London Moonwalk 2018: we walked the walk, and limped the limp!

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As 2018 approached, I decided to pull a bit of time back for myself to concentrate on health, slow and steady weightloss and overall wellbeing, after 3 years of feeling like I’d given everything possible – and then some – to my three-year-old twins, my career and all the other demands.

One of the potential personal challenges that caught my eye was the London MoonWalk – I’ve seen reports about it before, and it’s always been a bit of a bucket list item for me… walking a marathon in London past loads of sights, through the night, in a bra, to raise awareness for breast cancer, and support for grant-making charity Walk the Walk….what’s not to love?!

This year was its 20th year running, so myself and friends Heather and Mark decided to sign up, and take on what is known to be a pretty fierce challenge! Here are inspiring words from Heather about her own motivation behind doing this challenge:

“This year I will have made it to ten years living with stage IV breast cancer in my liver and bones, which is a small miracle given that I had a roughly 15% chance of making it to this point. When my friend Donna suggested doing the London Moonwalk it seemed like a brilliant way to mark this moment so I couldn’t say no and roped my husband Mark into it too. 

Cancer will always loom over my future, but I learned to accept this by understanding that a life isn’t valued by its length, but its depth of experience. Nearly ten years ago I promised myself that having cancer wouldn’t reduce my world. I have travelled to new places (in the photo that’s me in Swedish Lapland :)), forged new friendships and deepened old ones, learned new skills and taken on new challenges. This seems like a good tradition to continue, so on 12th May, Donna, Mark and I will walk 26.2 miles at night through London for the Moonwalk – my toughest physical challenge since bring diagnosed with breast cancer!

Walk the Walk is a grant making breast cancer charity that gives funds to charities big and small that are involved with breast cancer in order to make a difference to the lives of as many people as possible affected by the disease. This is where you come in! If my story has made you smile or stop and think for a moment, please consider sponsoring me and the team just a few quid so that everyone affected by breast cancer can be given the support they need and are offered treatments that give them the chance to live their lives. Please donate so that there can be many more positive stories like mine.”

So signed up we were, and the next thing to think about was training. I was already in training for the London Marathon, happing the month before, so that had me covered, and Mark and Heather covered some epic walked distances during their own training.

We received pre-walk packs with useful training info, as well as the famous white Wonderbra – ready for decorating – and a rather fetching pink cowboy hat, this year’s theme being Wild Wild West.

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So it was feathers and hot glue at the ready, to get me decorated for the big day!

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One of the elements that makes the challenge such a challenge – distance aside – is the fact that it’s overnight. In my own case there was zero rest beforehand; my husband was away the day of the event so I had my 3-year-old twins for 11 hours – i.e. NOT a restful situation – and then a quick handover when my husband returned, before I grabbed my bag and headed off, already feeling wrecked, thinking… how am I going to walk a marathon now?! But as I got closer to Clapham Common the number of people wearing pink, and all sorts of other random bright sparkly clothing, increased, as did the buzz, and I thought, LET’S DO THIS!

There was a fab pre-race atmosphere at the starting area, with a huge tent where we were all given some food, and there was even a bit of line dancing for those with energy to burn! I met Mark and Heather there, and we were all impressed with the bra efforts! Some people had gone to serious effort – was amazing to see everyone’s talk on the Wild Wild West theme.

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A bit of food, and a bit of caffeine, and before we knew it we were off!!

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There were men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes. We heard the oldest woman doing it was in her eighties – amazing!!

This was the course map – click here to see the Relive animation of the route we took.

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As I’d trained for and completed the London Marathon, which I’d run the month before, I was feeling fit and ready, thinking… A walked marathon… this will be tiring but manageable. And the reality? This was gruuuuueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeling!!

Bet we did it! And like all epic challenges, getting that medal – and being able to stop said challenge – was a very very sweet feeling!!

