Below is my favourite finish line photograph of all time. This is me approaching the finish line of the Lancaster Half Marathon. (Remember that lofty goal I set myself?) I’m so tired, but the smile is just starting to come through on my face as I take a quick glance to the digital clock on my right which confirmed I was going to hit my target. My Dad’s on the grass behind me, smiling and cheering and running me in as my boyfriend, brother, mum and step dad are all shouting loudly on the line. Nothing comes close to that feeling.
A split second later to the next frame. I know I’ve hit my target, but I still want to power through that finish line – I don’t take anything for granted until that line’s been well and truly crossed! This is it, this is the moment where the weeks of hard graft make everything worthwhile…..
And then? Relief, sweet relief. Those Sunday hilly 16 milers. Those dreaded tempo runs. Those vomit-inducing speed sessions. THIS is what they were for.
So that was the finish, but what about the 13.1 miles that went before it? As predicted, I was ridiculously nervous in the morning. It was really nice to see Annabeth again (she has an excellent blog here) and I explained that I felt sick and wasn’t going to bother with a warm-up. She sensibly convinced me to at least do some strides (you potentially saved my race there, Annabeth!) She went on to completely smash her PB and deservedly so.
Onto the race and the first six miles or so were fine. The conditions weren’t great with a strong side-wind pretty much the whole way round, but it could have been much worse. I also hadn’t anticipated how much of the course was muddy trail (I was in racing flats!) but that’s my own stupid fault for not researching the course. I was informed by a marshall that I was first lady at about four miles in, which really boosted my morale but I tried not to get carried away……there was still a long way to go yet.
Mile seven onwards and my breathing started to get heavy and those first few doubts creeped their way in. I had, up until now been pacing brilliantly, consistently knocking out 6:50ish minute miles. But mile number 8 brought a nice hill with it and a subsequent pace of 7:07. Shit. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to bring it back from this point onwards. For a split second I thought about sacking it off. Not stopping, but slowing down and forgetting about the sub90 target for today. And then I thought back to how much I wanted to achieve that target. I’d given everything I had in my last 8 weeks of training and I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.
Mile 10 brought a lovely little downhill and a subsequent pace of 6:35. Hang on, maybe I can bring this back after all! But the feelings of joy began to fade as I really started to tire at around mile 11. I’d been given some advice from my bootcamp instructor which quite possibly saved my race. He told me that I’d start to tire and want to slow down, but it would all be in my head. My body would still be capable of keeping the pace if I pushed through that mental block. So I pushed. And brick by brick, I brought that wall down.
That last mile was torture. Slightly uphill and into the wind. I wouldn’t let myself look at my watch. I was giving it everything I had and that would have to do. A sharp right turn and we were directed onto the track. This was where I was reminded that I was still first lady (I’d genuinely forgotten as I was so focused on keeping the pace). I knew the time was going to be close. I heard the shouts of my family. I heard my Dad running on the grass beside the track. The clock came into view, and, you know the rest!
And then reality hit. I’d chuffing done it!!!! Gun time: 1:29:22, chip time: 1:29:14. I wanted to cry but was too tired!! I know I should have cooled down and done some stretching, but all I wanted to do was lie down and let it all sink in. So I did.
I’d worked my arse off and in 8 short weeks I’d turned things around from absolutely bonking and having to stop and walk in one half marathon, to running a well-paced 89 minute half marathon and winning the ladies’ race! So don’t let anyone tell you there’s something you cannot do. Don’t let anyone stifle your dreams. Don’t let anyone sniff at your ambitions. Shout your goals from the rooftops and let them sneer. Then get your head down and crack on. And when you’re tired, you keep going. And when you don’t really feel like getting up early and going running in the dark – you damn well get up early and go running in the dark. Because that’s how dreams are made. Not through ‘miracles’ or ‘luck’ or ‘natural talent’. Graft. And that’s all there is to it.