Emma Abbeys Marathon Story
Emma shares her incredible Virgin London Marathon 2015 story with the CLC Striders’website.
The sequence of events which ultimately brought me to the streets of London on 26 April 2015 started on 1 December 2012 when I held my best friend in my arms and she told me she had an aggressive and incurable brain tumour, with an 18 month survival rate of 50%.
A few weeks later she signed me up for the 5k Race for Life. I couldn’t bear to let her down, so in May 2013 I put on a very pair of cheap trainers lurking in the back of the cupboard and tried running. We walked the 5k course, between her chemo sessions, and by then I had discovered parkrun and found that running gave my life some much needed calm.
Just 3 months after the Race for Life I completed Stroud half marathon, raising £800 for Hannah’s local hospice. A friend from my NCT class was a member of the CLC Striders running club and suggested that I come along. From the start I loved the mix of nurturing and serious racing, and over the following year I knocked 11 minutes off my half marathon time.
Getting a place
I didn’t even contemplate running a marathon until after my third half marathon in autumn 2014. I got a place via the CRunCH website, a clearing house listing all charities which still have places for the London Marathon. My eldest son adores rhinos, so I applied to Rhino Ark, a charity which fences off large chunks of Kenya to keep wildlife safe. They phoned me back the next working day to tell me they would like me to run for them.
I was so excited to tell everyone at Striders that evening. Chris Hale, who trains the improvers speed group, had just paced me to a 10k personal best and offered to write a training plan for me for the marathon. It was only after examining it that the enormity of what I was training for hit me! By the peak of Chris’s plan I would run 46 miles in a week with a longest run of 21 miles.
Training started in earnest in the New Year, and initially went really well. By the end of January I could run 15 miles in one stretch, but the following week the flu took hold and for a week I was not able to run 2 miles without stopping. This unfortunately happened at the same time as the scan which confirmed a recurrence of Hannah’s tumour, this time too big and too deep to remove, and I had to face the prospect that the person who started it all might not live to see me finish. As such a novice I couldn’t contemplate how flu would affect my training, but the Striders social media engine took over to reassure me that there was plenty of time and I would get back on track. As always, they were right!
I wasn’t the only Strider training for a marathon in Spring 2015, but it was sad and scary to see other ladies have to drop out due to injury, especially when I realised that all was not well in my feet. As the mileage increased so did the pain in my second toes, which I was aware had been damaged by en pointe ballet training as a teenager.
All marathon training plans (mine included) give a longest training run of only 21 miles or thereabouts, leaving 5+ miles of uncharted territory on the day. I knew my anxiety levels wouldn’t cope with this, so I broke from the plan and made my longest run 24 miles, followed by tapering on a family holiday in France. France is a great place to taper, at a time when you can consume as much bread and cheese as you like!
I travelled to London on the train on the Friday to collect my race number and kit bag - this has to be done in person with photo ID. The expo was great and I treated myself to a massage, plus “My Mum ran the London Marathon” t-shirts for my 3 children. I also thought it might be helpful to get my toes taped, as anything over 8 miles was by now finding me gritting my teeth with every footfall. I saw a sports physiotherapist to top tennis players, who took a look at my feet and told me that my toe joints were “completely out” and my feet were beyond hope. This was not really what I needed to hear less than 48 hours before the event, but having raised over £2,500 by this point I was not going to pull out now.
Most people recommend resting completely the day before a marathon, but with 3 kids that’s not really possible, so I spent Saturday distracting myself with a trip to the Tower of London, trying not to look at Tower Bridge.
On the day all runners get free travel on the London Underground. I tried to blag my way into a free ticket from St Albans (where we were staying with my Godfather) but the rail man sympathetically told me he wasn’t allowed. There were loads of other runners on the train, all converging on Greenwich. My running vest had a rhino on the back, drawn by my 9-year-old son, and because of this I learned from one of my fellow runners that he had run London in a rhino suit in 3:16 six years ago. No pressure then.
In pen 5 it took us 6 minutes to cross the start line. It was impossible to run as steadily as in training, but I hooked up with another “Run Mummy Run” lady and we stayed together from mile 2 until mile 22. I knew my family would be at mile 6 and seeing them was amazing. They saw me again at mile 23 but by then I was beyond noticing! London has less scenery than you might expect, but running across Tower Bridge was the most incredible experience, and shortly after that I was privileged to see Paula Radcliffe running the other way.
The feeling at the end was indescribable. I had known for a few weeks that the hoped for 4 hour target was not really feasible anymore, so finishing just 8 minutes over was really wonderful. The lady who put the medal around my neck asked me if I needed a hug, at which point I fell into her arms in tears - having watched the man in front of me do the same (poor woman). London is very well organised, and I was processed swiftly through photos, goodie bags and kit bag retrieval. When I turned my phone back on it went incandescent - apparently friends, family and Striders had been watching me, and donations had been flooding in.
We took the train back to St Albans where my godfather met us at the station, making me laugh by proudly telling random people that I had run the marathon. The same station hand was still on duty, and stopped me to ask how I had got on. I told him 4:08 he smiled and said ‘really well done, love, really well done’.
But the best part came 3 days later when I visited my best friend to show her my medal.