March 23, 2015
When it comes to marathon training there are two main schools of thought as to how far to run in the final few weeks
- Going the distance…making sure your distance increases up to about 90% of the overall distance
- Time on your feet…making sure your body gets used to being on your feet for the time its likely to take you to complete the distance.
Well my half marathon yesterday was on this occasion all about covering the distance but in the end it turned out to be a marathon effort resulting in me being on my feet for almost 12 hours straight.
The day started abruptly at 5am with an alarm I didn’t recognise, I snoozed until 5.10 and then quietly got ready and had some breakfast. I also had a bit of a health scare as I realised my wee was bright red, and then remembered the carton of beetroot juice I had been guzzling in recent days. It helps with endurance apparently. Anyway, I would be driving to Reading from London and making the most of the VIP parking pass I had been sent…only thing was I had to be there at 7.45 latest to claim my spot.
So at 6am I walked to where my car is parked to find the carpark locked. Shows you how often I drive anywhere at this time in the morning. I had a few choices, I could go home and go back to bed. I could phone around and see if anyone else would drive me or borrow their car, or I could try and make it on public transport.
At Stratford train station I was told the first train wasn’t until 7am, so I ended up standing up for forty minutes on two different night buses making my way to Paddington. I got there at 7.20 with a few minutes to spare, but once I boarded the train with hundreds of other runners I started to relax a little.
The organisation at Reading station was superb and before long I had been herded onto a shuttle bus and had arrived at the stadium. It was all very exciting in the race village and as I met up with a few other bloggers in the press office that overlooked the finish line in the impressive Madejski Stadium I started to look forward to the race, a race I kept telling myself was just a training run.
Despite the dramas getting to the start line, I was still quite calm and feeling positive. My last long run had been two weeks ago when I tackled a hilly half so I knew I had fresh legs. The weather was bright but cold in the holding pens, but the atmosphere was good and it wasn’t long before I was off.
My calfs actually felt quite tight in the first mile, but I hadn’t warmed up properly so just took my time allowing what seemed like thousands of other runners to overtake me. The support on the course was great, right from the start and the names on our race numbers was a genius idea…the crowds were really enjoying calling us out by name and it did give me a boost.
I had been a little bit worried about the no headphone rule (I had stuffed them in my back pocket just in case shhh), but I didn’t need them (well not until the later stages of the race anyway), but quite a large proportion of runners did have them on the whole way round. The sun was now starting to really shine and I was glad I had opted to wear just my Too Fat to Run race vest…it was getting a lot of attention around the course, with spectators calling out “No your not…you go girl” and loads of runners letting me know they follow the blog, including a big old bloke who overtook me at speed.
The course was described as a fast flat course, hmmm it wasn’t exactly flat there were a few hills but I did feel like it had the potential to be fast, there was a great downhill section where I turned some heads with my speed. I was running well now I had warmed up and was enjoying the atmosphere and trying not to focus on how much more I had to run. I reached the 5 mile water station in an hour exactly which was spot on pacing wise for me, but the heat was getting to me a little now, so I took on a gel and two bottles of the wet stuff and tried to summon some positive visualisations of me finishing strong.
I don’t know Reading at all so had no expectations about the course, on reflection much of it seemed residential, which was fine by me as there are always spectators to look at and engage with, but the part of the course that went through the University was very picturesque and the crowds were particularly great through the town centre…yes I was enjoying myself very much.
But then at about mile 8 I started to get a pain in my hip…although it could have been my IT band. So I stopped running and walked for a bit, throwing in some weird dynamic stretches I have learned which involve tapping your shoes both to the outside and the inside of your leg (bit hard to describe on here) but it seemed to work because by mile 9 I was able to run again. It might have been the half glass of beer I had consumed walking up another tough hill…yes there was a pub handing out free beer.
At about mile 10 I stuck my headphones in my ears and played the last 20 minutes of an audio book I have been listening to in training. By this point in the race I had to silence the voices in my head which were trying to work out how close I was to a PB. I was driving myself crazy. And then the 2.30 pacer ran past and I knew that dream was gone.
The last mile and a half was the hardest. The route was at its least inspiring…one side of a dual carriage way, crowd support had thinned a little, and most of the runners were now walking. I was doing intervals whilst keeping an eye on my watch. I had wanted to get close to 2.30 but that last mile did me in. I was also listening now to the conversations around me. One pair of ladies were saying to each other
this is definitely my last half
yeah me too
And then there was a drama playing out with a young couple
Your 22 not 82, come on run
No go on you go
No I’m not going without you just RUN..PLEASE
No I don’t want to
She was a tiny little thing who had obviously felt defeated by this point, her body language made me want to go over and give her a cuddle…and tell the boyfriend to back off…but I didn’t.
And then I saw the stadium and knew it wouldn’t be long. By now you could see the finishers walking away wrapped in foil blankets with smashing grins, posing for pictures. I could hear the music in the stadium and was relieved that it was nearly over.
The last 400 meters of the race felt spectacular, and somehow I managed to summon up the energy to do a sprint finish…so much of a sprint finish that I was nearly sick. But I had done it.
I finished in 2 hour 43 minutes and 5 seconds…and I had thoroughly enjoyed it too.
I have run many half marathons in my time, and don’t understand why I have never done Reading before. The logistics of getting here were simple, the organisation was great and the atmosphere was spot on and I reckon if I wasn’t marathon training and mad busy with the business I could come back to this race in better shape and have a good stab at my half marathon PB which currently stands at 2.27.
I would like to thank the people of Reading for really getting behind me and the other runners, and of course to the organisers who did such a good job. They even sorted me out with a post run burger in the aftermath before I headed off back to London.
Actually, I didn’t head straight off, I sat for a while watching the runners coming in. Its always a joy to do that if you can, to see what it means to people, see friends linking arms, the look of sheer exhaustion as people fight for the line. But for some reason this race really got me. There were so many plus sized women for me to cheer on…confidently hurtling towards the line and being cheered on just like everyone else.
Two moments that really made me well up though, 3 runners came in together and as ~I got closer I realised the guy in the middle was being helped by the other two…he could barely walk and his head was bopping away he got an almighty cheer.
But then I see a guy in a wheelchair approach the line with 3 or 4 helpers, with 5 meters to go they all stopped and with a bit of help the guy got to his feet and inch by inch made it through the finishers gantry. He was raising money for the multiple sclerosis trust and the roar around the stadium was spine tingling.
I love this sport…just incase you haven’t worked that out already.
I finally arrived home at 4.30pm, eleven and a half hours after waking up…so if I was focussing on time on my feet in preparation for the London Marathon which is 32 days away…well, lets just say I have a renewed confidence in my ability to complete the race…one way or another, even if I too have to be carried across the line…although I feel sorry for anyone brave enough to give that a go!
Looking through the results today I see there were 15,357 finishers yesterday, and I came in at number 12,660…so absolutely nowhere near last place. In fact the last runner came through in well over 4 hours, so for anyone considering a half marathon for next year and you are worrying about speed…for this one you needn’t.