I have had a keen interest in the London Marathon since my childhood. I watched the very first London Marathon on TV with my Dad in 1981 and remember covering it in a lesson at school with Philip Spittle, one of the best teachers I had. He taught us about the origins of the marathon and I committed the distance to memory, 26 miles 385 yards. My sport was never running though, I played netball (obsessively), a bit of badminton and would get involved in whatever else was going on but it wasn't until my mid twenties when I was paying a fortune in gym fees that I thought I would run around the block. It was free and it couldn't be that hard....could it?
That first run was about a mile long and I must have had to stop to walk at least 4 times but I did it again and again and remember distinctly the first time I made it around the block without stopping, I felt like I was breaking the tape on the finish line of the marathon, arms aloft, grinning from ear to ear.
Running became something I would do whenever I could and as time went on my endurance increased, as did the distances I tested myself over. Then April came around and, living in London, I thought I would go and watch the marathon to cheer on the thousands of people challenging themselves over 26 miles, 385 yards. That day was a game changer. I watched the elite to the elderly, the fit to the fit to drop, put everything into getting over that finish line and I came away with the thought that so many people do every marathon day......I could do that!
I upped the miles and completed a few half marathons. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get a place through the ballot for a few years but then decided I wanted to run in a momentous year (this was going to be a once in a lifetime thing wasn't it...?) so in 2000 I got a place through a charity running for Amnesty International. I trained hard using a proper programme, week by week, ticking the miles off, but as the big day was drawing close I started to get this niggle in my hip, that niggle then developed into a twinge, which then became something that was potentially stopping me from starting, let along completing the race and achieving a goal I had subconsciously and more recently consciously, set my heart on. So I had physio for what was now officially an injury but I completed the race. Absolutely amazing, an incredible feeling, so emotional to achieve what I had dreamt of but no thanks, never again......
A week later I entered the ballot for the 2001 London Marathon, any pain had been replaced with determination to complete a second marathon. I got another charity place and I was off but without boring you with the details, I did it, slower than in 2000 and again needed physio to get me through. It hurt. After that I thought I would take a year off.
In the meantime, and this is where I get to the point, towards the end of 2001 my friend Andrew asked me if I would like to go to a yoga class with him. My Mum has always practiced yoga and has enjoyed great flexibility throughout her life, she still practices at the age of 82 and can get her hands flat to the floor in a forward fold. I was in. I rocked up in jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt (well I didn't want to get cold did I...) imagining it would be a whole lot of lying down and breathing . How wrong was I?! I couldn't take my sweatshirt off as I had nothing but a bra underneath it and I had sweat dripping off my nose. Wow. That's not the sort of yoga Mum talked about. I really liked the teacher, he was very inclusive and gave clear instructions, offering easier or harder options. I liked the dynamic style of yoga he taught, I couldn't do half of it but I like it all the same. I was definitely in.
I went 2 or 3 times a week and started being able to coax my body into some of the postures I had initially thought were impossible for me. What a boost. I could feel my body getting stronger and more open. I started using some of the postures after a run to help me cool down. Bingo, that was it. I was combining the two activities I loved and it was starting to change things. My running style felt smoother and I could run further and, oooh....wait a minute....no....is that just me or have those pains stopped?
I was completely sold. I took 2002 and 2003 off from the marathon but carried on running numerous races over shorter 5k, 10k and half marathon distances. I subsequently completed the London marathon in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009 physio free, pain free and shouting the benefits of yoga from the rooftops.
The differences yoga made? It made me stronger, both in the core and the upper body, it made my running more stable and efficient and it gave me greater flexibility in my stride. Aside from the physical it gave me so much more, a better awareness of my body, my strengths but also my limitations and it taught me to have more patience with myself. Anyone who knows me now might laugh at that, but if you knew the level of impatience I started off with you would understand how much yoga has helped me.
Training as a Yoga Sports Coach™ came much later but I was already sold on the benefits yoga can bring to any activity. Passing that message on in my teaching and coaching, watching others reap the benefits it priceless.