The Copenhagen Marathon Blog

Follow the ELLE Running Club as we train for the Copenhagen Marathon 2014

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Epilogue: The marathon’s not the marathon; it’s just a marathon

Over 15 weeks, I have consumed 260,911 calories, 62,733 of which were burnt during 100+ hours of training: 45 of them spent running 436.7 kilometers, 14.25 conditioning my body, 24 hours strength training in the gym, 9.5 in a downward dog, 7.5 on a bike, in 4 countries, sustaining 2 injuries, losing 1 toenail. These are my figures; multiply by four to include Amy, Debbie and Christina (though the toenail count may be slightly higher).

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We ran a marathon, and it was glorious. What happened next, was unexpected.

It’s 4 am somewhere in Copenhagen. The streets are populated with nothing but bicycles, some politely upright, others rudely toppled as if landed where they fell down drunk. A mist has settled, low, heavy and wet, curling around my aching legs, anchoring me in place. Through a steady intake of wine and whatever! I have managed to quell the angry protestations of my muscles to a gentle murmur, a peace offering of which terms I’ll probably (yep) have to renegotiate tomorrow. On the street, a glow is cast from the window of the hotel lobby, where we’ve settled into the last of our post-race celebrations. I’m on the edge of it, toeing the frayed line of darkness, shoeless, in a posh dress. Staring into the intersection, the lights change from red to green and back again, for no one in particular, like a slow-blinking question mark. It’s fitting, as for my part I am at a crossroads. I’m fighting the urge to run, broken and sore into the black, away from my coach and my team, my friends. It’s not because I want to leave them, it’s because I don’t want to say goodbye.

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In French, there is a saying, or feeling: la douleur exquise. Translated directly it means ‘the exquisite pain’, and though that doesn’t quite do it justice, and it’s usually applied to lovers, it is exactly how I feel, right now.

This pain— this wonderful, devastating, exquisite pain— is unlike any I’ve ever experienced. The run has made me feel my body wholly; understand the interconnectedness of every muscle, joint and limb; but beyond that I suffer at the loss of my comrades, the ache I feel at being ripped from them, and us each other, now that the race is over.

Running, ultimately, is a solitary endeavor. The goals we set are for ourselves alone; the achievement we feel is up to us to interpret, to put into context weighed against our own set of criteria. And yet, these challenges open us up, exposing all of our vulnerabilities. We are unfolded, fragile and raw, causing those bleak moments in which we desperately look to others for help, on whom we can lay blame, beg forgiveness and ask for strength.

Just before the halfway mark of the marathon, I lost my team. Lost everyone. The neon shock of Amy’s jersey had long blended into the mix of strangers dressed in their sleekest, brightest kit, Christina’s compact body swallowed by the towering crowd. When Coach Tim dropped back to check on Debbie, who’d been struggling with nausea from the start, and didn’t reappear in the kilometers that followed, that was it. I was utterly alone, the anonymous runner 12498, struggling with the increasingly searing pain of a pre-existing injury that I chose to ignore, now vengefully declaring war on my body, first in my hip, then across my lower back, travelling down my thigh through my knee into my Achilles. It is a battle I will fight— and eventually win, limping like Keyser Söze and whimpering like a scolded child— over the remaining 30 kilometers of the race. Of course, I didn’t know that then. 40 minutes after losing my team I am well and truly moving through the five stages of grief: first denial that I am injured at all, then anger at being abandoned. Until an arm slips around my waist, another on my shoulder… In my agony, I may not have shown it then, but the warmth of Tim and Debbie enveloping me was like whisky in an avalanche. And Debbie’s face; her beautiful face, first crumpled in torment, then beaming when we were reunited; that look I will treasure forever. For as much as I needed her arms wrapped around me, my being there, step-by-step through gritted teeth, delivered to her the same antidote to despair. A laugh, a stupid joke (of which I have many); anything familiar was an assurance that if all else fails, we were failing together.

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Life achievements are a slow burn; marathons, relatively speaking, are a flash in the pan. Blink and they’re over. Once you’ve ridden the wave of elation, the come down is swift. You’re left with a painful wound, a chasm you can’t fill quickly enough. I imagine it’s a bit like Everest, you hit the peak, forced to enjoy it quickly, and in an instant you’ve started the descent, wondering what the hell just happened.

I want to remember every millisecond of crossing that finish line, frozen from rain, numb with pain, gripping Debbie’s hand and blinded by tears. Every time I blurted ‘I can’t go any faster’, Tim’s hand on the small of my back, his voice in my ear; ‘I’m not asking you to’. I want to remember the panic of losing, then the relief of finding, our Amy safe and sound. What it was like to finally be reunited with Christina, the sight of her, assured and mighty as always, half my size but twice as strong, when holding her was like coming home. But I can’t. It wasn’t long enough. 26.2 miles isn’t long enough. Not long enough to savour the fruits of your labour. Not long enough to take the time to look at the beautiful creatures running alongside you, those people who have lifted you up, and you in turn have lifted, to watch them striding by glorious in their own achievement. It’s not enough time to thank the people who have given us so much of their time and energy and investment. Not enough time to wave to the friends and family who have travelled so far to support us, or the strangers who, owing us nothing, call our names and cheer us on in a language we don’t understand.

And it’s not enough time to thank ourselves. For the challenge, the journey, and the resolve to even try.

A marathon is a goal, and for many, a hefty one at that. But it’s just a thing. It’s 26.2 miles, but that’s a meaningless distance, comparatively speaking; it’s further than we walk to work, it’s shorter than a flight to Copenhagen. The marathon is just a marathon; it’s not the marathon. It’s only one relatively short event in a string of many, a sharp burst that we can neatly identify and say ‘I did that’. But it’s nothing compared to everything you’ve ever worked for. All of the other marathons we’re running on a daily basis, planned or unplanned, prepared for or not.