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I feel so happy to have ticked this off the list, and when I look at this medal I’ll feel incredibly proud – it sure wasn’t easily won! Will I walk another marathon? To be honest, I’d sooner run one – more training needed, but you’re finished a lot faster and the recovery – for me anyway – was substantially quicker!

The London Marathon took me 5:55, and to walk the MoonWalk walk it took us 9:17, so 3 hours 22 mins longer on my feet… and boy did my legs protest towards the end, especially my ankles! I’d say about an hour of that time was for loo breaks – we stopped 3 times, but had to queue about 20 mins each time. It was a long time to be walking/standing, and the end was more of a zombie march than power walk!

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It was a rewarding challenge to undertake, and crucially we (well, mostly Heather!) raised over £1000 for Walk the Walk, which organises the world-famous midnight MoonWalk challenge and takes teams of women and men all over the world raising money for vital breast cancer causes: https://moonwalklondon2018.everydayhero.com/uk/we-are-mammary

London Marathon done… now what?!!

I started this blog to document my journey from zero fitness in July 2017 to the London Marathon in April 2018.

When I started getting back into running last summer, my twins had just turned 3, and the 3 years of coping with pretty enormous amounts of stress had left me pretty burnt out across the board.

The challenges that come from having two newborns, then two toddlers, and managing a career, with no family living nearby, are huge. And for us, as one has had kidney failure from birth, we have a whole extra layer (medicalised care/hospital appointments and stays/stress and anxiety/responsibly/restriction and limitations) that is pretty hard to ever truly get across to those not in a similar camp.

In summary, there wasn’t a huge amount of time left for self-care in the early years of the twins’ arrival, but by the time they turned 3, I was just about feeling afloat enough to try to grasp some time back for me. When I see other mums able to get back into fitness 5 or 6 months after having a baby (even sooner sometimes!), I’m so pleased for them that it’s possible, but it does hit home just how hammered we were, by everything, which can be really saddening, looking back.

However, I’m just relieved I got there eventually, and the journey to the marathon was incredibly therapeutic: it forced me to find the time, somewhere, to start routinely looking after myself physically, as well as mentally. Also, having the chance to facilitate Great Ormond Street having more money in the pot has felt great too – allowing me to feel proactive. Feeling a lack of control is unfortunately something you feel daily when you’re dealing with a serious health condition in a child, so anything to combat that is a plus.

Having this blog has really helped, as the accountability – knowing people have been reading, or following me on Facebook/Instagram – has motivated me to get out there on days I haven’t felt I’ve had the motivation or energy. It’s also helped emotionally too; I love to write, but have had little time, and this has created a space to get thoughts down without too much time/commitment needed. It’s been an enlightening experience, and quite calming.

I’ve thought about “what’s next”, now the London Marathon is over, and I’ve done the various updates I’ve planned to do (on the Moonwalk, fundraising in my Irish village etc). I’ve decided that – as my weighloss journey is still ongoing (*loud sigh*), and I want to keep the fitness up – I’ll carry on with the blog, as a way of keeping up that motivation. Even if no one reads it, it will be a forum where I can keep myself on track, and can’t phone it in!

Today was Day One of the next phase: exercise and diet with a focus on getting the number on the scale down, as well as concentrating on the fitness.

It’s 30 weeks (209 days) to Christmas Day. I’m not going to set a very fixed goal, but hoping to get a couple of stone off by then. Any more, then bonus!

So it was trainers on this morning, and the fruit is stocked up. Onwards and upwards!!

I’m a London Marathoner!

Before last week’s 2018 London Marathon, 1,042,960 competitors had finished the race since it started in 1981. For the new total add to that the more than 38,000 who finished this year, despite the grueling conditions… a number than includes ME! Even though it was the hottest London Marathon IN HISTORY – and that even slight heat on a day when I’m pottering around is almost too much for me – I managed to get round the 26.2 miles to complete what will forever remain one of the most memorable events of my life.

