There is something about doing the same thing over and over that takes the sparkle from it.  Work, for example.  Yes definitely work.  Unless you are blessed with the kind of brain to switch off and do a menial task day in day out this is the first thing that springs to mind.  The second perhaps are holidays.  If you visit the same place year on year it must soon begin to lose its appeal.

The third for me has to be the London Moonwalk 2013.

Readers of my blog will know that I was excited to do my “double” this year.  My personal challenge was to run the Brighton Marathon and then four weeks later, walk the London Moonwalk.  Both personal challenges and in turn raising a few pennies for two well deserving charities.

The Brighton Marathon was the first run I have done of this distance which made the experience was not only exhausting, but extremely exhilarating.  Exactly the words I would have used to describe the Moonwalk the first time I did it.

I am the kind of person who likes to be alone when faced with a challenge.  I am never one to have a friend with me at an important doctor’s appointment, and I shooed my Mum away whilst I was in labour with my two children choosing only my husband to be present because he had to be! It does not bother me to eat dinner alone in a restaurant, nor to sit alone in the cinema.  May be that is a compliment to myself, that I enjoy my own company. 

The latter may have been the reason that for the second time in as many years I decided to take myself off to London, spend the evening among a crowd of thousands and spend the night walking 26.2 miles around London – alone. 

This was perhaps many of the factors pertaining to why I didn’t find the Moonwalk that interesting this year.  I find it hard to say that.  I know there are thousands who enjoyed the challenge and have registered their interest straight away when they returned from the walk. After all, the reason I chose to do the walk alone this year was because I really enjoyed it alone last year right?

The first problem I found was that the venue had changed.  Normally the walk starts in Hyde Park, which was me is extremely easy to get to by train.  This year the walk started at Battersea Power Station, not so easy. 

I decided to use a clever website that allowed you to book someone’s drive for the night and then walk from the house to the start line.  This meant that I drove from home; through the centre of London to park up in a residential area I didn’t 100% trust.  I was aware of the neighbours looking at my car, and then looking at me wearing my t-shirt that guaranteed to most that I would be away from my car for at least 6 hours of the evening, with the said car sporting a Home Counties radio sticker in the rear…  I double checked the locks and set out on my way to the Power Station.

Typically of me I was early, so I joined the back of a very long queue.  I kept myself busy by looking at the fantastic ladies (and men!) and the efforts they had made with their bra’s, I also did my good Samaritan bit by taking photo’s of the groups of ladies who were struggling to get photo’s together. 

Finally the tent doors opened and we were on our way.  I had a bit of a star-struck moment when I brushed against Nina Barough (the founder of the Moonwalk back in 1996) but that soon went when she raised a megaphone just above my ear to welcome the Moonwalkers (she is quite short and I am quite tall so the end of the megaphone met quite beautifully with the bottom of my ear!).

Being one the first into the tent meant that I could head straight to the massage section and get warmed up.  This brings me onto my next problem.  It was VERY cold.  So the thought of taking off my t-shirt to expose my carefully decorated bra was not very appealing, and given the sights before me the other ladies were feeling the same.  But I managed to prise my shirt from me to enter into the spirit of things to get a massage done, and get a temporary tattoo applied.

I calculated that I had about 3 hours in the tent to occupy myself before we set off for the walk.  I knew of about 10 other ladies there that night who were doing the walk.  I should have text them to find out their location and met up.  I should have been social and I SHOULD have made more of an effort to soak up the atmosphere, but I didn’t.  I sat on the ground, shivering and read my kindle.  Stopping only for minutes at a time to glance at the time and check my phone.

At this point it sounds like I was having quite a miserable time.  This isn’t true.  I was just cold, and dare I say it, a little lonely.  I just wanted to get going, complete the walk and get home to bed.

There was a poignant minute’s silent for absent Moonwalkers, a quick cuddle with strangers next to me and I was on my way to the start line.  I would like to add again that it was EXTREMELY cold.  There had been a heavy downpour an hour before so the ground was damp adding to the coldness.  I don’t normally feel the cold too much but even I couldn’t bring myself to take my t-shirt off.  As I looked around me it was clear that I was one of the brave ones.  People were wearing their coats, gloves, hats and scarves.  To the spectator this didn’t look like a mass event that was raising awareness by having people wear brightly decorated bra’s, this looked like a big crowd of people walking through London, for reasons unknown.

