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About this blog

I’m a wife and mother of two boys. I am a Christian, I work part time as a criminal lawyer and I love to run. On Tuesday 2nd February 2016, my son Isaac was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia at the age of nine years old.

  • Patient Name: Isaac
  • Cancer Type: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia
  • Age when diagnosed: 9

My Marathon Journey

27th April 2018

It is Monday 23rd April 2018…. just another Monday, although today is the day after my first (and probably last – I know, I should never say never, but…) marathon. Social media is flooded with endless different accounts and emotions from the day and pride at having completed what it is said only 1% of the population will complete. Some now feeling the down after such a high, other’s still riding that high and buzzing from their achievement. I expected that I would fall into one or both of those camps yet I feel rather different. The day has been spent with people desperate to congratulate me or talk about how this marathon, that I’ve gone on about for months, was. Yet I find myself feeling unable to hide my disappointment with a false acceptance of the glory they wish to bestow. So I thought it easiest to write in a bid to try to explain my response! Please stick with it, I know it’s long but it is positive at the end! I promise!

How the marathon came about

Although I am by no means an elite athlete, I do consider myself a runner and, again not an amazingly quick club runner, but I would say I have some half decent times (5k 21:26, 10k 44:44, HM 1:38). I have also done some crazy runs even though not a marathon. I’ve completed the world’s largest obstacle course consisting of 20 miles and 200 obstacles (Rat Race Dirty Weekend), not just once, but twice, finishing in the ladies top 20 on the second time and that being with limited training due to our family circumstances in the lead up. So when I secured myself a ballot place for the London Marathon 2018 I was delighted at the prospect of stepping up to the marathon and it was another running challenge. As a runner, it wasn’t a challenge that I set myself with the goal being completion. I knew I could run and I was confident with the right training I would complete it. But like all my running challenges, it was about how I completed it. Not only that but I had a reason to run big races. In February 2016 my eldest son Isaac, then 9, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. His treatment continues until May 2019. We are a family passionate about running and so we decided very early on that we would try to raise as much money as possible through running for 4 children’s cancer charities that we are grateful for and want to give back to over the course of his lengthy treatment. There have been other charities who have also been awesome and supported us too as the journey has continued. So there was also more to how I completed it that just time as it was personal.

lady with medal with three people

Expectations and Preparation

I have spectated on the streets of London more times than I can count, my Dad has ran it 18 times (some in full fancy dress costume), my husband 6 or 7 times and not always the same ones as Dad. I’ve watched all of them and then I’ve gone to watch the elite race and friends do it when neither Dad or Simon have been running. I have been part of the magic of that crowd so many times. So the opportunity to be one of the runners able to experience the event filled me with excitement, nerves and anticipation. I was no longer going to be a spectator of this awesome event I had grown up loving, but an all-in participant.

As I’ve stated, I never doubted I’d be able to complete it, the question was, how I completed it. The how in this race was a question of pace and time to achieve the best I could. The training had generally gone ok and although I had never done a marathon before, the what I thought to be realistic target pace I set myself based on where I was at during training was about 8:30 minute miling. I did the Folksworth 15 mile race in January aiming to run it at target race pace and came in just under feeling quite strong if not frozen from the snow storm. Next up was the Stamford 30k. The horror stories I’d heard of the endless hills that I’d experienced in part on a recce of the route on New Years Day were not just horror stories but a reality! And with gale force winds to contend with I still managed to maintain a pace of 8:40. Then came the Cambridge half marathon in March. There was unrest that week as snow stopped lots of the UK but the race went ahead and I managed a 1:43:03. A little disappointing as when I entered all the months before I’d hoped to be in pb shape but not a bad time considering the mileage I was now doing. Then came the Oakley 20, and again snow. This time causing the race to be cancelled but determined to run a 20 miler at target race pace I went to the gym and ran it on the treadmill. I hate gyms and I hate treadmills but I was determined to get the preparation in and so it was done. I did many long slow runs ranging from 15-21 miles feeling comfortable at 9:15 average miling. There were the odd hiccups like tooth infections and the odd missed run and although distracting, they didn’t interfere detrimentally with training.

So my aim was sub 3:45, Plan B was a sub 3:50 to get the v40 ladies good for age qualification time in case I did want to do it again. And plan C? There really was no plan C but if pushed I might’ve said sub 4.

