When you can't even manage three miles, how on earth can you tackle 13? Imy Brighty-Potts finds out.

In 2021, I am ashamed to say I went on one run.

That run was supposed to be 5km, it wasn’t, and it took me 40 minutes.

But this year I decided to sign up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon – as a complete beginner, a mere two months before the event. And a few miles into my first training session, with Doja Cat and Eminem on blast, I realised that 13.1 miles was going to be a lot harder than I thought.

According to Let’s Do This, there are 500 half marathons held in the UK each year. And hundreds, or even thousands, of people run in each one, but I never thought I could be the sort of person who did.

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There are also dozens of half marathons in Ireland, such as the Stone Mad Half Marathon, the Tralee Half Marathon, the Clontarf Half Marathon and many more. You can find a full list of them, along with various other events, here.

Around 16,000 other people took on the Royal Parks race this year, and despite being at the back of the pack, I felt hugely emotional at the prospect of joining all of these people for my first big run.

So, how did I do it?

Actually get out and run

I know this sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but the hardest part of every run was actually forcing myself to leave the house. Route planning was stressful and I found worries about weather, getting lost, being hungry, or thirsty harder than the actual run. Yes, I did get lost a few times and I did forget to eat before a couple of runs leading to a stroppy stroll.

Putting a run in my diary as a task and event to tick off that day meant it would actually happen, because otherwise I would fail to complete my to-do list that day. Even if I walked part of the way (which I did a lot) I was still covering the distance, still pushing towards the goal.

My training plan consisted of two short runs a week (between two and four miles) and one longer one (from four to six miles). I didn’t do any extra strength training, but I did do a couple of runs focussing on hills and played football once or twice a week, as I usually do. I was still doing three-mile runs right up until the week of the race, and I did my last long run (seven and a half miles) six days before race day.

Imy on a training run
However much I didn’t want to run, even in that cool transition from summer to autumn, I put a run in the diary (Imy Brighty-Potts/PA)

You don’t need to uphaul your diet completely, but give supplements a go

Starting running was a big enough challenge for me – changing my diet would have been a bridge too far.

Knowing myself and how I relate to sudden ‘health kicks’, I knew it would just put me off the process as a whole. So, I upped my water intake by just a couple of glasses a day and ate as usual. I continued going out for meals, eating cheese and pasta, I drank alcohol until the day before and enjoyed chocolate and sweets. I’ve always loved fruit and veg, so keeping that in my diet was no issue, but I didn’t cut out anything I enjoy.

I did however have the odd protein shake post-run with oat milk and pea protein, and started taking turmeric, glucosamine, fish oil and vitamin b12 supplements to combat low mood from the changing weather and my aching joints.

The Royal Parks Half Marathon
The race passes some major London landmarks (John Stillwell/PA)

The day before the run I ate lots of carbs and chicken, while on the morning of the race I had a protein and carb-packed breakfast and fruit. I hate eating in the morning, but it’s definitely recommended before a long race. During the run I managed one and a half gels (30g carb), at the expert advise of Precision Fuel and Hydration and I really felt the positive effect – but it’s advised you train using them too.

Wear proper trainers

When I started training I was wearing a pair of old trainers that I usually use for dog walking. My feet and legs were so knackered even halfway through a 5km training run. So I found my barely-touched, expensive running trainers that I bought in a moment of madness five years earlier and once I started running in those I was more comfortable and enjoyed it a lot more.

I genuinely said the words: "Wow, it’s like running on clouds!"

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Track every run

Only giving myself eight weeks to train was a bold choice for someone who spends most of her time at work, at the pub or playing Saturday league football. I made sure that I tracked every run, be it via Strava or using my Polar Pacer to learn more about my heartrate and pace. Being able to see my progress, even with my worst runs, kept me motivated, and accountable. If I set out to run six miles, I had to run that and see it physically on my wrist.

Make a banging playlist

In the moments of totally hating running, be it in training or perhaps the most awful mile of the race itself (mile eight) music was my saviour. A thumping beat, normally hip hop or R&B, made it all so much easier and I could pace myself with it. I found myself singing most of the way around, and though I looked mad, it helped. My personal race-favourites were The Pussycat Dolls, Nicki Minaj, Jay Z and DMX.

Imy running in the Half waving
Headphones and supportive friends and family carried me through the race (Imy Brighty-Potts/PA)

The results…

Well, I got from start to finish, and was pretty chuffed that I did it in exactly the time I wanted – 2:30. I burst into tears as soon as I crossed the finish line, the man handing me my medal looking quite startled as tears (and sweat) came flowing down my face.

Imy with her medal
I did stop crying eventually (Imy Brighty-Potts/PA)

I felt amazing, like I had really achieved something, and I couldn’t believe the fact I had only walked four times, for no more than 30 seconds at a time. The furthest I had run in training was seven-and-a-half miles, simply because of the time limit, so adrenaline and stubbornness really carried me through the race.

I realised that I could be the ‘sporty girl’ from school, something I’d always felt was out of my reach – because she was thin and played netball and was raised in running trainers. I smiled the whole way round the Royal Parks, and was still able to walk at the end of it. However hard I had tried not to, I had caught the bug.

Imy post race
You may have an idea of what a runner looks like, but you might be that runner too (Imy Brighty-Potts/PA)

Will I keep running? Yes, I plan on doing Parkrun often. Oh, and I am signing up for another half marathon next year, so I’d call this experiment a success.