Tuesday, 21 April 2015

London......I'm coming!!

Oh my, Edinburgh Marathon seems a lifetime ago now but it was an experience which will stay with me for the rest of my life.  The euphoria, the pain, the hurt, the finish line.

Like many marathon runners I suffered the dreaded marathon blues, questioning myself and my beliefs for many months afterwards.  The year passed in a daze, the one thing I was glad of was that I had entered to ballot for a much sought after place in the Virgin London Marathon.  I can’t normally win an argument but hey, my entry was in the bag (along with another 129,999!!!)  and I stood a chance, a slim one as only 10,000 places were available for the ballot, but a chance non the less.  I had a long wait until September/October.

September came and very nearly went when all of a sudden I had friends posting on social media that they had been unsuccessful in their ballot place; I had no idea until now but apparently you received one of two magazines to advise you of your fate!  One had ‘Sorry’ on the front, the other had ‘You’re in!’ I awaited my magazine landing on the doormat. 
Wednesday is traditionally my rest and massage day.  I’d come downstairs after having Suzi do her weekly magic (why did it hurt whenever I had a massage now?) I picked up the post and started to scream.  Suzi flew down the stairs thinking I had fallen to find me shaking like a leaf in floods of tears holding a ‘You’re in’ magazine.  I had just got one of the most sought after places in the world, a ballot place in the Virgin London Marathon, how did that happen, how did I deserve that??

In true Ellie style my initial thought wasn't ‘right let’s crack on with training’ but rather ‘who shall I raise money for?’  Over the last 7 years I have raised well in excess of £20,000 for charity mostly on my own and mostly for BHF in memory of my Dad who died in 2008.  For many reasons I was ready for a change.  I didn't necessarily need to raise funds for a large national charity I could ‘go local’ and raise much needed funds for a cause still close to my heart but one that relied on local monies and businesses………  I had just that cause in mind.

The challenge itself needed thinking about too.  I prefer to raise funds for one charity rather than multiple charities and I now traditionally do events annually -  Ferriby 10 mile, GNR, Beverley 10k, Edinburgh Moonwalk to name but I few and I had 8 already booked for 2015, what if I increased it?? What if I could do 15??  I scoured the net and found races to add to my ever growing list. The challenge was decided and set!

The charity itself was almost a no brainer. 

Running with Fitmums introduces you to an abundance people from all different walks of life and your running buddies often turn into lifelong friends as you soon realise that sometimes it’s not just running that you have in common.

I’d met Katie Cowell at Beverley Fitmums on our Tuesday morning sessions and when we got talking I learned she and her husband Paul had tragically lost their daughter Abbie on 1st October 2011 having gone full term.  I had also lost Charlotte when I went into premature labour at 23 weeks on 11 June 2004.  As we ran, we talked, got to know each other, laughed and cried as we ticked off the miles.  Katy and Paul had set up Abbie’s fund in memory of their precious daughter raising funds to supply memory boxes for bereaved parents.  Having a memory box myself after losing Charlotte, I know only too well what it means to own one and also the healing properties they possess at such a traumatic time.

I can’t deny I did feel guilty for not raising funds for BHF but I know at the bottom of my heart my Dad would back me 100% in my decision and I would have his full blessing in raising money for Abbie’s fund.  I’d obviously talked it through with Ray and again, as always I had his full backing, it was a cause so close to our hearts and one that so desperately in need of funds.

To read more about Abbie’s fund and the fantastic work they do please follow the link below

This year will see me do 15 challenges in 2015, which will include the following........

25/01/15 - Ferriby 10mile – dedicated to Charlotte Amelia Birch
01/03/15 - Bath Half Marathon - dedicated to Lauren Ella Foley
22/03/15 - Lincs 10k - dedicated to Emilia Harper
12/04/15 - Hornsea Third - dedicated to Grace Harper
26/04/15 - Virgin London Marathon - dedicated to Abbie Grace Cowell
10/05/15 - Beverley 10k – dedicated to Ricky- Joe Emmerson
13/06/15 - Moonwalk Marathon
28/06/15 - Humber Bridge Half Marathon
12/07/15 - Ray's for life 5k
19/07/15 - WR Liverpool 10k
01/08/15 - Total Warrior 10k (endurance)
13/09/15 - Bupa GNR Half Marathon
05/10/15 - Kielder Marathon
11/10/15 - Yorkshire Coast 10k
05/12/15 - Rudolf Romp 24 mile (marathon status XC)

I thought it would be nice if I could dedicate each race to a precious life lost for the donation of a memory box (£25).  I spoke to another good friend of mine Katy Wood and asked if she could possibly do a press release for me - as ever she did an amazing job.

