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My marathon history – potatoes, past injuries and pain

In today’s blog, one of our marathon runners Rowan shares why she’s running for McPin, a training update and some good advice

Rowan Diamond

Four weeks to go before marathon day! I’m squeaking along, just about managing the training. Last Sunday was my longest run for quite a while – a 14 mile beautiful but very slow slog around the Oxfordshire countryside!

I haven’t always found it so hard to run this far. Of course, part of that is just being that much older – and a bit of lockdown padding too! But it’s also because I injured my knee at the start of July.  

Carefully designed plans…

I was on a steady path to increase the long run mileage by a mile a week – feeling just about in control of my training. I was 4 miles into my 7 mile poddle when my knee suddenly became very painful.

I walked for a bit then jogged very slowly but it wasn’t having any of it. I had to walk the 4 miles back feeling gloomy and sorry for myself. My dog gave me a quizzical look as we turned around to go back, moving far too slowly for his liking.  

I had started training with the possibility that I might get a place in the marathon, but hadn’t yet heard. I wanted to reach marathon distance in my running, even if I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to run for the McPin Foundation.

Running is so good for my mind and body, this was a great reason to be a bit more disciplined about it. I had made a carefully designed training plan and had so far stuck to it.  

I got home after my walk and powered up my computer to find an email from McPin confirming that I had indeed got a place to run the marathon. Very mixed feelings at that point!  

Starting physio

My next move was to get in touch with a physiotherapy clinic as soon as possible and hope hard that I would be able to get back to running.

Talking to Dom (the physio) reminded me that I have had quite a few running injuries in the past. Strangely enough one was at university just before I had a marathon place confirmed. I was running a lot back then and competing for the university most weekends. I was regularly running half marathon distances for training so didn’t think a marathon would be too much difficulty.

Then my ankle started hurting. Not too much at first but then it became hard to ignore. I went to see a “physio” – not sure of his qualifications to be honest but his view was if his treatment didn’t hurt, it probably wasn’t doing much good.

He pummelled my ankle to the point that I fainted – I’m like one of those fainting goats – too much pain and I seem to pass out. I hope that doesn’t happen in October!!  

Part of my identity

I was broken by the injury. Especially having been pretty much told that I would get a club place in the marathon. Running was my best way of dealing with the stress of university pressure and in a way, had become a big part of my identity. People who didn’t know me well referred to me as “the runner”. Without it I felt like a much smaller, slightly lost person.

I used to look out of my window and, I’m embarrassed to say, I felt angry and envious of the people who were running. I missed it so much.

My way of dealing with it (not very sensibly) was to take up modern pentathlon, which involved less running. It wasn’t quite the same but I did have a good time, and taught myself to swim properly in the process! Injuries faded away over time.  

A meaningful marathon

My next marathon opportunity came when my brother-in-law became very ill with brain cancer. I ran my first marathon a few months before he died and raised money for cancer research. It felt meaningful to run for him and the training and challenge of the day felt very much worthwhile, quite apart from all the enjoyment I got out of it myself.

What did I learn from that experience? Well, I suppose I learnt that I could run a marathon.

I learnt that chatting to a really nice person for 20 miles was very pleasant but that trying to run at her pace was not sustainable – after 20 miles I hit the wall and had to let her go ahead while I heaved myself along at 4 minutes slower per mile for the next 4 miles!

I also learned that running with potatoes around your waist was a bruising experience!  

The potatoes…

I’ll explain… Someone very experienced had told me that sweets and gels were not really what your body needs to fuel over such a long distance and that he preferred to run with cooked, salted new potatoes.

I tried this out, much to the amusement of my fellow runners and training partners. And I have to say, I loved it. Potatoes felt so much better than jelly babies. And easy to nibble without going sticky. I felt like I’d won the lottery! A secret weapon! I was going to smash it!

Actually what happened was that I put far too many potatoes in a running belt around my waist and they bashed my lower back and hips for 26 miles…. Very uncomfortable and far too many potatoes!  

A moment to pause

So, here I am, hoping to learn from my mistakes – but not, as I had originally hoped, expecting to go any faster than my ill-fated potato wall-hitting experience of 2017!

I took six weeks out of my training schedule to recover from the injury. Now my hopes are not to go faster this time, but just to complete the marathon.

This has given me a moment to pause and be grateful for the fact that I can run again, albeit slowly. And I really am grateful for this. I know not everyone finds it easy or enjoyable to exercise and I feel so lucky to be able to do both.

If the time is slow, so be it. What is so much more important than my time or my potatoes, or my injuries, is that I’m raising money for something I really believe in. And thanks to the generosity of so many people, I am well on my way to hitting my fundraising target! 

Thank you so much everyone for supporting me and my efforts to raise money for the brilliant McPin Foundation! You can watch a video with more information on my work and why I’m running below.

Mental health, marathon training and McPin

You can support Rowan’s fundraising here and to keep up to date with her running journey follow us on Twitter @McPinFoundation


Rowan Diamond is a Research Clinical Psychologist in Oxford, and will be running the London Marathon 2021 in support of McPin. You can follow her on Twitter @rowan_diamond.