My First Marathon: Sharon Grinsted

Some people enjoy the solitude of running, while others revel in the camaraderie of training and the shared experience of racing. After 20 years of running, Sharon Grinsted decided it was time to step up to the marathon and as you will see, it was an experience she will never forget!

What sort of running did you do before your first marathon and had long had you been running?

I had been a regular runner for about 20 years, running about 3 times a week, 3-4 miles each time. I realised I wasn’t pushing myself so signed up for a half marathon to set myself a goal. This was 2 years prior to my first marathon.

When was your first marathon?

My first marathon was Virgin London Marathon in 2014.

How long in advance did you agree or commit to do it?

I entered the ballot in May 2013 and was lucky to secure a place when the ballot results were announced in October 2013.

What was the impetus for doing it? Who or what inspired/encouraged you to do it?

I always admired people who ran marathons although I didn’t know anyone personally who had. Running had been a big part of my life for 20 years albeit short distances. I was 42, I thought it’s now or never. I entered the ballot thinking what will be, will be, never actually thinking I’d get a place first time! My husband encouraged me to go for it and I think was even more emotional than me on hearing I’d got a place.

What was your first thought when you had said ‘yes’?

My husband picked up the VLM magazine when it dropped through our letterbox. He came sprinting up the stairs saying “you’re in, you’re in!’. He was so happy for me and excited. I couldn’t quite believe it thinking “Trust me to get a ballot first time entering’. My first thoughts were ‘how am I going to do this?’ but very quickly followed excitement and determination to succeed. I’m a great believer in things happen for a reason and this was my time, I was going to run a marathon!

Did you follow a structured training schedule? Did someone coach you or did you train with friends/a club? 

When I was offered a place, I started telling everyone! Luckily, a parent at my daughter’s swimming lessons told me about a local running group. She passed on their contact details and when I contacted them, they had another 5 ladies who were all running their very first marathon. We did all our long runs together and speed sessions and our tempo run, we did on our own. We were given a 16 week training plan which comprised of 3 runs (long, speed and tempo) and one core workout per week. I printed out this plan and ticked off each session when completed and never missed a session.

Tell us about some of the highs and the lows of the training.

The lows of the training for me was BLISTERS! I suffered terribly. It didn’t matter which trainers or socks I wore, on the longer runs I would always get them. This was very painful. I have extremely soft feet and even started applying surgical spirits which I heard would toughen up my skin. Although my marathon journey was never blister free, on marathon day I didn’t get one blister!

The highs definitely outweigh the lows.

I loved being part of a group, sharing this incredible marathon journey, knowing that we could talk about the marathon all day long and never be bored of the conversation. We set up a whatsapp group and shared all our thoughts, feelings, aches, injuries. It was such a fantastic support network. We all became really close and nearly 5 years later are still best of friends.

A definite high for me was achieving a new distance PB each week. Its such a great feeling completing your longest run to date. The sense of achievement is amazing.

I also felt so proud telling people I was going to run a marathon. As the training progressed I became more confident and knew that I could do this. I managed to drop the word ‘marathon’ into nearly every conversation I had!

Did you use a mantra to help you get round?

I would often say “Pain is temporary, victory is forever”

But my very favourite was something my trainer wrote on my arm on the journey up to London on Marathon day. It made me smile, even when I was feeling low and tired. It said “Don’t be Sh*t”

Did you stretch/warm up before /after or both?

On a speed session we would always do dynamic stretches beforehand. On every run we would stretch out at the end.

Were you injured during your training and how did you cope/recover?

Unfortunately I suffered from Mortons Neuroma. This was very painful and would always kick in after 8-10 miles. At times the pain was unbearable. I went to a podiatrist and had special insoles put inside my trainers. This did not help, so 3 weeks before marathon day I opted to have a cortisone injection. The downside was that I wasn’t allowed to run for the next 2 weeks. Although I was tapering during this period, it was hard psychologically not to run at all. The injection wasn’t 100% successful but did buy me a few extra miles on race day as the pain didn’t kick in until about 15 miles. Following marathon day when my distances decreased, the Mortons Neuroma settled down.

Can you remember much about the week leading up to the race?

I remember worrying about my Mortons Neuroma. I didn’t worry too much about completing the marathon. I knew I’d trained hard and that I would get to the finish line. Time was not important to me, just finishing.

Did you have a target time? If so, what was it?

Ideally, I wanted to come in under 5 hours.

Tell us about race day – any particular memories?

One of my favourite memories was seeing my family at a point that hadn’t been arranged. It was quite early in the race, about 10 miles in and I remember being so happy to see them. I stopped and kissed them all. I had planned to see them at my charity’s stand at mile 15 but when I got there I couldn’t see them. Unfortunately, they had difficulty getting from one point to the next. I was so disappointed. However, they caught up with me again at mile 22 and that spurred me on to the finish line. They held a big bird toy so that I could recognise them in the crowd – that’s a good tip.

Was it harder than you expected and did you get the time you wanted? When you crossed the line what went through your head? 

I really didn’t know what to expect. It was tough, but I knew running that distance was never going to be easy.

I completed the marathon in 4 hours 54 minutes.

I felt relief crossing the line. No other emotion. I didn’t even feel happy, just relief! The happiness came later and then I couldn’t stop smiling for weeks.

Although I thought during the race ‘never again’, when I’d finished I thought “never say never”

What were the highs and lows of the marathon itself?

Lows – Mortons Neuroma pain and failing to see my family at organised meeting point.

Highs – the crowds support, the amazing atmosphere, seeing my family and friends along the route, the realisation of how lucky I was to be part of this iconic event and the massive sense of achievement felt.

What lessons did you learn about pacing/kit/nutrition before and after/advising spectators where to meet you?

I was so lucky to be advised well and so pacing/kit/nutrition all worked out well for me.

With regards to spectators, it’s hard for them. If they plan on travelling to different points they need to plan well and leave enough time. It can be very stressful. It is also disappointing for the runner if they don’t get to see their friends and family but when they do, it is such a boost. I’ve been a spectator and think I’d rather be running.

I got my family to meet me at my charities after event. I only felt relief, and not much else on crossing the finishing line but when I was reunited with my family, reality set in and I had run a marathon. It was the best feeling ever!

How did you recover/celebrate?

Initially, I celebrated at my charity’s after party. I loved this. It was a chance to reunite with family, to meet staff and also meet the children the charity had helped. I had a ballot place and so didn’t need to raise any money but saw this as an opportunity to raise funds for a very worthy cause.

That evening I had 2 McDonald’s meals washed down with a glass of Prosecco. I spent the entire night on social media reading through the many messages of congratulations. I revelled in the glory!

Have you done marathons or other endurance events since?

Yes, I’ve done 2 marathons since and currently training for my fourth marathon. They’ve all been VMLM.

Did you do a parkrun before your first marathon or do you now?

I have never done a parkrun. I know that they are fantastic but for me, I quite enjoy a 5km distance running solo.

What four pieces of advice would you give to some one thinking about doing a marathon?

  • Follow a training plan. You need structure.
  • Listen to your body. If you have a niggle, get it sorted. If you need rest, take it. Otherwise you will only knock yourself back further.
  • Try and join a group or find someone to run with. It can be lonely running long distances by yourself. It is great support, very social and great friendships can be made.
  • Don’t get obsessed with time. A marathon is a marathon regardless of how long it takes. You need to soak up the atmosphere, take in every sight and sound and enjoy.

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