*The title is reference to my increasingly angst laden Facebook updates over the last week, I know, you would think no one in the world had ever done a half marathon before me – thanks for indulging me. But it was MY first. It’s also a reference to a hilarious buzzfeed article I saw earlier about smarmy running updates.
My first half marathon
The mist hung low over the River Trent as we crossed the suspension bridge to the IKANO Robin Hood Half Marathon start line. The bridge wobbles when lots of people cross, but it barely registered. After a week of feeling stressed about the prospect of the half marathon I had at last awoken feeling calm, and excited about the day.
Despite having been to the toilet 10 minutes before, my body immediately felt like it needed to go again. But with 13,000 people running the marathon, half marathon and mini marathon the queues for the toilets were like nothing I had seen on earth.
The toilet queues and sheer volume of people moving towards a small area, made me think about the charities I was running for, supporting people living in refugee camps and war zones.
We decided not to bother with the toilet and instead joined the orange section of runners lining up along the embankment. Orange is around the 2 hours 30 minute mark. In my head I was thinking it would just be great to run it in 2.45.
The waiting for an hour in the misty air was hard, every time the crown moved a little, or the tannoy crackled the surge triggered an adrenalin rush, and stomach flips. It was chilly too, but great weather for running – I took an old sweatshirt I didn’t care about losing and took it off at the last minute.
I trained with See How She Runs, an amazingly supportive group of women in Nottingham. I can say hand on heart I would not have done this without their support. We kept each other going with the long training runs over the summer – I would never have believed in myself without them. Here are the five of us plus a friend before the race.
At last the time came, we passed under the start line and began to run.
It took a while to warm up, the fog literally clung to us. But we ran close to a very chirpy pacer who had us laughing, and whooping at each mile.
I knew the hills were coming as we ran up to Nottingham Castle and up through The Park between miles 1 and 3. I am so glad we did a training run in the area as the incline was really tough (at least this time I wasn’t worn out by sleeping on a plane the night before).
I could tell I was in better shape this time and quite out of nowhere some kind of cheesy fitness coach inner voice kept saying ‘It’s your fitness, own it, be proud’. Months ago I would never have run up a hill like that. I not only ran it, I recovered quickly the other side.
Running downhill afterwards was awesome and as we hit 3 miles we were so giddy about how good we felt and how better than usual our pace was.
Then we hit flat and I hit a wall. In training the walls and been really predictable, but they came sooner than I expected in the race setting. I remember a band playing James’ Sit Down around 4 miles and thinking how soothing the music was, if slightly tempting to honour the lyrics. The next stretch seemed to go on for ever, we were on roads I didn’t recognise and it threw me.
As we hit Wollaton Park (where Batman was filmed) we’d done 5 miles and there like a beacon of hope, was Lucozade. Lucozade combined with the tree lined boulevard up to the stunning Wollaton Hall really spurred me on. This was a pleas ant surprise as Last time I ran in Wollaton it was my first (and last) 10k and I vividly remember promising myself I would never run a 10k, never mind a half marathon again.
The sun was breaking through the mist, I almost expected to see a lone stag appear, and in my head I started thinking about writing this post. And then I nearly went over on my ankle. But caught myself in time, time to concentrate.
On the other side of Wollaton Park the sun was blasting, Queens Medical Centre roundabout. So many memories. The first time I ever drove to Nottingham I got lost and called Mr A from just off this roundabout. Mr A had been working up here, and I came up from London to see if I could see myself living here. The rest is history. The last time I stopped traffic on the A52 I was in an ambulance in labour with L. Mr G was born at Queens.
After a lot of winding roads we arrived at Nottingham University, sadly all the Lucozade was gone at the 8 mile point. I staggered on, thinking back to drunken memories of doing the ‘campus 14’ when visiting an ex boyfriend’s older brother (there are 14 halls all with a bar, the campus 14 involves a drink in every one and someone blowing a whistle to move on, as punishing a regime as the half marathon). Nowadays the University grounds are somewhere we love to visit as a family. The course was truly iconic, and kept my interest.
