Today’s inspirational running blog interview is with the lovely, very funny (as in humorous) and wonderfully honest Fiona O’Donovan who is running the London Marathon this year for the charity Variety – if you need motivation to keep going, this is it!
When did you start running and why?
I started running twice.
In 2010 The Penn 7 made Aces Wheelchair Basketball Team the beneficiary of their race. My son plays for Aces and absolutely adores the sport. It’s given him the chance to compete, to burn off the energy small boys have and to make new friends and learn new skills.
Anyway…it was felt that some people from Aces should enter the run, show appreciation and support. Trouble is none of us were runners. Clare Strange (now Griffiths) was coaching one night and set about rounding up some victims. She got to me and asked if I’d run it and I explained that I couldn’t run. She asked why not. Well, the truth of it was I probably could, in theory, run. My legs do work, I am able bodied. So..ye-eees I suppose I could run. ‘Excellent! she said, at which point I realised what was happening and bargained her down to the 5k Fun Run as opposed to the 7 mile race. Phew, That was close.
I sort of trained, in as much as I wheezed and lurched round a 5k loop a few times. I bought ridiculously expensive trainers which did absolutely nothing. No jet packs, no wheels, NOTHING! I could have got a taxi for a fraction of the price. I started the race, I ran/walked the course and I made it to the finish. Despite my glowering, swearing and muttering I admit to a little moment of triumph when I crossed the finish line. Clare gave me my medal and I thanked her and told her I was never EVER running again. Ever. Ask someone else next time. If they were having a wine drinking competition I was in, but no running. She grinned and didn’t look at all apologetic. Rude.
I got home, threw my trainers to the back of the cupboard under the stairs and forgot all about dreams of athletic prowess and podium moments. Stupid running.
That New Year there was the usual alcohol consumption, the usual memories popping up on Facebook. I was on Facebook as some lunatic had given my husband a new computer game for Christmas and he had been locked in an on-going battle for survival since Boxing Day. Facebook, ‘Your Year in Review’ Wine…somehow ended up in me entering The Great South Run the following year.
I woke up to 2011 with that sense of impending doom, never a good way to start a year. I groaned, groped for my phone, and my fears were confirmed. I’d entered AND Facebooked it. Crap. if you’ve put it on Facebook, you have to do it. It’s the rules. I have a feeling Harri was hoping for inspirational reasons. Sorry H, it’s guilt and alcohol.
How did you start?
The first time I did it on my own. For the GSR I plucked up the courage to join Handy Cross Runner’s beginners group. It had been advertised on Marlow Parents and sounded ideal.
Join a beginner’s group. Whether it’s part of a running club (they’re not all full of budding Olympians and good friendships can be made). It’s scary as hell going along the first time but you will benefit, I promise. I don’t know if it’s different now, but when I was at school we weren’t taught how to run. There was nothing about pacing or gradual increases in distance. You just rocked up on the field (or those who hadn’t perfected their Mum’s signature did) and ran until your lungs were bursting and you could go no further. The naturally athletic did fine, it wasn’t an inspiring process for me. You have to learn how to run, how to go slow and build gradually. Blazing off the start line will leave you exhausted and trying hard not to puke on your own shoes in a very short distance. A group with a good coach will teach you how to be able to run further and faster in your 40’s than you could in your teens (assuming you weren’t one of the athletic crowd). You’ll learn that the start is the very hardest part, the first mile when your body is just warming up is hard for everyone, but once you settle into it you get to chatting with your group and nosing at the houses you don’t see when you’re in the car, your fitness will build with you barely noticing.
Every time you run you’ll improve. And, whilst you are out running you are not avoiding eye contact with the ironing pile, finding the 67 millionth thing your children have lost, trying to get a field of mud out of football boots or staring into the fridge for nutritional inspiration that the kids will actually eat.
You’re running the London Marathon in April for the charity Variety – tell me a bit about why you chose this charity.
My son PJ is a wheelchair user, the NHS provide rubbish wheelchairs. I love the NHS, I do, but they’re crap at wheelchairs. So, we found the chair that would best suit my active son. Then we all fell over at the price tag, £2300, and set about finding help. Keep in mind that children outgrow wheelchairs like they outgrow everything else. This is a huge, and ongoing, expense. Variety stepped up quickly and offered to fund the whole amount, just like that.
If I tell you that this chair is what allows PJ to be himself, and to lead his life as independently as he does, you can understand my gratitude to Variety. PJ hates being pushed, I really wouldn’t recommend ‘helping’ him unless he’s asked you, you might lose fingers. You’d get a similar reaction if you tried to take the hand of any other 12 year old as they walk down the road, the intention is kind but they won’t thank you. His Ti-lite chair is light, strong and very easy for him to manoeuvre. The frame is also adjustable so it should last him a couple of years. I know Variety help, and we want to help them help more children. Despite all the negative press surrounding disabled people it really is true that, given the tools, most of them will go on to achieve and contribute as much to society as any able bodied person. Possibly more, these kids have been pushing themselves to keep up and fit in from Day 1. They are dedicated, hard-working and have endurance I can only marvel at.
You’ve recently started attending Pilates classes – are you noticing anything different in your running or how you feel as a result?
I am a convert! I feel lighter and more supple at the end of a pilates class. I admit to being very sceptical of the benefits of lying on the floor and waving my limbs about (that was my perception of pilates, not what actually happens) I think a mix of TRX and pilates might be the ideal runner’s class, but I am no expert. I’m happy to do both, but despite buying a trx system I admit to not using it much at all. Just go to a class, then you will do it. Shhh about this bit (men should avert their eyes – that includes Mr Tania)but pilates totally fixes your pelvic floor. Honest! You won’t need to worry about leaks, even on the downhills. Take it from me who ran 26.2 accompanied by Tena (you do not want to hear about the chafing). Pilates is like the best plumber ever. No leaks.
You were injured last year, how did you cope with your injury.
Hmmm…I got stroppy, drank wine, ate cheese and moaned. A lot. Then I listened to you and stretched, and got back into it. I know now that I need to warm up. I spend a lot of time dashing about, dropping my children here and there, getting to work etc etc. I then just go headlong into a run on catch-up mode and inevitably something pulls or tears. I have zero patience or tolerance when it comes to myself, everything should just work. Except…it doesn’t, a bit of respect and care is required.
This is tricky. I love a group so long as I don’t feel I am holding them back. That worries me, that I might hamper someone else’s run, spoil their training. I get quite stressy about it. My favourite run of the week right now is your improver’s group, they help me with my pacing and, hopefully I help with their distance. I am useless at running solo, I either procrastinate until it’s too late or go out sprinting and run out of steam. The only thing I have found that works is to start a long solo run on a downhill, a nice warm -up and no way will I turn for home when it’s all up, and having a good audio book takes my mind off the miles. Then I can run long on my own.
I love to laugh and talk on a run. It’s a social thing that hopefully keeps me fit. I like to use the time to have fun. We all have so many demands on our time that it’s important to get what you want out of your own time. That could mean improving your distance and times to a set goal, or just enjoying being out there. None of it is wrong, just do what is right for you. Just do something. Sitting still and not moving is not good for the endorphins.
Thank you so much Fiona! If you feel you can sponsor Fiona her Fundraising page is here: https://www.justgiving.com/Fiona-O-Donovan4