Are you afraid of the gym? Getting over the fear of exercise classes.

Instagram is full of runners doing strength training and going to gym classes. Not wanting to miss out I decided to get over my fear of the gym and join in. So earlier this year I signed up for a 6 month classes only membership at a gym. I only signed up for 6 months because I wasn’t sure convinced if I would actually stick with it. I At £12 a month through work it seemed a good enough deal to give it a go. Guess what? I’ve stuck with it and what’s more, actually kind of enjoyed it.

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The standard gym changing room selfie to prove that I actually went

I’ve surprised myself by becoming something of a regular at gym classes. It definitely helps that I work at a University, where the gym is in the same building as my office and I have flexible working hours which most of the time allow me to attend classes.  Not sure how this will change once Autumn term begins and my time is no longer my own though.

I have hated classes when I have been in the past. Still do to be honest.  My fears of going aren’t about not wanting other people to see me exercise. It is the anxiety problem I have always had, ever since I was a child, about going to something new. The problem of not knowing where I am going, not knowing what to do, doing the wrong thing, looking stupid, unexpected and out of my control things happening.  I’ve definitely experienced some moments of panic when trying out new classes at the gym. What equipment do I need? How do I use it? Are all the regulars laughing at me for being so incompetent?

The other problem I have with going to classes is that I am a bit rubbish.  When I was younger I hated most exercise because I though I was rubbish at it. Probably because I was genuinely not very good at sport. At school I didn’t entirely hate P.E. I was good at running and I could swim. All the other sporting activities brought me out in a cold sweat. I can’t throw or catch. I was hopeless with a lacrosse stick and so bad at tennis that I was allowed to go practice running the hurdles instead. I couldn’t and still can’t do a forward roll and the trampoline made me cry.  I remember everyone watching as my Year 7 P.E teacher determinedly attempted to force my long lanky limbs into a forward roll.  When we were in GCSE Year my school sent us all the local sports centre to do exercise classes instead of P.E. Thankfully nobody had invented Zumba back then but memories of those aerobics classes live on in mind. I’m that person at the back who is out of sync and doing all the wrong moves.

This isn’t me channelling my usual negative outlook on life. I am actually quite rubbish at anything involving coordination, rhythm, or agility. As a result not all the classes I’ve been to have worked out well.  Body Balance I didn’t enjoy as there wasn’t any time to focus on form. In any Les Mills class the instructor doesn’t have opportunity to correct your form or technique due to the choreographed nature of the class. Similarly Body Pump was reasonably fun however I couldn’t keep up and couldn’t move my arms for a week afterwards.  CX Worx was hilarious. I went once and spent most of the class desperately trying not to get tangled up in the resistance ropes.  Basically the less equipment involved in a class the better. Body Pump featured an overwhelming amount of equipment.

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Not even sure what half of this equipment is called nevermind how to use it properly…

Classes that I have enjoyed with and stuck with have been Pilates and Power Pilates.  If a class involves distinguishing between left and right sides, keeping up with music or repeating too many complicated moves at speed then I struggle.  I love power pilates because it is done so slowly that I find myself able to do the routines.

I am noticing the difference in my running performance as a result of working on core strength and flexibility by doing classes. I’m not motivated enough to do these workouts at home on my own. However I’m wondering if it would be better to make use of the personal trainer service at my gym and focusing on doing my own thing.

 

 

 

 

Running Anxiety. Thanks Social Media.

This is going to be a blog post of negativity. I thought about not posting it and trying to post something more positive instead. But it is important to be honest and put this out there.

This is a topic I have been pondering for a very long time.  People say that running is great for managing anxiety. It is true for me, running is great for managing anxiety, and I notice a change in my sense of wellbeing if I can’t or don’t run. But running can also be the cause of anxiety, particularly when it come to social media.  A quick Google Scholar search brings back a lot of articles exploring the links between social media and mental health conditions so it wouldn’t surprise me if I eventually found some research touching upon the negative impact of social media relating to exercise.

Running social media definitely gives me anxiety.  Partly feelings of inadequacy and partly fear of missing out. I’m not actually sure which gets me down more. Comparing my performance, commitment to those I see online or comparing my lack of running friends and fun adventures to those I see online.  I’ve always been the person who gets sad because I feel I am rubbish at friendships, so it is probably that aspect of it that I find the most difficult.