By the beginning of December “Ellie’s 15 in 15 challenges” was born.

I had determined which races I would run, the local paper had my press release, I’d set up my sponsor page and the money had started coming in already with friends dedicating races from the start (excuse the pun!)

All that was left was for me to put on my trainers and start clocking up the miles and with my first challenge being on 25th January I had to move.

Then my world fell apart in December as one of my best friends Elly was diagnosed with MND.
I’ve known Elly for over 15 years from my socialising and drinking days on Beverley Road and then latterly when we worked together at Waterloo Tavern.  It didn’t take long for us to become good friends (and both being single at the time, strong drinking partners!).  I then had the privilege to call her family when she started dating my cousin Rory in 2003 and subsequently got married in July of 2011.  The wedding had been postponed once because of the shock, safe arrival of their beautiful baby girl Poppy on July 4th 2006. 

Suddenly the ice bucket challenge was a reality in our lives and we were dealing with it first-hand.  In the early days of diagnosis we cried, researched, talked, laughed, screamed and asked question after question of what we were all to expect as we tried to take in what was happening around us.  It was just heart breaking watching some of the people I love most in the world cope with such a horrific life changing and life sapping disease. 

Even through the heartache we managed to have a magical, memorable Christmas with Rory, Elly and Poppy who stayed with us as their house was being adapted. 

Then on 28th December we had a call that Ray's sister-in-law had died from her long, tough battle with lung cancer.  Carole was one of the strongest women I’ve ever met and although not a surprise she had lost her battle, I was devastated at the emptiness that her not being here would leave in our lives. She was one of Ray's closest friends….. my world and those around me was falling apart. 
Here I was trying to keep strong for my cousin and his beautiful family and now for my wonderful husband and other sister-in-law Jo when all the time my own heart was breaking.  I wanted to run and never stop………………….. but my training had taken a massive tumble and I just couldn't get back on track.

With my first race looming I needed to take action.  Rory had got a last minute place in the Ferriby
10 raising money for MNDA and we made a point of getting out together at least once a week for a long run.  I've looked after Rory from him being a tot and he knows he holds a special place in my heart.  He has grown up to be the most wonderful and caring husband, dad and friend.  All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around him and tell him that everything would be OK - but I couldn’t – it would be a lie!! For once I could do nothing to take away his pain.  All I could do was be there for him when he needed me, when he needed help he knew I would come running and would be his shoulder and his strength. 

We both used our runs as our therapy and put the world to rights on the way round.  It was downtime for us both I think and he did amazingly in Ferriby, pushing me round the course and keeping me going.  Seeing Elly half way round, who had been brought out by friends was an amazing sight and another memory that will be locked in my heart. My first challenge of the year and race No.1 of 15 was in the bag.
Training was ticking over and after Ferriby came Bath Half on 1st March.  Jonathan, my step son and his girlfriend Katie had started running last year and he is now so fit and such a strong runner, he could quite easily have left me at the start line but he didn't.  We ran it together, on a glorious spring morning.  Although the course was advertised as flat, it did have a few ‘mounds of opportunity’ in there and was a looped course.  It was however, a good run and we finished in a respectable time of 2:27. No.2 of 15 completed.

Lincs 10 on 22nd March was another glorious spring morning. A crowd of
Fitmums had entered the Lincs 10 and we decided to go in convoy.  One of the runners was my friend Gayle who had gained a number for Lincs at the last minute. She had also secured one of the club places for the London Marathon.  She was, however,  battling with her feelings for London after being plagued with injury and also the illness and the loss of her mother-in-law June after a short illness.
Visiting the hospital, work and studies had taken its toll on her mentally and physically and her training had gone on a downward spiral, starting a year or so earlier with months yet tinged with sadness and heartache. . . . . . She needed a good run.  She got it!! She was strong, finished well and with a smile on her face.  She has since decided to defer her place for London until 2016 and I 100% agree with her decision.  She has so much on and has very little time to fit everything in.  She will storm London next year and I look forward to  training with her on her long runs and giving the support and encouragement she has given me throughout my training.

