The next stage of the journey was an unexpected joy. A few weeks before EHM we decided to join our local running club, the Ealing Eagles. This was partly because I wanted to make sure I kept going after EHM on 27th September and build up a firm base before starting my marathon training. However, the main reason was to make some new friends in the local area and start getting a bit more involved in the community. I never could have imagined how much being part of the club would come to mean to me and how big a part of my life it would become in so short a time.
For any new runners, especially if you’re a last-third-of-the-pack wonder like me, if you are considering joining a club I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you find the right club, you’ll quickly find that you’re running more often, further, faster, and enjoying it more as you go. I am lucky that my particular club is a massively friendly and supportive bunch of people of all abilities – yes there are a lot of people faster than me, but there are also plenty who are slower, and frankly comparing your time with anyone else’s really isn’t the main focus. Everyone runs to challenge themselves, and helps each other along the way. And maybe it’s just a little bit about the bling!
Between EHM and the end of the year I was running more than I ever had, and thoroughly enjoying doing so, with this amazing bunch of people. I ran loads more races, increasing my medal haul no end. I tried cross country and loved it. I became a regular at parkrun and wondered why the hell I had been signed up for years without ever going to one before. I started volunteering to help with the club beginners group. I had people who didn’t mind doing impromptu long runs with me, and incredible new friends who refused to let me sit on any tiny bit of extra potential they could see in me, pushing me to new PB’s in the half marathon, 5k and 10k distances. I had 5 different pairs of running shoes for different types of runs. And nothing makes you feel more part of a team than having ‘Go Eagles’ screamed at you every time you race in the club vest. So now I had another reason to actually go through with this crazy plan of running a marathon in Rome. I had myself to answer to, but I also had my club to make proud.
Having said that, 26.2 miles is a really, really long way. What if I couldn’t do this? What if my runner’s knee came back half way through training and I had to admit defeat and forfeit the race? So I decided I would run, but that I would keep it to myself. Being a naturally verbose person (such a nice fancy way of saying ‘verbal diarrhoea’) you can imagine that keeping something like this to myself was nearly as big a challenge as the actual marathon training!
One of the club coaches agreed to take me on, and was the only person outside our immediate household who knew I was even training for a marathon. From the outset he seemed to enjoy the deviousness involved in keeping it below the radar (you can draw your own conclusions as to what that says about him). The cover story was that since Mr Duff was running London I had decided to follow a similar plan so that I could join him at the organised 17 and 20 milers later in the spring, just to see how I did. No pressure. I’m still not sure how many people who were told this believed it – I mean it’s totally normal to train to run consecutive 20 milers for no reason whatsoever, right?