For many people, 2020 was an absolute write off. The pandemic hit, lock down restrictions followed and life was turned upside down. Some people ate their way through it, others drank their body weight in gin. Some people took up exercise for the first time and became the fittest they have ever been, others lost their motivation completely.

Well for fear of being hated for it, I had my best year of running. 2020 was quite literally “my year”. I hit a personal best at every distance, I trained like I have never trained before. I enjoyed strength training in the garden and cooking more healthy food and I got lucky, it all paid off.

But the best bit? Well that was without a doubt achieving my sub 3 hour marathon against all odds with every race cancelled or postponed. December 2020 my dream came true!

This is my story of how I got there. Grab a coffee and have a read because honestly, hand on heart, I never ever in a million years thought this was something I could achieve but as one of my mantras says “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go”.

I am not going to start the story too far back other than to say I only started running in 2012 as a complete beginner, and when I say complete beginner, I really mean it – My first run was to the end of the road, up to the local park – a mile. I stopped to walk so many times but I knew that I wanted to improve my fitness and running seemed the obvious choice. I was 37, unfit and wanted to change my lifestyle before hitting the big 40 milestone and that’s where my journey began.

After a few months of running a few times a week, I entered my first 10 km race being beaten (as my kids never fail to remind me) by Zippy from Rainbow! But I had achieved my target of a sub 60 min finish for a 10 km and I was delighted.

Things progressed from here with a few more races over the summer and in April the following year (2013) after just over a year of running, I was on the start line of the Paris Marathon with my amazing friend Alex. Finishing in 4.04 and experiencing my first marathon was just the best feeling in the world and the start of what I knew would be my love affair with running.

After Paris, I knew it was going to be the marathon distance that stole my heart. I went on to do 9 more marathons over the next 5 years and after achieving a surprise time of 3.31 in London 2015, the seed was planted – I was gunning for the sub 3.30 – I had to do it and then I would be happy (yeah right!)

I chased and chased that time and something always seemed to work against me on race day. It was either too hot, too hilly, the course measured long, my fuel didn’t work – there was always something getting in the way. I got more finish times of 3.31 or 3.33 that I cared to recall now.

But did it always really go wrong? In hindsight I think the answer was “no”. Nothing went wrong but you know the old saying “If you always do what you’ve always done, You’ll always get what you always got” and that was it, I knew it, something needed to change. My training wasn’t focused enough. I was a one training pace fits all and I was on a plateau, nothing was going to change if I carried on like this.

With some focused training, a proper coach, some work on nutrition and some really hard work, I finally did it – It wasn’t pretty (as the photos clearly show!) but in October 2018 in the worst conditions I have ever experienced and with my running bestie Faye by my side, I crossed the Yorkshire marathon finish line in 3.24.

Was that the end of it? After all, it had been 3 years in the making. I should be satisfied, I had achieved my goal right? Of course not, I couldn’t leave it there.

2019 came and I did a lot more focused training. Speed work, track sessions, intervals, tempo runs, strength work (don’t forget this!) and a lot of commitment and drive. Next stop was the Manchester marathon 2019.

My Target? Well, I have to say, I was greedy and I mean really greedy. I wanted a 9 minute PB and a target finish time of 3.15. Why not?

What I got that day was a glorious 3.06.47 and a Boston qualifier. I cannot describe to you how that felt to me … other than to have my mum and daughter literally cheering and shouting me to the finish line (one of the longest last miles I think I have ever run!) was all the motivation I needed.

Now although I was greedy and had achieved a massive 18 minute PB, I knew progression would slow down. At this pace, big improvements didn’t happen, it was slow and steady chipping away. Working on all key elements of training – strength, sleep, nutrition as well as an intense training plan. But it was a really important day. Why? It was the day I started to allow myself to dream that maybe, just maybe, I could run a sub 3 marathon.

Don’t get me wrong …..impostor syndrome was huge, I thought I was too old, not quick enough, not as good as all those who had already achieved it…. but what did I have to lose? Somehow that took the pressure off and I started to just go with the flow a bit more. I thought I would just go with it and see what was the worst that could happen.

So in October the same year, I was lucky enough to get my second marathon major star and run in Chicago. My absolute favorite race and a truly amazing city (do you know they have a Nutella cafe – what more can you ask for?).

So with no pressure and with the words of my lovely friend ringing in my ears, “Just enjoy it Vicki, you are in Chicago and how amazing is that!” I did it. I finished with a 2 min 40 PB and a step closer to the dream.

I saw my gorgeous friend James who tried to join me for a few steps whilst giving me the biggest cheers before getting told to leave the course and then meeting up with my fellow team mates and posing by the Chicago bean and drinking the strongest Gin I have ever drunk was the icing on the cake!

So we hit the year of the pandemic, the dreaded 2020. I was due to claim Marathon major stars 3 and 4 in Boston and Berlin but neither happened. A new plan was hatched.

I found myself an amazing coach who I can now call a true friend. She pushed me, gave me the most brutal training known to man, worked me harder than I have ever worked before but she supported me , listened to my endless drone about anything and everything related to running and most of all, she made me believe I was good enough. You really do need a medal RunningJo10k!

But ….it wasn’t all plain sailing. I was training, but I had no race. It was dangerous, a risk, but I knew if I was sensible, followed Jo’s guidance and tried to be patient then something would come up. And guess what? It did.

It wasn’t the glamorous international marathon I had planned for and dreamed about but it was a race and I was ready – Goodwood 2020 and 11 laps of a racing circuit it was to be.

Lock down restrictions were only lifted and the race given the green light a couple of days before and I can honestly say that my biggest fear was the dreaded carb loading – what if I put myself through that only not to be able to race! Crazy I know!

Race day arrived and something just clicked. I actually truly believed I could do it. I was going to metronome the miles, stick to the pace, keep to my gel strategy and for once I was not going to “bank” the time at the start only to bonk later in the race. I was finally trusting in my coach and the plan we agreed. And guess what? It only bloody paid off.

The positives were that with 11 laps, you always knew what was coming next (oh yes that god damn wind trying to zap my energy every 2.5 miles nearly finished me off!). You got to see your spectators every lap which for me just made it the most special race ever with my husband Jason and best friend Alex cheering me on 11 times (when else do you get that in a race?!) and getting me across that finish line by actually jogging next to me. All I recall is them saying they couldn’t keep up with me at that pace for 10 steps but they will never know what that meant to me that day!

The negatives? Well 11 of anything is surely too many! The track is very exposed and can be unforgiving and it wasn’t Boston after all.

But head down, I banged out the miles in what turned out to be my most consistently paced race of my life and crossed the finish line in 2.58.47. A dream come true that still gives me goosebumps to this day. I had joined a special club that so many dream of. To put it into perspective, in Paris 2019 only 0.2% of women finished in under 3 hours. This is my proudest achievement and something that I hope to repeat.

But to leave you with the things I have taken from this experience:

* It took me a long long time to dare to dream that I could do it.

* Believing in yourself is a huge part of actually achieving this dream

* Never (and I mean never) compare you or your training to others – Am I good at this? No but I try

* Dream big and work really really hard

* Set yourself a realistic plan and get yourself a fantastic coach and support network

* Never give up – baby steps are good because good things come to those who wait (and those who work really hard obviously!)