The thing about running is  that you tend to get caught up listening to your body for problems you would perhaps normally miss - perhaps something else that your body is telling you.  I've had sciatic pain for a few years on and off and my magical therapist always sorts me out, this time it was being very stubborn and I was suffering. I’d had to reduce my mileage and take it steady otherwise it would play up.  I’d also been suffering with my breathing but my sciatic pain was the main problem on my mind until a couple of my friends pointed out that  I may be suffering from asthma.  With a week to go before Hornsea Third and 3 weeks to go before London I hit the panic button and I made an appointment with my GP.

It was the diagnosis I was expecting but certainly not the one I wanted.  I sat in the car with my inhaler and sobbed.  All of a sudden I had to take an inhaler with me when I was out running. I was nervous, angry and upset but the Dr was fabulous and assured me I would be OK as did a lot of my friends.  I left the surgery with instructions that if I wasn't happy after trying it I was to make another appointment and she would help me through "London". 

I had to get through Hornsea first and there certainly would be an abundance of encouragement as there were 50+ 'army' of Fitmums members running the race, many of them coming from East Hull Fitmums.  In the event it was colossal and the good luck, kind wishes and friendship that filled the start line was evident of the team spirit that emulates around us all.  This would be the longest run for many and some were making it their first race, I was in awe.

I started the Hornsea Third nervous and anxious, both of which are not good for asthma! I finished it in a respectable time all things considered but I did end up having a word with myself half way round. 

My heart belonged to Ray and Tammy that day, I sobbed when I saw them coming down the home
straight,  they’d knocked nearly 15 minutes of their PB, the longest distance either of them had ever ran and they had just smashed 8.74 miles – a third of a marathon.
East Hull Fitmums to me is the Epitome of team work and everything it stands for.  Another member Julie so very nearly pulled out of the Hornsea Third because she didn't think she would be able to finish in the allotted time?! In true Fitmums style we all stayed back to see her over the finish line, those than never ran her home waiting at the finish line and screamed her over it.  I know I won’t have my Fitmums family with me in London and there at the finish line to see me over it but I will have them in my heart with every one of them spurring me on every step of the way to see me succeed.

With London now less than a week away, as always my nerves are kicking in.  My Dad as ever (especially at race time) is at the forefront of my mind. What on earth would he say to me gaining a place in VLM? He would be thrilled, call me insane, be as proud as punch and certainly be with me every second.  I always feel as though he stands just behind my right shoulder on race day and I’m going to need him more than ever this weekend. 

I'm going to be thinking of my gorgeous friend Elly and my cousin Rory and Poppy who are having to adapt to life changing events at the moment that are heart wrenching. 
I'm going to be thinking of my gorgeous little boy Benji who never fails to put a smile on my face and  just know he will be shouting “Well done mummy, keep going,  you’re doing great!” just as he does to everyone he passes when he runs the parkrun.  My precious little Charlotte who will be watching from the clouds with her Grandpa, I have so much love for you sweetheart I just wish I’d have been given the opportunity to show you.

I will be thinking of all my wonderful friends who have run, cycled, helped, Benji sat, listening to me moan and wiped my tears.  Of all of my special friends who spur me on every day with the love and support they offer me.  My Dad always taught me to treat people the way you expect to be treat. I do my best and try and give myself to everyone and sometimes to more than one at the same time.  My friends are the ones that remind me what a good person I am because I do sometimes lose my self-worth and it’s them that make me the person I am. They give me the love and respect back that I try and offer to so many.

And of course I will be thinking of my wonderful husband, without who NONE of this would have happened.  He really is my other half, not as my husband but the other half of me, we are a team.  I just know he will be scouring the crowd of 40,000 runners just to grab a glimpse of me and I love him with all my heart.

Let’s face it I've got 26 miles, sorry make that 26.2 miles (the .2 of a mile is VERY important to a marathon runner!) to think.  I'm under no illusion that it’s going to hurt this year and not just physically but emotionally and mentally too – it’s going to be the toughest race of my life - we’re only in April and that big fella up there is throwing a lot at me!