This brings me onto another problem.  As I said earlier the event is normally held in Hyde Park.  This is a busy park in London and as you pound for the first two to three miles of the walk there are a large group of people to support you.  Many are there to support friends and family who are walking, but many are also passers by who are enjoying their nice day at the park and are hanging around to see what the event is all about.  The change of venue to Battersea meant that the only supporters were the ones for the friends and family. So as we set off (at this point I really had to stop myself from breaking into a run to get warm as quickly as possible!) to the sound of a claxon and pleads from Nina to take our shirts off to expose our bra’s, it was head down, walk fast and lets get the job done.

In past Moonwalks, the route has always been breathtaking.  Not to say that is wasn’t this time round, it’s just that in my opinion they got it round the wrong way  Historically you were taken round the monuments of London first (Big Ben, Embankment, Buckingham Palace) where the crowds were in abundance and cheering you on.  The second part of the walk is normally spent watching drunks fall out of nightclubs, and avoiding the puke and leers of the young men out and about. That in itself is quite amusing. Having this round the other way, made the walk quite boring for the first half.  There wasn’t even the token group of lads to wolf-whistle you along (may be it was the fact that we all still had our tops on!), just long dark streets with the odd car rolling by to give you a beep. This too was quite concerning. There were points at the start of the walk where I was walking in down a back street alone, with only a few lamps to guide me along.  It was then that I realised the risk I was taking being alone, and this made me walk that bit quicker.

I seemed to be “cat and mousing” with a lady for a good two miles around this time.  She would reach me and then pass me, only to slow to get a drink or some food which is when I would catch her until she slowed again.  It was at the stage where were walking next to each other that we began to strike up conversation.  It is amazing the things that you will find to talk about to a stranger when you have to.  We were both alone, both cold and both bored.  Before long we had put the worlds to rights and we were at mile 22 where she stopped for the toilet and I carried on the last 4.2 miles back alone again.

I was grateful for the distraction but now I just wanted to get the walk done.  I was aware that I would then have to walk the 2 miles back to the car from the finishing line and drive home from London (the lady I was walking with was from Scotland, she was flying home that afternoon, it stunned me that people would make all that effort!), so as much as I was annoyed at my extra journey I found comfort in the thought that I would hopefully be home and tucked up in bed in a couple of hours.

I crossed the finishing line alone, without any jubilation and scowled at the lady who tried to give me a medal for the Half Moonwalk (13.1 miles). I glanced up at the time and realised that I had completed the walk in just less than 6 hours – exactly the same time as I had the year before.  Yet, the feelings I were experiencing were completely different.

Last year I hung around the tent.  I got a hot chocolate and I stretched my legs out in a short walk back to the other walkers to cheer them on, proudly flashing my finishers’ medal.  This year I continued to walk to the exit and hot-foot it back to my car.  Once home I showered quickly and climbed into bed with a sense of satisfaction that it was done.

Before the walk, I had been toying with the idea of it being my last Moonwalk for a while, and my feelings throughout the event and after confirmed this for me.  I cannot work out if it was the event that has lost its sparkle or me who has lost enthusiasm. Deep down I suspect a bit of both.  Either way it does not take away the amazing achievements of all the walkers on the night, not to mention the volunteers who stood in that cold weather cheering us on.

I always said that one year I would like to volunteer for the event which I will think about for next year.  I do know for certain that I don’t think I want to walk it for a while.

Where you there?  What did you think of the event?

So for now, its time to hang my marathon trainers up and look forward to my balmy summer evening runs and early morning gym sessions.

Winter training – DONE!

I am normally a VERY good sleeper. I jokingly tell people that I could sleep on a clothesline, and despite the weighty logistics of this, I imagine it’s true. But the night before the Brighton Marathon this was certainly not true.