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I can’t really tell you about my race— or Amy’s, or Christina’s, or Debbie’s for that matter, because in the end, it’s irrelevant. If you choose to start running, take on a marathon, or any distance that challenges you, or any challenge that challenges you, how we do won’t matter: the race belongs to you. Every day counts. Everyday means something. Everyday is different, and everyone’s path is incomparable to yours. Whether or not you accept it, and how you choose to approach it is what matters.

What will your race be like?

Make it strong. Make it yours. Every single step; keep going— the race won’t wait. Falter, and it’ll pass you by; you’ll find yourself alone, angry and limping looking for someone to blame. Surround yourselves with allies that will give you everything they have, and repay them in kind. Because before you know it, you’ll be crossing the finish line, on the descent— wondering what the hell just happened.

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The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said 'you can never step in the same river twice', both a blessing and a curse. We can never go back to the way it was, but are forever rewarded with a new tide. And with this, though in a sense an end, seen through the right lens is also a new beginning.

I flick my cigarette to the side of the road. Turning my back to the blackness, I’m still not sure where I’ll go from here. The only certainty I have is that there will be no goodbyes tonight. The marathon is won, but the race isn’t over; and whatever happens, I have a team. We will start again as we finished today: together. Armed with love, I step toward the warmth of the hotel lobby, the sound of tinny speakers and laughter, to rejoin my comrades. With them, and thanks to them, I’ll keep running. I have to. Because 26.2 miles isn’t long enough.

The ELLE Running Club would like to thank the following people for their support on our journey to the Copenhagen Marathon: ELLE’s Editor Lorraine Candy. Coach Tim Weeks. Jean-Claude Vacassin, Adam Jones, and everyone at W10 Performance, FRAME Shoreditch & FRAME Queens Park, Dr. Felix Economakis at The Heath Therapies, Jenny Hudson and the team at Psycle London, The Copenhagen Marathon, Tina Christensen and Christian Bartels at Sparta, Kasper Iversen at Politiken, The Editors at ELLE Denmark, Hotel Babette Guldsmeden, The Skinny Bitch Collective, & Ten Pilates.

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Week 11 & 12: What happens in Geneva, stays with me forever

Two weeks ago, we were four weeks away. Two weeks later, we’re two weeks away. That’s soon.

Last Sunday, we ran our final long run, from Victoria to Greenwich. Along the river, past the shipyards, the sun glinting on the water, I shout to the girls ‘THIS IS WHAT IT’S GOING TO BE LIKE IN COPENHAGEN! WE’RE VIKINGS!’. It was a beautiful run. I felt a pang of sadness that it would soon be over; weekends of sweating and cursing, of comparing battle scars both physical and emotional. And then I felt a hand touch my shoulder, small-but-mighty-no-hugs Christina wrapping her arms around Debbie and I, running three abreast, I laugh at my foolishness. I’ve got these girls for life. And like it or not, they’ve got me.

So here we are, two weeks away. We’ve started to taper, winding down with the same training structure, but with less intensity. Despite our nervousness, our coaches know we’re ready. JC wants to get us to the starting line uninjured, Tim reminds us of the work we’ve put in. Our job now is to make sure our batteries are fully charged and nothing rusts over. It’s a strange feeling, knowing the hard work is done.

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This weekend, I hopped a flight to Geneva with fellow ELLE Running Clubber Gillian Brett (remember her training diary from the Semi de Paris?) for the Geneva Marathon for UNICEF, which gave me a chance to soak up the atmosphere and run their inaugural 10K race, perfect prep for Copenhagen.

We met some amazing people; runners of varying abilities, treading common ground, united through sport. The French Marie-Amélie and Emanuele, (who look fast, and are fast) tell me their gutting story of how in 2012, training complete and race packs in hand, their dream of running the New York Marathon was ripped from them by Hurricane Sandy, that bitch that forced the cancellation of the race. The handsome Swedes Karine and Torbjörn, who’ve been running together for almost 30 years. Our new best friend Max, aiming to complete his first marathon on little training, a handful of gels and a perverse sense of humour; Lisa, who runs, and runs and runs, in costume, or totally naked, as it happens; Sophie from Scotland by way of France with whom we share thoughts on feminism in sport. And us, Team ELLE, the not-from-a-fitness-magazine runners, the we-own-the-night runners, the unlikeliest of runners, ready to beat our personal bests.

