This time last week I was facing the greatest challenge of my life thus far. A half marathon. 13.1 long miles – almost twice as far as I’d ever run before. Yes, it was a nice course for beginner half marathoners, yes, I had no expectation of running the whole way and yes, the knowledge that I could walk 13.1 miles, no question, was something of a comfort. But it didn’t detract from the mild terror I was starting to feel.
The morning of the race I was up in good time, ate a good breakfast and felt prepared and as ready as I could be. I had a lucozade for hydration, and was sipping away at it as we started the drive to Tissington.
This was where the problem began. I have a terrible bladder, and by about halfway through the journey I was starting to need the loo quite badly. By the time we were ten minutes away, I was concerned I wouldn’t make it with my dignity in tact.
We arrived at the sports centre. I dived from the car with my handbag and hobbled for the toilets – only to be met with a huge queue.
I’m far too British to queue jump so I waited, jogging from side to side to try and relieve the now intense pain in my gut. The queue dwindled agonisingly slowly. And then I was in the loo and sweet relief was mine. But I had no idea where my family was, or where I was supposed to go next. I was still wearing all my warm clothes, and carrying my handbag – which is full of stuff.
I tried to call the Boyfriend, but he didn’t answer. For a wonderful moment, I thought I heard him call for me, but it must have been someone else’s boyfriend, calling their girlfriend with the same name. I was stressed ready to cry.
Then I got a call, and told where to go. They’d found parking – but it was some way away. My stuff was all in my hand. I did not want to run to the car when I had 13.1 miles to run. The queue for the bus to take us to the start line was disappearing inside the buses. I was becoming concerned we weren’t going to make it.
Then Paul, my step-dad, volunteered to run back to the car with my handbag, claiming it would be a good warm up. Mum, the Boyfriend and I headed back to the sports centre. Mum made use of the facilities and I joined the queue. It became clear that not everyone was going to get on the bus anyway, that there would have to be another one. I was tense, still, but starting to relax.
The next buses arrived, and we were seated. Mum did my hair in the plait I like to wear when running. I started to feel almost calm. Suddenly, 13.1 miles didn’t feel so bad – if we survived the tension, and got to the start safely and on good time, what other obstacles couldn’t we overcome? I ate glucose tablets and started to think about the finish line.
It was a beautiful day – clear, a little chilly, with no wind. As we lined up at the start line – starting as we meant to go on, i.e. at the back – I shuffled from one foot to the other, feeling limber and ready.
It was wonderful to watch the runners race off. For the first section of the track, we could see quite a long way ahead, and the bright snake of fluorescent tops wending through the fields was a beautiful one.
I commented that the range of people participating was wide – there were the athletic looking runners like the Boyfriend, tearing off into the distance, but there were a lot of people who looked just… ordinary. Like me and Mum – not particularly athletic, a bit wobbly round the edges and there running such an incredible distance, for the love of the sport, for charity, for the personal achievement. I felt quite emotional (I usually do at the start of races) and loved being a part of that microcosm of people all working hard and running.
Soon the crowd started to open up, and Mum and I took our accustomed place together, mostly on our own. Mile one came and went surprisingly quickly. We ran a pretty damn fast first 3 miles, all things considered. Not the fastest ever, but certainly far faster than normal – and we were supposed to be plodding, taking our time. We didn’t feel it at all.
Unfortunately, my watch took this moment to pause on 2.89 miles for about half a mile, so my stats were all ruined, though it was nice to think every time I looked at it from there on out that I was further along than it said I was. Especially helpful on the long eleventh mile!
There were several refreshment stations, and we took full advantage of all of them. I drank coke, which I hate – I try to avoid things with added caffeine in them after drinking too much vodka red bull once – but it gave me the sugary, caffeine rush I needed. I was stuffing Haribo gummy bears in my (rather sweaty) back pocket, pulling them out one salty handful at a time to sustain me between stops.
By mile eleven, Mum was starting to get away from me. She couldn’t stop to walk for fear of falling over. I couldn’t keep running. The gap between us expanded. I didn’t mind. She’d stuck with me for 10 miles. I let her go ahead.
I walked most of mile eleven, determined to run most of twelve. Just before twelve, I saw the Boyfriend perched on a bridge, looking fresh and energetic. He’d finished his race in 1hr41. It was, by this point, about 2hrs30. He’d had plenty of time to recover!
He ran the last mile point one with me. For once, he didn’t ‘encourage’ me too hard – I think he knew it would probably kill me off – but instead was extremely supportive and gentle and I appreciated every step he took with me.
There was a big hill at the end, just to kill me off a little bit more. At the top, people were cheering, and though I loved that they were there to encourage, I wished in a way that they wouldn’t clap – it made me well up with tears, which threw my breathing right out!! Seriously though, the fact that these people who had finished, probably ages ago, were hanging around to see us stragglers home speaks volumes about the running community – there’s no one who’s too rubbish. The individual achievement is recognised by everyone, and applauded by everyone. I’ve never been a sporty person, but I truly love the sporting community I’ve found myself a part of.
Mum was waiting at the finish line, looking a little worse for wear. She’d walked most of mile 12, so despite gaining some distance on me, she only finished four minutes ahead of me. I could take that! The rested boys went to get the car while we lounged on the grass and struggled to bend our tired legs.
Rapidly, it began to feel like something that happened to someone else. The experience floated out of reach in my memory, disconnected. But the sense of achievement was great, and though I couldn’t imagine walking straight, let alone ever running again, I was so pleased to have done it, and not thinking that I wouldn’t ever do it again.
If you like running, or are looking for a challenge, I highly recommend it. It was relatively inexpensive, well organised and supported and just beautiful. I might even go back next year.