This evening I set off from London to Morocco and the start of the Marathon des Sables on Sunday. In the sleeplessness of the last few nights with nerves coursing through me like electricity I’ve looked back at everything that has led to this.
Truth be told it feels like every race whether it be a Parkrun or Ultramarathon has led to the start line of Marathon des Sables but there have been a pivotal running moments that have been stuck on repeat in my mind which I thought I’d share with you.
The first is Athens Marathon in 2016, my first full year of running, when injury crippled my running and self-doubt lengthened the road. After picking up a stress fracture during Cheltenham Half Marathon I had to cancel running the Lisbon Marathon but I wasn’t going to let it spoil Athens. After the eight mile I could no longer run, the crippling pain crackled through me at every step. So I walked and limped to the end, completely beaten. I finished in my worse time ever but I finished. If I had gone and not felt that medal around my neck it would have haunted my running future and fed my self doubt until it was fat and full.
Athens taught me that there will be times when you’ll question your sanity, when pain and effort throw hurdles in front of every step. Your mind crumbles into nothing but shadows. Despite all that if you believe in yourself, you can triumph.
Then there is London Marathon in 2017: the year I met Mark and Jo. It was at mile 21 or so that I came across Jo trying to prop up Mark, who was wrestling with dehydration. He could barely walk and Jo being quite a bit smaller than Mark was struggling to keep him upright. I stopped my pb attempt, put my arm around Mark and the two of us helped Mark hobble to the finish line. They say run with heart. That day the three of us did just that. We never faltered, never stopped believing in one another and never for one second thought about leaving Mark behind. Runners are a huge, worldwide community, we range from the 5K strollers to the crazy people like myself about to do Marathon des Sables. We run as one because we all want the same thing, to better ourselves. We offer one another advice and support because at some point we were all beginners. I feel that by helping Mark, even though he was fitter and far more experienced than me, I gave back to a community that has become so important to me.
Lastly is Oxford Half Marathon in 2015, my first ever half marathon. I had only just started running a few months before and was still about 18-19 stone. The whole race felt impossible and the self-loating and self-doubt almost stopped me running it at all. But when I crossed that line and felt that raw swell of pride I knew I had found my passion. It was at that very moment I classed myself as a runner because I had fallen head over heels in love with the act of putting one foot in front of the other. If you had told me that this simple act would one day lead to the Sahara Desert I would have laughed in your face in disbelief. But in just a few short days I will be in the desert with 250km ahead of me.