For me, when I started running last year, I had such admiration for so many people that the list would be endless. Races aren’t for everyone, I know the most brilliant runners who wouldn’t dream of going near the start line. For me personally, the racing keeps things fresh and exciting, keeps me motivated and you see it all over Twitter when someone misplaces their mojo “go sign up for a race”. The plan for me was 2016 concentrate on 10k’s, half-marathons in 2017 and maybe a first marathon 2018. However I am a stubborn and competitive so and so, I always want to push that bit more and once the 10k began to lose a sense of being a challenge, I wanted something new to give me that excitement, those pre race nerves, to push myself beyond the boundaries, hence why I ended up running a half marathon last weekend.
What got me into Running?…
Simple, my dad. right next question…..
In truth I did quite a bit of running as a young kid, still hated the school cross-country run of course, but who didn’t? Whenever my dad did a 10k, HM or Full marathon (and he did lots) I would also do the kiddies fun run, but once I got to my teens and the Potteries Marathon was no more I stopped and didn’t really have much interest in running, it was more of a chore than something to enjoy.
My dad still runs three, four times a week and goes to a local club and a sports shop run on a Saturday morning, not too dissimilar to Parkrun, albeit smaller with free tea and corn flakes.
One Sunday, after polishing off mum’s Sunday lunch, the 200kg me, felt so bloated, probably having already eaten through a packet of biscuits that morning, pre-lunch.
It was a lovely August day and I decided to go for a walk to ease the bloated feeling. I happened to turn on Runkeeper and walked along the canal. I got to a nice turning point and realised I’d walked 1.5miles in about 30mins – hmmm, wonder if I could get home before 1 hour? Well, I did, I got home in just under an hour and covered exactly 3miles. I loved it and after showering I asked dad if I could come along to Bournes’ next Saturday and do the 5k run? Well, I’ve never seen my dad so proud!
The next Saturday, I got a pair of shorts and t-shirt together and headed off, met all the lovely people and had my phone strapped to my arm. I started off, the others leaving me in their wake, I got 200 metres and had to stop for a walk and catch my breath. In fact, I didn’t even make it round the 5k route, I got off early and couldn’t even make it round to the back of the store the runners were supposed to use and had to nip through the front door. I did 2.79miles in 53 minutes.
Well, fortunately it didn’t put me off, and I kept going back week after week and started to see improvements. I made it round the whole way, then challenged myself to get under 55mins, then sub 50mins and so on.
A year on…
Almost exactly a year after my first visit, I was getting quite jealous of friends doing races and I wanted a bit of bling for myself. I wanted a big race where there was less chance of me coming last and I chose the British 10k. Well, I walked most of it to be honest and came home in 1:45, about what I was expecting, I still use the photos from that race to remind me of the changes I’ve gone through since then.
From there on I moved to London and really concentrated on my fitness and improving my running.
Just 6 months later I ran the CR Winter Run in January, came home in 1:29 taking 15 mins off my PB. Well, this just escalated things and I was doing at least one race per month. Sooner or later the 10k became less of a challenge (unless in the 34oC of Market Drayton – finishing was a challenge that day). Sooner or later I wanted to run for longer and further, the half was an obvious but unnerving choice.
So, with this in mind, harking back to my original thought about not coming last in my first 10k I wanted a big half and entered the ballot for the Great North Run and got in…. oh, wasn’t expecting that!
I’d also entered the Royal Parks Half Marathon for a charity (BCRT) who were offering places with no minimum fundraising requirement. So now I had two half marathons to plan for within a month of each other.
I started using theapp/website as a way of scheduling my runs and keeping me in a regular pattern.
All was going great, I’d built up to a long run of 7.8 miles and then 8.3 miles a couple of weeks later & really starting to feel the progress. I went away on holiday in Morocco, managed a couple of runs in the heat and came home ready to pick it up again. I ran to Waterloo, my usual route from work covering just 4 miles as it was a ‘down’ week. The following morning I thought I’d head out for another run, I only made it up the road – my hip was really sore and I was getting a call from nature, so I abandoned ship and headed home. Later that day, after lunch I was struggling to walk and started to get really bad pain from my achilles out of nowhere. The following Monday I was off to see a physio, and he gave me an ultrasound and stretches to do. Over the coming month I’d get better, run and relapse. It got to mid-August and it was becoming evident that the Great North Run would be a struggle with my longest run being 8.5miles from three months ago.
