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Remembering the day that changed my life

Apr 18, 2024

19 years ago today I ran my first marathon – London Marathon 2005. At the time I expected it to be my only marathon; a once in a lifetime experience. Today, coaching runners to complete marathons and reach their goals is my job. How did that happen?

Working in England in 2002 I had started (very gradually) to run 5ks and 10k. Never being sporty in school, college or as an adult, starting to run was an adventure. With a few years of this distance I had truly caught the running bug. I had started to believe I actually enjoyed a sport.

I took the plunge and signed up for London Marathon 2005.  At that stage I didn’t know anyone who had previously ran a marathon. Without any mentor or running guru to turn to, and in a time before running blogs and marathon mania, my bible was ‘The non-runners marathon trainer’, a book which I still reference almost 50 marathons later.

I followed the book religiously and read everything and anything I could that would help me prepare. Working in project management helped with the endless lists, plans and structuring my training.  Armed with all the knowledge and information and my 16 week training plan complete, I was all set for tapering; that wonderful winding down phase of training where the head starts to go crazy and the doubts kick in. I did believe I could do the marathon, I just needed to get to the start line.

2 weeks to go and disaster strikes. I fell over a painted white line when crossing the road running. Yes, it is possible to trip over a painted line. To cut a long story short, my arm was broken. Not a major break, nothing a few months of rest wouldn’t fix. A few months of rest would rule the marathon out. I was gutted. Just when I believed I could do this race, it was being taken away from me.

My friends may call me Pollyanna for being an eternal optimist, but something in my head told me that I might just be able to still do it. I rested totally, and tried anything I could. From painkillers to herbal poultices to lighted candles, I tried everything – except running. Three days before the marathon I experimented with a few miles, it felt ok. I was going to attempt the marathon.

In some ways the broken arm distracted me from the usual marathon tapering jitters, I was so focussed on the arm, any expectation I had now reduced and I would be happy just to get around. It relieved the pressure of marathon day. It was going to be a true experiment now to see how much I could do.

Roll on the marathon expo. I will never forget one image – An enormous poster over the entrance to the marathon expo reading ‘Second Thoughts – it’s what happens before marathons’. For me it was the moment where it all became real. This is it. I’m going to run the London marathon.

My memories of race day are a total blur. I remember the enormous crowds as we started and a constant stream of supporters and cheering friends and family along the way. I felt carried along and only when I was crossing London Bridge at 13 miles that I realised that half was already complete. The time had flown by, it was so much easier than clock watching in training. My memories of the second half are less clear, it’s only as I come into the last mile that I do remember the flags, the loudspeakers and Buckingham palace. Finishing in 4.29 with a smile with every mile practically the same pace was actually much better than I had expected, especially with the broken arm.


In some ways, nothing beats your first marathon as it changes who you are. For me, it made me realise, if I can do this, what else can I do? It also made me think of so many other people who could also do things like this if they planned ahead, structured their training and approached it with caution as well as respect.

What once seemed impossible was now done and the fear had been taken out of it. It wasn’t easy, but the race was indeed a lot more manageable than I expected. That possibly may be my rose tinted memory so many years on. If only there were smart phones or Facebook back then, I would have a visual memory of the day. Instead I have just one photo, a lot of jumbled up memories but most importantly a huge change in perspective.

I wonder will there ever be another day that changes my outlook on life as much. Amost 20 years on, I can truly look back on that day as life changing – not just for me, but for so many people since who I have since had the pleasure of coaching to their first 5k, or marathon, instilling believe and supporting along the way.

Maybe running a marathon isn’t your ‘life changing’ day, but the feeling of knowing you did something that you, and many others, never thought you would is possibly the most empowering feeling there is. No wonder we can only experience the feeling once in a blue moon – it’s practically priceless.

17th April 2005 was the day that changed my perspective on my sporting ability, my confidence and most surprisingly my career. I am blessed to now work fulltime coaching runners from beginners right up to marathoners. It is an honour and a pleasure to help people experience the change in their self-belief, confidence and fitness that I did 19 years ago.

A word of advice... 

If you are lucky enough to be in a position to run your first marathon this year, please do these three things.

  • Firstly, treat it with the respect it deserves and plan early to free up your schedule to give time to training and recovery. 
  • Secondly write down everything about it. I wish i had written this report in the days after running and I would have had much more details to look back over. 
  • Thirdly, don't get overwhelmed by all the infomation now out there. Take your advice from a few key people you trust. 

Surround yourself with those who will motivate and inspire you, not make you feel like you are not good enough. A marathon is as much about mental training as well as physical. Believing you can do it is more than half the battle - you need people in your corner who will build that self belief, not knock it! 

You can't do everything The volume of tips, training plans, videos and all sorts of advice on the internet can be daunting. You will never know if you are doing the right thing if you try and do it all - you need to minimise the noise and focus on what you need to do each week and not look too far ahead.  

Find your tribe, train with a coach, a group or a supportive bunch of friends who will keep you motivated, understand your challenges and cheer you on right the way to the finish line. 

I've also written a few articles if you need a little more guidance : 

Need help with your training : My Marathon Coaching Programme for Dublin Marathon starts in June 2024. This will be my 13th year of coaching runners to finish their first marathon with a smile. Find out more here. There will be limited spaces so don't miss out. 

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