A Bunion Did Not Stop Her First Marathon

Jeffing Jersey is Emily Coltman's story - the story of how an overweight thirty-something British accountant discovered the exhaustion and exhilaration of running with a bunion, found a way to let herself run-walk, and successfully completed her first marathon.

An unflattering number appearing on the scales after Christmas 2014 convinced me I needed more aerobic exercise. Already a keen walker, I decided I’d up the game a bit and try running.

“Use an app to measure and increase your running time each time you go out, there are loads out there,” said my colleague Michelle, shooing me round to our local branch of Run 4 It to be properly fitted with trainers.

I don’t think one of the benches in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, has ever recovered from me collapsing on it half way through my first run, wheezing like a hippopotamus with a hernia.

All that convinced me to go back for another run was the thought of what my husband would say if I spent upwards of £100 on running kit and only used it once.

Slow as that hippo wading through a vat of treacle, I worked my way through the app. 10 minutes’ non-stop running seemed a totally unattainable goal. And as for 35 minutes… no way.

Having a goal to aim for is a brilliant way to keep going and not stop. I signed up for the Cancer Research 5k Race for Life in May, five months later, and battled on with my training through heaving lungs, searing quads and knees that screamed “Ouch!”.

I made the 10 minutes. I made the 35. And I made it round the Race for Life to a hot, panting, delighted hug with my husband.

Before that race I had never planned to go any further than 5k. But stopping at that now seemed a bit tame.

“You’ll run a marathon one day, M,” predicted Michelle.

“Oh no I won’t!” I retorted. “I’ll never do a marathon!”

“If you can do 5k you can do 10k,” said my colleague Michael.

“OK… I’ll try for 10k.”

The summer sun proved uncomfortably hot even in Edinburgh as I slogged up through running for 40 minutes, 45, 50… Finally, before breakfast one warm June morning, I ran for an hour non-stop for the first time. “I couldn’t run 6 minutes 6 months ago and now I’m running 10 times that!” I thought delightedly as I staggered home for cold apple juice!

When the going gets tough, the tough get going and I unwittingly picked a tougher-than-usual race for my first 10k, at Kielder, Northumberland. What made it tough? Hills! The Kielder 10k has a notorious long steep climb in the second kilometre and then several undulations from 8k to the end. All I wanted to do was finish that race without walking - and not without a lot of mental pushing, I hit that goal.

“Half marathon next?” asked my friend Aidan.

“Not just yet!”

A few more 10ks later, including a second Kielder and a very warm Women’s Running 10k in Glasgow, gradually I realised I was ready for the next challenge and entered for the Bath Half Marathon.

Back on the training app, there were no hill repeats programmed in, which came as something as a surprise. I followed the training app religiously - and came unstuck in Bath. Even though the hills on that course are very gentle, the day was warm and I had been training on a super-flat railway path. A dizzy headache at mile 8 slowed me to a panting walk. I ran-walked the rest of the course and enjoyed it a lot more… and wondered if I was on to something…

Geordieland beckoned six months later for the amazing, breathtaking, adrenaline-rush, brilliant street party that is the Great North Run. Nursing a richly booming chesty cough, but super-reluctant to pull out altogether, I remembered the writing of Jeff Galloway, former Olympian and run-walk king, and decided I would take walk breaks from the start of the run. I would run for 4 minutes and walk for 1. And I had an absolute blast. Not pushing myself to run non-stop meant I could enjoy the fantastic variety of costumes (from a giant nurse to Cruella de Vil with 101 toy Dalmatians fastened to her coat), collect high-fives from starter David Rudisha and from sticky-fingered watching children… It may be my slowest half yet but what a wonderful experience that was.

And having enjoyed it so much, I finally decided to bite the bullet, eat the elephant, and go for The Big One - enter a marathon.

I thought I would only ever do one marathon, so wanted to make it a bit special. I opted for the beautiful island of Jersey, whose annual marathon is in early October. Sea breezes should help keep the temperature down.

A 14-mile training run on an undulating path in County Durham, on a very warm spring day, proved more of an ordeal than I wanted. I really didn’t enjoy it. “It’s supposed to be a hobby, it’s supposed to be fun.”

Why not run-walk again as Jeff Galloway advised? It worked for the Great North Run…

It proved to work again as I inched my way to longer and longer runs, using toe separators to stop incoming bunions in their tracks, completing two 20-milers in the run-up to the main event…

And, to my delight, it worked on marathon day.

I never hit the wall, I only had to have two walk breaks longer than my normal ones (one for a hill, the other for mild queasiness at mile 17), and despite sheer agony in my hips and thighs in the last few miles, I crossed the finish line in St Helier gibbering in utter delight, “I’ve done a marathon! I’ve done a marathon!”

Michelle won her bet!

And having found that run-walking really works for me, Jersey will not be my only marathon! Next year I will pound the streets of London on 22nd April to raise money for St John Ambulance - and if you buy Jeffing Jersey you will be supporting that amazing charity and helping save lives!

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