It’s been a long time coming, but I did it! I had signed up to the Brighton Half-Marathon months ago, along with about ten friends from Hilly Fields parkrun, it was to be a full-on weekend of pasta, chat, post-race fish ‘n’ chips with a little run in the middle. My training was going well, with the requisite number of long runs in the bag and I had possibly even got over my stitch/cramp/stomach troubles. Yes, I know, you can feel a big ‘but’ coming can’t you? The Thursday a couple of weeks before the race was to be my long (13 mile) run, and I set off on possibly the most bitterly cold day so far, into a sleety London. I weaved in and out of the Thames path, heading westwards from Greenwich, keeping my head down, and trying to keep warm. I ran over the Millennium Footbridge towards St Paul’s Cathedral, paused for a moment at the ten mile+ point to take on a gel and, when I tried to start running again, felt an incredible pain in my right leg, just behind my ankle, on the inside. I gritted my teeth and tried to keep going, but it just seemed a silly thing to do. I did, however, need to get home! I had my Oyster card with me, so hobbled to Charing Cross, bought a big hot drink to attempt to keep myself warm and sadly took the train home :(
The next couple of weeks included one ok-ish run, one dreadful, aborted run and a couple of swims, not great pre-race preparation. The biggest thing to take a knock was my confidence as I became nervous about running in case I did myself some permanent damage, really! As the race day approached, I had to make a decision – my room was booked, as was the train and I had been really looking forward to the social side of sharing the experience with friends. I decided that the problem was possibly due to having really tight calf muscles and that maybe I could be ‘fixed’ by a sports massage, so I booked myself in on the Friday before. I hadn’t really had a sports massage before, so didn’t know what to expect – including being a bit clueless about what to wear. A little call-out on Twitter proved useful, as did this blog post over on Magpie in the Sky (I opted for bra and pants for the massage, in case you’re wondering). The therapist talked to me for a while and went on to assess my posture and so on before giving my calf muscles a good old kneading, in fact he didn’t make it above my knees because the calves really were ridiculously tight! He showed me some stretches, which are the ones I normally do anyway, so I guess I need to do more and maybe self-massage before and after a hard session.
And so to the run. I was very nervous, not having run for about ten days! The evening before was lovely, meeting friends at an Italian restaurant for piles of pasta mostly (I opted for risotto, my tried-and-tested pre-race dinner). Of course, my sleep was rubbish, the usual waking every hour or so with a mixture of nerves, excitement and anxiousness about my alarm not going off. When it was eventually time to get up, it was a beautiful day, a lovely golden glow accompanying the sound of seagulls. Down went my porridge, banana and cuppa and after hanging around nervously adjusting shoe laces and so on, I decided to head over to the start. A quick hug from my friend Sarah, a quick loo trip and I met another friend Hugh at the start pens. Hmmm, now this is something they need to review and get right for next year. I was supposed to be in the ‘yellow’ pen as indicated on my race number, but there was nothing to show you where to go, and people were simply piling in from the back. Hugh and I ducked to the side and walked along a bit, but found ourselves in a bit of a crush of people all trying to join the crowd…with a couple of minutes to go until the countdown.
Soon enough we were off, sort of…a slow amble towards the big pink arch. Hugh soon disappeared into the distance, looking very strong. I saw a mile marker and we turned to head out East. This stretch felt like a long slow hill that went on and on until an eventual turning point where I could hear sounds of relief then groans as we realised we were now running into the wind (I say wind, it wasn’t that bad, the wind that picked up later in the day would have finished me off!). At this point I started seeing friends on the other side of the road: a high-five from a very determined looking Roni, a wave from Emma, all giving me a boost and making me run a little faster :) At the drinks station I grabbed a bottle and took a few gulps, I was determined to keep myself hydrated and not suffer the hideous cramp that has troubled me in races in the past year. I sipped, swooshed and gulped down a gel, probably dribbling a lot of it down my chin. Nice. This next bit was long and hard. I now started to see the fast(er) runners heading finishwards, light on their toes and fresh faced. I looked ahead and wondered where my turning point would come. The beach huts to my left didn’t seem to stop, so I had a way to go yet. ‘Pick up your head, run tall, lift your feet!’ I told myself. At last, at about the ten mile mark, we turned and I felt an enormous sense of relief. I decided at this drinks station to walk a bit, take a good drink, another gel and then get my head down for the last three miles. Now my leg started to hurt again, and then my knee, it was all feeling a bit rubbish. With a combination of walking a little then running, I got a little bit closer to the pier and the big wheel that looked so far away. At this point I spotted Andrew across the way. This was Andrew’s first half-marathon and he hadn’t been so sure about even starting a few days before, so it was such a joy to see him still going, still smiling and our little high-five really gave me the push I needed.
I picked up the pace for the finish (maybe a little earlier than I should have done!) and crossed the line in 1 hour 56 minutes and 21 seconds. The last half-marathon race I ran and achieved a PB at was the Cardiff Half in 2010, where I ran 2 hours 12 minutes, so I’ll have that! I wandered rather vaguely around the finish area, not knowing where my friends would be, grabbing my bag to layer up and get warm, downing a cup of tea, then heading towards this lovely post-run lunch when I eventually worked out where we were meeting…
Gradually friends trickled in, some amazing PBs had been smashed, old form had been regained and first time distances had been conquered. We worked out that, between us, we had knocked over an hour off our previous PBs!! Well done Andrew, Em, Glenn, Hugh, Roni, Sally, Sarah, Siggy and Stephen, all an inspiration :)