…or How To Make A Complete Hash Out of a Half Marathon PB Attempt. You can probably guess from these early sentences that things didn’t go so well for me on Sunday.
Things started out brilliantly. The conditions were much better than anticipated, with hardly any wind and some nice spells of warming sunshine. The course was flat and fast and I made the risky decision to go out hard from the start. (You can really detect the looming sense of foreboding here can’t you?!).
The first half (on paper at least), was spot on. Miles 1-6 were all with the range of 6:50 – 6:58 and I reached the half-way point in just under 45 minutes. But in reality, my race was already beginning to unravel. The first six and a half miles of a half-marathon should feel pretty comfortable, or at worst, ‘comfortably hard’. But I was already feeling the heat, literally as well as figuratively. The sun was beating down and I was losing a ridiculous amount of salt early on in the race. But these, of course, are just excuses. Let’s cut the crap. My body (and mind) are just not capable of running 13.1 miles at that speed. Yet.
From mile 7 I started slowing (7:08 pace). My breathing was pretty good but it was my legs that were holding me back. Again, I’m not saying this to make excuses for a poor performance but I did something really stupid the day before the race. I attended an hour long bootcamp session, despite never experiencing a bootcamp session in my life before. I know, believe me, I know. Just stupid. The decision to start attending bootcamp on a regular basis is an excellent one (all those squats, lunges, upper body strengthening and core work will really improve my running). The decision to start the day before a race – senseless. I knew it would affect me but I did it anyway, naively believing that I could get away with only putting about 70% effort in. What a donkey. My hamstrings were tight, quads hard as rocks and it hurt to go up and downstairs. Great race prep!
But enough of the excuses. Miles 8-10 passed by and I slowed to 7:30ish pace, which is still pretty respectable all things considered. But by mile 11, my legs were done. I walked. A blowout of epic proportions. I felt dizzy and sick and I decided to be sensible about it. But surprisingly, I didn’t feel too disappointed. It just wasn’t my day, that’s all. It also wasn’t my brother’s day, who was racing with the same goal as me. He’s a much faster runner than I am, but he hasn’t run further than 8 miles since his marathon in early spring. (I’m pretty sure we have a genetic pre-disposition to make stupid decisions).
He’d slowed to a walk before I did, but managed to get running again and he caught me back up. We both knew our race was over in terms of time goals but there was no way either of us were quitting. We walked together for a bit and then we started to run. Loads of people passed us and gave us encouragement, and we responded in kind.
We reached mile 11 (after a 10:30 minute mile!) and the last water station. I didn’t realise how thirsty I was until I received that bottle of water. Normally I’d have a few sips and throw the bottle to the side, but I hung on to that bottle as though I was stranded out to sea and it was the only thing keeping me afloat. I drunk every last drop and was still desperate for more.
We plodded on. With my brother leading the way, constantly encouraging me, we picked it back up to a 9 minute mile pace. Those last few miles were the hardest I think I’ve ever endured. They were never ending. After an age, the finish line came into view. I grabbed his hand and we ran those last hundred metres side by side, arms aloft.
Gun time – 1:42:15. Surprisingly, this was actually my second best ever result for a road half-marathon and really not too shabby when you consider how much we’d walked! But of course there’s no shying away from the fact that it was nowhere near what I was hoping for. I sat down. I reflected. I ate a Wagon Wheel.
If you want to know what mental strength looks like in picture form, it’s this:
Believe me, it’s hard to keep going when you can see your goal slipping out of your hands with every step. But you wipe the sweat from your brow, the salt from your cheeks and you keep going. You learn from your mistakes and you dare to dream again. But most importantly, you congratulate yourself for fighting on…..