We had travelled down to a beautiful little B&B in Eastbourne for the weekend (Seaview Guest House, on the sea front, immaculately clean and the breakfasts are delicious.  It also happens to be owned by my big sister, so these comments are hugely unbiased, though click through the links and you will see the amazing reviews!).  I wanted to take the opportunity to spend time with my family and treat the kids to a little weekend by the seaside, and being en route to Brighton, Eastbourne was perfect for this.

For two days I battled with my thoughts.  This was the first marathon I have competed in, I really did not know what to expect.  I was constantly checking the weather updates, checking my race number, the time of the event etc.  Then I would relax, the jitters making way for excitement when I would tell myself to “Just ENJOY the experience”. This quickly darted to one side whilst my mind began to panic about the day ahead. So despite my comfortable surroundings (seriously, check out this B&B, did I mention its number 12 on the Trip Advisor B&B’s in Eastbourne?!), my reassuring husband dealing wonderfully with my snappiness to ANY question (“No I DO NOT want a coffee! Do I sound like I need caffeine??!”) and the glass of wine I had (purely medicinal, you’ll never imagine the shakes you get pre marathon!), I lay awake most of the night, on a night where rest was probably the most important factor to completing a 26.2 mile run…!!

It was a sketchy and rushed start to the day but we were Brighton-bound by 6am. After realising that time really wasn’t going to stand still for me, and that I WAS actually going to have to do this marathon I relaxed and started to suck in the atmosphere of race day.

So as I took my position at the start line (well I say line, the start Corel….I was in the pink one where I had predicted my finish time to be between 4 and 5 hours). I shivered my way to the start dome and prayed that I would get through this injury free.

The first of my niggles began half way into the first mile.  This was something I did not account for. My running tights were catching on my bright orange Multiple Sclerosis Society running vest (worn for the first time). The constant snagging between the good material and the bad got to me until about mile 5 when it became the least of my worries. The sun began to come out.

If you have read my previous posts, you know that all my marathon training has been done in winter conditions.  I have dodged snow flakes, endured awful wind and got soaked to the skin with rain showers.  One condition that I did not train however in was the sun, or rising temperatures.  This was one of the main things about the event I was dreading knowing it was in April and the weather being predictably, well, unpredictable.

You could feel the sense of doom around me.  The first murmurs of “uh oh, here comes the sun” were heard around mile 5, and as the hazy cloud made way for the bright sunshine, we were sweating our way up to mile 13 with not even a whisper of a sea breeze we were promised.

But I was feeling positive.  I was having a strong run and the energy in the crowd was tremendous.  I had managed to get myself in with the 4.30 hour pacers (these guys must be able to do two hour marathons with how cool and composed they were all the way round!) and they kept the mood jovial and the chat chirpy.

Reaching the half way mark was a relief.  Anyone who has run distances will tell you that for the most part the battle is in your head.  And this begins at the half way mark:

“Ok Cols, half way there”

“You are over the half way now”

“It’s only a 13 mile run”

“One and a half hours to go, you can do this”

“Keep thinking of how you will feel when this is all over”

And of course the crowds were beginning to thicken.  This is something that I have never experienced before - literally hundreds of people calling my name and shouting encouraging things to me.  And the boost I needed at that point, my husband shouting the loudest at me and snapping the cheeky picture you can see at the top of this post!

You meet many people on your journey through 26.2 miles yet I could not tell you their names.  I spoke to the experienced marathon runners at the beginning with their Garmins poised for their split times. There were an abundance of charity runners in tutu’s, nappies (yes really – he ran past me!), wigs and morph suits. There were the extreme charity runners in donkey costumes. I passed a man running in flip flops, several people running along with wheelchairs and perhaps the most inspiring, a blind man with Multiple Sclerosis, being lead round the course by two helpers all proudly wearing the same vests I was.

I was lucky enough to see the elite men and women go sprinting along the other side of the road, but my next glimpse of them was to be on telly a week later –sensational finishing times!

Near the beginning of the race, I had been chatting to another runner who had done the Brighton Marathon a few times before.  I asked him where he thought the “wall” was and he said it was around mile 19-20.  It wasn’t so much that I hit the “wall”.  I wasn’t particularly tired, I knew I was near the end (“only a 10k run to go Cols”) and although it was warm, it wasn’t stifling or too uncomfortable.  But there were things bothering me: I was bored, I needed the toilet and I was feeling increasingly sick from all the sugary “energy” drinks and gels I was taking on.  I needed this race to end.