We are freezing cold on the night of our race, La Bise (translation: The Kiss, an ironically named bone-chilling wind whipped up in Siberia and torpedoed over the mountains, trajectory: Geneva) cutting deep into our bones. Two motorcycles have been hired to take Gillian and I to the start line, high in the hills of Chêne-Bourg. We awkwardly don our helmets and take the requisite selfie, jump on the back and hang on for dear life. I sport a demonic smile through gritted teeth as we speed, white-knuckled, through the Genevan suburbs. We arrive rattled and pale as the sun is setting, only then the reality of the race dawning on us. We are cold, we are disoriented, and a little bit nauseous from the ride; too chilled to stretch properly, making only cursory attempts at unlocking our calves. We wait for what seems like eons. Then, all of a sudden, we’re running. The crowd is moving, my feet are pedaling forward, faster than usual, into the night. The course is undulating, through leafy streets, country lanes, past age-old farmhouses unfamiliar in their architectural vernacular, though in the softly falling darkness everything has a fairy-like quality. There’s a sharp, biting air as we climb through fields, black and vast against the neon blue night sky. My breath is too shallow and labored this early in the race; I’m running way too fast and hard to keep up. A cramp slices across my gut hurling me from pleasure to pain almost instantly. Slowing to a walk, I concede the chance of running a sub 50-minute 10K has died on the side of this country lane somewhere in Switzerland. I look around for Gillian, but in the blackness there’s nothing I recognize, save the sound of trainers slapping the pavement as they pass, like unfurled sails thrashing against steel masts in the lake’s harbour. Somehow I tune into this chaotic beat, first treading lightly then picking up speed. I’m grappling mentally with the idea that not only will I not beat my personal best, but that I may not finish the race full stop. Every possible muscle is being employed not to propel myself forward, but to contain the pain in my abdomen, grimacing to pull myself inward, to push myself up a hill. The course nears the crest, slowly, like a rollercoaster, we inch our way to the top, climbing, climbing, climbing, then BANG: hundreds of runners careening down the slope, weaving, dodging, gaining an almost reckless speed, whizzing past pompiers positioned strategically to scrape up any poor sod who loses their footing during the treacherous descent. I’m speeding down so quickly it’s a bit of a shock; I have to force myself to slow down, watch where I’m putting my feet lest I snap an ankle two weeks before my marathon. After a careful kilometer, my app whispers in my ear that my average pace has plummeted to 5:01 per kilometer— one second off my target. I’m back on track and filled with adrenaline, surging forward, using the hill to my advantage. The runners around me are doing the same, we are free-wheeling together, tearing away like children, nearly out of control, smacking our lips as we take in the now-delicious freezing air. Tumbling into the harbor, through an underpass and up to the lakeside straight, the final two kilometers unfold ahead with the finish lit in blue hues. I know I am on the brink of beating my time. Run for your life, Miette, run for your life until a searing pain again stabs at my core. I am one kilometer away, gutted, and have to stop. The competitors sprinting past me carry with them all of my efforts as a stinging sweat slips into my eyes, morphing the finish into a blurry mess of neon and tears. Then, out of nowhere, a hand on my shoulder, a small tap and a gently push. He passes me quickly but when I look up, he’s looking back with a crooked smile, made of something elastic that pulls me onto the balls of my feet. I start again, I am chasing him, rounding the edge of the lake into the cheering crowds, the thumping music and camera flashes blinding and deafening as I cross the finish line. 50:13. I’ve done it. Not run sub 50 minutes, but beat my time. Hit my target. Everything is hazy from exertion, and the biting wind claws at every muscle. I desperately search the crowd of finishers, hoping to find him, to thank him, to throw my arms around his neck and kiss him. But my hero is gone. Whoever you are, wherever you are, thank you.

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The next day, Gillian and I are again on the backs of motorcycles, following the marathon. Ari, my skull-and-crossbones Harley-riding heavy-fucking-metal driver asks if I’ve ever been on a bike. Save last night, my experience has been limited to cruising around Taiwan on my sister’s scooter and, judging by the look on his face, it doesn’t count. He doesn’t cut me any slack and I’m glad of it; I chipped my manicure digging deep into his pockets, gripping the thick leather of his jacket, which, I might add, is the only thing I have to hold on to as we lean into the unyielding curves of the Genevan hillside. Riding the thrill of last night’s race, both Gillian and I get into the spirit and let go. We start at the back of the race, riding alongside the runners. Knowing my own marathon is a couple of weeks away, I am uplifted by what I see in the trenches; there’s a team from Proctor & Gamble, some of them running in threes pushing chariots carrying young people with debilitating illnesses; another group with ‘C’est l'anniversaire de Vero!’ printed on their jersey prompts a labored but rousing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the runners behind. We whiz ahead and cut through some fields; I am as breathless by the surrounding landscape of mountains and lake below as I am of Ari’s expert driving, he who grinds the edge of the bike on the road, causing sparks.

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We’re flying now, speeding around corners over hills, through fields. Dipping in and out along the marathon route, between the elites and the pack that, in a few weeks, we will be part of. The kilometer markers whiz by, 27km, 28km, 29km and I know all too well now how slowly they will pass when it’s finally my turn, but it gives me a full appreciation of the challenge that lays ahead. I don’t know if I’m still riding the high from beating my best, or if I’m caught up in the atmosphere of the marathon, or the exhilaration of riding fast and hard on the back of a Harley through the beautiful landscapes of a country I have come to adore; I am experiencing an elation that is so rare these days in the jumble of tube strikes and to-do lists. This is the feeling we’re chasing, always. This is what I want when I cross the finish line with my girls, my coach.

Making our way back into the city, we pull of to an islet that overlooks the finish to wait for the elites who will soon cross the line in a triumphant 2:11 minutes, a new course record. After an hour hanging with our bikers, (something of a cultural exchange, learning about motorcycles (us); learning about running (them)), we hop back on our steads with the aim to catch Max, who should be finishing around 3:45. As soon as we have the thought he skips by us, a good 10 minutes ahead of schedule. We catch up to him, giving him a wave and thumbs up for encouragement; not only does he look strong, he clearly hasn’t lost his sense of humour, giving me the finger as I zip by. Three kilometers later we bid farewell to Ari and Alex who drop us off just in time to cheer Max on as he hits the final chronometer: his first marathon, an impressive time of 3:36. Both Gillian and I feel a displaced sense of pride and a bit of responsibility, if only to be there with a shoulder to lean on as he painfully boards the boat that will take us back to our hotel. If the relief of having done it, the satisfaction of having just run an actual, proper, fully-fledged 26.2 mile marathon wasn’t enough… A family of Japanese tourists giggle at Max’s efforts to stay upright on the rocking boat. Ribbon damp with sweat, his medal swings from his neck, coming to a halt on his chest as he lowers himself onto the sticky vinyl bench. Two soul-crushingly adorable children clamber up next to him, one on either side, nestling into his beaten body; they stare at him, studying the salt clinging to his pale cheeks, running their tiny hands over his medal with wonder. As their proud parents take pictures of this unlikely trio, we understand one word: Champion.

