Brace yourselves, this is a mammoth post about a mammoth challenge. You may want to grab a cup of tea and a biscuit before you begin!
Ready? So back in April, in my infinite wisdom I decided to sign myself (and my other half) up for a Half Marathon.
No, I’m not a runner, or even particularly fit, but it was a challenge I’d always wanted to try and I figured that since I had 6 months to train, I’d obviously be fit and super good at running by the time the Half Marathon came about….Yep. I’m pretty sure you can guess how that went!
Training began in earnest but every time I went out running, my knee would really start to hurt when I reached roughly 2 miles. I would then take a break from running for a week to see if that helped, always thinking it would get better by itself. It never did. A couple of months in I finally bit the bullet and went to see a Sports Therapist, Mike Gould. That really helped, but by then we were in the throes of closing down the gallery.
I can say in all honesty that I vastly underestimated how much work it would be to close down the gallery. I was going in early, staying late and ended up being there more hours after we had officially closed than I was in a normal working day! Consequently I was short on time and exhausted and had no desire at all to go out for a run. As time drew closer to the start date, I began to realise that I had no hope of completing my training in time and decided I would rather not do it at all than have to walk it or worse, be last (the horror!) I actually felt pretty rubbish about deciding not to do it, I felt like a failure for not even making it to the start line, especially when it was something that had been so important to me to do, but since I had only managed to run 4 miles at the furthest, I knew a Half Marathon was way out of my league!
Exactly one week before the Half Marathon, I ran into my big brother who was going to be taking part in the full marathon (his first) the same day. He had been training properly, (because he is a real grown up) and ribbed me for dropping out. He told me I should just wing it and see how it went. I laughed at the idea but in truth it got me thinking – what if I could do it after all?
Over the next couple of days I spoke to the race organiser and my sports therapist (who is also an old friend) about the idea. They both told me the same thing: take it slowly and walk when you need and you’ll do it. I confessed my fears of being last and/or the only one walking and was reassured that lots of people walk parts of it and that it didn’t matter where I finished because I was still ahead of everyone sat on their sofas. Having real life sporty people tell me it was ok to go slow and walk and come last made me feel a lot better about the whole thing and less than 6 days before the start, I decided to do it! I can safely say I don’t think I’d have done it without their encouragement.
Even though I had decided I would do it with or without him, I was really pleased when about 3 days beforehand Charlie said he’d do it with me. He had decided not to do it way, way before me so had never really started training (it was on my bucket list, not his). Now had a running buddy to keep me company if I was on my own at the back!
On Sunday 17th September 2017, we were up bright and early to start hydrating ourselves and preparing for our Half Marathon. It’s fair to say I was very nervous and excited (Charlie, not so much)! We had our very slow pace time all prepared and worked out so that we could stick to a plan and run as much of it as we could. Mum and Dad looked after our two dogs and brought them with them to come and cheer us on.
The Half Marathon I’d signed up for was the Rutland Marathon and Half Marathon, held at the picturesque Rutland Water. The course was extremely local to me (about 5 mins down the road!) so I was very familiar with it and I’d had a look at the race route of where we needed to turn round etc, so that it was all clear in my head and I was as mentally prepared as I could be. We set off and even going faster than our pace time we were still getting over taken! It was disheartening right from the start but Charlie told me not to worry and that they’d never make it around the whole course at that speed. He was proven right pretty quickly, as lots of people were walking before we’d completed the first mile. I realised then that everybody had their own goals and their own plan and it didn’t really matter what anyone else was doing. I know that you can actually get a faster finishing time by doing walk/run/walk/run than from doing a very slow jog like me, but for me the finishing time wasn’t as important as challenging myself on how far I could run. It was far more important to me to keep plodding on slowly but not actually stop than it was to keep up with everyone else. I wanted to run for at least the first 6 miles without stopping, 7 if I could make it.
So on we plodded….
The race route was formed so that you ran from the start point out for about 4 miles, then doubled back on yourself and came back through the start zone and continued on for a couple of miles, then doubled back again to end at the finish. The start and finish were the same place so that all your friends and family could see you start, then run through again and then finish.
As we passed the picturesque Normanton church (about 2.5 miles in), I consoled myself with the fact that the turnaround point should not be too much further ahead from what I’d made of the race plans. Boy was I wrong! As we passed the 4 mile marker I could see a snake of runners as far as my eyes could see. Where was the turnaround point?! To make matters worse, my 2 fitness watches (as well as those of many other runners) were telling me we’d already run much further than the pesky mile marker was stating and I began to worry that the course would end up being much further than the half marathon distance that was already out of my league. Miles 4 – 5 were the hardest for me out of the entire Half Marathon and that’s including miles where I could barely walk because my knee was hurting so much! And the reason that section was so hard for me, the reason I struggled so much mentally at that point was that there was no end in sight. I didn’t know where the goal was, the temporary finish line that would mark that section complete and as it dragged on and I struggled I began to think there was absolutely no way I was going to get around that course. I was thinking about walking from mile 5 and then walk/running back to where we were supposed to run back through the start again but just stopping, getting in my car and going home.
