Sarah Bell

I’m not a runner. 

At school I used to hate PE, I used to forge notes from my parents with excuses about ‘bad period pains’ to get out of sports lessons. 
In my 20s I discovered running – I was bad at first, really bad! I couldn’t run for 30 seconds, but I persevered. I built up a little at a time, until it stopped being hard, and became enjoyable. 

Then I had two kids – bye bye fitness. 

I decided to start running again in August 2016, when Hattie had just turned two. It was suddenly much harder. I was always tired, I was really unfit, I struggled to find time. It was disheartening to run just 1km and have to stop several times.  

I signed up to run the Virgin Money London Marathon in October 2016.  

I’m a member of a Facebook group called ‘Run Mummy Run’ (RMR), and all the girls who’d applied for ballet places were finding out if they’d been accepted. There was a buzz of excitement in the group. Caught up in the passion of my fellow running mummies, I had a look to see if charity places were available for the Tuberous Sclerosis Association, as Emi has this rare genetic disease. I signed up in a moment of madness, never thinking I’d get a place – I’d only started running again after having children in August 2016, and was only up to 7km.

Two weeks later I got an email saying I’d been accepted – shit!

I started training straight away, and created a 6 month training plan for myself. On Christmas Eve I ran my first half marathon, by the end of Jan I was up to 17 miles. 
Training was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. Some days were easy, the runs were effortless and the miles flew past. Some runs were tough – really tough! I started to realise that long runs are about will power much more than fitness, it’s so easy to just stop and go home, or to walk. Carrying on is a battle of wills rather than fitness – if my mind was willing, my legs would follow.
I started using Pinterest to save motivational phrases, and used these on my long runs when things got tough. My favourite was “Sky above me, Earth below me, Fire within me”.  I pictured a flame inside me, and when I felt my resolve fading, I used it to push my negative emotions and doubt away. It didn’t always work. Some runs the darkness won, I stopped, I cried, I walked home.

But the more I ran, the stronger my little flame became.

The week after my 17 mile run, the first week in February, injury struck! My right leg – the infamous ITBS  (ileotibial band syndrome- also known as ‘runners knee’)   
I rested, saw a physio but the pain was still there and I couldn’t go further than about 5 miles. I then visited my friend who’s a sports physio who did some ‘cupping’ and showed me how to use KT tape – it worked, hoorah!

I’d lost 5 weeks of training though, so I had to build back up. I managed to get back up to 20 miles pain free – woo hoo! 
It seemed apt that the theme for these years marathon was #reasontorun. My reason was Emi, her strength and her courage. She is my superhero. She was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex at just 4 months old when she started having seizures. She doesn’t let this condition impact her in the slightest. 
As she loves superheroes, I told her if I raised my £2000 charity target, she could choose my running outfit. She chose batman – her favourite superhero!  
23rd April 2017:

Marathon Day arrived – I was a bag of nerves.  By right knee was meticulously taped up, I was loaded with carbs and fluids. I was terrified. 
I arrived at the red start, and chatted to a few RMR girls in the toilet queue. We then made our way to pen 9.  
The race started, but I didn’t get to the start until 10:33. I started my Garmin and I was off.

The weeks of doubt faded away, my legs just took over and I powered forward – my little flame was strong! I kept speeding up, so forced myself to slow to 12 min miles.  
A lot of people start races too fast and burn out. My mantra was “In the first half don’t be an idiot, in the second half don’t be a wimp!” 
My plan was to start slow and steady, then build up the pace after mile 18 to do negative splits and hopefully get to the finish at around 5:30. During endurance runs you naturally start to slow down as fatigue kicks in. Negative splits means that you actually force yourself to speed up towards the end so that your pace per mile is faster.  
The crowds were AMAZING, people were cheering my name, and cheering batlady, batgirl and batmummy! I got cheers and shouted outs from other RMR girls, and shouted “Run Mummy Run!” every time I saw spotty socks, a a sparkly skirt or a tattoo. I got to 5 miles at exactly 60 mins and felt amazing. My pace was perfect, my body felt strong and my flame felt bright!

