Tag Archives: marathons

Run, because We Can

Running has been high on my list of priorities lately – to the point that the obsessive compulsive tag is quite apt.

I’ve done pretty well in my challenge for the mental health charity Mind, to Run Every Day in January, notching up 26 out of 31 days, or an 84% success rate.

Ironically, one of the things that’s diverted me from the physical act of running, is in organising a running event.

womencan-logo_master-2The Women Can Marathon is an idea I had in the summer of last year, when I realised that a landmark milestone in women’s endurance running combined with the same year that outdoor sport took off in my home village.

1967 was the year that Kathrine Switzer defied the men-only rules in the Boston Marathon, to be the first woman to officially cross the finish line, despite a race official trying to rip off her bib. (Photo credit: Boston Herald).


This was at a time when women were believed incapable of racing that distance. The resulting publicity, and Kathrine’s own campaigning, opened up a future for women’s running, inconceivable at the time.

In my village the same year a farmer’s riverside meadow was bought by local people to become the well-used, much-loved Tipton St John Playing Field, the heart of outdoor recreation in our community and starting point of our popular Otter Rail and River Run 10km.


The scenery around here is stunning and I’d often pondered a longer distance course taking in the spectacular nearby Jurassic coastline, a World Heritage Site.


Walking my dogs alongside the river one day. Lightbulb moment!

Why don’t we organise a marathon from the playing field to mark this joint 50th anniversary?

Even brighter lightbulb moment!

Why not make it women only to give it a unique and special context, celebrating how far women’s endurance running has come in 50 years, whilst acknowledging that many women are still unable to access sport for a variety of reasons?

And so for the past few months, I’ve been part of small team beavering away to make the Women Can Marathon a reality.

jo-pavey-3The event is taking off beyond wildest dreams.

In November we received the endorsement of 5-times Olympian Jo Pavey.

Jo has pledged to be there if other commitments allow.


We also received a wonderfully warm-hearted personal video message from Kathrine Switzer herself.

In the last few days Women Can has been named as the first UK partner for her 261 Fearless organisation, which empowers women’s running around the globe.

When I told my husband John of my idea back in May last year, he paused, in supping his Sunday lunchtime pint of beer, and said: “I reckon you’ll only get about half a dozen people interested in that. But give it a try if you want.”

Yesterday our 200th runner signed up. This month our website hit a record high of nearly 5,500 visits.

gemma-langford-2We have women coming from across the country and around the world. We have women coming from the village, able to walk to the start from their doorstep.

We have women coming who’ve never run a marathon. We have women coming who’ve run dozens. We have women who are challenged by illness or disability. We have women who are trained athletes.

We have women taking part as paired and team relays and also women who are Nordic walking the 26.2 mile distance.

And we have men too, dozens of them pledging help and support in advance, and to act as marshals on the day – our runners may be women, but our event is about being inclusive.

We have businesses on board – our main sponsor, a telecommunications firm IP Office Ltd, our local gym network LED Leisure, and a host of others.

Dartington Crystal, which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is making bespoke trophies. The energy bar people Luna sent two cases of 500 bars for our goody bags.

cakeWithin the local community excitement is building. People are pitching in to offer accommodation, provide transport, bake cakes, make the tea – pulling together at every level to make this happen.

The goodwill and enthusiasm is incredible.

Shortly we will announce our international charity partner, something we hope will further raise awareness and interest.

Marathons with a big profile are normally the big city events.

This is sport at grassroots level, where it happens in the heart of a community.

We may be small, but we’re equally passionate.

This is the Women Can Marathon from Tipton St John reaching out to the wider world – because by running this event together, perhaps one day all Women Can.






More Marathon Musings…

“If my life is a marathon, how far have I come? How much further have I got to go? And is this course going to get easier or more difficult?”

They’re questions I sometimes ask myself, as a way of aligning struggles in life to the struggles you face on a 26.2 mile challenge.

At the age of 51, it’s probably likely that my distance is more than halfway. Have I just crossed that milestone, am I in the last 10km or is the final straight already looming close?

And if we were aware of our own mortality in the same way we know how far a race is, would we run it any better?

One thing I definitely have learnt from the marathon are the ups and downs, the times when the going is tough, when you hit the wall – but how you keep going, you get through it, over it, out the other side and the road is easier again.

But when you’re standing looking at that red brick-face in front of you – garishly painted, graffiti style with whatever your particular challenge is – it can be hard to imagine there’s anything to look forward to the other side, let alone how to get there.

Yet we do it, time after time – jump over small hurdles, scale dizzying heights, to keep going.

And no one person’s race is the same: for some it’s an all too short sprint; others go the full ultra-distance; some get the ideal 10km, level course, perfect conditions, gliding easily towards a stunning PB; and there are those who battle through Tough Mudder-style obstacles, placed by a course director, who’s a sadistic bully.

We all have our own distance. And each race has its own challenges.

I’ve felt recently as if I’ve hit a bit of wall in life. In comparison to other walls out there, it’s not huge or insurmountable – it’s just that I’ve been choosing to slump one side of it, feeling stripped of the energy to climb over, make progress.