There was absolutely no way I could finish the whole 13.1 mile route, I told myself. There was no point because I’d be walking it all and would hold everyone up waiting for me. It would be embarrassing – for me, for Charlie, for my parents.
At last we made it to the turnaround point. It seemed like about 5 miles since we’d passed Normanton, but it had really only been 2. We doubled back and I told Charlie I wanted to stop and walk for a bit. He said no, we weren’t stopping til at least mile 6 because he knew I could do it and that had been my plan. He kept me going and encouraged me up the steep hill and I managed to carry on to about 6.5 miles. When we stopped I was so pleased with myself that I hadn’t stopped before my target. I knew I’d have felt really disappointed and disheartened if I’d had to stop at mile 5.
If there are any runners amongst you reading this, my story no doubt sounds laughable. Fancy not being able to run more than 6.5 miles even at a slow pace! But I know there will also be others of you reading this who, like me, once struggled to run between 2 lampposts. For me, every mile of that 6+ miles was a struggle. I wanted to give up, I wanted to quit. I told Charlie that I’d been thinking about stopping at the car and going home but even as I said it, I knew I wouldn’t. I was over the hump now, I was on my way back through and the journey suddenly seemed much more manageable. By the time we reached the start point we’d have already done 9 miles so really, what was the point in quitting then? We’d only have another teensy 4.1 to do!
Charlie kept me going and so did the other runners, track users and marshals. As this was my first event, I can’t say whether it’s the same at all events, but what I do know is this: all the way round the course there were marshals shouting encouragement and even people who were in no way affiliated with the race (just random people walking their dogs on a nice day) stopped and cheered you on and told you to keep going. Where I had felt that I’d be laughed at by spectators, I couldn’t have been more wrong. One comment really stuck with me as we were in the last 3 miles; we’d just run by a random group of people out for a walk and one of them shouted at us to keep going. As we had passed him, he turned to his friend and said “Well I couldn’t do it!” and that really put things into perspective for me. I wasn’t being judged for being slow, I was being cheered on by people who recognised that it was a big achievement, and not one that many of them would try themselves.
In the build up to the Half Marathon and right before we started, I’d had this huge fear of being last. On the way round this completely disappeared and I realised I didn’t care if I was last, because I was doing it! And really, fear of being last was just a fear of what other people would think about my performance and why did that matter?! Having said that, it was great to see my parents (and dogs) cheering us on as we came back through the start on mile 8/9 and know that they’d be proud of me wherever I finished.
At about mile 10, my knee was really starting to hurt. Mike Gould, the Sports Therapist, was one of the partners for the event and had been there at the beginning and had strapped my knee up. I have to give my body credit, it had done pretty well up to this point, (given that I’d done no training and mainly fuelled it on nachos!) but now it was getting very painful. My stamina was fast decreasing so I was running shorter and shorter distances each time before I had to walk. And walking hurt. After so much exercise, where initially the run/walk method had given me a bit of relief when I was flagging, now whenever I stopped to walk my muscles instantly seized up and I looked more like I was hobbling! It actually felt better on my legs to run slowly than to walk, (though my heart and lungs had other ideas!) but I did have to keep stopping when we came to hills. Weirdly enough, I was fine going up hill (the bits normal people might walk) but it was incredibly painful on my knee if I tried to run down even a shallow decline, so I had to run to the top of the hills and walk down them. My knee was painful, my stamina was failing but the bulk of the race was done so it didn’t deter me from carrying on.
I knew I didn’t have much further to go, and from mile 10 onwards I began to feel really proud of myself. Charlie was cursing me for making us do this (fair point!) but I was grinning and really starting to enjoy it, despite the knee pain. When I was running that initial leg, between miles 4 and 5, I could not imagine myself still going at mile 10. I thought I’d have quit long before then, or be walking the entire way, definitely not still running and definitely, definitely not smiling about it!