At mile 10 my left knee started to hurt. 100s of training miles and my left knee had never ever hurt!  The pain felt scarily familiar – it was just like ITBS. 
I kept going to St John’s ambulance at mile 11. I waved a volunteer down and they took me off to her course to check me out. The first aider wanted a doctor to see me, so I sat and waited about 15 minutes. I checked my phone and was amazed by the number of people who were tracking me and I was on the verge of tears. The doctor arrived and confirmed it was probably ITBS. He said there was nothing he could do mid race. He told me there was no shame in bowing out due to injury. 
I sat, had a good hard think, and made a decision – then burst into tears.

A lovely first aid lady came up to me and asked if I was upset because I was pulling out of the race, and I explained I was upset because I was going to carry on, and it was going to hurt. She gave me a hug and said “Go on Gal!”

I limped back to the track, took a few deep breaths and set off again. It hurt to walk, and run, so I thought I may as well run. I’d lost 10 mins in a toilet queue, and 20 mins at St John’s ambulance. I was way behind my target, but I started running again. It hurt, but I could bare it, just.

I looked down again to my Garmin for pace – 17 min miles, this was not good. I was actually running slower than some of the walkers. I kept going, gritting my teeth through the pain and limp-running onwards. I started to count down to the next 5km markers as I knew these would help update my tracking markers  – knowing people at home were following kept me going.

I got to Tower Bridge – the crowds were amazing. They could see I was limping and screamed my name to keep me going. Tears ran down my face. I then hit the runners coming the other way – this was hard! It made me realise how far I’d still got to go. I put my music on and tried not to look at them.

13.2 arrived, half way. The pain was still there, but it wasn’t getting worse – I kept going.

The Isle of Dogs was hard. I could feel my little flame getting smaller and smaller as darkness and doubt started to creep in. The mile markers seemed so far apart. I saw Andrew at mile 16 which gave me a massive boost, after a teary hug I carried on.

I knew the RMR Cheer Point was at 19 so I aimed for that. I saw Andrew at 18 and a lovely lady screamed “Run Mummy Run!”

I rounded a corner just before mile 19 and the RMR cheer squad were there! They all screamed my name and cheered! I sprinted over to them and fell into the arms of a wonderful lady, sobbing and snotting all over her. They were amazing! 

They gave me some orange and sent me on my way. My flame was burning bright again. I’d done two thirds – I could finish!  

Then came the underpass. It was dark, cold, quiet and almost deserted. I’d been running for over 6 hours. Fear, pain and fatigue caught up with me. My little light spluttered in futility and died. I stopped dead. I couldn’t think how to make my legs move. Tears ran down my face and I felt lost. 
A lovely RMR lady in spotty socks shuffled up to me and told me to keep going.  

I drew every last bit of strength and will power, thinking about why I was running. I pictured my beautiful girls following my progress, I pictured my family and friends tracking me. 

I put one shaky leg in front of the other, and pushed forward. My little flame spluttered back to life. I was going to get that medal if it killed me!  
I was painfully slow – 18 min miles and still running! I got overtaken by Mr blobby and some rhinos.  
I emerged from the tunnel onto the embankment where the bright sunshine and the roar of the crowds hit me!  
Mile 24 –  I saw Andrew trying to run alongside me through the crowds.  
Mile 25 – I gritted my teeth so hard my face hurt and I picked up the pace. My entire left leg was screaming in pain. 
Suddenly Buckingham Palace was in front of me, then I saw a big red sign – 200 meters to go.  
I drew on strength and determination that I didn’t know I had, and I actually growled as I threw everything forward!  
Suddenly my little flame burst into an almighty roaring fire. I sprinted with everything I had left – I overtook the rhino and Mr blobby and powered to the finish!  
I stumbled over the finish mat and stood there for and few seconds. My knee was agony. I felt my leg beginning to give way and thought was going to fall – but then a man put a meddle around my neck! It was cold and suprisingly heavy. I burst into tears and hugged him! 
It hurt so much. It took everything I had, and strength I didn’t know existed. 
I’m so glad I kept going. It would have been amazing to see what time I could have got without an injury, but I have no regrets! 
I faced a marathon. It kicked my ass, but in the end I won!