When I set up theSportsing as a blog about beginners’ fitness and exercise I knew I simply had to feature inspirational runner, Lisa Jackson. Not that Lisa Jackson is a beginner. Far from it! In fact, as of 2017, Lisa Jackson has run over 100 marathons and is a member of the prestigious 100 marathon club.
Yes, you read that right: 100 marathons.
So why feature Lisa? Well, she may have run over 100 marathons but she came last in 20 of them. Dead last. As Lisa says in her inspiring book: Your Pace or Mine? What running taught me about life, laughter and coming last:
I’ve come last in 20 marathons. But so far [as of 2016] I’ve done 90…Does that make me a failure or a runaway success?
Of course, it is a rhetorical question. But, Lisa, if you are looking for an answer then here it is: you are a runaway success and a real inspirational runner for all of us who are too scared to give sport and exercise a go.
The story of Lisa’s relationship with sport and exercise, as told in Your Pace or Mine, resonates with me. She comes from a sporty family and was always the “un-athletic one”. When encouraged to run by her parents she would stuff a book up her jumper and gamely stride out from her house – only to hide for an appropriate amount of time before sprinting the 100 metres home to appear out of breath on her return.
This reminds me of my equally childish attempts to avoid my school’s cross-country running classes at all costs. My friend and I knew exactly how to avoid getting sweaty and out of breath. After a 30 metre jog we would round the first corner, out of sight, and settle into a comfortable stroll. All-the-better for gossiping about boys and celebrities. Sound familiar to you too?
Taking up Running
Lisa’s route into running may also resonate with many of us: she started with a Race for Life. In her book she recalls being unprepared, wearing borrowed plimsolls and discovering that running was “infinitely harder” than she remembered. But, she also discovered camaraderie in the other runners, an atmosphere of support and collaboration and a real genuine joy in the accomplishment. She notes in her chapter about “Taking the First Step”:
If I’d waited until I was properly trained and owned the right trainers to enter the Race for Life I probably wouldn’t be a runner today
Moving on to Marathons
From this humble beginning, Lisa’s marathon journey has taken her all-round the world and she has become the inspirational runner that she is today. Of course, I can’t do Lisa’s story justice in a few short paragraphs but her book is funny and brave. Through her stories of marathon participation she explores some huge themes: life and death; success and failure; and that huge and dominating force, fear. But, she balances this with a light-heartedness that will have you laughing out loud. Anyone who can write poignantly about grief in the same book that talks about running in the nude and peeing in your own trainers deserves a lot of credit, in my opinion!
What I took from this book
There are three elements, in particular, that I have taken from this book that I want to share with you. Next time I hear those negative voices in my head, whispering “you’re too slow” or “you’ll only come last” I will think of Lisa and I will remember these:
- Coming last is not the same as failure
Lisa comes last and there is no shame in it. Yes, it might be hard to accept and yes, it will probably feel a bit crummy at the time but it sure as hell will feel better than not having tried. Are we going to give up because of fear? No! As Lisa says:
…what running has really given me is the courage to fail. To begin the journey but accept that it won’t always necessarily end in success…In fact, I will continue coming last….because it’s way better than not turning up at all. My headstone isn’t going to say: ‘Here lies Lisa Jackson. She watched every hot new box set. Twice.’ It’ll read: ‘Here lies Lisa Jackson. Marathoner. Trailrunner. Triathlete. Ultrarunner. She’s reached the final finishing line – and this time, she isn’t last
- Success comes in many disguises
There are so many challenges to becoming and being a runner but by showing up and digging deep you will find success. And it will be a success that is unique to you. Lisa talks about the friendships she’s made and it is evident that forging connections and enjoying camaraderie in adversity is Lisa’s definition of a successful run:
While the race website may advertise that each runner will receive a medal, T-shirt and goody bag, I know that I’m likely to come away with things that are a lot more precious – new friends
For you, today, success may be as simple as lacing up your trainers and leaving the house. In future, success may be the finish line in a race – or, indeed, reaching the start line! Don’t let other people dictate what your running success should be. Lisa’s least successful run was not one where she came last. It was the London Marathon 2010 where she ran a personal best time but didn’t speak to a soul.
- You are not the only one
Lisa’s story, and all the other amazing stories included in her book, have helped me realize that there is a whole world of inspirational runners out there that are just like you and me. There are those who are striving just to finish, not to win. Those who enjoy the atmosphere as much as they enjoy the race. Those who walk and shuffle their way around a course because moving slowly is still better than sitting still. I feel like Lisa has uncovered a movement that I didn’t know existed but I am proud to be a part of: the slow runner movement. Join us!
I really hope you decide to buy a copy of Lisa’s book. If you are even the slightest bit interested in running and exercise, I can guarantee you won’t regret reading it. You can find out more about Lisa herself in this fantastic interview with her on Run, Eat, Repeat where she lays out her top tips for running.
If you do buy the book, let me know what you think! Are you also a member of the slow-runner movement? How do you define a successful run?