Remember when I went to Israel to run the Jerusalem Marathon? It was a press trip that included writers and bloggers from various running sites and magazines. When I got there I was very surprised to hear that no one else was running the full marathon. All the other runner/writers were doing the half marathon or 5K.
Since we were all coming from different parts of the world we arrived at different times. Lisa Jackson joined the group the second day and someone told me she had run the full marathon before and was probably running it again. SCORE! I’d have a friend!!
So, when she climbed on the press bus the second morning of the trip I asked if she was running the full…
“No, I’m doing the half this time” she told me.
“But haven’t you done it before? Why aren’t you running the full?” I asked
“Because I’m not a fool” she said.
And that my friends says a lot about the difficulty of that marathon course. It was rough!
All this is just to tell you two things:
1.) Lisa managed to scare the crap out of me just days before the race. Yes, she had run the full and said it was one of the hardest road races of her life.
2.) She is such a doll that despite her leaving me to run the full marathon alone I adore her and have kept in touch.
In addition to being super sweet she has tons of running knowledge and experience. She ran her 100th marathon in April! She’s run races all around the world. And right when we met in March her second running book was just coming out!
I asked if I could interview her for RER since she is amazing, but also down-to-earth and relatable when it comes to running. She’s run A LOT, but she doesn’t run super fast. She’s actually come in last place in a few races. But she has a blast every time and is so friendly she ends up making friends every race too.
Here is my chat with Lisa. It’s long, but I didn’t want to cut it any shorter. She’s originally from South Africa and now lives in London so her humor is a little cheeky – I think everything about her is adorable and hope you learn a few things from her too. And I 100% wish I could have interviewed her on a podcast or something so you could hear her accent.
RER talks to Lisa Jackson
Q: Everyone always wants to know how to get started running – how did you get started?
I started running aged 30 when I realized I faced stark choice: continue an unhealthy lifestyle that was so hectic that I often spent weekends slumped on the sofa (and weeknights having a takeaway dinner at 11pm standing up on the Tube home from my editing job on Cosmopolitan magazine), or get a grip and embrace the active lifestyle my parents had adopted. My Dad can, to this day, fit into his school blazer, something he attributes to his daily habit of going for a 6K run every day at the age of 76.
Q: How’d you go from that to running races?
Entering a race in 1998 was the start of my running career – a magazine colleague invited me to a 5K charity race called Race for Life and so I went along for a laugh. I didn’t expect to love it quite as much as I did, truth to tell. I walked most of it but was blown away by the idea that racing didn’t need to be competitive, or involve toe-curling humiliation as it had done on school sportsday.
I loved listening to the stories of my fellow competitors, many of whom were cancer survivors, and was deeply touched by a gang of dads left holding their partners’ babies (and bags) while they completed the course. I also adored the cheers I got, something you never get in everyday life, so I was well and truly hooked.
Q: What is your proudest running accomplishment? Do you have a PR you’re proud of?
Interestingly, one of my worst running experiences was getting my PR in London in 2010. I adore chat-running and during that race I didn’t speak to a soul – I just plugged in my headphones, put my head down and went for it. I even found myself quietly cursing the runners ahead of me at a bottleneck for being too slow! Afterwards I was elated at getting a PR of 4h38 but I felt really sad about not engaging with the crowds or fully appreciating the London Marathon’s legendary carnival atmosphere.
My greatest achievement is completing the iconic 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa, where I grew up. Ever since I was a little girl I’d watched this race, which is aired live all day on TV, and never could have dreamed it would be possible for me to run it. I was hopeless at sports in school, and used to sneak to the back of the rounders queue just to avoid having to run 50m. Comrades is renowned for its camaraderie, and that’s what I love best about running, so it was a race with my name on it. I had to machete an hour from my current marathon time in order to run a qualifying sub-five-hour marathon, but after months of speed and weight training I managed to qualify in Seville in a time of 4h39. I will never forget how I finally ran across the Comrades finish line in Durban after running for 11h43 wearing a fabulous flamingo hat and carrying a poster of my late mother Leoné. Being a former fitness-phobe, it was utterly surreal realizing that if you want something badly enough, even if it appears impossible, you really can do it.
Q: What do you think about when you run?
I don’t have much time to think as I’m too busy chatting! I think of marathons as my version of speed dating – except there’s no speed involved (I’ve come last in 23 marathons so far), and it’s all platonic. I’ve met the most amazing people this way – octogenarian runners, a funeral director who is also a bellydancer, 250-mile ultrarunners – when you take the time to listen to the stories of those around you – and tell a few of your own – every race becomes memorable.
Q: Have you ever had a super hard race where you wanted to quit? Did you? How did you push yourself to keep going?
It doesn’t take a superhard race to make me want to quit – I often get that feeling after a few hundred metres! The race I came closest to quitting in was the Istanbul Marathon, my 50th marathon. The start is on the bridge linking Asia and Europe and I was still on it when I felt the overwhelming urge to pull out. I just didn’t feel like running – at all!