Running social media can be a wonderful, motivating and helpful community. Running magazines and websites are full of brilliant, inspiring stories about how social media has made a positive impact for many people. But the constant stream of Strava uploads, Instagram stories and Twitter hashtags is something I find very overwhelming.

Strava goes beyond helpful competitive spirit and makes me feel the need to always be running faster to gain kudos, to get more cups and crowns.  Twitter has become an overwhleming stream of non-stop showing off. #ukrunchat used to be nice place for a little chat about running but that hashtag gets a scary amount of tweets that it is impossible to keep up or connect with anyone. Instagram is the cliquey place for the cool kids as well as a breeding ground for the wannabe motivational coaches. Don’t look at all the Instagram hashtags unless you want to feel miserable about your own life.

I started to ask myself why I wasn’t committed enough to run everyday or get up at 5am to stick to the training plan. I started to ask myself if I was a dedicated enough runner when I wasn’t earning medals at the same rate as all the #medalmonday tweeters. Everyone else is running faster, doing more sessions, eating better than me. Am I doing it wrong? Am I a real runner?

All of the above is a good example of the impact running social media has when I let the negative thoughts seep into my mind. It’s not a positive experience for me. It is more often a negative one.

I’m all for sharing achievements whether it be completing a race or dragging yourself out for a run when you really don’t want to go. I’m guilty of spamming Instagram with photographs of the views from my run or a photo of a pair of trainers. But I don’t do it every time I go out for a run or to the gym.  Personally I really don’t want to watch another Instagram Story or Twitter post where someone shares a shaky video of the pavement as they go for a run. It is too much. Too overwhelming. It leads to those feelings of inadequacy. The little voice in your head telling you aren’t good enough because you aren’t doing what they are doing.

So I’m going to try my best to not get sucked into all the hashtags, Strava uploads and Instagram stories. I’m going to try to be positive and enjoy the moment that I’m in rather than worry about not being good enough. Step back from the social media circus and focus on the interactions that make me happy. Surround myself with the good, interesting people that I want to connect with. Spend less time looking at influencer posts. Filter out the endless product promotion, discount codes and people trying to sell me things that I don’t need.

If the buzz of running social media works for you then great, keep going. But if it doesn’t then remember you can always step back from it. That said, I don’t think I’m ready to go Strava free just yet…

Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon 2018

Race: Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon
Location: Snowdonia
Distance: Half Marathon
Time: Doesn’t really matter when you have to run up a mountain

I had to give myself plenty of time to reflect on and recover from this race.  It was the hardest run I have ever done. It is a tough course but as usual I was under trained and unprepared.

The event featured ultra, marathon, half and 10k distances. I considered signing up for the marathon when I entered last year but on reflection I’m glad to opted for the half. At the time just doing the half felt like a bit of a soft choice but the half is a really good race. It shouldn’t be thought of as an easy option over the marathon. Obviously the marathon must be really tough but the half is a challenge in its own right.

Sunday morning race meant limited bus options from Caernarfon to Llanberis but start times worked out well so I was able to arrive at the race village about 90 minutes before the half marathon start. Plenty of time for collecting my number, getting a cow bell (never had one of these before), faffing about with kit and trying not to panic. Off the marathon runners went, then one last toilet visit before getting in the start area.

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Pre-race nerves at the start line

The big issue causing nerves for this race was the unknown sections of the route (the bit between Llanberis and the Ranger Path plus the final couple of miles round the quarry) and not knowing how long it would take me.  With an actual mountain to climb I was expecting it to be slow but had no idea how slow. An added pressure came from needing to catch a bus to Porthmadog, with the ideal option being a bus at 2pm. Could I make it back in under 4 hours?

Well the race went much better than I expected. I made it back with plenty of time spare coming in at around 3 hours 20 minutes. It was more runable than I expected due to good paths, so I was able to run most of the ‘flatter’ bits. The big climb up the Snowdon Ranger Path arrived much quicker than expected.

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Power walking up Snowdon

I was determined to put my mountain walking experience to use and make good time on the climb. Mile 6 involved 1200ft of climb and I did it in under 30 minutes which I was pleased with. The slopes of Snowdon were shrouded in low cloud and it got very cold but eventually I made it to the top.

