In February Katherine Wood’s wrote a blog on seeking help to overcome an eating disorder. In her latest blog the English Half Marathon Champion talks about her progress, and finishing eighth in the recent Stockholm Marathon. 

It was my 24th birthday recently. I spent the day hobbling around Stockholm, grimacing every time I faced a staircase, wincing at each downhill slope. This was, of course, entirely my own doing. I had run the Stockholm marathon the previous day, finishing 8th woman and 1st British lady in a time of 2:43:41.

This was two minutes slower than the PB I had run in the 2018 Yorkshire Marathon. My post-race mind was struggling to decide whether or not I was delighted or disappointed with my performance. In net terms, very little has changed between my turning 23 and my turning 24. I haven’t got significantly faster or slower in terms of my PBs since I set them last September/October. My weight is very similar to 12 months ago, I still live and work in the same places with the same people.

Looking beyond the numbers

Looking at the net difference between 23 and 24 would be doing a disservice to the journey that I have been on this year. A few months ago, I wrote an article detailing my battle with anorexia nervosa as an athlete. It detailed my decision to fight and beat my eating disorder for good. At that point, I was still in a very hairy situation, with a struggling immune system, poor bone density and was only just incorporating training back into my schedule.

In the four months since writing that article, I have managed to get my weight back up to the level it was before the anorexia took hold again. More importantly I’ve been able to sustain it while increasing my weekly training load. My immune system has been holding its own. Whist my periods haven’t come back yet and I have been fighting a losing battle with my local GP practise regarding the prescription of short-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help the bone density, I know I am going in the right direction.

My coach Liz Yelling has been helping me reintroduce tempo sessions into my schedule. I am now going to club track sessions once a week. This is a huge triumph for me as I missed training with Sale Harriers and being a part of the running community. Prior to Stockholm I have done two races, narrowly missing a PB and finishing as second woman in the Shakespeare Half Marathon at the end of April. I also won Hook 10 in May and set a new course record.

Marathon Motivation

Back to the here-and-now – Stockholm. The marathon will always be my preferred distance. I find 5km and 10km pace hard but have an uncanny ability to maintain a relatively fast pace for a very long time. Being given permission to do a marathon at the start of June had given me a lot of motivation. Over the last few months I’ve foused on staying strong, keeping on gaining weight, and (with a few exceptions and slip-ups) doing what I was being told in terms of training and challenging my eating behaviours.

Furthermore, it made swallowing the bitter pill of having to forgo the Manchester and London marathons, and therefore any hope of being selected for international teams this year, slightly easier. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of performance in Stockholm. Certainly I knew I had done very little specific training for the event and was only just coming back after a reasonably long break. I only had two races in the bag this year. I didn’t have the months of double sessions, track and tempo work I had leading up to my PB race. But equally, I was heavier and healthier than I had been for a long time. Most importantly I was enjoying running again, seeing it as a fun activity rather than a chore I was compelled to do.

Mixed emotions

So, am I delighted or disappointed with how it went? I know I should be ecstatic. To quote Liz, my time was a ‘miracle’ given the circumstances. It showed just how much potential I have if I stay healthy and make my wellbeing the number one priority. To be able to run a sub-2:45 marathon (and my second fastest marathon ever) on the back of very little training with a short lead-up, proves that my talent hasn’t gone anywhere. With sustained training, proper nutrition and a more balanced outlook, I could go a long way if that is what I want in the future.

The ultra-competitive, perfectionist side of my mind, however, is gnawing away. It’s telling me that had I got a better start (rather than getting caught up in the masses in mile one and playing catch-up over the subsequent few miles) and paced the hillier sections better, I should have got a PB.

Looking ahead

As soon as I finished the race, I was already thinking ahead to the Berlin marathon this September. Berlin is my big competition goal for 2019, and focussing on going sub-2:40. But that was never the point here Stockholm was meant to be a fun birthday weekend. Enjoying a long training run to feel to set me on track for the rest of the year and remind me why I do what I do.

And I did have a lovely birthday trip. Having a good race experience has given me a lot of confidence looking ahead to Berlin. I need to relish these emotions and the good memories, while learning to deal with the perfectionism. I need to accept that I have accomplished a great deal over the last year personally and professionally, and that won’t necessarily be reflected in a running time or race performance.

So, a year of little progress? Not at all. I have learned so much about who I am, how to get a better training/work/rest/life balance, how to accept help from others and how to manage my expectations. Things aren’t perfect but then recovery isn’t like a 5km race (relatively short and uncomfortable but over quickly); recovery is a marathon (long, hard, very painful at times, but so very rewarding when you cross the finish line).

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