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With special thanks to Francine Janet-Moreillon, the Geneva Marathon for UNICEF, Harmony, and Geneva Tourism and Conventions

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Week 10: Beauty, you’re a beast

We need to talk about beauty. Not fit vs. thin, or eye-of-the-beholder stuff. I’m talking about things that you normally take for granted suddenly disappearing. Like toenails. Uh-huh, honey.

If you decide to train for a marathon, here are some things I can guarantee you have to look forward to:

1. You’ll wake up in a good mood. Every. Single. Day.
2. You’ll sleep soundly and deeply
3. Your anxiety and stress levels will plummet
4. You will feel unbelievably strong and capable
5. You will look awesome naked
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Here are some things you may not welcome so willingly: The loss (or near loss) of some (or all) of your toenails, blisters, ingrown hairs, skin dryness, chaffing, brittle hair (from over washing), possible breakouts (not necessarily on your face), muscle fatigue, endless laundry, and toting of a minimum of two bags with you at all times. My PB for outfit changes in one day is five. I challenge you to take my crown.

Fear not: I have solutions. I’ll talk about inner beauty in a later post, but for now, here are my tips for retaining what’s skin deep.

Hands & Feet
Use an oil to moisturize brittle nails on clean hands and feet. Avoid varnish on damaged/black (yes, black) toenails to keep them healthy, but if open toe-shoes are calling, use a paraben-free polish you can remove easily, ideally with an acetone-free remover. You can also use a clear treatment to help undo the damage. On hands, I wear long-lasting (like, 2-3 weeks) gel polish, which if applied and removed correctly, will keep your nails strong and prevent them from breaking. By the power of Greyskull, DO NOT peel off your gel mani.

In my kit
Treatment: Leighton Denny Bio-build Treatment Shield, £11 and Renovate, £13
Oil: Organic Pharmacy Lemon & Neem Nail Oil, £23
Gel: RedCarpet Manicure Professional LED Kit, £90
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Blisters
Leave them alone. I’ve done the research for you. Don’t pick, poke, or remove them; you risk infection and that’s way worse. Specialty socks can help prevent blisters to a point, but they’re going to happen. Coat the offending areas in Vaseline before you set out, or slap on a Compeed (from £5). If you’ve never heard of Compeed, google it. Thank me later.

Body, Legs, and Bikini Line
Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. Constant sweating will dry your skin out and you’ll likely end up with more ingrown hairs than usual. Choose waxing over shaving if you want to be hair-free, and don’t run the day after a wax. Again, I have done the research for you. It is uncomfortable at best. I’ve switched from a cream to oil for all-over body moisturizing as I find it works harder for longer. And finally, chaffing: If your kit rubs you the wrong way, again use Vaseline to protect the skin before running, and a restorative balm after.
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In my kit
Exfoliate: Mio Double Buff Dual Enzyme Exfoliator, £23
Body Oil: Caudalie Divine Oil, £27
Treatment Cream: Decleor Aroma Epil, £15
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Hair
Oily roots, brittle ends, daily wash. Ouch. Try a cooling shampoo to cleanse, and skip the standard conditioner, opting for a rich mask on ends only. A once-in-a-while treatment will also work wonders. I avoid heat styling, and dry my hair from wet to damp, letting the air do the rest. Do not attempt to rectify post-workout hair with dry shampoo, you will use half a can and look insane.
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In my kit
Shampoo: Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo, £13.50
Conditioning Mask: Gielly Green Nourish Mask, £29.50
Treatment: Philip Kingsley Elasticizer, from £15
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Face
If you are prone to breakouts, after an initial wave of your skin freaking out you may be pleasantly surprised to find it calms down. I have noticed a marked change in my complexion and tone. My skin is more radiant, colourful and clearer; I have a healthy glow that looks like I’ve just returned from holiday. A red-faced run sends blood to the surface as your body naturally works to repair itself. I learned an amazing tip from Eve Lom’s Product Director, Amandine Isnard, who recommended I skip any night creams if I work out in the evenings. It was a strange feeling at first, a little bit tight, but it’s worked a treat; I wake up glowing. It’s all down to science and cells, in which I am not an expert. But my rules for clear skin are pretty simple: Cleanse deep, keep it light, let it breathe. Invest in a Clarisonic— particularly useful if you have problem skin— and stick with it. Resist the urge to overload your face and let nature do it’s thing.

In my kit
Tool: Clarisonic Mia, £99
Cleanser: Dr. Nick Lowe Hydrating Foaming Cleanser, £12
Boost: SkinCeuticals Floretin CF Gel, £150
Weekly Exfoliator: Kiehl’s Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion, £39.50
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Make-up
I’ve replaced everything in my make-up bag with hyper-functional dual-purpose products. With the exception of a brow pencil and eyeliner, all of the products are loaded with skincare actives; 80% of what’s in there is Eve Lom, a brand I swear by. I’ve swapped a heavy moisturizer for a hard-working primer, all over foundation for a tinted moisturizer, and cakey blush for a fine milled mineral powder. I’m nourishing my skin and letting it breathe, instead of piling on the products and covering up. I rarely have to reapply. I wear the same breathable make up while running, with the exception of eyeliner, because that will always travel halfway down your face. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t wear mascara— I haven’t for a year. I swear by lash extensions— mine are by Daxita at Atherton Cox. She is uh-mazing.

In my kit
Primer: Eve Lom Flawless Radiance Primer, £40
Base: Eve Lom Radiance Perfected Tinted Moisturizer, £48
Cheeks: Eve Lom Golden Radiance Bronzing Powder, £42
Lips: Clarins Joli Rouge Brilliant Perfect Shine Sheer Lipstick, £19
Lash: Daxita at Atherton Cox, 02074874048, www.athertoncox.co.uk
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Post-session essentials
Your body will hurt. So turn your bathroom into a spa. Bath salts will make it better, reduce swelling and replace minerals lost on the road. Pair it with bath cologne and you’re on holiday. Arnica oil will help soothe aching muscles, as will a cooling gel. Drink a ton of water, and wind down. Aromatherapy works a treat; I spritz a calming scent on my pillow before a marathon sleep session.