I’m getting there. And running helps, it really does. Running marathons – I’m on 51 now – has benefitted me so much in the last 11 years, I can’t imagine not doing it.

And as someone who’s believed at difficult times in the past that I couldn’t make it to the finish line, considered pulling out of the race, running has enabled me to see I can keep going, that yes, at times it is hard, but you get there one step at a time, you climb over the wall and feel a sense of relief and achievement.

My marathons have varied enormously. The first one I approached with over-optimistic enthusiasm, paying for it with a devastatingly hard final 6 miles. Sometimes I get the pacing just right, am race fit with ideal conditions and breeze to the finish line. You don’t get many like that!

Marathons are a challenge, but they can be a joy too – a wondrous journey, where you learn so much on the way. It’s about giving it your best shot, making the most of it, whatever race you’re in, whatever stage you’re at and whatever the ups and downs of the course.

I’m running my 52nd marathon on Saturday, 3rd September, the City to Sea Marathon from Exeter to Babbacombe, Torquay.

It’s a flat first half, with lots of steep climbs towards the end – I guess I’ll just have to take those hills as they come and enjoy the down bits.

My Secret Shoe Fetish


With thanks to Laura Joint http://www.laurajoint.co.uk/ for all photographs

Fresh and raring to go

Fresh and raring to go

When I began running more than 10 years ago I was confidently sure one pair of shoes would see my somewhat non-committal exercise choice to its full.

I’d jogged around my first few Race for Life 5kms in an old pair of trainers, but signing up for a half marathon, I realised I needed to seek out something that was a bit more fit for purpose.

I was dazzled by the choice in the shop. Had not a clue what to even try on, let alone buy. But with the help of the knowledgeable, friendly assistant I settled on a pair of Saucony Jazz trainers – so new, so well-made, so unworn – surely they would carry me all the miles my legs would ever want to run?

The Long Run

The Long Run

I loved those trainers – over the next few years they took me around the Exeter Great West Run three times, a number of local 10kms and many more training miles besides.

My running was a bit sporadic in those days, so they’d  have bursts of wear, then get to rest up in a quiet corner of the wardrobe for weeks on end.

When I decided to run the 2005 London Marathon to celebrate being 40, I dug them out and was surprised, but also quietly proud, to see that my legs and my desire for running had outlasted my shoes – now sitting there without any tread, looking rather sad and forlorn.

Seeking out pair number two, there seemed to be an even wider selection to pick from, in a range of bold colours, and with different support.

Those Jazz shoes had served me well. I decided to stick with what I knew and go for another pair of Saucony’s. They became my new favourite shoe, taking pride of place in the wardrobe. My old Jazz trainers still loved, but now saved for walking or gardening.

Pyramid training

Pyramid training

London was tough. Tougher than anything I’d ever done. I was on my last legs by the time I reached Birdcage Walk, but my shoes gave my feet enough support to cross the finish line. I never intended to run more than one marathon, but something about the whole experience clicked, not least that I developed a shoe fetish.

Each time I wore a pair out, I’d get to savour the delight of unwrapping a new gleaming bright pair from their box, the excitement of putting them on, tying the laces and trotting down the road in them for the first time.

My Saucony’s have taken me around several big city marathons – London twice, along with Paris, New York, Rome, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Barcelona and Palma, three times.

Group stretches

Group stretches

They’ve pounded 26.2 miles around the quiet country lanes of North Dorset, Kent, Somerset, Suffolk, Pembrokeshire, Devon and Cornwall.

I’ve ventured into trail running in off-road pairs as well, completing The Grizzly three times, and Hadrian’s Wall, along with the Cheddar Gorge, Beachy Head and Bath Marathons.

I’m now on Saucony pairs number 12 and 13 – the gorgeous Guide 8 in white and twilight, with pink soles; the off road Peregrine 5 a deep shade of purple, red and green, with red soles like flat, comfortable Louboutins.

I’m excited already about breaking in gently those new Guide 8s to wear in my, what I hope will be my 50th marathon, Edinburgh on May 31st, three days after my 50th birthday.

Rest and recovery

Rest and recovery

My old pairs, in various stages of wear, still fill the house, and continue to be used – driving my husband mad as they cluster inside the front and back doors, or wet and muddy, sit drying on an outside step.

I probably own more trainers now than everyday proper shoes – certainly more than shoes with heels.

You see a secret shoe fetish doesn’t have to be all about stilettos.

How to make maximum impact – wear a box over your head!

Have you heard the one about……

……the cardboard box running a marathon?

All boxed up ready for the off!

All boxed up ready for the off!

I think I heard every possible gag there was when I took part in the Portsmouth Marathon yesterday in festive fancy dress.

Having run as a Christmas tree last year, passing lots of elves and santas, I thought I’d try to be a bit different again this year. Hence when a large parcel arrived through the post a couple of weeks ago, my first thought was – ideal running costume!

And so I lined up at the start in a large box covered in Christmas wrapping paper and gold ribbon.

