The day before…
My half marathon story began at the start of this year when I received an email from AsthmaUK looking for runners to enter the Royal Parks Half Marathon as part of their team. Since I’d been planning to run a half marathon 2 years ago, but never managed it due to a flare up of my own asthma, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. The course looked interesting, taking you along the Thames and through some parks, and it seemed like just the right incentive to keep me motivated for training.
Of course, perfect plans never tend to stay that way, and despite a garish technicolour training plan and all the best of intentions I arrived in London rather less trained than I’d wanted. Nonetheless, after completing a 16K and a couple sprint triathlons at the pace of a snail, I was sure that I’d make it to the end, no matter how slowly.
I arrived in London the day before the race, and by some lucky timing, managed to arrive at Hyde Park to pick up my race pack at the same time as my friend Hannah, from DailyMile. For those not in the know, DailyMile is a social site for runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes… you name it really. I originally signed up for the nerdy aspect of being able to track my workouts, but have ended up with a list of 81 friends, only a couple of whom I’ve met in real life. Over the last few months, I’ve received bags of encouragement, advice and the occasional kick in the ass, as I’ve tried to build up the miles. Truly, it’s been amazing how much support I’ve had from a group of people I’ve never met.
After picking up our race gear, Hannah, her boyfriend Francesco and I headed off to check out a couple of the local running shops, at which I took the opportunity to pick up a collection of energy bars and gels – the likes of which I’m always reading about, but have not yet tried.
After exhausting the shops, and doing a few jobs, we then wandered around in circles trying to find a cafe offering free wifi. Eventually succeeding, we sat down with our coffees, and discovered that the wifi was non-functional. Alas. We did, however, manage to persuade one of the staff to take a photo of the three of us, modeling our race t-shirts (got to wonder if that’s some kind of bad karma, wearing a race shirt before the race?).
Heading off on our separate ways, I returned to Euston to meet Dad, and whilst we waited for Jen to arrive, we chilled out at St Pancras with a glass of champagne. I’m not convinced that drinking champagne is generally considered to be good practice the day before a race, but I wasn’t in the mood to worry about it. In fact, to continue the theme of doing every thing wrong the night before your longest race ever, we then went out for a curry!
Having scouted out Euston Station the night before, I made a beeline first thing for a shop which was selling porridge, the perfect pre-run breakfast. I picked up a coffee and a porridge, and then headed down to the tube. Having bought a tube ticket with my bank card the day before I wasn’t expecting any problems, but of course this time around the machines refused to accept my card. So, back upstairs to find a cash machine, and then back down to the ticket machine, all the while juggling coffee and porridge. And of course, what happened? I dropped them! For the rest of my visit, I’d be confronted with the coffee stains on every tube ride, but luckily the porridge survived the experience.
After a jam packed tube ride, I arrived at Hyde Park with less time than I’d planned. By this point my nerves had got the better of me, and I only manage to swallow a small amount of the porridge. Not good pre-race fuelling. There was a huge queue for the bag drop off, though I managed to skip part of it by hooking up with another AsthmaUK runner – hurray for charity t-shirts!
My new found friend and I hung out in the start corral, and then went our own way when the gun finally went off.
It was so tempting to go too fast in the first few miles, but I held back deliberately and just tried to take it easy and enjoy myself. After running my last race in the last 5 from the very start, it was great to be within a larger pack of runners and to actually overtake a few people!
The first part took us down to the river and past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
The support along the way both from the crowds and the race volunteers was fantastic, and contributed to a fantastic first half of the race. Before I knew it we were heading back towards Hyde Park and towards the first AsthmaUK cheering point at the Admiralty Arch. Not knowing London’s sights that well, I was a bit confused as to all the arches, but finally figured it out. Seeing the cheerers up ahead on the left, I moved over to the left hand side of the road, and tried to spot Jen and Becca, with no luck. The cheerers gave me a huge cheer as I came by though!
So I plodded on back up to Buckingham Palace and then a roundabout route into the parks. That last bit before the parks was uphill, and I could feel myself slowing down, but I talked myself through it, knowing that it would level off once I was back in the park. By this point, I’d made it so far without stopping and walking that I was determined not to stop. I wouldn’t make the fastest time, but I really wanted to RUN the whole thing.
Just as I came to the corner into the park, who should come running towards me but Jen. I ran over to her, and we clasped hands briefly as I carried on running, totally buoyed up and totally overcome with emotion at seeing her.
From here on in, my energy slowly started to drain away. With hindsight, I should have ignored the ‘don’t try anything new on race day’ rule and tried out some of my gels, because those few mouthfuls of porridge were never going to be enough to fuel a whole half marathon. Ooops.
The next AsthmaUK cheering point came up at around about the 9 mile point, and this time I saw Becca waiting for me, next to Jen at the far end of the group. Everyone cheered and waved their pom poms for me, and I made a beeline for Jen and Becca giving them both a hug as I ran past.
There wasn’t much to keep me going for those last miles. The course weaved back and forth through the parks, which was very attractive but also confusing, as you never really had a feeling for how much further you had to go. Of course, since I slowed down ridiculously, each of those mile markers seemed to take an interminable time to come around.
10 miles, and I knew that every step from here on in took me further than I’d ever run before. When I checked my time at 10 miles I was pretty happy, thinking only another half hour or so and I’d be done, and with a better time than I’d expected. Of course, I didn’t realise just how much I’d slowed down at the end.
As large sections of the course here doubled back, I did my best to cheer on the slowest runners – I’ve been there and I know how much every bit of encouragement helps. On the flip side, I received huge support from the crowds, especially since one of the AsthmaUK staff had written my name on my running shirt for me.
Finally we reached the 12 mile marker and were heading into the final stretch. That last bit of road seemed ridiculously long, but slowly and surely the noise of the crowds increased, there were markers along the side of the road counting down each 100m, and loudspeakers blaring out the DJ, who was calling people’s names as they crossed the finish.
I tried to find Jen and Becca but the crowds were too busy, and then I could only focus on that wonderful glorious finish line. My legs which had been heavy as lead for the last 3 miles came back into gear and I slowly picked up my pace, until I was doing was felt like a Chariots of Fire like slow motion sprint.
Did my best to raise my arms up and wave to the photographer, and indeed ended up looking like I really was ‘Spreading my Wings for AsthmaUK’
And I crossed the finish line! 13.1 miles, or 21.1km… slowly done, but without stopping!
With huge relief, I slowed to a walk, and received my lovely wooden medal, and then staggered along to the exit points. Somehow Jen and Becca managed to find me, and accompanied me back to the AsthmaUK tent where I gratefully collapsed into a chair, and was waited on hand and foot!
Courtesy of Nokia – my wonderful cheering team!
So far I’ve managed to raise 280 pounds for AsthmaUK, of which I’ve donated about half myself. Many thanks to everyone that’s donated, or provided moral and emotional support!
I’m still 70 pounds short of my fundraising target, so if anyone can spare a fiver, I’d be very grateful! You can donate via my Virgin Money Giving page