In my kit
Salts: Yarden Dead Sea Bath Salts, £8
Bath Cologne: Jo Loves Green Orange & Coriander Bath Cologne, £59
Oil: Weleda Arnica Massage Oil, £10
Cooling Gel: Mio Workout Wonder Invigorating Muscle Gel, £21
Aromatherapy: Intelligent Nutrients Innercalm Wind Down Elixir, £22
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Week 9: Cape Fear

Something happened during my first trial long run.

I spent 3K dusting off the cobwebs, and then settled into my pace. I wasn’t in ‘the zone’, bounding alongside the Thames with an idiotic grin on my face (likely the opposite). I was testing the waters, trying to tune into my body’s demands for fuel, rest or fluid. I was fine. Until the 27th kilometer, when I burst into tears, and then it was gone so I ate some chicken.

Running does some messed up stuff to you, mentally. I was anticipating a physical block, instead I was assaulted by my own psyche. I started to unfold; my mind became a boundary-less no-mans land; a garden of twisted ideas, bullets of thought in an untamed frontier, shooting at me from every angle. From the depths of my subconscious, this vile hysteria surged unchecked to the forefront of my thoughts and took over. Imagine yourself in a vast forest, alone, in the dark; in an unfamiliar, foreboding place full of fear and without escape. Then dawn. Somewhere on Oxford Street. You get the picture.

I’d always assumed running a marathon would require a certain mental fortitude, one I’d thought I possessed, but this… For anyone who needs rule and order to function: brace yourself. It’s a bloody labyrinth in there. You will go into the blackness, and you must know how to retrieve yourself, if not unscathed, at least with but minor bruising.

I didn’t tell my teammates about my spiral. I should have leaned on them; we’re a crew and our sails tighten with every storm. But I’m sensitive to the fact that a hint of anxiety from me may plant a similar seed in them— I didn’t realize they’re already as freaked out as I am.

Last week, we had our first meeting with our team psychologist, Felix Economakis. He’s one of the UK’s leading experts in phobia and anxiety. His methods, to us, may seem a bit unconventional, though in the circles of psychology, this isn’t strictly true; what I consider Jedi mind-tricks are a perfectly acceptable and trusted form of treatment called Neuro-linguistic Programming, or NLP. Lucky for us, Felix is a certified master. Like Obi-Wan.

In an effort to preserve dignity, I have combined our list of fears, which includes, but is not limited to:
• hitting the wall
• not finishing, full stop
• stopping and walking
• stopping, not being able to walk
• stopping, not being able to start again
• music machine stops working
• Veering off course, ending up in pub
• something (anything, probably catastrophic) happening
• being unprepared and undertrained
• wearing the wrong clothes
• eating too little/too much/wrong time
• Not sleeping the night before
• Sleeping through the alarm
• becoming bored
• stopping five meters before the finish
• kidneys shutting down
• dying
• being dead
• already dead. I am a ghost
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These are totally valid and palpable fears. Some of them are irrational, some of them are to be expected; but they are real, because that’s how we feel, right? Dr. Felix asks us picture them as a shape, colour, or texture; identify where they are in our bodies, and what they feel like. All our answers are different, but we (surprisingly) have answers nonetheless. Someone says hers looks like a marshmallow and we giggle. Imagining these fears as a physical thing, we bring them out of our bodies, into our hands. Then we talk to them. I’m serious. Why are you here? To protect you. Don’t you think I know what’s good for me? Maybe, maybe not. It feels a bit silly to have a conversation with ourselves, though we all talk to ourselves from time to time, albeit not in a glass-fronted meeting room, on display to the (very bewildered) editors of ELLE. We soldier on.

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Fear, pain, these are all things in place to preserve our well being, to prevent us from suffering, or experiencing things that are unpleasant. Thinking about it rationally, it’s not hard to understand why we have these anxieties. Running a marathon is taxing on the body but we’re training for that. The stuff we can’t control? Well, shit happens. So what if your music stops working? And yeah, you may get bored, or tired. You’ll be music-less and bored and tired for a few hours, so what. You prepare as best you can and let the universe decide.

After I drag a whiteboard in front of the window to shield us from view, Felix hypnotizes us, for real. Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis doesn’t make you do anything weird; all it really does is put us in a relaxed state, open to suggestion we’re already comfortable with. It’s actually surprising how much I feel like I’m not hypnotized. I can hear the phones ringing, cars outside, and Obi-Wan chatting away with our subconscious’; I was totally aware of everything that was going on around me, and was unconvinced that anything had actually happened once I‘d opened my eyes. Looking at my teammates, and speaking to them afterward, we didn’t really know what to make of it.

Our inaugural group run was on Sunday: 30K, from London to Surrey. I was promised a swimming pool (that never materialized) and a pub lunch (that did); we set out from East London, earphones out, chatting away for the first 10K before things got serious. Then I put Felix’s efforts to the test.

I picture race day, tell myself I’m going to die, that something bad will happen. The ideas disintegrate before they’re even fully formed, breaking into fragments that bounce off me like rubber and dissipate outside my body. I have negative thoughts, but they belong to someone else; like trying to stare at the sun but seeing only its edges, a hazy sphere somewhere in the atmosphere. With concerted effort, I can piece together a niggle, but it’s difficult and because, well— I’m busy running— I give up trying to remember the fear.

It wasn’t a perfect run. It was tough because we were tired, and running from East London to what I consider the other side of the planet is a long way to go. We were doing exactly what Coach Tim Weeks told us to do: be on our feet for a few hours. Get a feel for it. Find out what aches, what surprises you, what inspires you. What we weren’t doing is worrying about our music (or our kidneys). Incidentally, both Debbie’s and Christina’s phones conked out. Tuneless. Nobody died.