Up until this point I had been ahead of the 4.30 hour pacers I mentioned earlier, but I could hear them gaining on me.  I would be damned if I was going to run all that distance and not get under 4 and a half hours so I drew up as much energy as I could muster into my legs to stride out those final miles.

It was in those final miles the crowds got even thicker, the cries of encouragement became louder.  Runners grabbed their children from the crowds and carried them to the finishing line and tears of joy, relief and pain were pouring out.  All through this I pounded on.  Looking animatedly from left to right for a glimpse of my family but it was just so busy.  I had seen my sister at mile 25 which had encouraged me to run faster, this was a moment to make my family proud.

The 2013 Brighton Marathon welcomed 9,011 runners; I finished in position 4,362 so just about in the first half of the finishers! My finish time was 4 hours and 27 minutes.

I completed my day with proud hugs from my supportive family and after a long drive home, a very large glass of wine!

This was the first time I have ever run a marathon distance, and it certainly will not be my last.  The bug has well and truly been caught and I have found myself frantically looking for the next marathon event to train for. So watch this space……!

*For those of you who wish to still sponsor me for this event I have been raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Please click here to visit my fundraising page.

**My next charity event is on 11th May 2013 and is the London Moonwalk. This is raising money for various cancer charities and involves walking 26.2 miles round London, in my bra through the night! If you would like to sponsor me for this please click here.

***And finally, my sister and I will be running the Eastbourne Race for Life on 23rd June for Cancer Research.  Our team name is the Seaview Sirens and you can sponsor us by clicking here.

I attended a 5th brthday party recently (nothing unusual in that - Its widely known that my children have a better social life than me!).  This party was the classic kind, you know with pass the parcel, musical statues and musical bumps.  The kind of party we have all had the pleasure of attending as children ourselves and now drag our own little darlings along to.

What stood out to me at this party was just how much my eldest son has inherited my competitive streak. (chip of the old block).  Having nearly given himself severe cramp all over from standing as still as he could, he made it to the final two of musical statues.  If it wasnt for another eagled-eyed Mum spotting his flickering eye lid (Hayden, WHY did you have to blink!?!) he'd have won.

So as he skulked off leaving the other child basking in his victory I said all the things I was supposed to:

"Never mind darling, you did really well" I enthused.
"I wanted to win Mum" he barked.
"I know angel, but you were very good and it was only because he didnt blink", I encouraged.

Content that I had done enough of the "encouraging Mum" bit, I let him trot off.

However, I was seething.

He SHOULD have won.  He was the BEST!  And whilst I was sat there with a silly proud grin on my face throughout the game, the grin was actually a grimace.  Willing it end so that I could see my son, yes MY son the best musical statue player in world win a bag of sweets.

Yes I am aware I have a problem......I am fiercely competitive.  This is perhaps not a bad thing.  My competitive streak has seen me through many (and subsequently successful) job interviews.  I have exceeded sales targets and improved on many a race time when running.  I have also lost sleep over getting the best report for college, got stressed over the quality of my work, and literally thrown up whilst crossing the finishing line at one particular 5k race whilst having to get past a runner from the rival running club.

This streak has lessened over the years because it has had to.  Becomng a parent has calmed me because being the control freak I am, I cannot control my children's personalities.  I can no longer flit from one job to another to achieve more, because my family life requires some stablity (and locality).

I can however adapt my competiveness to suit my current lifestyle.  I recently took part in the London Moonwalk and managed to get a personal best on my time (without throwing up or causing any injury).  I am able to get the most hits on my website at work because I can control the content, and I can also work on my running speed at the gym rather than competing in 100's of road races.

The kids sports days are coming up soon.  Most parents are excited, maybe a little nervous for their children.  I on the other hand am staying focused and have only one race in mind.  The Mum's race that I WILL win. 

God help my boys....!

Mile 24.  I am pretty much at the wall.  My legs are not even aware they are carrying me, they are just working on memory from the past 24 miles of the walk. 

