Yesterday, I ran my first Half Marathon.
Despite my best intentions to train properly for this event, time got away from me. My training never took me over 7 miles. I had to keep reminding myself that I know I can walk 13 miles and I know I can do better than that. I did numerous calculations based on how fast and how far I'd run in the past to give myself a realistic target time to aim for but then decided to look at the time for the slowest person to finish at the same event. The bar was set at 2hrs 51minutes.
|A gentle reminder from Liberty's boyfriend back in May to start training|
It was hard to imagine actually running for nearly 3hours.
The event I had signed up for was recommended by my daughter's boyfriend. It was the Tissington Trail Half Marathon in Derbyshire, about an hour drive from my home in Shropshire. The route follows the site of a former railway with an overall downhill gradient. You park at the finish and catch a bus to the start 13 miles away. I loved the idea that there were no laps and no loops, just a straight line from the start back to your car. Every step literally taking you a step closer to home.
I set off early with my husband, my daughter Liberty and her boyfriend armed with refuelling gels, glucose tablets, bananas and water. The bananas were eaten in the car along with enough water to leave Liberty desperate for a wee. This is where the stress began.
There was no designated parking for the event so we had to try and find a suitable space in an unfamiliar town being descended on by an army of people wearing high performance running gear and race numbers. Liberty was getting increasingly agitated so we dropped her off at the Sports Centre where the buses were leaving from. She then had her own personal drama of waiting in a long queue for the toilet with a bursting bladder whilst we continued the search for a parking space.
I am so glad it wasn't me driving. I would have been tempted to turn around and drive home, cursing and admonishing that the whole thing had been a stupid idea anyway. Luckily, my husband is not so easily rattled when it comes to parking. He managed to find a slightly dodgy space on a residential no through road and declared that it would do. And do it did. We still had the problem that Liberty, her bag and warm clothes that needed to be left in the car were at the Sports Centre with no idea where we'd parked, and time to catch the bus that would take us to the start was rapidly running out.
I shouldn't have panicked. It all worked out perfectly. We met up with Liberty. My husband ran back to the car with her things cheerfully saying it was a good warm up before the race. We caught the last bus. I started to relax.
The atmosphere at the start was wonderful with elite athletes and first timers milling around together keen to get going. We didn't have long to wait before the starting horn sounded. The runners were let through the start in waves. Liberty and I watched our men disappear from view from our position near the back. As the last wave was let through we began our journey into the unknown.
There were mile markers all along the route. I was amazed how quickly Mile 1 and Mile 2 came and went. The scenery was beautiful and the trail itself was easy to run on. I was loving it. We completed three miles in just over 30 minutes and I was surprised that at the six mile mark, my running watch registered a new record for that distance. We were soon at Mile 7 and about to run further than we ever had before.
Liberty had a strategy in mind to run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit more. I was happy to go along with this and kept the walking pace brisk with my 2hr 51minute goal in mind. We were remembering to refuel regularly with the energy gel I kept down my compression socks in the absence of a decent pocket in my shorts and with the goodies provided at the aid stations (never have jaffa cakes and coke tasted so good). Everything was going well apart from the fact that I was finding it more and more difficult to walk. When I stopped to walk it felt as if my legs were still running and I had no control over them. I was like a defective puppet being manipulated by an inebriated puppet master. I stayed with Liberty until around the ten mile mark then left her to her strategy while I kept running.
It was harder without Liberty for company but the trail was well populated with hikers and cyclists who offered friendly smiles and words of encouragement.
Sometime after I had passed the 11 Mile marker, I saw Liberty's boyfriend sat on a bridge. He had finished his race in an impressive 1hr 41min 40secs in 81st place. He had come back to run the last mile or so with Liberty who I knew would appreciate the support. Just ahead, I could see my husband running back to meet me. I was so proud of him for finishing in 2hrs 01min 30secs (218th) and delighted to see that he was feeling fit enough to run the end again.
I ran with a slightly renewed spring in my step for a while with my husband at my side then my tiredness overtook me. I slumped and despite gentle reminders to lift my head, for the first time I feared I might not make it. I had less than a mile to go but it felt like I was running on stilts. It was time to walk. I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to stop and walk if my husband hadn't been there to catch me if it all went horribly wrong. I was staggering all over the place but slowly, my tight muscles loosened enough for me to run to the finish.
Just before the finish there was a short, steep downwards section followed by a matching upwards section. There were people at the top of the hill cheering and my husband urging me on. It was tough but I was starting to feel quite heroic and unstoppable. The finish line came in sight. I opened my stride and felt fantastic as I flew across the end and was presented with my medal.
I did have some objectives before the start of the race.
1) Don't die
This is really not a flippant comment. On Saturday, another member of the parkrun family died at the end of a parkrun event. I run to improve my quality of life, not to shorten it. It is stark reminder when I hear of tragedies such as Saturday's that the human body does have its limits.
2) Cross the finish line still standing
I did have concerns that I might not manage this and I know of at least two other runners that collapsed at the end. I have to admit that my legs did go out from under me shortly after my moment of glory. It was a case of sit down or fall down. I sat.
3) Finish in under 2hrs 51minutes
Smashed it! 2:40:35
(Liberty finished about four minutes later one place behind me at 332nd out of 340 and so began the slow process of recovery for us all.)