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Delighted to be finished with the climbing

Now for the downhill. Easy right? If only.  All was going well down the steep loose path. I’d nearly made it down and then I fell over. I got distracted for a couple of moments when my mind wandered thinking about how much my toe was hurting. You can’t get distracted on a steep technical descent. But I picked myself straight back up and carried on, laughing it off with the two runners who stopped to check I was ok. I had passed other battered, bleeding runners I’d passed lying down along the path waiting for first aid so it is clearly a path for falling over on.

Descent done so surely that is the worst bit done. Again wrong. The worst was yet to come. The final couple of miles took us up paths around Vivian Quarry. I was ready to give up by this point. The sun was beating down and the steep slate steps seemed to be never-ending. Mile 12 involved another 400ft of climbing. That’s just cruel at the end of a half marathon when you can hear all the noise of the finish line. But I gritted my teeth, put my head down and kept on powering upwards.

What goes up must come down so the last mile was a steep descent through the woods that led almost straight to the finish line.  On the final stretch a man watching from the sidelines actually asked me if I was ok so I must have looked completely broken. The finish line was a beautiful moment especially when it sunk in that I had made it back not only in time for the bus but with enough time for a trip to the shop too. Cheese sandwiches, crisps and lemonade. I’d been dreaming of that cheese sandwich for miles.

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Finished!

This race left me battered, bruised and broken. When I fell I must have landed on my water bottle as the next day my ribs were very sore. It took almost a week before my legs stopped hurting. But it was all worth it because I achieved a long-held dream to run a race involving a proper mountain.

Reasons To Run

Tonight’s run was a good one. I’ve been feeling anxious about running recently. Questioning why I’m too slow and feeling worried about running with others. But tonight was enjoyable and it made me think about the reasons why I run.

This year I’m on course to run more miles than ever before, as long as I don’t get injured, ill or let anything else get in the way of running. I feel like running is now part of my routine. A way of life. Before when it was something I had to force myself to do. I need to run.  All this running got me thinking about the reasons why I started, why I pushed on and why I now get very grumpy if I miss a week of running.

I first started running because I was fed up of being fat and unfit. I didn’t run far, fast, or often. I plodded on like this for a couple of years, fitting in maybe one or two runs a week in an effort to lose some weight. I remember living in London and going for lunchtime runs along the Southbank, thinking I’d done something massive. Looking back at my running logs I was only running 2-3 miles once a week. Forcing myself to get out there was a big deal as I didn’t love running.

I started running more seriously a few years ago as a way to cope with heartbreak. I was desperately sad and lonely, struggling to hold myself together everyday, and running became my therapy.  I ran further and harder as a way to deal with the pain. Literally running through endless tears until I stopped crying enough to get on with another day. Running for recovery. Running for head space. Running to prove something to myself. Since then running has been an important part of maintaining good levels of happy. This time in my life definitely set me on a path to see running as essential. It made me love running because running helped me like myself again.

I carried on running more seriously because I got addicted to the thrill of races. I signed up to my first half marathon in 2014. I didn’t believe I could do it but once I’d done one I was addicted. It gave me a reason to keep on running and something good to focus on. Medal collecting became my aim. Over the space of a couple of years my medal collection grew with many 10ks, 7 half marathons and a marathon between mid 2014 and the end of 2015.

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Proud to be a Marathon Runner

Last year I discovered running for friendship. Moving around is hard and I wish I had been brave enough to get involved with running clubs much sooner as it would have made a big difference to my sense of belonging. I used to get jealous of religious friends who could go somewhere new and instantly find their new community through church. Now I know that if I needed to move somewhere new I could find my place much more easily.  Running clubs have transformed my running experience and brought so many joyful times. When you are somewhere new and don’t know anyone then a running club makes you feel less alone. It might not bring instant close friendships but there is an opportunity for a greatly improved social life.

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Races are a good day out especially if there is beer or cake involved

The final reason that I run is for the sense of adventure. I’ve discovered the joy of always packing a pair of running shoes when travelling. There is no better way to see a new place than to run through it. I love running in the hills, up mountains and in the wild. There is something incredibly satisfying about surviving a fell race or going out on the moors alone and knowing you’ve got the survival skills to get back home. I love running in the snow, wind and rain, battling against the weather and feeling tough. I run because it makes me feel strong. I run to see the world.

