October 7, 2013
I have always fancied a race with a dramatic bridge crossing, but nothing prepared me for the pure spectacle that today’s race provided. My friend and fellow fattymustrun recruit Mary warned me that the organisation for this run would be super, as the Portuguese are great at these things apparently, and when we went to pick up our race packs at the Expo I saw what she meant. Despite the fact we had used a Lisbon address when registering, our packs were waiting in the international collections area with English speaking staff…Perfect.
Mary lives like a twenty minute drive from the start, so bright and early in the morning after parking up we walked the 5 minutes to the square outside the main metro station in Lisbon where the pick up point for the buses to the start could be boarded. We arrived at about 8am and it was already busy, a great buzz with the half marathon and mini marathon athletes meeting up with friends, having pictures taken and generally just enjoying the lead up to the run. I was pleasantly surprised to see runners of all shapes and sizes, and lots of families running together which was nice, including some really tiny tots.
The bus took us from Gare do Oriente station across the Vasco da Gama bridge before looping underneath it and coming back across to drop us at the half way point, the start of the race. We arrived with plenty of time, went to the loo (of which there were plenty dotted along the bridge). Traffic was still moving across the bridge, in fact cars were travelling in both directions on one carriageway, with many cars beeping in support of what we about to do.
The sun was already out at this point, we were prepared with our factor 50 and busied ourself by munching on a banana and sipping our water. If truth be known we were also admiring the fine selection of iberian men in the line up, from behind the safety of our sunglasses of course. And then bang on time we were off.
The views across the bridge were out of this world and the sight of 17,000 runners just added to the spectacle. Mary and I ran together at a real steady pace allowing for the ever so competitive men to barge past us. We had already had the “run your own race” chat as although we both run at a similar pace, I never know how I’m gonna hold up and I didn’t want to put pressure on Mary in her first half to have to keep up with me, or wait for me.
We ran the first 5k in about 35 minutes at a real steady pace that we both felt comfortable with, but after the first water station and a few small hills, I started to fall back a bit. The heat was really getting to me. By 6k I could just about see Mary up ahead and by 7k I was struggling big time, desperate for a powerade station. I was flagging and giving myself a hard time about it too. I know I can run 10k without stopping, in fact I ran the first 11 miles of my last race without a problem. It had to be the heat and possibly my nutrition. I’d had my normal jam on toast for brekkie and a banana half hour before we started, but I was close to an hour in now and I simply hit the wall. I felt delirious, nauseous and any other ous you can think of.
So at about 8k I started walking. By now the route was taking us along a very long and boring industrial road, an up and back route to make things worse, so I could see the faster runners already heading back. I walked for a bit and then remembered something Mary had said she does in training, she allows herself to walk if she must but never for longer than 60 seconds. So that’s what I did. By 11k there was still no sign of an energy drink stop and I feared I might pass out. But at 12k I spotted Mary running towards me with a gel. She had picked up two hoping she would see me and knowing I would need it.
I told her how awesome she was and I guess I got my second wind. For the next 8k or so I continued with my walk run strategy, and now it seemed there were water and nutrition stops at every kilometre, powerade, gels, bananas, oranges it was fab. By now though I was clearly with the walkers, there was nobody on the other side of the road and I feared the dreaded sweeper van. But I kept plodding on.
As we headed towards the city centre again the atmosphere picked up as the crowds became a little more dense, as until now crowd support had been pretty low on the ground. And the Portugese are not like the Brits, we love an underdog which is why I get so much support and encouragement, but I was pretty much ignored on this race, the Portugese instead applauding the elite and that was about it. Maybe I am being a little harsh, as in the last kilometre I got a bit of cheering but by this point I was hunched over, making gasping noises and looking like a beetroot.
The last kilometre seemed to go on for miles, and by the time I reached the cobbled home straight I had nothing left. My legs were moving but my brain was somewhere else. I crossed the finishing line in 3 hours 4 minutes and moments later saw the huge grin of Mary up ahead. But as I waved and walked in her direction I knew I was in a bad way. I was dizzy, my hearing was weird and I couldn’t string a sentence together.
We wandered around the post race festival for a bit but neither of us were in any shape to be rocking out, so instead we headed to the air conditioned oasis of the huge shopping centre nearby, where we rehydrated, updated our Facebook statuses and took real joy in relaying our race experiences.
Mary completed her first half marathon in 2.41 and I am so incredibly proud of her. She joined the programme in May and struggled to run 5k. She is now a member of the 13.1 club, and fast approaching the 26.2 club – well if I have anything to do with it.
I am proud of myself today too for finishing and for not being too hard on myself for walking when I needed to. The temperature today was 29 degrees at points and there was no shade. I have been doing this for long enough now to know that somedays it’s just not your day and the sensible side of me knew I couldn’t maintain that pace.
Would I do this race again in the future? In a word NO!! The route was uninspiring, the rock bands were too few and far between (although the one at the finish line was pretty awesome), and also the crowd support wasn’t great. Would I do another run in Portugal? Without a shadow of doubt. I saw some amazing running routes and the county is stunning. I can see why Mary loves it so much.
The other thing to note is just how cheap races are here, and what value for money they represent with, in this case great organisation, well thought through logistics, a technical Adidas T-shirt, post race ice cream and a packed goodie bag all for less than £20
Whilst waiting at the airport to board my flight home I got chatting to some blokes about the race, they were in fact official photographers and they were interested in my take on the event. They were surprised to hear this wasn’t my first half marathon. I am keen to check out my race photos now cos I know they are not gonna be pretty, in fact the very last one will be horrendous… I knew he was there and that he was aiming his lens at me but I had no control over my limbs or my facial expressions. Let’s just wait and see hey?