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There is a certain childish recklessness involved in taking up running, or anything new for that matter; whenever we venture to test the waters, we’re dipping into a pool of wonder, uncertain of the outcome, and herein lies the adventure. There’s a bit of risk (of the unknown), a bit of fear (of the unknown), and a driving curiosity to know (the unknown). The satisfaction that comes from this endeavour, I am finding, has as much to do with becoming physically stronger as it does with the liberation from the psychological limits we have set for ourselves.

It doesn’t come easy, and we’re still learning. There will be dark days, but by contrast some are blindingly bright. Trying to get to the place where we stop worrying, where we say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ is no small feat. But if you try, I promise you this: you will learn that everything you ever thought you couldn’t do, you can. There’s power in there. You just have to let it out.

Coach Tim Weeks’ tips for the long run

Kill the tunes. It’s easy to distract yourself from the road ahead with a few choice beats, but you’ll be doing yourself a favour by learning what to expect psychologically. Come race day, if you need a boost, you can always pop on
your power song.
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Make it social. Running with friends will help pass the time and encourage you to go further. Stop every now and again if you feel like it; grab a drink at a cafe, or take a 10-minute time out. Remember, it’s not about distance or speed.

Go exploring. Long runs give you the chance to go further afield, so skip your usual route and see what’s out there. Hop on the train and run home, or seek out a path with beautiful scenery. Enjoy the journey.

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Week 5 (& 6, & 7, & 8…)

Hello strangers.

It’s been a while, but don’t think for a minute that training has slowed down for the Copenhagen Four. On the contrary, we’ve been working closely with our Lead Coach Tim Weeks over the last few weeks to develop a training plan— one that you will be able to download and try for yourself. You don’t need to be training for a marathon in order to benefit; this plan will help you focus, whatever the distance. It prioritizes key areas that are essential to your success in running. We’ve been following it for a few weeks now, working out the kinks, making sure it’s right for us, and you.

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Week 3: Oh, yeah… Life

Well, last week was a write-off. In between all the training, the blogging, and the race preparations for the Semi de Paris next weekend, I sort of forgot about life. And then it got in the way.

My week began with an easy 5K on Monday, followed by an uplifting start at Psycle London on Tuesday morning. I drank green juice; I ate a protein-rich breakfast from Detox Kitchen. I started my day with super-human energy. Then it all went downhill from there.

I shouldn’t say downhill, really. Tuesday was the night of the ELLE Style Awards, which is our biggest event of the year. It is teeming with A-list glamour and incredible fashion; it’s an intensely exciting event to work on, and a privilege, really, to be a part of. It’s just that behind the scenes, everyone at ELLE, from intern to Editor, is working at fever pitch: in the weeks leading up, and on the day, from 8am until at least midnight. Over the two days following, it’s a race to finish the issue. At the awards, once our duties are fulfilled, we can take a bit of time to soak up the atmosphere. I won’t go into detail, but it’s possible I soaked up a bit too much, um, ‘atmosphere’, and found myself in a very surreal situation involving a supermodel, a dance floor, and the early morning light.

It was pointless to try to train— or use my brain— on Wednesday; hangover and carbs won out. When we finally finished at work at 10:30pm on Thursday night, there was no time for a run, but there was defo! time for a celebratory glass of wine. Which escalated. Quickly.

Then Friday is Friday, right?

And there’s everything else. The kit that needs washing after every run, littered around my flat. The dishes, the scattered supplements and half a pack of chia seeds tipped out into the bottom of my bag. Friends who text ‘I miss you’ or ‘Are you alive?’ for having not heard from me for over a week. And it is definitely time to wash my hair. It’s fine. It’s the weekend. I’ll play catch up.

No, I won’t, because now I’m ill.

I know not everyone leads my kind of lifestyle, but <insert anything else here>. People have kids, marriages, mortgages, jobs— you know— real life stuff to factor in. A few weeks into training, and I’ve lulled myself into a false sense of security. My energy levels are up, I feel positive, strong and healthy; but it’s tricked me into thinking I’m invincible. The sheer fact of the matter is, you cannot work hard, play hard, and train hard. When a body is under constant stress, it’ll find a way to tell you to slow down.

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So now I’ve spent the weekend in bed, nursing a fever and lamenting my choices, knowing I’ve jeopardized the half-marathon next Sunday. I will run it, I will finish it, but unless I can find a way to correct my mistakes, I will not achieve my greatest result. It’s pretty disappointing, but it’s taught me a valuable lesson. I guess, naively, I didn’t really realize when we started this how much focus it would require, or how much of an effect it would have on my normal life. And I certainly didn’t expect to be learning as much about the way I make decisions or manage my priorities as how to perfect a deep squat.

I never had any intention of becoming a mega-healthy fitness babe; there are superwomen out there who do a much better job of it, and I am in awe of them. But that’s their job, and I think that’s the point: for most of us, taking up running, or any other sport for that matter, is daunting because it can feel like if it’s not done with fanatic enthusiasm or obsession, it doesn’t count. I’m not willing to sacrifice my success at work, my relationships, or other areas of my life by letting the race take over. But I don’t want to do a crap job at running, because I’ve become passionate about that, too. I guess it’s really about finding a healthy way to make space for everything— work, family, a social life, training and rest— by looking at all the pieces of a new, more complex puzzle, fitting them together so the bigger picture becomes clear.

That’s not really about running, is it? That’s life. Suggestions welcome.

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Week Two: Can’t, a Critique of No Reason

I’m a real brat sometimes.

I was thinking about what to write this week, what we’ve learned, what I can share. Looking back on these past seven days, I noticed a disappointing theme: It wasn’t my training, pace, or schedule. It was my attitude.

