The long, slow journey to my first marathon

by Laura Leyland, Senior Lecturer in Engineering.

In October, our engineering lecturer Laura will be taking part in her first marathon, the Birmingham Marathon, which finishes outside our Faculty home Millennium Point. In future posts, we will look at how she has been working with colleagues from the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences to prepare for this challenge. In this first blog, Laura explains what made her decide to take on this challenge.

I hated running.  Running was never an interesting or exciting thing… my memories of cross-country at school were torture.  We only ever went running when it was raining as the teachers didn’t want to be out in the rain.  We had to run through the town in our navy knickers and P.E. shirts to the half-way point, where the teachers were sitting in their car, smoking and telling us to run!

Picture of Laura Leyland at Women in Engineering event
Laura in her day job – organising our annual Women in Engineering event.

Roll on 20 years, following the birth of my second child and four stone heavier than I needed to be, I decided to take action.  Being a goal-driven type of person, I registered for my local Cancer Research UK Race for Life.  I looked at the beginner training plan: “Day 1 – rest”. Tick, got it.  “Day 2 – run 1 minute, walk 1 minute – repeat 10 times”; I can do that! I started running in black leggings and a black fleece, and would only go out at night so no-one would see me. It’s amazing how quickly this progressed to running for 30 minutes. I made it round the 5k course, running (very slowly) all the way. What a feeling.

Over the next few years, I continued to complete the Race for Life, with a quick burst of training for the six to eight weeks prior to the event, but never keeping up any motivation during the rest of the year.

Since the first Race for Life, I had on my bucket list to run a marathon by the time I was 40.  Around this time, life was difficult with family illnesses and my goal got changed to a half marathon when I was 41!  I raised money for the Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA) trust. MSA is a horrible disease that took my amazing mother-in-law.

The half marathon training was tough. I found the long runs – greater than 10 miles – took so long to recover from, I was constantly exhausted.  When running I love being out in the countryside, I don’t normally listen to music, enjoying the quiet and thinking time. I discovered the element of the training plans I enjoy the most is the taper. This is the period leading up to the race where you have completed all of the long runs, and the task is to gently exercise and eat carbs. This is great – if I can find a plan that will enable me to do this the whole way through I’m in!

The following year I completed the same half-marathon again, building in a much longer taper (told you I liked it) and had a much better run, taking 10 minutes off my time. However, unless I have a goal, I still find it really hard to get my trainers on and get running. So, I entered the ballot for the London Marathon – reading the stats that about 1/5 applicants will get a place, so not really expecting one. I was disappointed when I found that I didn’t get a place, and relieved.  Shortly afterwards the advertising for the first Birmingham International Marathon was announced; no ballot, just enter – with a route finishing at Millennium Point on Birmingham City University’s City Centre Campus, where I work. I entered quickly before I changed my mind.
So, now all I have to do is get myself to a point where running 26 miles is possible!

Laura with a trainer from the Faculty of Health
Laura preparing for the marathon.

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