I see a pedestrian-crossing up front and nearly burst into tears.  The light is green.  If I can just walk that bit quicker, run even...I may just make it in time. 

I quicken my pace and the look of pure sympathy appears on the marshalls face as she glances at the lights.  Her hand goes up in front of her to stop me from crossing.  "Sorry", she says.  And I cry.

Not big heartbreaking sobs.  That would be embarassing.  But the silent tears that appear when you least expect them.  The ones that are normally had when you are alone.  Not walking through the streets of London at dawn, along with 15,000 other walkers.

"I'm sorry", she projects again, this time wth her arm softly round my shoulders "I know it must hurt". 

"Yes", I whisper, frantically marching on the spot desperately trying to keep my legs from giving up on me.

"I envy you". She whispers back, dropping her hand down to her side.

"Envy me?" I question

"Yes", she continues.  "I am physically unable to do what you do, so I am doing this, in the hope that doing so I can contribute in my own way".

My tears stop. My legs march that little bit faster and before I know it the little green man is flashing at me prompting me to cross. 

I feel a gentle hand on my back.

"Go", she commands.  "You are on a really good time, get there and be proud".

I continue to walk and the tears falls again.  This time tears of determination, of courage, of strength.  The strength to get through this.  To get to the end. 

At the weekend I completed a night time 26.2 mile walk around London. 

For those of you who have not heard of London Moonwalk, this is an event which in its 15 years, has raised over £75 million for breast cancer charities.  I wont go into details, they have a fantastic website www.walkthewalk.org which will tell you all about the event and the charity.  This is to tell you of my experience of the event.

I first took part in this event 8 years ago.  Having failed to secure a London Marathon place I was looking for an alternative challenge.  I was told about this event by a work colleague who had done it the previous year.  I was sold by the stories of the Moonwalks' humble beginnngs, the concept that you do this event in your bra, to celebrate our womanly bodies and to make a point that this is for breast cancer research.  So why not?  Its a challenge, and ok its not a run like I had hoped, and certainly did not have the same credability of the London Marathon, but it sounded fun.  And it was.  That first 26.2 mile walk was exhausting, humbling yet gratifying.  I was hooked.

I was unable to compete in the years that followed.  I moved house and had two children in quick succession.  I was running competively and had no time to train for the event.

It wasnt until last year when I was telling a friend about the event that I had the urge to do it again.  Which I did. The experience was unchanged.  Only that it was bigger, colder and I was able to share this wtih a good friend who could also be proud of herself for taking part.

So you can imagine how gutted I was to have missed the online application spot last year as I was out of the country (residing in a villa in Spain, which quite rightly had no wifi!).  So, when the oppurtunity came up to take a friends place and take part in this years event, I nearly bit her hand off (well actually no, it was by email.  So I had to fight the urge to kiss the screen!).

But wth this elation was the feeling of panic.  I had two weeks notice and that was no way near enough time to train. 

I spent the follwing few weeks clocking as many miles as I could on foot.  Mostly in my lunch hour and given the state of the British weather recently this was also spent with a large umbrella in hand, dodging high winds and heavy rains.  But i did all I can.

But I had a new purpose in mind.  This was the first Moonwalk I was doing alone and I had a competitive head on my  shoulders this time round.  Gone was the usual "lets have fun" aspect and in its place was my "I need to get my best time EVER!" mentality.  This was my one chance to get the best time I could - really make the difference and make it as hard as I could for myself.  I wanted every mile to be as painful as every chemotherapy treatment.  I wanted every step to be as painful as the first time someone was told of their cancer, and I wanted every short breath to be as shallow as those who had lost the fight to this terrible disease.  I also wanted my jubilation as I crossed the finishing line to be as close to the feeling a survivor got when they received the "all clear" from cancer.  This had to count.

So off I set alone on the train with my focused mindset.

I admit, I was a little lonely. Everyone seemed to be in a team, or with at least one other.  And when Nina Brough (the founder) got on stage and asked us to give the person to the leff a massive hug I had an awful "alone" moment until this wonderful lady grabbed my hand and gave me the biggest hug.  I was ready.