I've been honoured with a place at the start line of the iconic Virgin London Marathon, a race that I have watched on TV since it started some 30 odd years ago, only ever dreaming of taking part.  I'm going start at the start line and live every second of it until the finish line.  It’s not about a PB to me, it’s about running for all the people I love and care about, including those that are no longer with us.

A race dedicated to a very precious little girl - Abbie Grace Cowell.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Just one word ... WOW!

I'm now sat here thinking, was Edinburgh Marathon really last week?!

I had been nervous for a good 2-3 weeks leading up to race day.  I was emotionally drained without the added trauma of questioning whether I was fit enough, whether I had worked hard enough, eaten correctly, hydrated and all the usual fears that creep into the mind of a marathon runner.

I was worried I would let myself down and even more worried that I would let my loved ones down.  I'd spent months training, weeks on my legs and hours in tears.

Whatever the fears that were swimming around it was too late anyway, we were on our way up to Edinburgh for my first running marathon.  I knew I could walk one - I do one every year for Walk the Walk raising money for breast cancer charities but Sunday would be the day I set off at the start line to RUN my first ever marathon.  I specifically picked Edinburgh because it was there I walked my first marathon, the Edinburgh Moonwalk back in 2009 in memory of my wonderful Dad and I walked it on Fathers Day.

The days leading up to leaving we're very special - I had good luck cards, charms flowers and messages of support coming out of my ears.  I felt very honoured and extremely special.

One of my best friends in the world and my therapist, Suzi said she would come with us and look after Benji and give me the much needed massage therapy to start and end my marathon. Pete and Jo my 'sister-in-law' from Keynsham also came up to support me.

The apartment was in the middle of the city so we settled in and set ourselves up for a quiet night in.  Ray had once again performed his magic in the  kitchen and prepared a chicken pasta dish to bring up with us.  Jo and Pete met us and we spent the evening catching up and carbing up for the task ahead.

In time honoured tradition I set my kit out for the morning then Suzi set-to and gave me a relaxing massage to warm up my muscles and hopefully give me a good nights sleep - it worked!   I slept like a log and woke up 5 minutes before my alarm went off at 6am.

Breakfasted, showered and dressed we were ready to head to the start line at 8:45.  It was only a mile away from the apartment so the walk would be a nice warm up for my muscles.  The messages, texts and calls were once again in abundance to the point I had to stop reading them because my eyes kept leaking! 

The closer we got to the Regent Road the more the atmosphere was building. In time honoured tradition, I queued for the toilet before heading to my start point!  It was time to kiss my boys and the rest of my fabulous support team goodbye and make my own way. They wished me luck and I was in my pen and ready to go.  It wasn't just my mind that was now working overtime, so was my bladder, how come I needed to go to the toilet again?!  The gun went off and we started walking toward the start line and I had to nip out of the railings to a portaloo.

Mile after mile after mile I knocked them down. My music sometimes on and my phone often ringing with my friends, my PT, my wonderful husband spurring me on and making sure I was ok. I spotted an old friend from WLR Martin Reilly and we exchanged a hug and good luck wishes. He was doing amazing, way in front of me and on the loop back to the finish. It was just the boost I needed. To this day I don't think he knows what that hug and wish meant to me......... Priceless!!

Ray met me at mile 24 and ran the last couple of miles with me. Again, it was just incredible.  I'm so proud of everything he has achieved, especially since his operation last year. We got to the 26 mile mark and with a smile on his face and an abundance of love in his heart he told me to finish my race, bring it home and he would meet me at the end. I sobbed, he was amazing and I love him so so much. Never once has he doubted me or my ability. 

5:19:08 was my finish time! Wow I'd knocked over 40 minutes from the time I expected and 20 minutes off the time I wanted. Edinburgh marathon was in the bag and I was over the moon (and back) with my time feeling elated, absolutely knackered but one very happy bunny!!

Did I enjoy it?? I have to say it was certainly one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life and to say there were thousands of people running too it was the loneliest run I've ever done. Your mind plays tricks and you need oodles of self will to literally keep placing one foot in front of the other. 

But I'm certainly not done  -  I'm so pleased I entered the ballot for London. I doubt I'll get in, I can't normally win an argument but here's hoping!!

All that's left for me to do is thank everybody for their wishes, love, help and encouragement. I'm ready  to put my feet up for a bit and decide what my next challenge will be.