27 May 2014

What makes someone want to run a half marathon?

Guest blog by Esther Marshall. 

Esther Marshall is a physiotherapist and pilates instructor from East London and in this blog she explains why she is aiming to complete her first half marathon on 22nd June in the inaugral Run Hackney event through the Olympic park and surrounds.

Last summer to help raise money for my friend’s charity, I agreed to run a 5k race. I trained for 3 weeks beforehand, ran sporadically for a month or so afterwards and that, ladies and gentlemen, is my running career so far.

I have always had an interest in sport and exercise, but I am more likely to relax by reading a book or watching TV than heading to the gym. Yes, I cycle to work and teach Pilates classes but they are both quite low impact and gentle. I am not one of those people who gets a kick from being hot and sweaty and pushing through the pain. Or at least, I wasn’t!

In my work as a Physiotherapist, I see many people who are really “in” to running and are so frustrated when they are injured because they just want to get back into their running shoes. I have never understood it! I have volunteered to work at the London Marathon on several occasions but I’ve never felt even mildly inspired to join the hordes of crazy people running for hours and hours on a Sunday morning, let alone the hefty training for months beforehand, even if they were raising money for charity.

But that all changed a couple of months ago.

Anne-Marie Wilson came to speak at my church’s bi-monthly women’s meeting called Face to Face in March. I was told she was going to speak about FGM, but at the time this meant nothing to me so I settled down comfortably in my seat ready to be encouraged/blessed/uplifted/challenged.

Anne-Marie’s opening words were to the effect of; “If you’ve come to hear a nice little talk about how much God loves you, you might want to leave now!” She then proceeded to explain, in much-needed detail, about FGM. What it is, how it is carried out and the widespread cultural beliefs behind the practice. She spoke of the risks of the procedure and the terrible suffering of young girls both at the time of FGM and onward into their lives as women.

I don’t think I uncrossed my legs the whole time! I was horrified, but also compelled to do something to help Anne-Marie and 28 Too Many bring an end to these barbaric rituals.

As soon as Anne-Marie mentioned fund-raising, I knew that was something I could do. At first I intended to do a 10k, but then I came to the conclusion that those girls go through an awful lot of pain, so why shouldn’t I push myself a little bit and do more? So I settled on a half marathon. (I wasn’t quite brave/stupid enough to go for a full marathon!)

I scoured the internet for a race and found Run Hackney which is an inaugural half marathon through the newly opened Olympic park and surrounding areas. I signed up and downloaded a 12 week beginner’s training programme which involved running four times a week. Two shorter runs, one long run and a 30 minute recovery run the following day. The long runs started at 3 miles and increased by a mile a week peaking at 12 miles a fortnight before the race. It looked daunting. I immediately informed my friends, family and all my Facebook and twitter friends what I was doing so I couldn’t back out!

I started by running one mile to work, which left me extremely red-faced and breathless and caused my first patient of the day to ask me if I was ok. I had to explain I’d run in and was still a little rosy from the exertion! The motivation to get out and run the first 3-4 runs was good. However, they left me absolutely gasping at the end, looking like a beetroot and wondering how on earth I’d manage to run more next time.  But, it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts to exercise and by the fifth run, I started to feel like maybe I could do this. I invested in some running shoes and got myself an app to track my runs and keep me at a good pace.

I must confess, I have actually started to enjoy my runs. I find it a nice time and space to think, especially now that I am fit enough to run a good few miles without feeling completely exhausted! I am really lucky to live near lots of green spaces which are lovely to run though, around lakes and though quiet forest paths. There’s been a few times where I’ve had to talk myself out of the door, but generally I’ve found it pretty easy to get going. This has been a pleasant surprise.

I have had a small set-back which I feel I must share, as it’s ironically appropriate. I developed a small cyst which became infected and developed into a painful abscess. However, as I am extremely blessed to live in the UK, after a few days I was able to have painkillers that allowed me to carry on with life in relative comfort. The ironic part is that this abscess was in the same part of my body in which FGM is carried out! I felt like for a brief time only, I was able to experience for myself just a very tiny part of what it may be like for these girls. After proving unresponsive to several antibiotics, which only made me feel extremely sick and lose my appetite, it had to be surgically drained and removed under general anaesthetic. I immediately felt much better. Often, these girls affected by FGM do not have the luxuries of sterile conditions or pain relief and this experience has only made me more determined to run and fight for their rights. It also made me realise how much I’d come to enjoy my running and yes, I have become one of those nutters who missed it and couldn’t wait to get back to it!

It was, however, a real struggle after being Ill. I felt like I’d gone right back to the start and felt weak and unfit after only a few miles. I began to be really concerned that I couldn’t actually do it. But I persevered, hoping and praying it’d get easier and a couple of days ago, less than 2 weeks following my surgery, I ran 10 miles! This is the furthest I had ever run in my life by a very, very long way and I have regained my confidence. I am, I think, beginning to look forward to race day looming in just 4 weeks’ time.

The brilliant thing is, I have got a lot more out of this experience than I ever expected, as it wasn’t supposed to be for me at all. I feel really fit and healthy and I’ve learnt there’s a lot more determination in me that I realised. I haven’t needed to grit my teeth and push though pain as much as I thought and I have been really encouraged by the support of my friends and family, some of which have come on runs with me at various points.

My main joy and driving force though, is the hope that by raising awareness and money, I can play just a small part in making a huge difference to thousands of girls in the future who will never have to experience FGM.

And you never know, I may make it to the London marathon yet!

If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my page www.justgiving.com/esther-marshall or text “ESTM83 £5” TO 70070.


28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.