard, yes it’s a bloomin’ long way, and yes I wish I’d taken a hairbrush with me so that all those congratulatory photos that end up on Facebook would look slightly more glamorous. But I did it!! I’m still walking, I have an amazing medal and a very luminous t-shirt. It has changed my life, apologies for another overused cliché but it actually applies. I feel better, I am more organised, and I have had to clear out a drawer for running type apparel. I haven’t lost weight, I haven’t smashed any records, but I’ve learned to run slowly in a race and am addicted to park run. I’ve never yet managed to look luscious in pink lycra but perhaps now I can finally say I’m a runner.


My top three tips if you’re even slightly tempted (and even if you’re not):
1. Anyone can do it
2. Seriously, anyone can
3. Don’t forget that brush

Note to self – must add ‘marathon runner and bling wearer’ onto my next CV.    #loveteamfoghorn

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