The friendly, amusing puns started immediately: “You’ve got your costume all wrapped up.” “Don’t get boxed in will you!” And, from groups as they overtook: “Let’s play pass the parcel.”

A spectator called out: “You should have gone first class,” to much laughter from those around. And at the halfway turn, one of the marshals commanded: “Make way for a special delivery.”

The box itself worked remarkably well as a costume apart from one or two slight design faults. I expected a buffeting by the wind, but didn’t realise before setting off that I couldn’t actually see my feet, which led to me falling over on an uneven stretch at mile 17.

I was like an overturned beetle, all flailing limbs. Other runners rushed to my aid. It took three of them to get me up.

A rather boring stretch of road was livened up by group of children who chanted: “Present! Present! Present!” Several times drivers tooted and waved, and a passing bus driver hooted his horn.

Battered and bruised, but this box made it.
Battered and bruised, but this box made it.


There were lots of encouraging shouts of: “Go Parcel! Go Box! Go Present! Awesome costume!”

And from the guys quite a few expressions of: “I’d like to unwrap you.” Hmmm……some more appealing, than others!

One of the oddest, but sweetest comments was at about 500 yards from the finish line, when a lady called out: “Well Done Parcel. I’m so proud of you!”

And the moral of this story is – this Christmas forget expensive fashion, designer labels, costly cosmetics.

You can still have a laugh, enjoy yourself, make other people smile, be friendly and…..yes, you can still be chatted up – even if you go around with a box over your head!

This was the 3rd Portsmouth Marathon I’ve taken part in. It’s an terrific event, very well organised, friendly helpful marshals, fantastic atmosphere – a real fun way to kick start Christmas. And I’m not joking!

Challenging times

Clarendon Marathon 2014 by #SussexSportPhotographyA late and short update again this week folks.

I completed the Clarendon Way Marathon on Sunday – so that’s marathon 43 ticked off. It was hard work, but on a lovely day and in beautiful scenery. I was delighted to have my running pal Jane (pictured here on the left) along for company.

It made the miles – all 27.7 of them – go much easier. Yes, we took a wrong turning whilst chatting! But to be fair, a car was parked in front of the direction arrow.

I wasn’t on top form with a bad back, then left knee joint playing up, and mental focus was pretty patchy at times too.

It all combined to see us cross the line in a non-record chasing time of six hours, but hey the important thing is we finished.

The few days before and since have been spent dealing with the headache, hurdles and bureaucracy that searching for and trying to place a relative in a care home are fraught with.

My dad is classed as having challenging behaviour, which makes an already difficult process all the more complicated. After many raised hopes and false starts, we seem currently back to square one with nothing resolved. It’s very disappointing. And so hard to see dad becoming ever more needy and requiring of specialist 24 hour nursing care, but not being able to secure it.

I’m grateful for the kindness and concern from family and friends in helping us through this.

And, to have the focus of doing something positive in fundraising for the dementia research charity BRACE, who’s dedicated small team have been a constant support.

I know running marathons will never really become less challenging, but I hope life does.

I pray the challenges my dad faces will get easier too.


Marathon madness – or those flamboyant French

medoc marathon 2014After a couple of difficult weeks, some cheerier news to write. I’ve just ticked off marathon 42, or should I say quarante-deux, as it was in France.

And not just any marathon – but the Marathon du Medoc, set in the stunning vineyards and chateaux of the Gironde, north of Bordeaux.

I’ve done it before and it’s always a colourful spectacle, as fancy dress is fully encouraged. This year was even more dazzling than usual. Being the 30th anniversary, the French pulled out all the stops. Or perhaps I should say, all the corks – thousands of bottles of wine were consumed over the weekend, before, after and even during the marathon.

Yes, as you’re running around in near 30 degree heat, they serve wine at all of the refreshment points – thankfully water too!

There’s also a wide selection of food available, fresh fruit, cakes, cookies, and towards the end oysters, ham and steak, rounded off by ice-cream.

Wine features heavily in the finisher mementoes too – with a bottle of Haut Medoc in its own presentation box and commemorative etched wine glasses.

This year’s fancy dress theme was Carnival and there really was a carnival atmosphere the whole way round. It’s probably the most fun you can ever have running 26.2 miles.

A rather late posting this week as I’ve been busy setting up a new project, a Memory Walk for Alzheimer’s Society – which you can read more about at http://www.followingfootstepswalk.wordpress.com

Other than that, I’ll just let the Medoc pictures speak for themselves………

20140913_092238 20140913_093120 20140913_091558 20140913_091626 20140913_09182920140913_104117 20140913_101543 20140913_103203 20140913_132039 20140913_135300 20140913_153005


A quick run down

Feeling mental fatigue this week, so going back to basics and reminding myself what I originally started this blog for……..running.

Running 50 marathons by age 50 to be precise – in aid of the dementia research charity BRACE.

To that end, I did 30 miles in training last week – running four times.

I’m up to 41 marathons completed – 9 to go.

At £2,860 on my fundraising – with just over £1,000 to reach my £4,000 target.

So that’s literally, a quick run down!

And, taking inspiration from last week’s Desiderata quote, remembering what peace there is in a still keyboard.