Inside the mind of a marathon addict: “I've completed more than 20 races and I'm still running”

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Lucy Frith
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If 'running a marathon' has made its way on to your to-do list yet again this year, then take a leaf out of Stylist reader, Lisa Lord's, book. With 20 marathons under her belt and a few more booked in for 2016, the running fanatic, 36,  from Chester shares her motivations and explains the highs and lows of being addicted to marathons… 

When I was 25 I was unfit, a bit overweight and smoked and drank too much.

My friend Lesley and I decided to challenge each other to do a 5k Race For Life as an incentive to get fit, so we started going to the gym and working up to the distance on the treadmill. After we’d completed a gym session, we’d reward ourselves with a cigarette.

Once I ran Race For Life, I was back to my old ways – I didn’t really feel like I had a goal to work towards anymore.

Then, in 2001, the worst happened: my brother died.

Lee was 33 and super fit. It happened while he was out on a training run – he died of cardiomyopathy, sometimes called sudden death syndrome. His death left a gaping hole in my life and I began suffering with depression.

When I got engaged to my now-husband, I gave up smoking and started running again to help stay focused. Running helped perk me up when I was having a particularly dark day and soon running a marathon made its way onto my bucket list. 

The thought of running twice as far as I’d ever run filled me with fear. But I knew that, after we lost my brother Lee, I had to make the most of the time I have.

For the five months before the race, I ran five times a week as I was determined to make a sub four-hour time. It was May 2010 and when the day finally came it was a balmy 25C. I managed the first 16 miles before I had to walk to the finish line.

I really thought I wouldn’t make it. I finished in 4:24 and was physically and mentally drained.

I saw my husband and burst into tears – part elation, part disappointment I hadn’t made my goal time. Either way, I’d run my first marathon and the support, both from locals clapping me on in the street and from my friends and family, gave me such a boost.

I dedicated it to Lee, and raised more than £1,000 for Cardiomyopathy UK. 

After I’d recovered, I was determined to run another to see if I could make my goal time – I really felt a sense of loss that I hadn’t made it.  

Run on

It took another eight months before I garnered the momentum to start running again, but in May 2012, two years after my first, I ran my second marathon at Lake Windemere. While running through the beautiful scenery, I changed my mind about goal times and decided to simply enjoy the experience.  

Since then, I’ve run 18 marathons.

Each one is different. There are lots of factors that can affect the toughness of a marathon: terrain, weather, if you have slept enough in the run up to the race, how you’re feeling on the day (both mental and physically), whether you have brought the right kit for the conditions and - obviously -whether you have trained well enough for what you’re about to put yourself through.

In August, I ran four marathons in four days in Donegal in Ireland. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.

Negativity invariably creeps in at some stage in every single marathon. Sometimes, I get halfway round a course and think to myself, “why the hell am I putting myself through this?” But I have a way of flipping that in my mind now into a positive.

Once I hit 20 miles, I know I’m less than an hour from finishing the race and that’s a good place to be, even though those miles are usually the hardest. I tell myself that I’m strong and to keep on pushing because every step I take is a step closer to the finish line. I live by the phrase: “pain is temporary, pride is forever.”

If all my self-motivation techniques fail, I start to think about the nice food I can have at the end. 

Training techniques

I try to run regularly, which makes training for a race a lot easier. I use a plan I found online which helps me structure my training. I do one long run a week and four or five smaller runs with my dogs. Adding hill sessions and interval training also helps with endurance.

I also have regular sports massages to help recover – but they’re not usually pleasant experiences. I once accidentally kicked my therapist during a session but he said it wasn’t the first time someone had reacted in that way! 

Old wives’ tales

One of my biggest bug bears is when people assume that because I run I have bad knees. But, actually, but studies have shown that if runners are sensible and have worked up to the distances they run gradually then they are no more at risk than a non-runner.

Health-wise, I drink less, I’ve quit smoking and I’ve got strong muscles – but most-importantly, running has helped beat my depression. That's why Mind is the main charity I support through my races. I've made a lot of friends and raised a lot of money for them over the years – the work they do is so important and it's vital to raise awareness of mental health issues.

In 2013, I suffered from chest pains and the doctor told me to stop running until a cause could be determined. It meant I had to defer my place in the London marathon which I’d waited five years to secure. I was devastated - I felt like I had nothing to look forward to, nothing to aim for, I felt empty.

Luckily though, further tests showed I’d pulled the intercostal muscle in my chest and my heart was fine, so I entered the Chester marathon and began training straight away. Nothing was going to stop me running a marathon that year.

Still to come

I have 10 marathons booked so far this year. Chances are I’ll do a lot more than those already planned. My goal is to reach 100 marathons one day. Until then, I’ll keep on running.

Lisa's favourite...

Marathon tune:

Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine – it helped dig me out of a deep hole during my first ever marathon and always has a positive effect on me when I hear it.

Training tune:

I listen to anything upbeat. My guilty pleasure is Anything by Goldie Lookin Chain – it cracks me up and spurs me on. I also like to listen to audio books and comedy to keep me going.

Running gadget:

I always use my Garmin running watch – it tracks your activity while you’re on a run and you can link it to to the Garmin Connect online to analyse your performance over time. But many people like apps such as Runkeeper and MapMyRun, which can be really useful and are free to use. 

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Lucy Frith