I went into the day with a plan to enjoy myself as much as possible, and a loose/very adjustable time goal of around 5:15. When I realised we were going to be running in conditions resembling a sauna, I adjusted that goal to “5 something”, hoping to come in anywhere under 6 hours; I’ve ran one previous marathon – 11 years ago, pre-twins, when I was much fitter/slimmer than now! – and I did that in 4:36, so thought being in the one-hour-above bracket versus two meant I would feel less far away from that time! Saying that, I knew I’d be thrilled to finish at all, given the heat and the fact that I was only a few months back to running, but I was delighted to come in at 5:55, so was doubly thrilled to have hit my revised goal as well as have finished the thing!

It was the most brutal run of my life, and I saw so many runners collapse along the route and have to be tended to/stretchered off; I felt grateful that I got over the finishing line unscathed. Over 100 very seriously ill runners were taken to hospital during the race, with many more treated on the course, and it proved to be an even more mammoth task than so many of us had anticipated/predicted. A marathon is epic… A marathon in heat? Almost unbearable for many.

My thoughts – like so many others – are with the family of Matt Campbell who so tragically died just under 4 miles from the finish line. The ‘Finish for Matt‘ campaign will help to ensure that the legacy he leaves is a large one; at the time of writing this his JustGiving page – which he set up to raise money for Brathay Trust in his father’s memory – had reached a total of more than £327,500.

That spirit, which has led to a massive drive to remember him, was so evident on the day itself. As I approached the starting area in Greenwich Park the morning of the marathon, uplifting classical music blared from speakers, and I felt the first choked-throat moment of the day – what was the first of many!!

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The atmosphere overall was fizzing… with nerves, excitement, goodwill, emotion… everyone felt part of something incredibly special. Here I am before the start, still relatively fresh-faced, hiding in the shade while I can!

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It was great meeting up with other Great Ormond Street runners too. Hats off to this guy who ran in a costume that must have been baking!

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After bag drop, and an epic loo queue, it was time for the national anthem, and the cheer when the queen hit the start buzzer at 10am was insane! This was actually happening!!

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Us ‘regular’ runners were able to watch that part on screens as we were starting in waves after this point, and then it was our turn to line up in our relevant pens, ready for take-off!

I was near the end of the starters and looking ahead at 40,000 people – people from all walks of life with the same goal that day – was really moving, and I felt moments from tears several times.

The vests of the 3 runners in front of me said ‘In Memory of my husband’, ‘In Memory of my dad’, and ‘In Memory of my son’, and looking at those words – fighting back the tears – it hit home how for so many of us we’d already dealt with more than a marathon distance could throw at us, even in the heat. If we could come through what we all had, then we could do this!

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I didn’t cross the start line until 10.50am, and with the heat and nerves I already felt energy sapping, but that soon came back as I crossed the start line to the cheers of the crowd, and we were off! Only 26.2 miles to go – easy peasy!!

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The London Marathon itself is a jumble of so many things: crowds; people shouting your name; costumes; run-through showers; thinking ‘one foot in front of the other; looking out for friends and family; taking in landmarks; having an ‘OH MY GOD I’M RUNNING ACROSS TOWER BRIDGE’ moment!!’

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Most people I saw were running in a charity vest, and it was so moving to think of all the reasons why people were running. My own – raising money for Great Ormond Street who treat my three-year-old son’s kidney failure – was something I thought about in the darker moments, reminding myself of everyone who’d supported my run and digging deep to push on, and thinking of how much GOSH will be doing for us in the coming years. Every time that voice said, ‘you can’t do this’, I thought of why I was doing it, and for who, and kept putting one foot down and then the other, and repeat and repeat.

It was great having people to look out for on the day, and what really helped me was knowing at what mile to look for people – the crowds are so insane, with everyone calling your name to support, that it can be easy to miss people you actually know! The spots my husband and friends went to were Mile 6, just round the bend of the Cutty Sark, around Mile 14 (top end of Narrow Street, which was a top tip from someone as a quiet-ish location, which it was!), and then Mile 24, just after the Blackfriars Underpass. Here I am then and I can tell you the smile here is all about seeing my husband/friends, and knowing the end is close, and not reflective of how I’m physically feeling at that point!!