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The summit of Whernside in the snow.

If I get a bad injury that stops me running then I’m going to need to find a good replacement for the head space, friendships and adventures that running gives me.

Goodbye 2017.

In some ways we are very much into the New Year now. Back to work and back to school for everyone, although I still feel in something of a period of transition. I’m still eating Christmas chocolate for starters.  But January is definitely here with the gym adverts, diet programmes and good intentions all round.   I’d say this means it is time to get back to the running but I did a lot of running over the Christmas holidays. 47 miles during my 10 days off work which for me is a lot of running. I’m feeling comparatively lazy now that the new year is here and life has returned to the normal routines.

Before I write about my plans, or should that be lack of plans for this year, I want to stop and reflect on 2017. For all of it’s faults and my problems, it was a good year for life and running.

I ran 732.5 miles in 2017 with 79,334 ft elevation gain. I’m very happy with that elevation gain. I didn’t realise until I checked the stats from last year but I did 100 more miles this year compared to 2016.  I’m never going to set myself a target number of miles for the year because injury and illness get in the way.  Considering I’ve had both injury and illness in 2017 those numbers make me very proud.

Here are some of my highlights:

  • Bought a house and moved to the most amazing part of Yorkshire which happens to be dream trail and fell running country.
  • Running my first Wainwright, Place Fell during a camping trip to Glenridding.
  • Finished the Snowdonia Marathon in just over 5 hours despite thinking I wouldn’t even make it to the start line.
  • Made new running friends and had some excellent adventures. 2017 was the year of post race pub shenanigans, good run chats and car shares to further away races.
  • Trip to Mull and actual views from the top of a Munro!
  • Survived my first multi-day event, completing all 4 Tour of Tameside events. I came 8th out of 23 finishers in my age category which isn’t that impressive but it means a lot to me as I gave those races every last bit of energy I had.

 

 

Running through the Snow

We didn’t get as much snow up North as the weather warnings initially suggested at the weekend. However living out on the northern edge of the Peak District we did get a light covering of snow which made for the perfect weekend for Christmas tree decorating and mine pie baking. It was also great for running.

I hate ice but snow is a completely different beast. As long as you have the correct footwear!  My shoe of choice this weekend was the Salomon Speedtrak (used to be called the Fellraiser). For me these are perfect snow running shoe.  Great in proper snow but also grippy on that rubbish light snow you get on pavements and also horrible slushy ice.

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Speedtraks enjoying the snow

Friday was cold and icy. Saturday brought light snow during the day, with a lovely dusting on the pavements with the snow showers easing off in the evening. We were all set for great snow disappointment however it snowed lightly all day Sunday as well.  Saturday I decided not to run as I wasn’t feeling 100% and was worried about falling on ice and doing myself an injury. But Sunday I couldn’t resist the temptation of the snow covered hills.

I did a solo run up Pule Hill in Marsden. You can read more about a walking route (or running route!) around Pule Hill on the National Trust website. This route doesn’t go up Pule Hill but I’d definitely recommend exploring some of the higher level paths on the hill too. I feel incredibly lucky to have all of this beautiful countryside only a mile from my front door.

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I’ve not enjoyed running much recently for various reasons so a little solo snow adventure was exactly what I needed to find some love for running again. Stunning views, apart from at the top of Pule Hill, which was shrouded in clouds.  The climb up was tough and I got a little lost in the old quarries but once up on the top I had lots of fun running along in the snow.

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Some people might have used the snow as an excuse to stay indoors at the weekend but for me it was the perfect opportunity to get back to enjoying running.

Running without a car

Sometimes I get a bit down about the fact I don’t have a car.

This is a topic I have been mulling over a lot recently. I know what you are thinking, of course you don’t need a car to go running. You just need to put on some running shoes and head out of your front door. Easy.  But what about all the times when a car is almost essential to being a runner.  In fact the only times I ever wish I could drive and had a car are usually running related.

This is a moaning post. In my head I’m stamping my feet and crying ‘it’s not fair’ because sometimes I feel a bit lonely and left out of being part of the running community where I live.