I questioned whether to just go and have a go at GNR, so I had a go at a long run on the Wednesday before the race and got 8.5 miles done – I didn’t think I had it in me to do another 4.5 miles even though I was carrying a 6kg backpack. I decided at that moment looking over the Thames (in moody Made in Chelsea style) that I’d give GNR the miss and concentrate on getting to the start line of the Royal Parks Half.
After my long run I took a few days off, not to push the achilles too much and saw my physio and Sports Doc a couple of times. I’d worked a plan that was steady enough not to aggravate any injuries but would lead my into RPH with a long run of 9-10miles – I was pretty much starting from scratch.
First off, I did a couple of 5k's from work to Waterloo just to make sure everything still worked and I could remember how to run and a couple of runs with my new club that I’d been eager to join for a while. After that it was time to try a 10k and conveniently a friend had a number for the Kew Gardens 10k apart of the Richmond RunFest. It felt good to race again, it served as both a way for me to get 6 miles under my belt but also to jog the memory on how to race again. It was a great day, I got back under 1:30 for the first time since London 10,000 and filled me with confidence for the following week.
The following Sunday I planned my final long run. I ran 3.5 miles from my flat to the common, did a loop and joined my club run for another 3 miles, then, run back home via an extended 4 miles route. It was hilly, muddy and quick (courtesy of club run). I struggled on the last mile and I really wanted to stop so much, but knowing I had a tub of half eaten frozen yoghurt in the freezer kept me moving. I was happy, 9.5 miles under the belt, quicker than I expected and my body held together really well.
The Big Day
We made our way to Hyde Park and I met with a a group of Twitter friends who we had been talking to in our DM group – great idea for those doing big races to support each other and share stories, long runs, nutrition (mostly doughnuts) etc. After which, I put my race top on and made my way to the Maroon start via the loo’s – the whole start procedure was extremely swift. The waves moved quickly and they’d got the waves spot on, as we all took off at a fairly leisurely pace. Thumbs up for organisation.
Personally I loved the first half of the race, at the start you run past all the medals laid out on the table top to remind you what you’d get at the end. You get to see half of the big sites of London, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, The Strand and then back via The Mall and into Green Park. Coming up to Hyde Park Corner I spotted a certain someone waving furiously at me – it was Mr @RunnersKnees, he took a few snaps of me, we exchanged a few words, including “where is the cake?”. Well, that gave me a boost and as soon as you turn into Hyde Park you’re hit with a wall of noise that doesn’t stop from the Charity cheer-point, it was incredible and just at the right place as you approached half way.
I nipped into one of the many loo’s around the course, something I’ve never done before and put it off for a little while until the queues died down. Once mile 7 arrived I began to feel my legs a bit and the walk of my run/walk strategy began to get longer and longer. I couldn’t seem to get any energy back in my legs no matter how much I slowed down. By 9 miles I was starting to struggle and almost walked the whole mile. I started to think about strategy and actually all I wanted to do now was get to the end, no matter what the time. I’d done the first half in sub-3hour pace, so I knew I’d inadvertently banked some time and I could afford to slow down a bit! The last 3 miles were a struggle, but the support around the course was like nothing I’d experienced before. After the final and passing through the gates outside the Royal Albert Hall I knew the finish was close, my parents and the rest of the crowd that had stuck around shouted and cheered me through to the finish – I’d never been so happy to finish a race before, my legs were dead.
A piece of advise I was given and I would share with any newbie runner would be never set one solid goal time, it takes the pressure off a bit and means that if you don’t hit that one time, you don’t feel like you failed even though you’ve done something amazing – whether it be a parkrun or ultra. My first goal a was get round, preferably under 3:30, next would be sub-3:20, and finally sub 3:15. Well, I didn’t do any of them, due to my weak bladder I came in at 3:30.11. And yes, for the rest of the day I was pretty miffed and disappointed. But what I must say was that the support from fellow runners on Twitter was unbelievable, it took me a while and lots of tweets from people to realise that I am a half-marathon runner, I am part of an club and no one can take that away. In fact, not hitting my target has spurred me on to do another so I can prove to myself I can do better – despite saying “never again” as I passed my parents on the home stretch.
What I can say is that I’m not bothered if thousands of people finish in front of me, I will congratulate everyone of them for their awesome achievement, but it’s important not to compare yourself to the person who finished over two hours before you, or the person who finished and hour and a half after you, as long as you can say that you am bettering yourself and pushing yourself to succeed in whatever you see as a success, you’re going in the right direction!
Big thanks to Carl for sharing his story - really inspiring as to how far you can come and what you can achieve if you want it enough.
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