It has been a while since I have written a blog. I could blame it on writers block but the reality is that the latter half of 2017 was filled with disappointment, followed by injury and a feeling that if I were a stuffed animal, the stuffing had been pulled out of me! Life as an athlete is not just about winning races and feeling on top of the world, there are a lot of low moments too and races that don’t go to plan. I thought I would put my story down because I have come to realise that we all go through disappointments and set backs in life. It is how we deal with them, what we learn from them and getting out the other side with a new lease of life. If this blog can help one person then it is worth writing!
The quote in the photo is one that I have in my bedroom and it has always helped me focus but this time I hadn’t been able to see beyond the obstacles. It began after the London Marathon in April, my ‘A’ race. 6 months of hard training gearing towards the marathon. I usually get excited before shorter races as I love racing but before a marathon it is hard to get too excited because it is a long way. You try to control all the things that you can control by following your usual pre race routines, what you will wear, when you plan to take on gels and have a race plan. However, there are so many elements that you can’t control and you can only hope that all the hard training pays off and that you come away with a performance that reflects where you are at.
It was my first London marathon on the elite start which was exciting and I did feel proud to even be lined up with some of the greats. After a few introductions of the race favourites we awaited the countdown which was the sound of a heartbeat (just to get the nerves going a bit more), the gun went and we were off. The plan was to go off at a more reserved pace in hope to finish strongly.
The crowds were more sparse than when racing in the championship race, which I had expected, especially in the first half. This was a huge contrast from running 2 years ago alongside Paula Radcliffe where the crowds were deafening cheering for her. This time you could hear snippets of people’s conversations. I was overwhelmed by the support out on the course from my husband, family, friends, my coach Bruce and his wife, club members and strangers all shouting for me. A gang of my university friends had all got up at 4am to travel from Cardiff to cheer me on. Their trusty chorus of ‘Jagger, Jagger, Jagger’ (my maiden name) could not be missed!
I went through half way in the planned time but even then I did not feel good. This is a bad sign if you are feeling terrible before half way! The realisation that I was slowing down, my body was not wanting to play ball and my head telling it that it had to. I tried to stay positive and I used a tip from a friend to use the tunnels on the course to refocus. The last 3 miles were a complete blur and then suddenly it was 800 metres to go and I did not have any sort of change of speed let alone a sprint finish. I finally crossed that finish line and couldn’t breathe having shallow panicked breaths. Tears started to fall down my cheeks.
I had an A, B and C goal and this was off the scale. The promise of a dog from Rich if I reached my A goal was clearly off and that made me cry even more! Sudden irrational thoughts filled my head. I felt like giving up running altogether and that I had let everyone down. I had a lot of congratulations messages from so many people which I am genuinely grateful for and I know most people would think that I am crazy because 2 hours 38 minutes is a time that many would dream of. To me it was a disaster as I was aiming so much higher and I knew that I was capable of more. A race like that feels like a slap in the face.
It took me weeks to get over it. I felt low, without a focus and just couldn’t feel myself. After 2 weeks of rest I got back to running but somehow the passion had gone. I went to Italy to race in a 5km which is another blog in itself and although it was good to get another race in I still couldn’t get the joy back. I finally got back to training well again and after a few weeks got severe calf pain. It would come and go so I continued to train but was mindful that I would need to adapt the training plan when needed. It then got to the point of side stepping down then stairs to get out the of door to run in the mornings and then alarm bells began to ring. I stopped running realising that something was really wrong.
This injury was a hard one to diagnose as I mentioned the pain would come and go and would often be in different places. One night I had so much pain in both heels that I couldn’t sleep, it was agony. It was that night that highlighted the origin was nerve pain coming from my back. With most injuries you can cross train to keep the endorphins going and to feel sane but back injuries are a bit more tricky. I felt like an old lady and at most I could do was a bit of swimming. 12 weeks of little exercise is hard not only physically but mentally. The added element of pain most of the time and the unknown of when I would get better did not help. I also wondered if I would actually be able to compete at a good level again. It felt like my dreams had shattered and I was questioning my purpose in life.
How did I get through it? I think having other interests is essential! Thank goodness I am a mum. Here in Spain children get 3 months off school for the summer holiday so I threw myself even more enthusiastically than usual into trying to be the best mum that I could be. Adventures to the beach, making dens and craft mornings. I took up cooking and discovering vegan recipes that were amazing. I tried going walking which started off being enjoyable but then became a drag especially considering that I could run a marathon in the time it took me to walk 12km! I discovered a love for snorkelling. I also have a faith in God so that has helped to know that there is a bigger picture and this gave me hope that this was not it for my running.
Eventually I was able to run again, the pain had left me. One would think that you would feel on top of the world when you are able to run again but after the initial happiness you realise just how unfit you are and that is not so much fun. I started to doubt that I would get my fitness back to what it was. This is what most people I imagine go through when either taking up running for the first time so the best thing to do is find people to run with to take your mind off being unfit or being scared of ailments or injuries returning. Thankfully at the time I was getting back to running here a number of professional cyclists were on their ‘off season’ and were getting into running so I had company. After a few weeks we decided to form our own running group. All abilities welcome with a structured speed session that everyone could do. Having this little community around me really helped and is still helping. We had an ultra runner pass through town for a few days who had the plan to do 2x5km efforts up a mountain here. I joined in and felt inspired even though it was hard! It was great to do something different to my usual training, This session now features in my regular training and is a nice bench mark session to see my progress. I finally started to feel like I was getting my love for running back.
Then it has been a question of racing. There was a race here in New Years Eve, a 5km race. I was so nervous about signing up. The doubts of how fit I was kept creeping in. I went to the running track with a friend to do 400m efforts which I had been avoiding even though 20x400m efforts is my favourite session in the world. We were off to do 12. This is my go to session to see where I am at. It usually gives me confidence. So here I was facing up to my fitness. It wasn’t as bad as I thought so after a bit more procrastinating I signed up. It helped that my old coach and good friend Mike Gratton was coming to join in this race. By the time New Years Eve came I had forgotten how much I had missed racing. I dug out my little bag that I take to races with safety pins in. We got to the race ridiculously early for a Spanish race but it was wonderful to be back at a race with a number pinned to my chest.
On the start line there are always girls that look like gazelles (looks can be deceiving) but by this point I had my confidence back and I was in this to race as hard as I could. The gun finally went after a bit of a delay due to some drummers performing. The pace that was set was a shock to the system, more like a 300m effort, but thankfully it settled down after the first km. It was amazing running under the Christmas lights of my home city through the cobbled streets. I won’t lie the pace was a shock to the system. A nice feeling though and I was determined not to be 2nd. A girl was right on my heels until 3.5km. Thankfully with a couple of bursts of acceleration I was able to keep away and run for my life to the finish and take the victory. A mixture of relief and joy as I crossed that line.
It has been a difficult few months but I can say that it feels like I am rising out of the ashes and am starting to soar again. I feel alive and I am enjoying the freedom that running can bring. I am ready to set goals again and to overlook the obstacles. I know that there will be more setbacks and disappointments along the way but I feel ready to take them on and in the meantime I shall be making the most of every moment.