On January 22nd 2013 I received an email from Sarah at Breast Cancer Care asking me if I'd like a last minute place in the Virgin London Marathon. I jumped at the chance. But what was I really thinking? I had just 88 days and at that time, I couldn't even run a kilometre. I contacted family and friends asking if they thought I could do it, 'Go for it' was the general reply.
So I did. I really went for it. I managed to clock just 9 miles as my longest training run after a 2-week episode of shin-splints and spent most of the night before the race in tears. But the second I got to the start line there was no stopping me. I finished the marathon - given VERY slowly (5:33:03), and somehow in those 88 days, with the support of 'Team Bexx', raised a phenomenal £11,242.35 for Breast Cancer Care.
After three weeks rest, my trainers were back on and planning began for what has become this incredible challenge. The concept of Team Run 12 was born.
In the last year, I've learnt an awful lot about myself but also a hell of a lot about running and "being a marathoner". Whilst I can tell you the calorie content of most foods and have finally accepted that my feet are just meant to be disgusting, I've also learnt some valuable life lessons.
Here are seven things running has taught me...
Raising over £11,000 for charity is something I've never really been able to get my head around. When Breast Cancer Care gave me my Virgin London Marathon place, they also gave me a new outlook on life. I've learnt to cope with my anxieties better and I've learnt to ask for help.
After pestering everyone I've ever met (and people I've never met) endlessly to sponsor me for the marathon, I've realised that 'if you don't ask you don't get'.
Life Lesson One: Whether you want a pay rise, a date or an invite somewhere: ASK.
I spent the first 3 miles of the London Marathon high-fiving compete strangers, feeling like a complete hero. Now, I make sure that when I'm running I always acknowledge other runners. Whilst I haven't yet been brave enough to randomly high-five anyone running around Maidstone, I ALWAYS say hello, wave and smile. It shocks me how surprised people look but, 99% of the time, they return the gesture.
Someone recently shouted 'THREE MONTHS TO LONDON, C'MON GIRL' from their car whilst I was attempting to get up a particularly nasty hill. At first I was thinking 'yes, and the other three marathons I have to run before that', but I was soon smiling over someone acknowledging me as a marathon runner (that or my black and red VLM rain jacket gave me away).
Life Lesson Two: Smiling is infectious. Whether you're out running, walking or waiting for a bus, acknowledge people around you.
Here's a cheeky, unflattering photo of me scoffing pizza the night before VLM 2013. Following my accident at Reading Festival I gained a considerable amount of weight; I then spent a year living on tins of tuna and sweetcorn and avoiding carbohydrates in any form, whilst running myself in to the ground with a gruelling 2-hour a day cardio routine. I couldn't even wait for the microwave to ping without doing squats and lunges around the kitchen.
Now, I'm no stranger to pasta, potato and even ice cream. I've recognised that everything can be eaten in moderation to fuel your body. Carbs are integral to this, particularly for distance runners. Whoever said 'abs are made in the kitchen' was right.
Life Lesson Three: You cannot out-exercise a bad diet.
I have a wonderful Osteopath, who I genuinely cannot rave enough about (check him out here), but my god fixing an injury can be painful. I likened a recent massage to help with my shin splints to 'cutting my leg open, filling it with glass, stitching it back up then setting it on fire.'
Massage certainty isn't all romance and candles. Particularly when a foam roller's involved.
Life Lesson Four: Sometimes, to get to where you want to be, you have to bleed, sweat and cry. Note: Swearing is perfectly acceptable.
"Put your trainers on and off you go, surely?!" Yes, trainers that cost £100, insoles that cost £45, food that costs more than I'd like to admit to, race entries costing up to £300 and then there's all the "completely-unnecessary-but-my-god-I-want-three-of-them-so-badly" gadgets us runners seem to hoard. GPS watches, headphones that don't fall out of your ears, magazine subscriptions, fluorescent space print leggings... I could go on.
Life Lesson Five: Money can't buy you happiness, unless, of course, shoes make you happy.
I'm sure every runner has been asked "why do you run?!", it's something I've started responding with "well, why don't you?" People make excuses about not having enough time or just declare "I just couldn't do it".
Running or exercising for 30 minutes is less than 2% of your entire day. And, ANYONE can do it, anywhere, day or night. Whilst, I can't recommend running enough I appreciate it isn't for everyone; there are hundreds of other options to get more active. Try swimming, walking, a local zumba or yoga class, start kickboxing, weight lifting or gymnastics. The options are endless.
Life Lesson Six: Your body is the only home you'll have for life. Make time to improve and care for it.
If, 366 days ago someone had told me that I'd finish a marathon, a half marathon and rank in the top 50 of a 1000 person 10km race in 2013, I'd have laughed and continued with my comfortable lifestyle.
The journey I've been on has, by no means, been easy. I work a full time job, train religiously, manage and market Team Run 12, fundraise, eat and sleep, whilst trying to maintain some level of normality.
I have days where I want to give up. I have runs which I spend questioning why on earth I'm doing this and declaring my over-whelming hatred for running. I get injured. I want to get drunk and lay in bed on a Sunday with a hangover like your average 22 year old rather than running for 2-hours.
And then I remember the 'I did it' feeling at the end of every run, the 'you've been sponsored' emails, the cheers from a crowd and the sight of a finish line. In one year, I've become far more focused, far healthier and can see what I want more clearly, all because I put one foot in front of the other several times a week.
Life Lesson Seven: If you're dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough. Shoot for the stars.
To sponsor her, please visit: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/teamrun12
100% of proceeds to Breast Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK. Target: £25,000.