Can’t is such a dumb word. Think about it. Can’t. Cannot. Pffff… dumb.

There have been a lot of times this week where I‘ve caught myself thinking ‘I can’t.’ Can’t take another plank, I’m so tired. Can’t get outside, it’s pouring. Can’t get into a squat, my ankles don’t work. Can’t see you for lunch, can’t make it on time, can’t talk right now.

Of course, I did do all those things, eventually. But looking back, I’m annoyed at myself for the negativity. As one of our trainers, Russell Bateman of Skinny Bitch Collective has said: ‘priorities dictate choices’. True in life, and true in running. It’s not enough to want to want something. You have to actually want it. You have to choose to give it your all.

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Take my friend Richaella. She’s a bartender and works long hours, often double shifts, deep into the early morning, sometimes ten days in a row. And bar culture is what it is; there’s always a mate with a drink with a packet of crisps, and the persistent temptation to pull up a chair and stick around. The odds are not stacked in her favour. I guess it’s easy for me to wax lyrical about slapping your shoes on and getting it done; I work for a magazine that has a running club, a boss who wants us to bank 11K with her in the middle of a workday, and a panel of professional trainers— some of the best in London— we can go to for expert advice.

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Richaella doesn’t. She’s just got shoes. And the right attitude.

Every Tuesday after her shift, we meet at the pub and head out together. In our early runs, she could barely manage a mile. She’s not one to complain, but I could see that shitty little word etched on her face: can’t. Can’t breathe, can’t continue, can’t wait for this to be over. But somewhere along a stretch of pavement by the park, somewhere up that really, really annoying hill, somewhere on the dash through the estate, Richaella lost those four letters, one by one. A few weeks ago, for the first time, she ran 5K without stopping. The week after, we did 6K; the week after, again, but faster. Now we finish with a sprint. I’m really, really proud of her, but that’s not my victory; it’s hers. She’s earned it, and because she wants it, she’ll keep getting better.

I don’t think it matters if you’re just starting out, or like us you’ve been at it a while. It’s like anything: there’s bound to be a rough patch somewhere along the way. That’s okay. Smooth it out. I’d forgotten that having the right attitude is worth as much as all the sweat; the only person who’s going to make it count for me, is me.

So next week, when I’m training: if I catch myself saying ‘I can’t’, I will think about how dumb that word is. I’m going to remember what it was like to start from zero, and think of my own victories so far. I’m going to stop being a brat and remind myself that I really, really want this. I’m going to choose to give it my all, because I can.

I can, I can, I can.

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Week One: Full Thrust Ahead

It turns out being a better runner— or trying to go further, or faster— isn’t about running at all. It’s not even about your legs. Who knew?

We kind of over did it this week. The Semi de Paris, a marker in our training for Copenhagen is just weeks away. Maybe it was panic, or a compulsion to rack up the miles, but Wednesday’s group run went from 5K to 10 in a blink. We lost Debbie somewhere in the park; she’d ran 15k the night before. Amy found her and they braved the rain back to base together. Speedy Christina sprinted ahead, and I, somewhere in the middle, was attacked by a squirrel. I’d already put 17K in the bank since Monday, and I’ll be honest, I hated the first half of my run. It was tipping down; there was traffic, jackass wildlife. The only thing that kept me from stopping was the fact that running back to the office was the fastest way to get there.

That night over dinner, we compared injuries; my feet were so swollen I had to change out of my heels back into my soggy trainers. I’m in danger of losing a toe; Okay, so maybe not a whole toe, but a definitely a toenail. I’m afraid to remove my nail varnish for what lies beneath. Debbie’s knee actually clicks; I’ve heard it, it’s gross. She admitted to quitting at 7K knowing she’d overdone it, Amy stopped with her for the same reasons. Christina declares we’re running too much and orders more cheese.

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We’ve only just started, how are we already suffering this much? Our first session at W10 Performance, the conditioning hub enlisted to make us stronger, couldn’t have come at a better time.

Jean-Claude Vacassin, W10’s Founder and Lead Coach, starts off by talking us through ‘prehab’. I have never heard of this before, and of course, explained by a pro, it’s glaringly obvious we’ve skipped this step. It’s likely we’re hurting, because we haven’t laid the foundations that will prevent injury later; and exhausted, because we’re making inefficient use of our energy. We’ve been running, squatting, jumping and lunging like maniacs. Great for burning calories in the short term, not so great when you’re planning to run for 4+ hours straight. Time to rein it in, and focus on quality instead of quantity.

JC asks us to do a series of squats and lunges to check our form. I’m squatting and he immediately notes that if I were wearing heels, I’d be able to get right down. Years of sky-high stilettos have tightened my ankles and calves. If I want to run safely and/or carry on wearing heels (I’m keeping the heels), I need to work on this. I christen this ‘fashercise’ but keep the thought to myself.

Cue drumroll: it’s all about the pelvic tilt. You heard it here first, ladies. You need to point that thing in the right direction. It doesn’t look pretty. Don’t arch your back. Keep your bum in check. Rest on your hips; keep your core centered and chest out, shoulders back. Turn your knees outward, your arms straight above your head. Debbie thinks she’s going to fall over and Christina can’t find her hips. After a couple of corrections from JC, we kind of get it; it feels weird, makes sense, and looks hilarious. Lucky for us, W10 doesn’t have any mirrors.

