Marathon: Holly Brooks ‘now I know what hitting the wall means’

Holly Brooks founded the Strong Girl Society

The influencer and Myprotein activewear ambassador talks about her experience running the New York City Marathon

The New York City Marathon is such an amazing experience. Before the race, people had told me to take my headphones out and just listen to the crowd and they weren’t wrong – it’s like nothing else. Going in I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. I don’t usually run for times because I just genuinely love running. But in the back of my head I’m quite competitive so I knew I wanted to match the time I got in Paris earlier this year – I ended up shaving a minute off my PB so I was really proud of myself.

The race went the opposite way to what I’d expected. I enjoyed every second of training, even my really long runs which are often the hard part because you’re out there by yourself. But the race itself was a lot more challenging – I hit ‘the wall’, which I’d never experienced before. And trust me, you know when you’ve hit it! It was about mile 16 when suddenly everything in my brain was telling me to stop, to the point where I started to panic. The next three miles I went into a spiral and I had to dig deep to calm myself down and focus on my breathing. It was definitely not something I wanted to experience on race day but now I know how to deal with it.

In the end the training paid off – you have tough moments that you have to push through in training and they help you build up the resilience to keep going. You learn that your brain has the power to transmit positive energy all throughout your body. In that moment I just needed to focus on positive affirmations, reinforcing to myself that I was capable, and taking lots of deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. I always do hand movements with my breath as well, which probably looks strange!

Your body is screaming at points. Around the 20 mile mark, I was definitely in the pain cave

Your body is screaming at points. Around the 20 mile mark, I was definitely in the pain cave. But you learn to use your mentality to keep you going.

In terms of training, for me the best split is three days of running and two days of weight training with a full body focus just to keep your muscles ticking along. As the weeks go on, the distances go up. Food-wise, it’s just a case of eating as much as possible to keep your body fuelled. You need to eat a big increase in carbs, always making sure you’re well fed. New York City was perfect for carb-loading before the race – they make the best pizza there. Me and the other girls I was running with all went out and ate a lot of pizza the night before.

The main thing I learned from the race was that it’s a marathon not a sprint. On race days it’s easy to get excited, with the crowds cheering you on, and that can encourage you to go out quickly from the start. But you really have to check yourself. 

I never started running with the intention of doing a marathon. I didn’t even dream of it. My dad was a big runner but I just never got into it. Then one day I decided to run the 5k home from the gym – it was the hardest run I’ve ever done! It humbled me but it also lit a fire. I decided that I was gonna keep going until I didn’t find it so hard. Once I hit that 5k I wanted to see what else I could do. So I tried a 10k, then a half marathon… After my first half, I swore I would never do it again. A day later, I signed up for the Paris marathon.

The key is to be as comfortable as possible so all you’re focusing on is the running. That includes having a comfortable running outfit, the right sports bra, the right socks, a running vest, all those kinds of things. I always bring a supply of Myprotein energy gels – they are my absolute favourite. 

It’s great to be able to share all of this with the Strong Girl Society, which is a community I started for women to support each other through their fitness journeys. I know they were all following my run and that was really inspiring.

Follow Holly on Instagram @hollyb_fitness or go to  stronggirlsociety.co.uk


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