Half way through the warm up, I left the tent to approach the start line.  There were quite a few others with the same idea so despite my best efforts, I was still at the back of the first group.  And I didnt actually cross the start line until 11:04pm.

But I was there.  And I was powering my arms up above my chest (which was beautifully presented in a bra made by a wonderful lady I met through twitter - that's another story).  By mile 5 I had lost count of the number of walkers I had overtaken, and as I made my way out of Hyde Park I was confident to have made a good start.

I shall digress slightly at this point, because i think it is an important point.

I get VERY annoyed at people who discredit the walk because it is just that.  A walk.  Because most of us put one leg in front of the other, it is assumed that we are able to do this over a large distance.  I am sure most of you have either said, or heard someone say somethng like this "Oh I couldnt run to the end of the road but I could walk for miles".  Could you?  Could you really walk 26.2 miles over night comfortably?  Because I am fit, and I struggled. 

When you run a marathon, there is this credablity that comes with it.  As running a marathon is hard.  But remember this.  The only difference in running a marathon over walking it, is that your feet hit the ground that little bit harder.  And you move that little bit faster (again this theory can be questioned, as my finishing time walking the marathon was very close to that of at least two people I know to have run the recent London Marathon).  You still use the same muscles and your body still requires the same nutrition. 

Don't get me wrong.  I am no way discrediting marathon runners,  I hope to be one next year and intend in training very hard for it, I just wanted to make the point that walking the same distance is equally as hard.  I have the blisters and the John Wayne walking stance to prove it!

By mile 14 I could honestly say that I hit that "wall".  I could feel the beginnings of a blister on my ankle, my bra straps were feeling very tight and I was beginning to get shin splints and fat-finger syndrome.  I had already been groped by a very drunk and disgusting clubber and to make it worse, someone with a limp had over taken me.  I was not feeling too good at all.

So I started to make a deal wth myself.  At mile 15 I will have my energy bar.  At mile 16 I will check my phone.  At mile 17 I will have some jelly babies.  If I make it that far I will then concentrate on counting my steps.  Once I get to a thousand steps I will have my second energy bar.  All these little goals helped, but the real encouragers were the volunteers.  These wonderful human beings were there for us all at every corner, every pedestrain crossing, every zebra crossing, every water station and every toilet stop.  No matter how cold it got, they still clapped and cheered as we walked on (and at one point they were offering free hugs - don't mind if I do!).  The poor souls must have been perishing and everso tired but they kept on.  And then I reached the mile 24 marker and my inspiring marshall who kept me going til the end.

So as I turned the corner back into Hyde Park I was on a mission.  I figured that I really couldnt hurt much more than I did already so I put the pain to the back of my head and marched on.

It was at this point that I was beginning to notice that the sun had had only just come up. Now on previous Moonwalks the sun was already up and rising rapidly in the sky when I was passing the mile 20 marker.  So I knew that my time was good.

My phone battery had run very low at this point so I had turned it off some miles before to save it for when I finished.  When i passed the 26 mile maker and very much on the home straight, I reached for my phone and switched it on.

I had to look twice at the time.  And then I looked again. 

It was just past 5am.  Surely I could not have done this in 6 hours?  Honestly that could not be possible.  I'm not a power walker, I am a recreational walker.  Yes I was determned but my goal was to finish by 7am.  And it was 5am.  Really?  I shook any pride out of my head, it must me wrong.

But I was here, the end was in sight.  As I glanced up at the official clock I could see that it read 5:17am.  Mmm, may be that was the hours and not the time then?  But then thats not right either!!  I was confused.

I crossed the finishing line desperate to ask someone the time.  I didnt need to.  The lady who gently placed the medal over my head confirmed it:

"Well done my darling, just over 6 hours is an amazing time, you should be very proud of yourself".

And I was.  Very.

That evening I bored everyone senseless on my achievemnt.  Tellng story after story until my celebratory glasse(s) of wine tired my buzzing head.  I lterally (seriously, LITERALLY!) climbed the stairs to bed.

I woke up this morning and I could barely move.  But I had a smile on my face. 

I did it.

I dedicate this blog post to everyone who has been touched by cancer