Last weekend I completed the Ealing Half Marathon – and what a great race it is! I’d heard all about its special atmosphere and knew that it picks up regular awards, but nothing prepared me for the support all around the course.
They say that the darkest moment is before the dawn, and that has certainly been the case for me with my long-standing injury. I had a negative reaction in November 2017 after which I barely did any exercise for a month and put on a significant amount of weight. Then in April I again had real problems. I remember being in agony during the AFC Wimbledon volunteers’ away day at Walsall, especially after being sat on the coach home. The following morning I could barely move and had to get some friends to post painkilling drugs through my letterbox so that I could slowly crawl to the door and pick them up.
But the overall trajectory was of improvement. I could feel the remaining muscle tension easing off and other, weaker muscles strengthening, and that only accelerated as I prepared for this race, slowly upping my long-run distances. I stuck to steady-paced running, which was immensely frustrating, but I thought that discretion would be the better part of valour.
So I knew that in the Ealing Half Marathon I wouldn’t be quick but I was determined to get around it as an important psychological staging post. When I ran the Surrey Half Marathon – my only previous half – I got carried away in the opening stages and paid the price for it later. I was determined not to do that this time.
I found the 2:20 pacers and stuck with them at the start, knowing that they would be running at a pace slightly slower than I’d ideally want to do. After a while I overtook them and tried to keep as constant a pace as possible, and I finally overtook the 2:15 pacers with a few kilometres to go. I even had enough in the tank for a quick burst in the final 100 metres and ended up beating my previous time by around half a minute. I’m still nowhere near the 1:45 mark that I should be aiming for, based on my pre-injury times over shorter distances, but it’s still pleasing progress given the circumstances. And I only twice had to stop to stretch!
I was definitely given a lift by the atmosphere around the course: it was amazing! I volunteered as a marshal last year and was stationed near Bunny Park. I was struck then by the fact that local residents were coming out to cheer on the runners, but it’s only when you run the whole course that you realise just how much of a ‘community vibe’ this race has.
There were school groups with children proudly wearing their mini-mile medals from the previous day. There were religious groups, handing out refreshments outside their churches and temples. And there were local residents, distributing jelly babies, playing pumping music from their houses, and demanding high-fives as the runners went past. It was the most supportive crowd I think I’ve ever experienced.
So although the course is definitely on the hilly side of undulating, the Ealing Half Marathon is definitely a race that I’ll be returning to in the future – and hopefully at full pace!