From no running to a first half marathon – you can do it too

running Hackney half marathon for charity


As mentioned in my catch up post, I want to blog more this summer. I was planning on posting this last week but considering the current political scene in the UK and EU, posting about running did not seem appropriate. However, I just remembered that if there is one community that is very welcoming, supportive and friendly and does not care where you are coming from, it is the running community. If the current political situation in the UK is making you stressed, I can only encourage you to start running. You will decrease your stress levels and make new great friends. You can also do great charity work via running, as did Madeleine who ran her first half marathon in order to fundraise and help send a girl from Burkina Faso to school. 

If the current UK political situation is stressing you, I can only encourage you to start running. Click To Tweet

I have to admit that I am not scared of running long distances anymore. I’ve run many half marathons (the last one I ran was the North London half marathon  which was so much fun) and two marathons now so I know that I can do it. It’s such a powerful feeling to know that you can do something. As a running coach in training, I try to empower runners from my group as much as possible. For this reason, I am starting a Behaviour Change Coaching course with Future Fit, which I have been kindly offered, in order to further my knowledge. Hopefully my blog can inspire you to start running. I appreciate that you might feel discourage and think that you will never be able to do it. The hardest part is to start. As Madeleine, my first race was for charity. I hope that her journey from non-runner to half-marathoner will inspire you to start running. 

running hackney half marathon

From no running to running a half marathon – Madeleine’s story 

Let me be clear from the start: I am not a runner. Before starting the training for this half marathon at the bright age of 26, I had been “jogging” maybe seven or eight times in my life. I hated it each time, and was convinced that “I wasn’t sporty”. Sports aren’t huge in my family at all and while I was encouraged to play instruments and take acting classes as a child, I’d never really been let in on the benefits of sports. In fact, at school Sports used to be my worst subject and I really hated it.

The only physical activity I’d considered “in my reach” was yoga. It made me feel good and I liked the meditative aspect of it. So I started doing quite a bit of yoga, having read all about its benefits for the body and mind.

But one day I got stuck in my practice and felt like I wasn’t making much progress. Around the same time my flatmate tagged me on Facebook on a post about Vitality Run Hackney. My first reaction was to answer “no way!” (and that’s word for word what I said), but then a light bulb lit in my head. I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to exercise “differently”, to get past the current yoga blockage I was experiencing and train my muscles in a new way.

So I signed up, really quickly before I could change my mind. A bit later I connected the dots and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to fundraise for my friend’s charity, TuaRes, which sends girls in Burkina Faso to school.


I started training for this about three and a half months ahead of the date. I found a training plan on Vitality Run Hackney’s website, and Laureen sent me one from Bupa. I made my own mix of those two and training was going great, I really enjoyed it. My friend Steph who has run several halves and a tough mudder coached me and did my long runs with me, making it all super fun.

I found out that my knees were quite weak; I knew that after a few miles (depending on my state and the week’s training) they would start hurting. I did squats and knee exercises as advised by Laureen and a colleague of mine, and thought as long as I listened to my body I’d be fine.

After 2.5 months of this I got a bit bored. I felt like there was too much pressure, I felt the weight of people’s expectations and their questions on how my training was going, so I stopped. Not completely, but I stopped following the training plans that I’d been using and I got more excited by the fundraising. Work was busy and there were always excuses to do other things than go for a run.

running first half marathon

Getting to the start line

So to be perfectly honest, the last long run I did was 2 weeks before race day, and I did no short runs between then and the race. I should have kept moving and running a little bit, if only to give me the confidence that I was ready. I did run for 30 mins the night before the race, but my knees and my back started hurting. The result was that I felt super nervous the day before the race and slept terribly.

Thankfully my friend Steph had thought about lots of things that I hadn’t even considered. She lent me her running shorts, as the forecast was 26°C. She brought some grapes for me to have at the end, some bananas for me to have on the way to the race. She brought her headphones when I’d forgotten mine. I felt so lucky to have her on the day – equally though I realised how unprepared I was for this run, which made the nervousness grow.

I was in one of the last groups to get to the start line as I’d estimated my time to be 2:15 hours. So for 45 good minutes I chatted to Steph, pretending I wasn’t terrified.

So I started running, and my knee started hurting a few minutes into the run. It got better when my body warmed up, and the cheering and the excitement meant I was able to ignore it for as much as 10 miles.

The route, the cheering, the heat, the feeling

Those ten miles were just amazing. It’s hard to describe the feeling when a complete stranger encourages you when you’re really struggling. By 26°C, the run was tough. But I was on such a high. People spraying us with water hoses from their gardens to refresh us, kids high-fiving me, strangers shouting words of encouragements, bands playing to encourage us, people making banners to encourage all the perfect strangers that we were. It’s an experience I will never forget.

My time was good, I’d started super slow which allowed me to keep energy throughout. I planned a ½ mile banana-eating-walk at the seventh mile (I get really hangry when I run), all was going (a little bit too) well.

The painful end

At the 10th mile my knee started to really hurt. I stopped and thought I’d walk for a bit. I walked fast. And then my knee gave way and I felt a sharp pain. I slowed down, but it happened again. And then one more time.

By then all the excitement was gone, I felt at a complete loss and had no idea whether I should stop or keep going. I started walking really slowly. I remember feeling embarrassed that people were cheering me when I couldn’t run, feeling angry at myself for being too weak to finish, I remember feeling so much pain I just wanted to walk to the closest tube station and go home. I rang Steph and said I wasn’t going to finish, and could she meet me at the closest tube station. I was trying to find it on Google Maps, still hobbling along, and I walked past a doctor’s station where a man was lying on the floor literally screaming in pain, and the doctor was shouting out to his colleagues for help.

All of a sudden I snapped out of my misery.

Pride of finishing

I snapped out of my self-pity and back into reality. I was actually ok, and could probably get to the finish line (by then I had passed the 12th mile). I felt terribly sorry for this man who was obviously in great pain, but so thankful for having such a small injury. I called Steph back, asked if she would meet me and walk with me, which being an amazing friend she said yes to right away.

I was laughing and crying at the same time when I walked past the finish line, where more friends were waiting.

The lessons learned were great – both in terms of listening to myself and trusting myself. While I’m not sure I will ever run a half marathon again (I’d have to be REALLY SURE that my knees were ready), I will certainly keep running. I’ve already signed up for a 10k run by night in Stockholm where my friend lives, and I hope to have more opportunities to have this much fun.

running half marathon beginner

Thanks to her efforts, Madeleine has exceeded her fundraising target and is helping to send five girls to school. FIVE. This is truly amazing. Despite a tough race, I am so glad that Madeleine decided to sign up for another one. There are plenty of distances that can be run! People make the mistake that you are only a true runner if you run long distance. It could not be further from the truth. So don’t be scared, get started and enjoy the runner’s high 😉

Are you considering signing up for a race? Tell me which one!

Do you remember your first race?

Do you like running for charity?

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