How many marathons do you need to run before you are considered to be an experienced marathoner?

Is there a magic number or is it about something completely different that you can’t put your finger on?

Personally I don’t think you can pin a number on it. I think it’s about taking the lessons you pick up from each one you run, learning from others and using all of this to your advantage.

The marathon blog is very timely for me as my plan for 2021 has had a fairly major interruption with emergency surgery in July.

I started the year with my plan A and a place in the Berlin marathon in September. Taking my London Championship marathon place in October was my Plan B (what an amazing plan B to have right?!).

I am at peace with the fact that this isn’t my year and I need to fully recover, get strong and reset. But rather than think of this with pity and sadness, I am using it to drive a huge determination to have an amazing 2022 and set some epic goals. Boston and Berlin – I am coming for you!

So as many of you embark on your marathon taper, races and all that madness that accompanies the marathon training block, I share this blog from the perspective of the experience I have gained on my marathon journey and my current tally of “14” marathons with my highs and lows along the way!

I will start by saying, the marathon is crazy in so many ways, don’t underestimate it! It can rip you up and spit you out. It is hard work but boy is it rewarding! There is no feeling to beat that marathon finish line!

Is maranoia a real thing? Is that taper time injury real? Can I really do this?

Well personally I think at this point in your journey, the hard work is done. As easy as it is to say, chill, reflect on your training and focus on all the positives. If you have done the work then it will all pay off on the day. Here are some of my journey highlights!

My marathon journey started in Paris in 2013 and I honestly had no clue what to expect from the event (which was kind of nice in a way!)

What I took away from it? I needed a wee from Mile 16 but refused to stop! (to this day, I have never stopped for a wee mid race!) I dodged multiple banana skins and cried my heart out when I crossed the finish line. I was lucky enough to share the experience with my best mate Alex and I finished in 4.04 – I could not have been happier. There was no taper madness, I was just completely relaxed and happy and it was so much fun. Score 9/10 – If you get the chance then “go, go,go!)

I have been lucky enough to run the London marathon 4 x and it really is a story of 2 halves. 2014 and my 2nd marathon (1st London experience) with honestly no expectations – I finished in 3.52.

2015 trying for my Good for Age time (3.45) and I finished in 3.31 – where that came from I don’t know but wow it felt good (sadly set the ball rolling for the sub 3.30 mission!).

2017 and chasing that 3.30, I finished in 3.33. The course measured long (that old chestnut!) and I unwisely decided it was a good idea to run this race 2 weeks after running a hot and hard marathon in Brighton. 2018, if you know you know – the heatwave yearI like to call it the dream crusher. The positive was that I finished (which was a miracle!) in 3.50.

London marathon – we definitely have unfinished business – just not this year!

No crowds can beat the London atmosphere and a home turf major race – A must do. Score 9/10

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and really ugly race photos – they tell your story!

Marathon numbers 5 and 11 in my home county of Yorkshire.

2016 and my gazillionth attempt to break 3.30 resulted in 3.31 (8 seconds away from my PB at the time)

However, 2018 was a different story – it was the first time I broke my target of 3.30 finishing in 3.24 – Delighted to say the least and a very long time coming. There is nothing quite like running a marathon with family support and making great memories with friends. I have never seen rain like it or been so cold in all my life with the longest train journey home but this one is fantastic race. Top tip: You must visit Betty’s Tea rooms when you go for a Yorkshire Tea and a famous Fat Rascal Score 9/10

Lesson here is do not under any circumstances try and estimate your finish time for a tough off road marathon when you have little experience of this terrain. Snowdon 2017

This was by far my slowest but craziest marathon but one I would not have missed for the world. No amount of hill training can prepare you and it feels like an absolute joke at the time but spurred on by a comment from another runner “You are running with the big boys now” as Faye and I took a walk up one of the (many) hills (we absolutely annihilated said runner as I spotted him in the distance in the final half mile obviously!) Absolute legendary race and I can see why it is now a ballot entry. Top tip: Don’t do a pre race climb up Mount Snowdon on your visit (not before hand anyway! Score 9/10

Manchester 2019 – The surreal one

On the back of breaking my target of 3.30 in Yorkshire, I hit Manchester in April the following year. My training had been different this time – tougher, more intense and really hard work but I wanted to see how much further I could go. I had a rough idea in my head that I wanted to get near 3.15 and thought I was being greedy looking to knock off 10 mins from my PB. But as they say, dream big and be brave and all that and look what happened. A Boston Qualifier and an 18 min PB.

Top tip: Don’t limit yourself with a time goal and see what happens. Score 8/10 (10 for the finish line feels!)

Hot on the back of Manchester, I had Chicago planned for the Autumn that year. I knew that improvements were now about maintaining that training but more importantly were the finer points of sleep, strength work and sleep. Big improvements were not going to come to get me to the sub 3 but baby steps would get me there.

I worked hard and knocked 2 mins 40 off my PB finishing in 3.04.07

Top tip: be prepared mentally for overseas marathons – sleep, jet lag and food all play a big part and can derail you mentally. Stay strong, have faith in your preparation but most of all soak it up. I didn’t have huge expectations in Chicago but happy I came away with a PB and the most fantastic weekend away. Score 10/10

And finally, the big one. My sub 3 – Goodwood 2020

So how did I dream my sub 3 experience would be?

Did I want it to be after a year of cancelled races in between the millionth lockdown, or to run 11 times around the same race circuit? Did I want to wear gloves (but vest and shorts obviously!) for 23 miles on a cold December morning?

Probably not – but would I change it for the world? NO, NO. NO

I executed a plan that day (even though I was so far out of my comfort zone). I paced according to plan with complete trust in my coach and it all paid off.

I joined the sub 3 club finishing in 2.58 and I achieved my dream goal.

Score 10/10 for the feeling of the day and the fact I achieved my dream and got to run a race in the shit storm that was 2020.