Not having a car is rubbish for running…

When you want to go to a running club.

When you want to go to parkrun which is miles away and public transport is at the wrong time.

When you want to go run a race that starts early on a Sunday morning.

When you want to go to a running club.

When your running club decides to go meet somewhere else for a change of scenery.

When your running friends start going to track nights but it is miles away with no public transport.

When you want to go do almost any race not in a city centre.

When you fancy being a parkrun tourist.

When you want to recce a race route.

When you feel really guilty about always being that person that needs a lift.

It is my own choice not to have a car or a driving licence (well the valid driving licence bit is partly down to being rubbish a driving lessons and running out of money). Most of the time it is fine. It doesn’t bother me. I just adapt. I never planned on moving out to a village where having a car is more limiting though. Always thought I would be a city dweller and never need a car for anything.

Not having a car means being more creative about how and when you run. It means being good at timing runs to far away places that fit with bus timetables. It means being good at carrying spare clothes and getting changed in pub toilets. It means running is less about club training, races, cross country season and track nights.

I still probably won’t ever learn to drive unless I really have to.

A Long Weekend in the Lake District

For my Dad’s 60th birthday at the end of September he decided he wanted a week away in the Lake District, and we were invited to join my parents for a long weekend in Windermere.

This trip is a great example of how accessible the Lake District is by public transport, especially if staying in Windermere itself. We set off from Huddersfield on the train at 4.30 in the afternoon and arrived in Windermere just before 7, changing trains twice along the way.  Advanced purchase tickets and a two together rail card made it cheap as well.

Old Man of Coniston

On the Saturday we decided on a family walk up the Old Man of Coniston. Well my Mum decided and I’m not sure everyone realised how big a walk it was going to be. As we were with the family we drove to Coniston for this walk. Whilst I love exploring the Lakes by public transport, and Coniston is completely accessible by bus, it was quite nice going in a car. It was little strange though, I’ve never been in a car in the Lakes before. It was certainly nice at the end of the day not to have to wait at a bus stop!

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The walk was wonderful and we were VERY lucky with the weather.  Steep in places and tough on the legs. Not much peril, with no exposed edges or scrambling but it wouldn’t be a mountain walk for me if there weren’t a couple of moments of mild panic and fear.  The views were stunning from the top.

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Walking up a mountain with the whole family was a very different experience for me. For starters there was a little picnic at the top. My Mum even made sandwiches! My brother brought a selfie stick so there was also a family portrait. Usually my mountain walks don’t include much time for hanging about at the top. As we were with my parents the pace was gentle and we took plenty of rest stops. I definitely want to do more family walks as it provided the perfect opportunity to spend time together away from the chaos and distractions of everyday life.

Snowdonia Marathon Eryri: Those hills hurt (part 2)

Race: Snowdonia Marathon
Location: Llanberis, Snowdonia
Distance: The big 26.2 miles
Time: 05:04:07

Read part 1 of the Snowdonia Mararthon write up here

Miles 14-20

This is where it starts to get really really tough.  Looking back at Strava miles 14 and 15 were actually one big hill. I powered on up and resisted the nagging temptation to just walk. Along this section of the race I wanted to see a steam train. The Welsh Highland Railway passes alongside the road but being a train nerd I had checked the timetables in advance and knew there wasn’t one due. A steam train would have been a nice boost along this quiet section.  Mile 18 has always been a big milestone marker in my mind in  the build up to race, as reaching 18 miles within 4 hours was the official cut off for this race.  A month ago this seemed to be a worrying target but I made it with lots of time to spare.

Miles 21-26

Everything hurt now and it is time for the final hill and the toughest climb of the day. I started walking at 22 miles and I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t attempt any running for two miles. The hill was tough. Starting at about 415ft and reaching 1230ft over a couple of miles. The cloud was down. Everyone was walking. I took the opportunity (also actually had some 3G!) to check the race tracker and text people to let them know where I was up to.  I heard the steam train down the valley and got very excited resulting in telling fellow runners all about the steam trains. The sight of the feed station at Mile 24 was wonderful, with a Halloween theme fitting the atmospheric surroundings. Big thanks to all the feed stations but especially those brave souls in the middle of nowhere up there.

