If you've seen my Twitter, you'll know that I didn't in fact pass out mid-way through the half marathon at the Nike Womens Marathon in San Francisco last Sunday. I did it. I ran 13 miles and if that seems paltry in the scheme of athleticism, you clearly have no idea what my state of fitness was prior to this race. Forgive me for the "Dear Diary" nature of this post that only has a vague and loose connection to style but seeing as that run was about the most empowering thing I've done in a long time, recounting the experience doesn't seem so out of place when you consider that the feel good factor you get when you put on a jazzy outfit can be multiplied hundred fold when you run.
Before I begin to extol the virtues of running, there are two things I need to get out of the way. First up, whilst we were in San Francisco, the journalists that were running the marathon were given exclusive access to the new Nike Flyknit One+ trainers, more geared towards serious runners with its Lunarion sole and cooked up with women in mind given the number of juicy colour ways it will be available in. These pics are for the trainer freaks to gorge on as they won't be coming out in February. You already know my love of the Flyknit, still one of the most mind blowing style innovations I've seen in a while. Now I can actually run in them as opposed to strutting around, pairing them up with Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Kane. Well, I can do that too but that's not the point.
Secondly, I got to get my cheesy photo moment with gold medalist Olympian Allyson Felix, who happens to be a fellow Arsenal fan. She's surprisingly petite, has never run more than 4k in her life and eats potatos and sausage for breakfast. Which is precisely what I was munching on that day. We are at a spiritual one in our breakfasting.
I don't think I ever explained why I wanted to do this half marathon in the first place. Whilst I did manage to raise over ¬£5,000 for Breast Cancer Campaign, in lieu of my mother being diagnosed last year, the primary goal for doing this half marathon was to see what my useless lump of a body could actually do if I bothered pushing it. It felt pretty floppy and rubbish after the Olympics in London when all I did was watch in marvel at people at the peak of their physical strength. When I began training two months ago, I got really angry at myself when I couldn't even run a mere 3k in Hong Kong. I was whining about the humidity. Then I whined a bit more when I ran 5k on the treadmill and thought I was going to pass out.
My own ineptitude did spur me on but I also have to thank Joslyn Thompson who was my assigned personal trainer for making me realise how to manage expectations, that I'm never going to be able to train ultra hard without cutting into work time. See the latest issue of The Gentlewoman for a few words of Joslyn's fitness advice as she promotes a non-dictatorial and "gentle" approach towards training that suited my two-month run-up of highs and lows.
I had an epiphany when I ran in New York during fashion week at night along the Westside Highway down to Battery Park, soundtracked by M83 and Lou Reed. That 7.5k flew by and it felt like you wanted to keep on going just to see how far your legs can go. Then I came crashing down during London and Paris fashion weeks when training was impossible and I panicked and thought about pulling out entirely due to lack of preparation. Upon my return, Joslyn worked solidly with me finishing off with a 15k run around HIghbury, Clissold, Finsbury Parks and down to Shoreditch. If i'm honest in total, I may have only done about ten runs or so to prepare for San Francisco which feels like I may have cheated the system a little.
It wasn't until I got to San Francisco and started hanging out with my running mates – Tilly Macalister-Smith of Vogue.com, Edwina Ings-Chambers of Sunday Times Style, Cristina Mitre of Elle Spain, Jo Taylor from Nike and the two seasoned marathoners freelance writer Alexandra Heminsley and Alessandra Donato of Vanity Fair Italy – that the momentum for the race really kicked in. Alexandra is actually finishing up a book called Running up like a Girl that will be published early next year – "a thoughtful, kind and practical exhortation to ‚Äòordinary women‚Äô to lace up their trainers, and see what they are capable of" - something that I'll relish reading when it comes out. Together, they really were the best lot of people that a feeble amateur such as myself could have asked for as moral support. We discussed the ins and outs of marathon etiquette – to carry jelly babies or not, to rely on energy gels or not, to listen to MP3 player or not (I'm sadly not a marathon purist yet), the wonders of vaseline bra rubbing, soaking in Epsom bath salts and then the actual technicalities of pacing yourself. I found it refreshing to immerse myself into a world that is so alien to me, as I was happy to geek about something other than Slimane vs. Simons or the state of fashion in the digital age.
