I've been running on and off for over 20 years, and had always said that I wanted to run a marathon before I was 40. But 40 came and went. As did 45. I had planned on running the Loch Ness Marathon in 2006, but tore a calf muscle at the end of a 13-mile run and that was it for that year. The dream didn't exactly go away, but somehow I never quite organised myself to do anything about it.
In 2010, I turned 50. Four months after that most difficult of birthdays, my mother died. The resulting struggle with issues of aging, mortality, and loss took me by surprise and I saw a therapist for a while. She was very helpful in many ways, but I was horrified one day when she said, 'You have to get used to the idea that you can't do the same physical things at 50 as you could when you were younger. You'll need to find some gentler things to do, like gardening.'
The quickest way to get me to do something is to tell me that I can't do it. The marathon goal was revived.
On 17 April 2011, I sat on my sofa, drinking tea and eating cake, and watching the London Marathon. I was half-way through reading Haruki Murakami's inspirational 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running', and it was lying bookmarked beside me. I watched the elite athletes and the ordinary athletes and the non-athletes making their way around the course, all with their own stories and reasons for running. I thought, 'I could do that.' I thought, 'Maybe 50 isn't too old to still challenge myself physically.' And I thought, 'If not now, when?' It was a Perfect Storm moment.
On 26 April, I entered the on-line ballot for a place in the 2012 London Marathon. I didn't really expect to get a place, but I was looking forward to receiving the official London Marathon fleece that was the consolation prize for non-successful applicants. I carried on with running as regularly as nagging ankle and achilles tendon pain allowed me; entered a local 10k race that was being held in October with the notion that this would be a good prompt for doing some proper training just in case I got a marathon place; tried doing some proper training which made my achilles tendon very unhappy and resulted in reduced mileage and reduced speed; and had several tearful, ranting tantrums in which I vowed to pull out of the 10k because what was the point of running it if I couldn't better my PB and, anyway, if I couldn't manage a 10k, how could I possibly manage a marathon.
And then I got the letter that said, 'Congratulations! You're in! No fleece for you, but you get to run 26.2 miles instead! Woo hoo!' Which snapped me out of my adolescent sulkiness (aside from feeling a bit miffed about the fleece). I ran the 10k, slower than my PB but still not bad for only a couple of months of training, and my achilles tendon didn't hurt at all.
So that's where I am. Excited. Scared. Dithering over which training programme to use. Worrying about how my achilles will cope with the training. Obsessing about which charity I should run for. Trying to convince myself that I need a GORE running jacket for those cold, wet winter runs. And reassuring myself that cake has a place in a healthy training diet.
Last night I dreamt that I finished the marathon in 3:24, a time so ridiculously out of reach that I was smiling when I woke up. Still, it's nice to know that my unconscious has faith that all will, indeed, be well.