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Wee, Sweat & Tears, My First Half Marathon

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This is the concluding piece from our wonderful reader who has shared her experience and transformation from alcoholic smoker to healthy half marathon finisher. Be sure to read her first 2 stories “Taking your first steps to becoming a runner” and “OK I can run, now how do I get better?” If you have a story you would like to share, email Ben at [email protected]

“Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.”- Steve Prefontaine.

If you’ve taken up running and are looking for something to aim for then a marathon will be the ideal thing to push you. A Half Marathon is the best starting point because it’s shorter and has the benefit of still being difficult to complete as a beginner.

If you are thinking of entering one then obviously training is crucial

What you do to prepare will help you to complete it safely both psychologically and physically. There lots of resources online from long distance runners providing excellent and simple training schedules. I gave myself 6 months to go from a non runner to my first half but 3 months is the bare minimum that most training schedules span.

They are broken down into days of the week and will slowly increase your mileage at a steady pace. Rest and cross training days are also given each week to make sure that you train safely.

I found that keeping in mind why I entered was the best training tool I had

Signing yourself up to run 13.1 miles is sheer lunacy and on low days you’ll need a good reason to keep going. So whether you’re entering for the experience or the competition keep it at the forefront of your mind. Believe me, some days it will be the only thing getting your trainers on!

Race Worries

Half marathons do have strict rules and etiquette involved. If you’re about to enter please note the band of runners you qualify for. This is decided by your estimated completion time. It’s not difficult to work out-either time yourself running a mile and average it or look at the groups.

Some races have them split into professional, intermediate etc so just find yourself the appropriate section. This is the most important thing to make sure you get right when entering. Putting yourself in the right place just means that on race day you’re grouped correctly and everything runs as smoothly as possible.

So, now you have your training schedule and entry sorted there are a few things will help you on race day

Have the right shoes!

Please ensure you have the best trainers possible for the day. I ended up with a fracture in my right foot at the end of my first Half and all because I wore the wrong ones. Don’t wear a new pair on the day itself though, make sure you have worn them in and know they feel.

Read and remember the rules

The rules are there for a reason. In an event as large as this the organization is paramount and a lot of work goes into making sure it’s safe. Just take the time to read the guidelines set and use them on the day.

Be aware of other runners!

Sounds obvious but I spent a lot of my time dodging people that seemed to have no concept of this. Move over cautiously if another is overtaking you and don’t run directly in the path of someone behind you.

Be careful what you do with the energy drinks

Seriously, the sides are littered with the bottles because that’s where they are supposed to go! Don’t just randomly throw it behind you or it will hit someone and it really hurts if it’s not empty…

Finally be nice to the crowds

High five the kids (if you have energy left) and smile at the onlookers who have come to cheer you on. These people are supporting you, appreciate it!

Bearing these in mind will not only help you enjoy the day they will help you be part of it. Even though it’s a competition it still revolves around everyone working together and this includes you.

My First Race

It’s 7am and my running buddy is trying to call her mother in Lithuania. Even though she’s done 2 of these already she’s nervous as hell which I’m not finding reassuring.Thankfully the weather looks good. We’d been expecting snow as it’s October so to train I’d been running in the pouring rain.

Thankfully there it’s dry and the skies look clear which I take as a good omen

As she gets up and makes breakfast the nerves start to kick in. I hadn’t slept well, sure that I would never complete this race. Also I had only run the most of 8 miles straight due to me getting confused on a treadmill that worked in kilometers and not miles.

Panic makes me stupid.

I don’t want the breakfast she’s bringing which is boiled eggs and porridge but I eat it because I’m about to put my body through hell.

We get to the race early and stand like sheep in a pen. This is a race with 30,000 entrants making my nerves rocket.  I watch as others stretch and wonder if I should do the same but instead I get our picture taken with our numbers pinned to our chest, me beaming like a maniac. I have to use the bathroom 5 times before we get herded to our starting positions and I’m worried about toilets along the route.

My nerves are at their highest now

Everyone is in their group and we watch as the front get their starting gun. It’s cold, it’s packed and I wasn’t prepared for how loud this would be. There is dance music playing and a man on a podium is doing warm ups with the next group to go. I go through it in a daze and just before we set off I hold my friends hand and tell her good luck.

Then we are off

This moment is the most important, setting your pace at the start. I didn’t, nerves caused me to run flat out for 6 miles flat. At the mile 6 marker I stop to drink. The queues for the port loos are so long that I pee behind a house. I’m that worried about time.

Back on the track my legs are starting to hurt and I’m on my way to agony. Every mile is marked which I’m sure is just to torture me. I get to mile 8, stop to drink and realize I have to change how I’m running or I’m going to burn out.

Desperately I look for an escape route and aside from an ambulance there are none

I check my time and calculate that if I don’t get moving then I will be stuck with the clean up van at the end. This is my fear zone, I don’t want to be the last person. A quick check behind me shows there is still a large crowd so I turn my music up and pick a runner.

There is a girl next to me with bright green leggings who’s cutting a steady nonstop pace. Breathing deep I push to sprint as long as I can, feeling euphoric as I pass so many other runners.

When exhausted I stop and walk until I see green leggings and set off on another sprint. This combination is working but the pain is still building.

At mile 11 I see an orange line ahead with crowds cheering. Confused I run full pelt towards it thinking that the markers are wrong and this is the finish. I cross the line with burning lungs and notice it’s just a very brightly lit point and knowing I’ve used up reserves I start to cry. I tell myself to stay calm and walk until I see green leggings.

Hiccuping sobs I sprint again

Repeating that I have only got 2.1 miles left. I can do it!! I carry on until the 12.5 marker and when green leggings gets to me I decide to run this section continuously to give myself the best time. My feet feel like they have needles stuck in them, my legs are about to give way and my core is burning. Ignoring it I painfully run the last stretch. It’s getting louder, with more crowds and I’m so weak their faces are blurring. I come to a stop when I see people milling about.

Confused I notice I’ve now finished without knowing it

A smiley volunteer gives me a goody bag and I raid it for the medal. When I get it around my neck I’m so ecstatic I could faint. I check my time-2hr20 and it’s better than I could have hoped.

I cry again when I realize my goody bag has no chocolate


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