Written by Jenny Bede


Marathon Woman: Weeks 9 & 10

Jenny Bede is running the London Marathon – again – and she’s sharing the joys and the pain of the whole experience with Standard Issue. And recently there seems to be a distinct lack of joy.


Paula Radcliffe at Mile 14 of the 2007 New York marathon. Photograph by Ed Costello from Brooklyn, NY via Wikimedia Commons.

This week I finished first in the Silverstone half marathon. That’s not as impressive as it sounds; I finished first because I had to drop out at mile four due to (by my standards) pretty severe pain.

I’ve been beating myself up about it ever since, which I know is futile but unavoidable. I won’t lie: since my last update it’s been a shitty couple of weeks, training wise. In the last fortnight I’ve been to see a physio three times, had a sports massage, been taped up twice and managed a slow and not so steady 16 mile training run and some shorter runs.

I’ve been in pretty constant but still totally manageable pain (until yesterday when it just wasn’t, in any way, cricket). As I mentioned my ITBS is back, which has been made worse by fallen arches. And my shin splints won’t fuck off. Also, and I don’t want to show off, my personal trainer said I have some of the tightest hamstrings he’s ever touched #humblebrag.

The ‘good’ news is I’ve been reassured by my physio that I can’t do myself any lasting damage to my knees if I continue to run: it will just be incredibly painful. I was excited to hear this at first but since the Silverstone disaster I’ve come to think that pain itself can be pretty damaging, not to mention completely demotivating.

The nature of pain is an interesting subject. At it’s simplest pain is defined as ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional sensation’. There are countless different types of pain and different causes; everyone experiences it differently.

My very wise ex gymnast friend likes to say: “Pain is the body’s way of talking”, which is true. It motivates us to withdraw from damaging situations and acts as a warning signal that something might be wrong.

Despite this people often don’t like to admit they feel pain. There is a certain bravado that occurs and a misconception that to admit pain shows weakness, be it physical or mental. I’ve been lucky: apart from the occasional sports injury or freak episode of gallstones in Sri Lanka seven years ago physical pain is not something I’ve experienced that much of; I never really understood how it can affect people’s lives.

That’s until I worked for a neurosurgeon for five years and saw it first hand. I’ve seen six foot four men weep because of back pain and spoken to several patients threatening to commit suicide because of neurogenic pain. It’s very alarming.

Similarly people often confuse mental health problems with being mentally weak. The two things couldn’t be more separate; it’s so important to remind people of this. I’ve heard my own friends say, “Yes I’m depressed, but I don’t want to ask for help. I’m not weak.” This suggests that mental health disorders can be controlled or stopped using just your mind, which is 100% incorrect. You can’t control or think your way out of them just like you can’t control or think your way out of cancer. Or MS. Or gonorrhoea.

Yes I’ve struggled with mental health issues in the past (and probably will again at some point) but I’m tenacious, ambitious, driven and self-disciplined. I’m mentally strong. I’ve run half marathons in considerable pain before but this week was more unbearable.

During the Silverstone race I was hurting after about five minutes, not even at the one mile mark, in a completely different place and on a completely different leg. Things got steadily worse until I stopped four times to stretch in the first few miles. It wasn’t worth it. Other than the fact that my mum and dad drove me all the way to Silverstone ON MOTHER’S DAY I didn’t feel like I had a good enough reason to push through.

After crying under my mum’s coat in the back of her car for 90 minutes she told me to pull myself together, that I was right to stop and that I was being too hard on myself. If I ever needed further proof that mums are always right, my physio also agreed with her. Apparently it looks like inflammation of my peroneal nerve this time. I said, “Wow running is really bad for you isn’t it?” as he prodded and poked. He replied, “Well it’s bad for YOU.”

I’m going to do the marathon either way. I’ll walk it if I have to (I’m thinking of writing: “I’m not lazy, I’m injured” on my running vest) but I think it will be my last one. I always wanted to run one in under four hours but this is looking less and less likely now. And the more I try the more injury I encounter. I have daydreams of one day being rich and talented enough to invent and then undergo completely painless corrective skeletal surgery but, until then, I think I’m done (unless I change my mind in five years time, which is ok: Jay-Z fake retires all the time and he married Beyoncé).

Funnily enough this year’s London Marathon is also Paula Radcliffe’s last marathon. While perhaps my retirement from long distance running doesn’t have the same impact that her announcement had I can’t help but think it’s entirely fitting. After all we’ve had startlingly similar running careers.

Let me explain: Paula is a blonde woman. I am a blonde woman. Paula has won the London Marathon three times and NY Marathon three times. This will be my third London marathon. And I have been to New York three times. Paula currently holds the world record for the fastest female marathon ever; I once got a Wham record stuck on my middle finger.

Paula’s average mile pace for her fastest marathon was five minutes and 13 seconds per mile, which if you double it and add two seconds is my current average mile pace. Paula once famously did a poo at Mile 18 of the London Marathon: I once wet myself on completing a 10k.

So there you have it. A sad day for British running.

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Written by Jenny Bede

Jenny Bede is an actor, writer and comedian living in London. @jennybede