The Big Marathon Challenge 2018

The Big Marathon Challenge 2018

So Christmas is behind us already (how did that happen?!) and there remains only one day left of 2017, a year that without a doubt has been one of the hardest and most challenging of my life. So it’s not surprising that as it draws to a close there’s a big part of me waving if off, and throwing open the door to 2018. A fresh start, and a New Year that promises pretty big things including one special, happy challenge that I have a feeling might be a bit of a life changer.

Today, after weeks and weeks of being sworn to secrecy, I can share the super exciting news that I am one of the winners of the Women’s Running Big Marathon Challenge 2018!  I am beyond excited (not to mention a tiny bit terrified) that I’ll be running the Greater Manchester Marathon on April the 8th together with two other inspirational women who also won the competition and three men who won the competition in the men’s edition of the magazine.

Those of you who follow my Instagram and Facebook pages, most likely know a little of our story, and how difficult the last few years, and particularly 2017 have been for us, but to explain to anyone new…. This year, after 5 and a half years of fertility treatments, resulting finally in a pregnancy in February followed by a heartbreaking miscarriage 9 weeks later, my husband and I decided that we had reached our limits, both physically and emotionally, and made the tough decision to say no to more IVF. We decided it was time to begin to accept and embrace the life we have, instead of wishing for things to be different. After all, life is short, and so precious, and it’s time to focus on the positives.

I entered the competition back in September, a few months after our miscarriage, when the wounds were very slowly just beginning to heal, and the rawness of what we’d been through was softening ever so slightly. I was beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, and when I stumbled across the Big Marathon Challenge article in the Women’s Running magazine, I knew immediately that it was exactly the challenge I needed.  Three years of pumping myself full of IVF medications, and the emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy, miscarriage and failed IVF attempts had taken their toll on my physical fitness and on my mental and emotional  health, and this suddenly seemed like it might be a way to begin to see my body and its capabilities in a positive way, rather than constantly feeling let down and failed by it.

I was bowled over when I heard I was one of the winners, especially as each and every entry told a story that was every bit as deserving, if not more so, than mine – and I am so grateful to everyone who spared a few minutes to vote for me. From the very bottom of my heart, Thank you – this is exactly what I need to see me through this season of my life and I can’t tell you how much it means to be given this opportunity.

It feels like time to challenge my body to something that I know it can succeed at if I work hard enough. With IVF you try harder than you’ve ever tried in your life to make it successful, and when it doesn’t work, over and over again, it crushes you. You try to tell yourself it’s not your fault, that it’s just ‘one of those things’ but in truth you feel like a complete and utter failure, and that’s hard to live with.  With running, and specifically for me now, with training for a marathon, I know that if I put the hours in, if I listen to my coach and work my backside off, I will make it across that finish line.  Most importantly, I’ll be celebrating my body for everything it can do instead of focusing on everything it cant, and that is worth the inevitable pain and all the challenges that I know will come with training to run 26.2 miles!

I’ve already started working with my coach Richard at Full Potential Coaching (I’ll be talking about more the training plan in future blog posts) to build up my miles/speed and strength and I’ll at least look like I know what I’m doing in my fab new running kit from Asics who are supporting us. And hopefully in just over 14 weeks I’ll be bounding across the finish line (by bounding I of course mean stumbling blindly I suspect) of the Asics Greater Manchester Marathon, having just completed something I honestly never thought I could be capable of.

I’ve thought a lot about whether to document my journey through blogs and social media, as I’m not entirely sure anyone will be hugely interested to read it there are so many ‘actual runners out there who are far more qualified than me to talk about running!). But a couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone who had read my entry to the competition, and was navigating a similar storm as us, and also wondering when ‘enough is enough’. It got me thinking that perhaps my journey to becoming a marathon runner might just help someone else have the courage to believe that even if thing don’t turn out as we imagined, even if the things we long for remain out of reach, there is a still a life out there for us that deserves to be lived to the fullest and to the absolute best of our efforts. There is still joy and beauty and happiness out there with our names on it, we just have to get out there and seek out those silver linings.

So I’ll be using my Instagram account @Seeking_silver_linings and my blog here, as well as my facebook page facebook.com/CarolineStafford1980 and twitter account @CaroStafford16 to share the highs and lows of marathon training, and maybe some of you might like to come along for the ride!

Ooh ps – to read the inspiring stories from the other two Big Marathon Challenge winners, as well as my story, and to follow our progress online click here

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