Seeing a mustachioed, 70-something Turkish gentleman saved my race – he gave me a huge smile and that made me think:’He’s 30 years older than you are and he’s going to finish – what’s your excuse?’ Having run 104 marathons now, I know that feeling negative is par for the course – but I also know that it will pass. Whenever I feel like that I find myself someone friendly to chat to, and before I know it, I’m at the end with a medal round my neck.
I love knowing that I will never, never, never quit – it’s something I’m incredibly proud of – but I’m not one of those runners who’ll risk permanent damage to finish no matter what. When my calf tore in the wine-fuelled Bacchus Marathon, I pulled out – I didn’t want to be found weeks later with my face gnawed off by foxes!
Q: Are you training for any race right now?
I don’t really ever consider myself to be in training for a race! My races are my training for the next race. I don’t like running unless I’m running with someone – or there’s a medal waiting for me at the finish. My next event is a 12-hour multi-lap endurance event called the St Albans Stampede. I met the race director, Ben, while we were watching the Paralympics Marathon in 2012 in which a family member, David Weir, was competing.
Dave’s fans are called Weirwolves and after Ben and I howled him to gold, we kept in touch and he invited me to cover it for Women’s Running, the magazine I write for. I love doing 12-hour events as you don’t have to run the whole time – you can take little ice-cream breaks whenever you like and the atmosphere is like a festival. It’s up to you how far you run, and you get to go round with some super talented runners who may be doing 10 or more 10K laps whereas you’re doing perhaps five.
Q: What does your running schedule look like right now?
I run twice a week for between 30 and 60 minutes and generally do a longish race at the weekend. Having reached 100 marathons in April (when I joined the UK 100 Marathon Club) I’m still doing the odd marathon but concentrating on doing more halves, as I want to do 100 of those too (I’m currently at 30 so I have a way to go). My biggest goal at the moment is staying married – my wonderfully supportive (but non-running-loving) husband Graham hardly saw me last year as I did 25 marathons, many of them abroad, so this year I’m aiming to spend more time with him.
Q: What do you eat before a race or long run?
I’m a big fan of nutty muesli or porridge oats, depending on whether it’s cold outside.
Q: What do you eat after a race?
I love chocolate milk so if I’ve remembered to take some I’ll have that as it is the perfect mix of protein and carbs and tastes delicious. However, a lot of the marathons I do in the UK involve doing laps where the aid station is piled high with cake, cheese straws, crisps and sweets, so I often don’t need to eat anything – I’ve had a picnic going round!
Q: Do you have a favorite motivational mantra or something you tell yourself when you’re running?
My favorite one is ‘I am fit, I am strong, I will run this marathon’- when I’m feeling playful I swap the ending for ‘I will look good in my thong!’ I also like repeating ‘I am in control’ and ‘Think of the medal’. Another mental trick is counting – Paula Radcliffe does this too, though she does a mile in 300 counts and I probably take about 1,000 to run the same distance.
Q: What has running over 100 races taught you?
Like several multi-marathoners I know, I’ve realized that it’s OK to have a love/hate relationship with running.
My favorite running quote is: ‘I love running, just not while I’m doing it!’ I have always found running hard and that’s precisely why I find it so rewarding – as JFK once said, ‘We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’
Q: Do you have any tips for new runners?
My philosophy, as a slow runner, is that it’s not about the time you do, but the time you have. If you stop rating your races experiences solely on the time you do, and instead rate them on different criteria (‘most runners spoken to’, ‘best scenery spotted’) every race has PR potential.
You are blessed to be able to run at all – many people can’t – so focus on having fun and being grateful, rather than getting faster. Also remember that the first ten minutes inevitably feel utterly horrendous – I call them The Toxic Ten. If you hang on longer than that the run is bound to start feeling easier and more enjoyable as it takes that long for your body to warm up properly.
Q: Tip for a runner who wants to run faster or a longer distance?
Wannabe hares should know that speed training really does pay off. It feels awful at the time, but the rewards are worth it. I like doing Tiger Training, where I warm up for five minutes by jogging, and then run like a tiger is just about to sink its fangs in my fanny for 30 seconds, followed by a 90 second recovery. I do that eight times and then have a five minute jog to cool down. Imagining the tiger panting behind me really does make me run faster.
My advice for wannabe marathoners or ultrarunners? Find a doable training plan. The first one I chose for Comrades had me running six days a week and doing 20 miles on both Saturday and Sunday – that was never going to happen! Once I found one that had two rest days and only one long run a week, I knew that was manageable and could face doing it. Also, build up your distance slowly, and consider walk/running – it makes tackling long distances easier and you recover faster too. Early on I ran every step of the Edinburgh Marathon and couldn’t walk properly for three weeks afterwards. My next race was the Paris Marathon which I walked/ran. Not only did I do it 10 minutes faster than Edinburgh but it took me just three days to be back to normal again.
Lisa has written two running books – Running Made Easy and Your Pace or Mine? What Running Taught Me About Life, Laughter and Coming Last
It’s weird to be such a huge fan of a friend, but I really do think she has so much to share. She’s not super active on social media so her books are the best way to get more from her. She’s on twitter here.