On the day of the race, we got up for an early breakfast at the infamous Pinecrest Diner and it was pitch black outside. I was ambitious with my carb loading and thought I could handle a hash brown, oatmeal and a ton of fruit. Turns out I couldn't.
Then we g'ed up just before the race doing what you'd expect women to do when confronted with many other circles of women. Shriek. Jump. Shriek a bit more. Hug. More hugging.
The number of entries went up to 25,000 this year (there were some men running) which was really difficult to visualise in my head until the actual race day itself.
I stupidly bought a water bottle with me because I rely on water so heavily to keep me going when I'm running. No need as the race was so well organised with volunteers handing out water and energy drinks at every two miles.
I couldn't figure out whether that much female energy all concentrated alongside you would be annoying or empowering. It was too easy to brush aside any cynicism though you realised realised that those women were going to be alongside you as you worked your way through the course. That journey began in Union Square and ran along the San Francisco Bay views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Presidio, Lincoln Park and then around Golden Gate Park before ending up on the beach by the Great Highway (the full marathoners had to double up all along the Great Highway and around the Lake Merced to finish their course). It was completely cloudy but nonetheless atmospheric in a Jane Campion The Piano sort of way way, as you ran alongside coast and through forests with mist grazing your face. It began with a sauntering pace of happy-boppy free-spirited running. I was grinning like a mad person between miles 1 and 3. Then the hills began to crush our spirit as we made our way onto Fort Mason slogging it out against a steep ascent. Miles 6 and 7 were pure pain. You needed the cheerleaders and entertainment along the way just to keep you going. Cheer signs such as "Pain now, cocktails later" or "You're beating cancer with your hurting feet." were surprisingly effective as mini motivators. Miles 8 to 10 as we weaved through some picturesque housing was even harder as the hills just kept on coming but as soon as you hit a downhill path, your legs felt free again. At this point, I just prayed for flat roads. The run along the beach between mile 10 and 11 was a respite as was the wedge of orange. Then through the Golden Gate Park, the end was nigh and I thought I was going to finish on a super happy high.
Sadly that wasn't the case as evidenced by this photo. This isn't me about to throw up (although I did feel a little nauseous hours after the race) but I was in fact sobbing as I neared the finish line. I cried like a baby. Alessandra from Vanity Fair Italy who's run a few marathons says she cries everytime she crosses the line. I didn't think I'd be a cryer but seeing the finish line, then thinking of why I was doing this – my mum, my wellbeing, achieving something I thought I could never do – all kind of compounded into a tearfest. Oh, and the end of that Superpitcher remix of M83's Don't Save us From The Flames which was playing on my iPod, really makes you tear up if you're not careful.
I did recover in time for a sweaty red-faced grin along with my victory bottle of water.
It's absolutely not the main draw of the race as you get so much MORE out of participating in an event like this but cue more yelping and shrieking as women siezed upon a famous blue box for the perfect victory medal, courtesy of Tiffany's.
Whilst 25,000 people all got their necklace and celebrated their finish, everyone had their own journey, motives and reasons as to why they did it. I may have been running alongside a ton of women but at the same time, I was in my head space most of the time, working out how to face up to my own challenges and problems. It was my time to really get to grips with the highs and lows of what I was going through, as well as thinking about other things that float in your head when you're running – your work, your purpose, what you want, what you don't want, your loved ones – they fleetingly weave in and out of your thoughts as you conversate with your mind for those couple of hours.
Previously, I thought this would be a one-off race. A challenge to rise to and then forget about forever more, going back to my couch potato antics. The final flourish of this near-perfect half marathon experience was a wonderful gift from Nike – a Smythson notebook with a handwritten note inside by marathon queen Paula Radcliffe (her world record of 2h15minutes running a full marathon can't be beat yet…). My "running journey" has indeed begun. There is no doubt that I want to continue running. I want to get faster (pathetically, I was a bit gutted with my time of 2h30 minutes). I want to see whether I can do the full eventually. Further and faster aren't the main goals though. The thing is to carry on doing it just so that I get to experience these journeys, these rare opportunities where you really rely on your head, your body and not much else.
I may even eventually be able to do it without my iPod but honestly this playlist got me through the best and worst of times.