We reached the highest point of the race at mile 24.5, so not far to go however Llanberis is a long way down in the valley.  Descending nearly 900ft in less than 2 miles at the end of a marathon is actually just as tough as the hill climbs. Especially when it is off road and all the grass has been churned up by the thousand faster runners who have already finished. I normally enjoy a fast off road hill descent but not this one.

The Finish

The finish line for Snowdonia is amazing. The race ends on Llanberis High Street and the crowds were amazing. As a slow finisher, you expect a lot of people to have gone home or to the pub, but not here. It was amazing running down the finish with everyone shouting my name. Then I got a foil blanket which was exciting as I’ve always wanted to run a race where they give these out.

The Aftermath

Wandered round it a daze. Went to collect my bag and sat down in a corridor then couldn’t get up again. Warm clothes on and to the pub for a much-needed drink. Nothing tastes better than a post race ale and some salt and vinegar crisps. We went out to cheer on some more runners then on the bus back to Caernarfon for some food. We managed to find the last free table in Weatherspoons (the only reliable place in town for vegetarian pub grub), which was packed with a mix of runners and locals out for Saturday night partying.  We were at the Travelodge in bed by about 8.30 with tea,

biscuits and in need of lots of sleep.  I didn’t sleep too well as my legs were aching however I actually felt good the next day and managed a 4 mile walk along the coast.

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Snowdonia Marathon Eryri: It helps if you like hills (part 1)

Race: Snowdonia Marathon
Location: Llanberis, Snowdonia
Distance: The big 26.2 miles
Time: 05:04:07

At the end of August I had given up all hope of making it to the start line of this race, nevermind the finish. Here I am now, a Snowdonia Marathon finisher with a slate coaster to show for it.

Registration and Pre-Race Nerves

We arrived on the Friday to collect our race numbers in advance, after a train from Huddersfield to Manchester, then a train to Bangor, followed by a bus to Llanberis. We didn’t actually stay in Llanberis, opting for Caernarfon instead.  I had the foresight to make reservations for dinner Friday night, lucky because Caernarfon was busy. Once fuelled up on pizza, pasta and chips, it was off to the pub for a quick half before bed (I gave up on no alcohol before a run after getting my half marathon PB the morning after two glasses of prosecco!). I didn’t sleep much Friday night thanks to nerves…

Getting to the start line

After much fretting on my part about the bus not turning up or breaking down, we caught the 8.30am bus from Caernarfon to Llanberis. I was surprised that no other runners were getting the bus actually, but I guess most people do drive to this sort of race. Looking at the traffic queues for parking I think that is a good assumption. The bus is brilliant. It only takes 30mins and costs £2.50 return. Cue all the usual pre-race faffing about in a very chaotic race HQ. Took us at least half an hour to find the bag drop as you could barely move for people. Then it was time to walk up to the start line for a 10.30am start.

Miles 1-6

We are off and its all up hill from here for the next 4.5 miles to Pen-y-Pass with about 900ft of elevation gain. So it’s a tough climb to start a long race. So important it was important for me to remember to go easy on the first section.  In reality I went off a lot quicker than planned, but felt reasonably ok and just wanted to get up the hill.  As most of my running involves hills I didn’t find the climb up to Pen-y-Pass too horrible or tough. The scenery was fantastic and the atmosphere amongst runners was jovial.

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Miles 7-13

This section of the race started off fun with a wonderful downhill trail section. Unlike other runners around me who were complaining about the terrain I could have happily stayed on that for the rest of the race. Give me rocks, stones and trip hazards any day over boring tarmac. Fair enough it was steep and road shoes are not ideal for trail running but at least this section was a dry one. One runner I chatted with said they hate this type of terrain as it means you have to pay attention to running. I  think that’s why I like it as it gives the mind something to focus on other than the fact there are still 20 mile to go.  Alas, it was back to the tarmac and this time on open roads. The long plod to Beddgelert. This section was saved by the friendly runners that I chatted with to pass the miles and the family handing out orange segments. Running through Beddgelert was awesome. Another runner described it was a Tour De France moment. I’ll agree with that. The huge crowds lining the streets cheering everyone on gave me such a boost as the halfway fatigue and pain set it.

In part 2 I’ll write about the 2nd half of the marathon and the aftermath…