On Sunday I finally ran my first half marathon – two years after first entering it!
I volunteered at the inaugural Surrey Half Marathon back in 2014 which earned me a free entry the following year. But it was as I upped my mileage in late 2014 that my injury problems (written about in a previous blog entry) manifested themselves.
I deferred in 2015, volunteering again in order to ‘roll over’ my entry, but things hadn’t improved enough by 2016. That year I cheered on a friend who was building up to the London Marathon rather than volunteering again, but the organisers were kind enough to allow me to defer again until this year.
And this year, thankfully, things had improved enough to let me take part. It’s still not perfect: I can still feel an imbalance in my body and I’m still having to do about two hours of exercises and stretching every day. But I was determined to do the event this year, even if I had to walk it: it had become a personal challenge.
In the build-up, all of my longer runs had still punctuated by spells of walking: after about 10k my weaker muscles start to fatigue and my form goes out the window, but a brief walk could help bring it back. So I was fairly confident I could get around, and having that as my target rather than a specific time meant I could take some of the pressure off.
But I was unsure where to place myself in the starting pens. My longest training run (22k) had been done in 2 hours 20 minutes. I had a brief chat with one of the 2:15 pacers before the start and she said they would be doing more or less the quicker-end of my easy pace throughout. But I needed to factor in my walking spells, too, so I took up station a little way behind them, just ahead of the 2:20 pacer.
As so often happens, I started too quickly and was soon ahead of the 2:15 pacers. But the first 10k was great fun, nice and relaxed and easy. Even a sudden downpour couldn’t dampen my spirits – it was great to finally be taking part.
At halfway I slowed to a walk at a water station to take on a gel and have a quick drink, and after that things were, as expected, a bit more of an ordeal. Quite often I had to walk or stop to stretch. I could feel the leg muscles that had caused me problems during the London Duathlon threatening to tense up again, but the constant stretching kept on top of things.
By the final mile or so I was starting to feel pretty knackered. I found myself running alongside a woman who, as I glanced at my watch, asked me how we were doing for pace. There was a growing realisation that the 2:15 pacers were catching us.
We settled into an unspoken partnership, pacing each other to the finish. I think we both benefited from the moral support of having someone alongside to keep us going. As we turned into the finishing straight, I asked her: ‘Are you up for a finishing effort?’ She grimaced and said: ‘I’ll try.’
So we upped the tempo slightly and crossed the line together. She was beaming afterwards: she’d achieved her aim of being under 2:15 by a handful of seconds. Helping someone to achieve their target gave me the biggest buzz of the morning but she’d really helped me, too.
I’ll admit that I was myself feeling pretty emotional towards the end. If when I first visited the physio I’d known how long it would take, I doubt I’d have bothered. It’s great to finally be getting back to the stage where I can take part again.
Now I’m looking forward to doing some shorter runs where I can try and put in a bit more speed. And, of course, I’ll be continuing those physio exercises. And maybe by this time next year ...