London Marathon: Dreaming Big

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
Paulo Coelho


Failure. It’s a scary thing and I’d be lying if I said I’d never been worried or had a niggling doubt at the back of my mind that I might really screw something up.

I’ve heard so many times that ‘failure isn’t an option’. I’d like to disagree: failure is an option. Nothing is a disaster – unless you fail to learn from it. I’ve failed and learned several times, both in business and in running.

The latest one was running related. Not long after finishing the Berlin Marathon last year in 4:03, and before I even got my goody bag, I was thinking, ‘I could have gone faster!’ I had targeted 4:05 so I should have been pleased with the time, but I wasn’t. I didn’t necessarily think I would have broken four hours but I could have got a minute or two closer. When I ran Berlin I hadn’t ran a marathon in over 18 months and during that time my half marathon PB had fallen from 1:58 to 1:51. I simply didn’t know what I could achieve.

Anyway I was lucky enough to get into the Virgin Money London Marathon this year, but for this marathon my strategy was more of a ‘boom or bust’ one than in Berlin. My half marathon PB had fallen further to 1:47, and I’d knocked over 10 minutes off my 20 mile PB bringing it down to a few seconds below 2:55. I was convinced I could go sub-4 hours but I didn’t want to cross the line and think I could of gone faster, again. I would rather go for it and not get sub-4, not even get a PB, than cross the finish line in 3:59:59 and think ‘I could have gone faster!’

So I decided to target 3:45. It wasn’t a completely unrealistic target but it would be a challenge, even if everything was perfect on the day.

But everything wasn’t perfect on the day. I’d hardly slept in the week before the marathon, and I’d spent at least three nights sleeping on the sofa as my husband was snoring which meant I was struggling to get back to sleep. The day of the marathon was hot, and I don’t run well in hot weather. Based on this I should have changed my goal, perhaps to 3:50 or just sub-4 but I didn’t. I also tried to stick to the 3:45 pacer, but because of the crowds the pacing was erratic: slowing down because of the crowds and then speeding up to stay on target.

My style is to settle into a pace and just keep going, I’m good at this. I don’t worry too much about splits and I tend to naturally keep the first part and the second part of the race fairly even (apart from my first marathon). My legs didn’t like this constant changing of pace. I clearly remember just after three miles thinking, ‘this is hard work’. I should have listened to my body and slowed down, but I didn’t.

I did eventually deliberately drop the pacer around the five mile mark when my Garmin showed a 8:16 mile. ‘An 8:16 mile! That’s way to fast, I’m only meant to be doing 8:35s.’ But the damage was done. My quads started to cramp between 8 and 9 miles and running became painful.

I made it across Tower Bridge and to the half way mark in 1:55. I wasn’t going to achieve my goal of 3:45, I knew even at that point that I wasn’t even going to achieve a PB I was slowing so dramatically. But I knew I could keep going, I knew I would finish: whatever it takes.

From mile 15 it became a run/walk to the finish, at times it was sheer agony, especially on the downhills, but there were never any doubts I would finish or any negative thoughts. This was my London Marathon and I was damn well going to enjoy it. It’s amazing how you can block out the pain, it’s amazing what the mind can achieve. And in every single photo (where I’ve noticed the camera) I’m smiling, because smiling is what I do. A few people have since told me that the song they associate with me is “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M. because I always seem to smile when I run.

I finished the Virgin Money London Marathon in 4 hours 12 minutes and 5 seconds, and a positive split of 27 minutes. Oops!

But the minute I crossed the finished my only thought was, ‘I’ve done it! I’ve ran the London Marathon!’ I was so happy. The legs weren’t quite so happy, I managed to get up onto where they take your timing chip off, but if another runner hadn’t almost carried me off it I might still be standing there today. My husband also had to carry me down the stairs in the NSPCC place where I was meeting some friends who’d also been fundraising for the NSPCC.

But the thing I’m most proud of is that I finished and I was always totally positive even when things weren’t going well. I could have given up, I could have given in, I could have DNFd. But I didn’t. I found mental reserves I didn’t know I had. I am mentally stronger than I thought I was. This makes me enormously proud.

Yes I failed to achieve my goal of 3:45 but I will learn from this experience: take account of your body, take account of the weather and do your own pacing.

Without risking failure we may never know where our limits are. And I’ve proved that as Chrissie Wellington says on one of my Audiofuel tracks, “Your limits are not where you think they are.”

Until next time…

Kassia Gardner

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