My long slow run (to the podium)
Alison Taylor’s decade long journey to a big race podium.
I did my first half marathon in Dec 2008. I’d always considered myself pretty fit, coming from a sporty family and doing athletics to a high standard as a teenager. My training for my first half marathon consisted mostly of gym sessions on anything but the treadmill. I didn’t really like running, so I’ve no idea why I signed up to a half marathon! The day itself was wet, windy, cold and snowy. Targeting a sub 2 hour finish, I crawled over the line in 2.10, amazed at how hard it had been and how unfit I actually was. The best bit of the day was the Pizza Express that evening.
Being extremely stubborn, I stuck with it, increasing the number of running sessions I was doing, and entering race after race until I eventually (after 7 races) finished a half in under two hours. I was ecstatic. I had my own strange version the ‘running bug’. I didn’t always want to go out for a run, but I always felt better when I had. I guess at the time I was running 20-25 miles a week.
I continued entering half marathons, and some shorter distances, and with the right training plan from my best friend who is an elite runner, and enough mileage, my times eventually reduced to 1.45.
I’d always known I would run a marathon at some point, and my first one was in 2011. A small event, 13 laps of a 2 mile loop in Gloucestershire, which wouldn’t suit everyone, but my logical mind enjoyed ticking off the laps. It was a very hot day in June and half the 100 field dropped out because of the heat, but I persevered despite hitting ‘the wall’ 8 miles in! Targeting a sub 4 hour finish, I was heart broken when I crossed the line in 4.55, just 5 mins before the cut off. It felt like unfinished business and as soon as I got home I entered the Chester Marathon scheduled for 3 months later, desperate for all those long runs not to go to waste. I crossed the line in 3.54, a PB by over an hour!
Over the course of the next few years I continued to race, mostly half marathons and marathons. My half marathon PB came down to 1.37 and my marathon PB 3.30, based on 30-50 miles a week training, one or two intense sessions a week plus a longish run. Finishing Chester for the 4th time in 3.30 felt like the pinnacle for me, and I was convinced I would never run quicker than that. It felt like a line in the sand for me, and I started to reduce my mileage. At the same time, I received the tragic news that my mother in law had been diagnosed with leukaemia. Life became too busy to fit in running alongside everything else, and when she died 6 months later I had started to put on weight and my mental state was suffering. If I was thinking straight, I would have started exercising again to combat the weight gain and the depression, but instead I comfort ate and drank for 2 years. By that point I had gained 3 stone and was in an even worse mental state.
In April 2017 something clicked, and I enrolled in a week at No 1 Bootcamp in Norfolk. Being away from home for a week was great, thinking about me and exercising to exhaustion made me sleep through the night. I lost 11 lbs in the week and had gained the motivation to start eating well and exercising more. Over the next three months I continued to lose weight and feel better about myself.
In July 2017 my Mum was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. It felt like life couldn’t get any harder, but armed with a stronger mind and body I became her full time carer and moved in with her. Exercise became my stress reliever, my time to switch off from the situation, and my way of maintaining the positivity and mental strength I needed to cope with the situation. Using a treadmill so I could stay close to Mum, my mileage was back up to 50 miles a week, plus body weight circuit training most days. My weight continued to reduce, partly through the stress of the situation, but also through the volume of exercise and improved nutrition.
In May 2018 I ran the Bosworth Half Marathon, my first race in 3 years. I had no idea what sort of form I was in, and my training had consisted of miles and miles of pretty easy running rather than any specific speed work or long runs, so I was amazed when I crossed the line in 1.32 and 9th woman.
A month later Mum died, and to cope with the grief my exercise routine increased. Having much more time on my hands, I was able to put more effort into a proper training plan, and again with the help of my best friend my sessions became better quality and more effective. My mileage went up towards 70 miles a week. My next race was the Kenilworth Half Marathon and to my amazement, I finished as 2nd woman in 1.25. It was a field of 1000 people and 300 women, and not only was it my first top three finish, but it also meant I had run quickly enough for the London Marathon Championship start in 2019.
Just to top things off, following a 6 week block of really good training, I ran the Great Birmingham Run. I started in the elite field right at the front of the 8,000 competitors. It was a strange feeling being there, like I didn’t really deserve it. However, I proved my worth by finished as 3rd woman in 1.22. This time there was an actual podium and a bronze medal! Since then I’ve been able to get elite places at some upcoming races and genuinely feel like I have a bright future in running.
The moral of the story? With the right level of commitment, advice, persistence and despite real life distractions, it is possible to go from being a half hearted, unenthusiastic runner to loving running and making it to the podium. It takes a lot of hard work, the right training plan and a commitment to eating well and looking after your mind and body, but I genuinely believe anyone can do it.