Next, Group Training Manager Pieter Vodden puts us through our paces with some circuits involving but not limited to: a horrific adaptation of a traditional sit-up, climbing a rope from lying down (ouch), deep squats with a weighted ball we have to launch up a wall (catch, repeat), and my personal favourite (I lie): 18” plyometric box jumps. Sounds fancy? It’s not. It’s literally jumping up onto a box, over, and over, and over. I discover yet another reason to hate the kettlebell (like a bowling ball with a handle) because the ones allotted to me are massive, painted pink and look like cartoon boobs, which I have to hold at chest height in the ‘rack’ position. Oh, hilarious. I feel like an idiot, but by the time I’ve held them up for 55 step-ups onto the 18” box, I don’t care what bloody colour they are. If I had any strength left I would have hurled them across the gym, probably in Pieter’s general direction.

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Looking at my teammates, I conclude Christina may never speak to me again and Debbie might cry; I myself am pouring with sweat composed of four pints of beer and the midnight bacon cheeseburger that inexplicably made it into my body after last night’s pub party. BUT, after our pre-class session with JC, I’m much more aware of where my hips are, and what my body should be doing. It’s not perfect form by a long shot, but I can definitely see how this translates into a better run. By keeping my core centered, I’m more stable and using energy more efficiently; I have better control over my movements and the exercises are becoming bearable. I said bearable.

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Turns out hips really don’t lie. If you hurt, they’re weak. Get thrusting.

Try this, now

Step one: draw all curtains and banish everyone from the room. Next, sit on the floor leaning your back against the front of your sofa, at shoulder blade height. Place your feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart in front of you. Cross your arms across your chest so you have one hand on each shoulder. Now lift your hips up towards the ceiling, so your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold it for two seconds, and lower yourself back down. Do it 15 times. You shouldn’t feel it in your lower back; if you do, try tilting your pelvis up towards the ceiling. You should be warm through your hips, squeezing your bum will help. It is actually called a hip thrust and I wasn’t joking when I said it wasn’t pretty.

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Prologue: It takes a village

One year. Time flies.

365ish days ago, I sat in a meeting with our Editor-in-chief Lorraine Candy, when I thought I heard her say ‘That’s for Running Club’. Come again? ‘We’re starting a running club.’ Dead serious. ‘Lorraine… I don’t… run?’ ‘You do now.’

The thing about working at ELLE, is that we don’t do things in half-measures. I don’t always understand why or where LC’s mad ideas come from, but I have learned that in no uncertain terms, if she says it, it is happening. So when we launched the ELLE Running Club, we launched the ELLE Running Club. No one was safe.

My friends— who knew me better to compete in marathon pub sessions, or race through a pack of cigarettes— found the idea of me ‘r… ru ha-ha… running?’ an endless source of hilarity.

I may have been ELLE’s least-likely candidate to take up running, but the rest of the team weren’t far off. We’re not endorphin-obsessed gym bunnies who wake up at 5am for a power-session. We dread the stairs during fire drills at HQ like everyone else. Plus, people send us cupcakes for like, no reason. We attack them like pack animals. For most of us, it’s sportiest thing we do all week.

But somehow, together we’ve managed to a) get of our asses b) banish our fear of Lycra and c) RUN. By doing things together, with support and encouragement, a lot of laughter and a little slack, we’ve become r… ru ha-ha… runners. 5K, 10K, 15K, half-marathon; what’s next? How far can we go? It’s taken a year to get from 0K to the half-marathon, a distance of about 21km. A marathon is twice that. Can we actually do it? In 16 weeks?

I think so. I hope so. Taking up running has taught me a lot of things, but above all, I’ve realized that it’s not actually hard. You just have to do it. I’ve said it before (usually to any poor soul I’ve cornered in the pub after just-one-more glass of Rioja, and let’s face it, probably with cigarette in hand) and I stand by it: Just lace up and go. I bet if you did, right now, on your first run you’d do 3k in 30 minutes— stopping included. And then you’d feel like you’re going to die, and then you’d feel awesome, and then you’d feel sleepy. This is what I’m banking on to tackle on our biggest challenge to date: The Nykredit Copenhagen Marathon.

Thankfully, I’m not doing it alone: how could I? I have three smart, funny and determined teammates to share this journey with; we’re counting on each other. We’re in this together. Seriously, we’d be screwed without each other.

First up: Associate Health & Beauty Editor Amy Lawrenson. Amy runs at least a mile every day. Every. Single. Day. It’s called , and she doesn’t do it because it’s easy, she does it because it’s hard. She’s amazing. She’s also a bit of a masochist, and this whole Copenhagen thing was her idea. Blame Amy. @AmyLawrenson

Then there’s Workflow Director Christina Simone. What does a workflow director do, you ask? EVERYTHING. Christina makes sure all the millions of editorial parts of the ELLE mega-brand move in harmony. She is small but mighty, from New Jersey, and sends us YouTube links to Rocky training montages to pump us up. She is also a master of deadpan delivery. @ChrissySimoneK

Finally, Editorial Business Director Debbie Morgan. Debbie is a dark horse, because at first glance, she appears to be made of sunshine and giggles and My Little Ponies. Lovely Debbie, managing our budgets, making sure we can pay for all of LC’s big ideas. But to overhear her 'negotiating' on the phone is to be filled with equal parts fascination and fear. She is an iron fist in a very pretty velvet glove. @Deb_ELLE

And then there’s me. I’m the Art Director at ELLE, and if I’m not designing pages, I am: running between Christina and Debbie, begging for more time or money; distracting Amy while she’s trying to work; At the pub; wandering aimlessly around my flat after midnight trying not to eat spaghetti. I am the anti-runner. You can read about how I got here, and follow me at @MietteLJ.

This is it. We started a year ago, and come May 18th, a year-to-the-day of our first race together, we’ll be at the starting line. Stay with us, train with us, tell us what you think. Share your stories and take a crack at some of our plans. We’ve put together a dream team of coaches to help prepare us, and they’ll be here to answer your questions, too. You may not be gearing up for a marathon; you may have never set foot on the pavement. But if you want to start, try running with us. Because it takes a village; it takes a team.

On you marks. Get set. Here we go.

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