Pain is temporary; achievement is permanent

Posted on: 28th April 2017

Last Sunday, Emma Cole ran the 26 miles and 385 yards of the London Marathon for Body & Soul to mark her 26th year of living with HIV. When she set herself this challenge in October of last year, she had no idea of the mental and physical process she would have to go through to achieve her goal, but the seed was sown…


What I have come to learn from undertaking this journey from non-runner to marathon finisher is that when you want something to happen, YOU can make it happen if you just believe in yourself. Even when negative thoughts or events occur, you need to know they are only hurdles that can be overcome if you are patient and have trust in yourself and others.

Early injury setbacks and my very busy work schedule delivering HIV education in over 50 schools in the autumn term meant I really couldn’t put in the training miles I wanted to initially. There were moments when injury meant I could not put any weight on my leg and the idea of even attempting to run a mile let alone 26 miles seemed like too big a hurdle.

But by this stage friends, family and work associates had started to donate money so I began to feel the weight of expectation and a sense of not wanting to let anyone down. By mid-January I was able to start training again but it was right back to square one. My workload was just as busy as the previous term which meant fitting in training runs early morning in the dark, between jobs and after a long day’s travelling for work. Weekends which I had traditionally used to rest and recharge myself had to be given over to training runs.

Each run was an opportunity to set a new target and to improve on previous sessions – some days I achieved what I set out to do; others I had to concede that my body or my head just wasn’t in the right place at that particular time to succeed. Days and weeks passed; miles were covered at greater and greater distances and then suddenly it was three weeks to go. I had set myself a target of running at least 20 miles in one training run before the actual marathon and the Saturday morning that I passed that milestone was a huge psychological boost. Knowing what that felt like made me realise that I could now start the marathon with a certainty that I could get across the finish line.

The final few days were given over to a couple of gentle runs and getting my nutrition right – I ate more pasta and rice in a week than I’ve probably eaten in a year; credit to my fiancé for being a wonderful cook and making these dishes so appetising. A good night’s rest on the Saturday and the alarm was set for 6.30am on race day.

And so the journey began on a crowded tube and then train to Greenwich Park with people of all shapes and sizes ready to take on the challenge of 26.2 miles. I had sewn 26 red ribbons on the back of my running vest to represent the 26 years I have been living with HIV and to honour just some of the many friends I had who died of AIDS or suicide because of their diagnosis. Their battles were over but their memories live on while I am still here. Several people asked me about the ribbons during the race so I was able to share that I was a long term survivor, helping to break down HIV stigma.

32 minutes after the Royals had sounded the starter’s horn I crossed the start line to begin my first ever marathon. It was a mixture of nerves, fear and anticipation but the mental preparation had been done the day before – I was ready to achieve my goal. I knew that I wanted to run under six hours and that was going to be achieved if I was consistent in my pacing and kept running for at least the first 20 miles.

Emma Cole during the marathon

Emma Cole during the marathon

5 hours and 56 minutes later I crossed the finish line on the Mall with tears in my eyes. It was much more emotional than I had expected. Throughout the course I had been cheered on by complete strangers, friends and my fiancé. I was particularly grateful to the teams of volunteers from many other charities who shouted out my name when I was beginning to tire – they really helped to spur me on when my knees and hips were extremely painful.

Post race the adrenalin waned and the pain kicked in… but I know that in time that will pass and I can reflect back on my achievements of both beating my fundraising target as well as my race target with a sense of pride.

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