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And then it was on to the homeward straight! It was such a strange feeling at this point – my entire body feeling like lead, but the thought of finishing and the excitement of the crowds making the adrenaline pump. Running down towards the palace and around the corner onto the Mall, with everyone cheering, is seared into my memory as a TOP moment!! Just indescribable!

Here I am on the final approach… willing myself to get to the end, and get that medal!!

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And then, the final part of a long journey… 26.2 miles, and 6 months of training…

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BLING!!

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A journey complete, and the running bug officially kickstarted again after it being pushed to the side (i.e. splattered with a sledgehammer!) since I had my twins almost 4 years ago. The past 6 months of training, building my fitness from scratch around an already hectic schedule, has seen me have to reach very deep and as well as feeling fitter and stronger physically, the same can be said for mentally and emotionally.

The London Marathon may not be a marathon I’ll ever have the opportunity or luck to do again – and it might be a distance I never get to repeat – but forever I’ll have the honour of saying I’m one in a million… a London Marathon finisher!

London Marathon: T minus 2 days!

This time two days from now I’ll have run the London Marathon! Eek!! This will be such an emotional day for me: fundraising for a charity close to my heart (Great Ormond Street), and the conclusion of 9 months where I have focused on trying to rebalance life as a freelancing parent of twins, where there is also a serious chronic illness to manage.

When you’re the parent of a child with additional needs, the needs of their health and care – even if that means big sacrifices within the family unit – have to always come first. Doesn’t mean to say you have to lose yourself, but more that if you’re not careful that could easily happen.

Subsequently, adding ‘self-care’ as a regular item to my task list has been a focus, and I feel great benefits from carving out a regular slice of time for the marathon training.

I’ve been officially training for 6 months (and spent 3 before that building up to a half-marathon), and even though it seemed like a mission to begin with and a big chunk of time to commit (and a lot of people did think I was quite mad taking this on, on top of everything!) it really has gone in a flash.

6 months on I’m fitter, healthier, stronger, happier. It would have been so easy – and tempting, to be honest! – to put it on the long finger, and say “I’m too busy; I’ll never be able to do that … I’ll start a bit down the line”. But here I am, about to run a marathon!

I still have a chunk of weight to lose, but I have lost quite a bit during the training, and most importantly I feel good, and I feel like I’ve found a bit of myself again that had been swallowed up by twins, 12 months of reflux, kidney failure, vats of meds, hundreds of blood tests, various unexpected life emergencies, managing work on top of all of that…

I feel I’ve rewired my brain a bit during the last few months, and now a run is often the answer to a stressful day with the kids – not that glass of wine/calorific treat!! (Nice as they are!) It’s important for the kids to have healthy role-models – especially my son who will really need to mind himself and his health – and I love that they now think it so normal that on Sunday mornings they have time with their dad while I run, and they seem so proud when I come back from a race with a medal. Sunday’s medal will most definitely be the best yet!!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/donna-hillyer

 

And then there were 4…

Yes, this is not a drill… 4 weeks left to the London Marathon!!

With my longest run now under my belt, I thought I’d reflect on the last 5 months of marathon training.

What I’ve learned:

  1. Running is hard, but the feeling after a run, once it’s done, is hard to beat!
  2. Running very long distances is still easier (and often less tiring) than dealing with three-year-old twins!!!
  3. Having a week-by-week fitness schedule in place is the only possible way for me to fit training in and around work, kids, and all the other crazy drama going on in our lives
  4. In this phase of my life, audio books and podcasts are way more my thing when running as opposed to music. I’ve been on some really interesting journeys on my runs through my phone. Makes me think back to my last marathon, 11 years ago, and training with a Discman!!
  5. Planning very long running routes in London around a public water tap/toilets is not easy! Thank you, Regent’s Park Hub, which has been a bit of a saviour to me
  6. Annoyingly, as your mileage goes up for marathon training, and your nutrition needs to increase to compensate, weight loss may slow; it has for me anyway. I’ve lost a good chunk of weight over the past 5 months, and feel my health/fitness has improved, but after the marathon know that what will be best for me and my weight loss journey is taking back the distance a bit, and mixing in another exercise one/twice a week, eg Zumba, HIIT
  7. Running is really, really good for stress. I’m now 8 months alcohol-free, and I’ve tried to train myself to reach for the trainers rather than a glass of wine when in the midst of high-level stress, or after a really tough day with the kids. Ironically, going for a run makes me feel more energised and able to deal with everything I’m juggling
  8. Social media accounts, like on Instagram and various running pages like Run Mummy Run and This Mum Runs London, are really motivating to follow. I’m so much more likely to put the trainers on, if I’ve been deliberating whether to run or not, if I’ve seen someone else has been able to suck it up and get out there. Particular useful during the horrendous weather of late!
  9. Good trainers are a must! I went to Runners World in King’s Cross, and had gait analysis done there, and it was so useful hearing the feedback, and learning where my foot needs to be supported (incidentally inside of the back of the heel as otherwise my foot goes in a little)
  10. The generosity of my friends and family continues to amaze me: from my husband’s support, taking the twins at the weekend after a busy week so I can run; to those who have sponsored me, donating money to the amazing cause that is Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital Charity. Thank you everyone. ❤️

Here’s to the final 4 weeks of training!!!

10 weeks to the London Marathon!

Ok, it’s all getting real now! The miles are ramping up – 18 miles tomorrow – which coincides, possibly in a good way, with life getting quite a bit busier and more stressful at the moment; it’s been useful having the outlet of running, and I feel in the habit of turning to it more readily for stress relief, which is positive all round.

February is a busy running month for me. I did a 10k last weekend, and have a half marathon in 2 weeks, with two more half marathons in March. Then the big day itself! That’s a lot of miles between now and 22nd April, so hopefully see a few more cms drop from the waistline/pounds decrease on the scales too.

I’ve got my new trainers ahead of the big day (experts recommend changing every 300-400 miles), which I’ll be breaking in over the next few weeks, my GOSH vest, and am starting to experiment with various fuels on my long-distance runs, which will hopefully help on the day. All of that is really helping to make the big day feel a lot closer! I wore my GOSH vest on my long run (16 miles) two weeks ago to wear it in a bit, and I got a lot of ‘well done’ and ‘you can do it’ and ‘great cause’, which felt really motivating as well as quite emotional; I’m clearly no Mo Farah and having people recognise my efforts, and be supportive of the cause, was really heartening.

I’ve reached 49% of the minimum fundraising goal I’ve set, and am really pleased with that. Thanks to everyone who’s dug deep and supported me on the journey so far. I read the other day that a marathon is the training, and the 26.2 miles on the day itself the victory lap, and I thought they were wise words!! The training is quite a slog, but I can’t think of a cause more worthy. For anyone who did plan to send a few pounds to Great Ormond Street Hospital via my channel, here’s my link!

I’ll continue to post regularly with small updates on my Facebook page!

Join me for a run in February (‘virtually’, at least!)

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Calling all runner/walkers/non-exercisers who might be up for a small challenge!

Fancy running (or walking) a 5k or 10k in February and at the same time help raise money for the amazing Great Ormond Street Hospital and Children’s Charity, and bag yourself a cool GOSH pin in the process? If so, read on!!
I’ve set up two virtual runs here, with all the details about how it works on each post:-

> 10K (£10): https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/february-10km-run-in-support-of-great-ormond-street-hospital-childrens-charity-tickets-42401997516

> 5K (£5): https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/february-5km-run-in-support-of-great-ormond-street-hospital-childrens-charity-tickets-42402344554
For my London Marathon training, in February I’m set to do 164km (102 miles) – would be great to have virtual company for some of those!!

(Read about why I’m running here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/donna-hillyer)