Every Saturday morning, I set out on my London Marathon training run. Every Saturday morning, I fall flat on my face.
Sometimes I slip on a wet drain cover. Sometimes I slip in mud. Sometimes I slip on soggy leaves, and sometimes I slip in dog shit. Quite often I don't need a slippery surface. Weary legs, uneven paving stones and rogue twigs have all caused me to fall, and I spend a lot of time on the pavement, with bleeding hands and grit in my knees. But I pick myself up, brush myself off, and keep going.
My reasons for attempting my first marathon aren't totally selfless. Of course it's a personal achievement, and I'm also raising money for the anti-poverty charity ActionAid. But as someone who writes a blog about burgers and Bruce Springsteen, I'm ashamed to say I have been known to eat five patty and bun combos in one day – giving a whole new meaning to that term "personal best".
Developing a bit of a burger belly, I really needed to shift a pound or two. "Run a marathon," I was encouraged, "you'll lose weight and get some killer abs." Lured by the prospect of a washboard stomach like those oily girls on the front of FHM, I decided to put my unsuspecting body through the training.
It's all lies. I have not lost a single pound. In fact, giddied by the permission to carb-load, I've managed to gain nine. I had visions of myself striding around London with a super-long and lean body, oozing positivity as endorphins pumped through me. Instead my thunder thighs have slowly wobbled past construction sites in head to toe, one size does not fit all lycra. My face has passed through all shades of red – a soft wine blush to a deep purple beetroot. When the exertions are too much, I lose all colour completely.
I was expecting a little more camaraderie in the training. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but as I pass the same old faces on yet another lap of Hyde Park, I'm surprised when no one wants to return my thumbs up or give me a high five. Occasionally I spot someone who looks fit and healthy, but their face is pained with that all too familiar grimace. I'm secretly chuffed, taking a sneaky bit of pleasure in knowing someone seemingly fitter than me is also really struggling with this.
But it's not just other "athletes" (I've taken to calling myself this) that seem to run faster than me. My most mortifying incident was when a group of five-year-old scouts galloped past me with backpacks, maps and compasses, apparently on some sort of top secret mission. "Keep going!" they encouraged me without a glimmer of effort on their smug cherub faces. I barely had any air left in my lungs to breathe out a meek "thanks" and then a slightly quieter "bog off".
Marathon training has its highs and lows. As a huge Springsteen fan, his music makes up the majority of my training runs, the miles made marginally easier with a different live recording each Saturday. Psychologically, the distraction of a Springsteen set list has helped, but it is also reducing my stamina: jabbing my fingers to the sky, slapping my thigh to the beat and singing while running is not the best way to conserve energy. Plus, I think I'm starting to scare people.
The boredom is tricky, so I have to find ways to manage it. I load my bumbag with jelly babies, allocating myself a little sugary sweet every two miles. Isn't it sad when the best thing to happen on a Saturday is the anticipation of whether you'll pull out a green or yellow jelly baby? But staggering sweets is a good way to keep me calm and happy, because hell hath no fury like a burger-lover on a marathon training run. I apologise now to anyone who may have crossed paths with an angry, whimpering girl in head-to-toe purple lycra over the last eight weeks.
As I charge (OK, trundle) along the river Thames, accidentally photo-bombing pictures, tourists slowly back away in fear, smooching couples jump apart and doting parents dodge out of the way as they hear my heavy breathing and clomping feet coming up behind them. Rats have darted out in front of me. Dogs have chased me. Pensioners on mobility scooters and children on micro-scooters have raced me down the street, wheels spinning, burning rubber. They all leave me for dust.
That's why after each training run, I require the rest of the day to "reflect". This usually consists of collapsing, traumatised, on the sofa, watching Man v Food with my mouth hanging open, wearing a glazed expression and not speaking to anyone. My foam roller lies under my head, the only pillow within reach, as I daydream about that period of tapering.
On Sunday 13 April 2014 I'll be running my first marathon, and despite everything I've said, I am excited. 1% excited, 99% terrified. Apparently, when I cross that finish line I will feel like I can do anything. Right now, I'm not sure I can get to the kettle. But, taking advice from former marathon runners, the thing that will help the most is a positive attitude. Encouragement from other burger lovers, Springsteen fans and runners has been phenomenal, and has given me the will to carry on. And so, I'm not worried about falling over during the London Marathon – for me that's par for the course. With Springsteen in my ears and a burger at the finish line, I know that on the day, I'll pick myself up and keep going. Baby I was Born to Run … just very, very slowly.