As we neared the final turnaround point at Barnsdale, after which we’d be on the final leg of the race, I could see a feed/water station at the top of the big hill. I’d taken a big bottle of water round with me and so hadn’t really stopped at any of the other water stations, but by then my bottle had run out and I was gasping for a drink. We stopped and had water and fresh oranges (so delicious!) and to my absolute joy – tortilla chips! You know that feeling when as soon as you see a particular food you know your body is craving it? Well that was it for me and the tortilla chips. Happily they were gluten free so I stuffed a handful unceremoniously into my mouth. Then another. Then another. Then just one more for the road because I really ought to start running again…! Charlie didn’t want anything so I ran away with 2 orange quarters and a handful of the tortillas just to keep me going! It did make the other runners smile as we passed them on the way back down the hill though, and that food break absolutely saved me! Charlie had been trying to get me to focus on having a deluxe burger and chips afterwards to keep me motivated but it didn’t work. It worked for him, but I didn’t know what I fancied…until that feed station. After that I demanded a mammoth portion of nachos covered in cheese when we got home! Oddly, I’d never been that bothered about nachos before the Half Marathon but hey, the body wants what it wants! Joking aside, it was a good incentive to think about what we’d like as a reward when we finished, to think about something really good to look forward to when we got home whilst we carried on putting one leg in front of the other, plodding on.
It was a brilliant feeling when I saw the 13 mile marker in the distance and knew that the finish line was just around the corner. Mum, Dad, Dogs, Sister-in-law, Nephew and Niece were all there to cheer us on at the end. I could hear them cheering my name and all the other spectators at the finish line clapping and shouting encouragement as we ran towards the finish line and Charlie, like a gent, slowed his pace so that I could cross it before him.
We kept to our pace where possible, stuck to our plan and even with walking still finished within the time frame I’d set myself. And after all that…we weren’t last! Though I couldn’t have cared less if we were. We had finished! We were awarded our medals and then went into the ‘Athletes Recovery Area.’ I had heard one lady shout as we ran towards the finish “Keep going! There’s cake at the end!” She was not wrong! Inside the tent were loads of different cakes, biscuits, donuts and of course, my beloved nachos. Mike the sports therapist and his team were offering post race massages but I told him we’d have to pass as we didn’t have any cash on us. Luckily for me though, I hadn’t realised they were included in our entry fee so that was a real blessing and just what we needed for our aching muscles.
We spent a fair bit of time in the tent chatting, getting massaged and eating. When we came out, we were just chatting to the ladies at the timing station when I heard my big brother’s name announced on the tannoy and got to see him run in, his 2 young kids ran through the funnel with him, which was lovely. The youngest promptly accepted his medal for him and put it round her own neck too! Maybe I should have done that instead?! Big Bro did brilliantly and came 14th in the full marathon, despite it being his first ever! (Show Off!) So there was victory and smiles all round. And I’ll tell you something else, when I looked at the number of people who signed up for the Half Marathon and the number of people who finished it, the difference was more than 200. There were 214 people who either didn’t start or didn’t complete the Half Marathon, for whatever reason. Which means that even if I had come last, I would still have beaten more than 200 other people who didn’t complete it. And that’s something to bear in mind whenever you’re comparing yourself to others – we tend to only compare ourselves to those we perceive as doing better than ourselves because we’re not looking at the bigger picture.
It had been a big journey and achievement for me. In mile 4-5, I’d learnt that without a clear goal or destination in sight, I struggled to find the motivation to keep going. Support from Charlie, encouragement from friends, family, marshals and spectators helped me carry on and dig deep when I was finding it tough. Eliminating the fear of failure, the fear of being last and thinking ‘so what?’ had helped me keep going and more crucially, enjoy it. Challenging myself, thinking of the end goal and what I would have achieved at the end of it really pushed me and I couldn’t have been more proud of myself by the time I crossed the finish line. Was it how I’d imagined it when I first signed up for the Half Marathon? No, but I think I possibly felt more proud because of that. For me, it had been an achievement to get to the starting line, never mind the finish, when 6 days earlier I wasn’t even planning to take part. If I could sum up how I felt at the end of that race it would be in this message I sent to my best friend:
“Who is the most awesome person you know? Because I’ll tell you right now, I think it’s me.”
(She loved it and said that I was indeed the most awesome person she knew).
All in all, whilst I may have severely questioned my life choices, left Charlie questioning why he was with me and left the Half Marathon barely able to walk, I am so, SO glad I did it. And whilst I swore running the race I would never sign up to anything like this again, a few days later I was already considering doing the next one. But I will definitely train for that one. Probably.
If you have made it this far, you’ve just done a little marathon read of your own, thanks for sticking with me and big thanks to Charlie for running with me, my family for coming and supporting me, Mike Gould for getting me ready to run and encouraging me to do it, the race organisers at Rutland Marathon and Half Marathon for such a great event and all the marshals and volunteers who help keep weirdos like me topped up with nachos and encouragement. And if you’re ever looking for a challenge, this is one I highly recommend.