The race

It was an early start off to Blackheath and as the nerves had been building in the week I tried to keep myself relatively in denial about what I was about to do trying to think of it as any other big race. I prepared as I would for any race, I got in my pen and made small talk with the runners around me as we waited and then finally the time had come. I crossed the start line excited for what would come with my dad’s words of ‘pace, pace, pace’ ringing in my ears. The first few miles seemed to tick away nicely, the mile markers came sooner than expected at times but not sooner in terms of time, I was slightly slower than I’d planned so secretly quite happy and proud that I hadn’t got carried away and gone out too quickly. As I passed the odd Starlight runner (1 of the charities we support that provide once in a lifetime wishes for very sick children) I said a brief thank you that they were running to make my son’s wish possible. By 8 miles though I was feeling sluggish and by 12 I had a stitch (something I’ve never really suffered with) and was struggling to even run at my slow easy training run pace feeling the desperate need to walk. I did walk. I never walk. Walking is boring! You can get to places so much quicker and see far more if you run, why would you want to walk?! But I couldn’t do anything else. I went through half way in just under 2 hours. My slowest ever half marathon time from when I hardly ran at all was 1:47 and my average pace was now dropping below that slow easy run pace. I got myself running again knowing the family were at 14 miles so tried to pull myself together and it was so lovely to see them. Time was gone so I was free to stop and say hi before going on my way. By this point however, despite the huge crowds and support and people calling my name every few strides, every step was hard work and I found myself setting targets for the next point I would have to get to in order to walk again. In my head I kept trying to adjust my expectations over completion bringing in Plan C as a possible alternative but the reality was this was also slipping away. I just had nothing. I wasn’t anxious about the slipping of goals just disappointed that I couldn’t do anything about it. It was so painful even going the slow pace I was going. There wasn’t a mental battle to get myself to push harder as my legs just wouldn’t work and now the stitch was back and calf cramp was setting in. As soon as I knew Plan C was gone I resigned myself to the fact it was probably my last marathon. I just wanted it to be over. That said, as I contemplated the fact this may be the only time I do it, I had to take some enjoyment from it in memory of the achievement so purposely set about to smile through the battle.

By 22 miles I knew it was 2 miles to the family again and then 2 and a bit to the finish. I told myself that I could do 2 miles in my sleep. Yet still found that I couldn’t even run 2 miles without walking some of it. It was so lovely to see them again and it spurred me on to run that final 2 miles but despite best efforts this also ended up being a jog/walk effort. Then came Buckingham Palace. I had visualised turning that corner and seeing the finish line in the distance, seemingly so close yet taking an age to reach. As I had contemplated it in the build up to the race I would well up. I knew I would be a blubbering wreck as I ran towards the line thinking of the achievement and my reason to run, yet the reality of the day was that I found myself rather emotionless. I was thinking that I should’ve been crying and even thought to myself that I needed to force the emotion, but the reality was I actually couldn’t even be bothered to cry. I have cried many tears over Isaac’s illness and the gruelling treatment and this didn’t feel the right place for it, nor did I feel a need to cry over that journey at this time. We have been and continue to be truly blessed despite our outward circumstances at times. I don’t feel in a place of mourning. There were a few tears after crossing the line but these were more out of disappointment than anything else.

Isaac boy having a massage

Spectators

The coverage of the marathon features very heavily around how wonderful the crowds are. I can testify to this from my many years of standing in them supporting, and from the numerous friends who have completed it. I experienced the sheer volume and the ridiculous number of people calling my name when they saw it on my top with shouts of ‘you’ve got this!’. But as I ran and heard all these people willing me to do well, I was another runner soon to be forgotten by those spectators as they looked for the next. Then there are the charities. Although I was running for 4 awesome charities that we have personally benefited from, I had to choose one whose vest I would wear. I chose Children with Cancer UK. When I approached one of their cheering points the volume increased as they supported their runners, willing you to do well but also full of pride for what you’ve already achieved in supporting their cause. Then there are your family and friends. The ones who know you. They know your expectations. They know you. They want you to succeed and are cheering you on because they love you.