At nine miles I began to struggle to keep up with Ruth and Deb. I began to panic. I wasn’t sure I could do it on my own. I had only managed to endure the end of longer runs in training with the others to distract me. But the energy to keep up with their pace wasn’t there. I began to flap over my pace and wanted to stop so badly.
I gave myself a talking to and some Lucozade jelly beans and settled into a pace I was more comfortable with. The happy feeling returned as I took in my surroundings and fellow runners and hit the 10 mile sign.
I was really hoping the pacer for 2hrs 30minutes wasn’t about to overtake me. I knew we had been doing around 2.22 from conversations around me, but most of those people had definitely overtaken me. I had the feeling the 2.30 pacer was on my back, but each time I turned back to look for her, I couldn’t see her. I told myself to stay in the now and whatever happened, to enjoy it. If I made under 2.30 it would be a bonus.
Pacers look like this/carry a flag with the time on – and they do an awesome job!
I distracted myself for the final 3 miles by thinking about all the people who sponsored me, I kept my pace at around 7- 7.30 minute kms, even when we hit a few hills. It was going ok.
My knees were really starting to hurt at 11 miles, but by raising them higher for a few strides every now and then I could keep it from taking over.
The last stretches were blurred, I didn’t dare think too far ahead and was now utterly terrified of the pacer overtaking me, but everything people told me about crowds cheering you on was true. Bursts of music helped too.
Around 12 miles someone called my name, I looked at her confused as to who she was, then realised my name was on my runner number – perhaps I looked like I needed some encouragement. All that mattered was it was coming to a close. I decided to make the most of that and soak it all in.
A couple of people overtook me, but with such a thoughtful ‘Well Done’ and a ‘Nearly There’ as they passed me, I felt another rush of energy.
At this point I thought about the charities I was running for again, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders, Nottingham’s streets were alien, made up of road blocks, people running, and strewn with rubbish – seeing your city like this and running along it’s main roads is both liberating and disconcerting. Any pain I felt at this point was nothing compared to the pain refugees fleeing war and persecution feel.
As we arrived back towards Trent Bridge there was the feeling of being back on home turf, and scanning the crowds along the tree lined boulevard for family and friends. Happy came on the sound system and my whole body went with it, a massive rush of endophins and my pace pushed back under 7min kms again. There was something left in the tank.
Then suddenly there were my kids and husband shouting Go Mummy! Go Penny! The last corner, the end nearly in sight.
Suddenly I was on grass, lined with people watching. The tannoy encouraged people to cheer us on because the last bit is a killer. So true, I really needed the encouragement, the last 200m was suddenly like being back at school struggling through the humiliation of sports day. But I banished that thought because everything I have learnt about running with See How She Runs in the last year has let me forget that PE lesson feeling, because I really CAN run.
Before I knew it I was crossing the line, fumbling with my watch, realising my time. Gasping for air and with shock and disbelief.
2.25 Two Hours and Twenty Five Minutes.
I smashed it.
A huge medal handed to me. Heavy, impressive, complete with that stag I was hallucinating in Wollaton Park.
A tunnel of people with water and blankets and snacks.
I was done.
I was so proud.
I found my family.
I found my fellow runners. Everyone from See How She Runs smashed it, so well done Karen, Yvonne, Deb and Ruth.
The kids and Mr A smashed the Mini Marathon while they were waiting.
Sweaty hugs all round.
At home the boiler refused to work, I absolutely stank. I washed in the sink, by boiling a kettle. But again my thoughts were with people living in refugee camps with no running water who haven’t showered for months.
Thanks for all the support, it’s not too late to sponsor me and make a difference via Save the Children and Doctors without Borders. As I write this my lovely sponsors have raised just under £600.
I have taken myself out of my comfort zone. But some people are living with that daily.
More information on Nottingham’s Women Only Running Group See How She Runs.