After the race

After getting my bag I just had to lay down. I felt awful and knew I wouldn’t manage the walk to meet my family just yet. I could’ve stayed there for hours just in time and space on my own, had a first aid lady not come to check on me and get me up to move me along. Getting to the family was wonderful. They knew I would be disappointed but were proud and delighted anyway as I knew they would be. We then went to the Children with Cancer UK reception and I have to say, that was my highlight. Being the largest charity with about 1500 runners, they know how to look after their supporters. Every runner welcomed on a red carpet and with their photograph taken. There was a huge room full of what must’ve been 100 beds with trained volunteers giving massages and every time a runner entered they applauded. Isaac is coping remarkably well with treatment and we tend to get on with life relatively normally, but it’s long tiring days like this that remind us that he is in treatment and on a cocktail of drugs that have a massive impact on him. He came with me when I went for my massage and as soon as they knew he was in treatment he was treated like royalty and had his own massage. Over the course of treatment Isaac has struggled with leg pain and even had a time when he spent several months sleeping in leg splints to adjust the drop foot caused by one of the drugs. Not only did we have this luxury of the welcome of royalty, but there was delicious food so we were able to all have a proper meal before contemplating the journey home. I may not have found the marathon experience something that I wanted to talk about, but Children with Cancer UK and their treatment of us is something I cannot stop talking about. And it is for the work they, and the other charities we support, do that I am so very grateful for all those who have sponsored and supported me financially in the challenge. My disappointment in the race certainly does not spill over into the charity contribution you have made. For that I cannot find words to express my gratitude. Those charities and the research they have done have provided a cure for Isaac’s condition and allows a pressing on to find further cures and improve care. As I say, thank you does not seem enough. I know there is always a continued debate as to the number of elites and fast paced club runners compared to the vast numbers completing it as a one off charity fundraiser. I am an avid athletics fan. I love watching high quality sport. We regularly attend athletics meets throughout the year and have been fortunate to attend events at the London 2012 Olympics, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the World Athletics Championships in London 2017. I want to see fast times and more runners achieving the very best they can and with 2 sons who dream of being future Olympians I want those role models coming through. But I am very aware that Children with Cancer UK as a charity alone will have received millions of pounds as a result of their charity runners on Sunday. Not only do I pray for those in the sporting world to strive for excellence, creativity and innovation, but for those in medicine, those fighting for injustice, those fighting for those without a voice, and indeed in all areas of life to bring even more creativity and innovation to help heal the broken hearted, bring freedom for captives, to bring comfort to those who mourn. I want to see the money raised to fund this kind of research and support also causing children to dream of how they too can transform the world and the lives of those around them in whatever sphere of life they are called into.

The marathon of life

In the lead up to the marathon as I tapered and experienced numerous emotions and feelings during that time, I rested in the knowledge that despite how I felt at any given time I had done the training. Sometimes we can rely too heavily on our feelings causing us to be blinded to what we know to be true. As I ran and faced the disappointment of the race, I was overcome with gratitude that it was only a missed target for one race and that it would easily pass. I knew full well I remain a runner and will run other races, and that even though I desperately wanted to achieve a time for myself, I didn’t actually need to do anything in that race to prove anything to the one who made me. I know that I am created by God, made in His image, made to be his daughter. He gives me an assurance that even if I cannot feel him, I can know the truths of who He is and that He is unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. It doesn’t matter how much my emotions change He is good and is Jehovah Shammah – present with me. He will never leave me or forsake me. He is with me in failings and disappointments in the same way that He is with me in success and enjoyment. He is with me in heart break and pain in the same way that He is with me in delight and celebration. That’s not to say we shouldn’t set ourselves targets and goals and strive to meet them. Absolutely we should. We were created that way. But if those targets and goals are where our identity comes from, we will sadly be disappointed. Not every goal will be reached. But we have the opportunity to get our identity from the one who created our very being. We have opportunity to understand why He created us. To realise His ridiculously outrageous love for us. To walk with Him.

As I ran and contemplated those cheering me on, I thought to the bigger marathon that is life. I thought of the massive difference between those supporters who didn’t know me and those that did. And I thought of those that cheer me on in my life. I am so grateful that I have people willing to invest in me, ask difficult questions, keep me accountable, ensuring I am walking closely with God and cheering me on.

And as for the London… it will always have a place in my heart. My dad did his 17th London 9 years ago when he was 60 saying it was his last. He couldn’t resist the pull to do another final one being his 18th when he turned 65. Next year he is 70 and yet again captivated by the magic of his favourite marathon has set about planning his 19th London to celebrate! He says it’s his last but I can already hear him thinking deep down that 19 won’t be a round number.

This article was reproduced by with permission from author, [Liz] and was originally published at: lizfell.wordpress.com
27.04.18