Monday 16 September 2013

A half-marathon monster is born!

Last Sunday I ran my first half marathon. After 13.1 miles of weaving through a sea of green Run to the Beat t-shirts I was sure I'd say never again! Why, then, am I planning my next half already?! The bug has not just bitten; oh no! It has chowed-down, torn off a chunk and spit it out with gusto!!

Readers of my previous posts will be aware that I only had 4 weeks to train for Run to the Beat (RTTB) after winning an entry from Vita Coco. I only managed one long run of 11.5 miles in training, but having a base level of fitness would (I hoped!) see me through... Despite surviving (evidently, as I am writing this post!) I do recommend that you give yourself at least 6 weeks to train for a half and, ideally, don't get drunk too often during that time. As mama says: do as I say, not as I do!

When I rocked up to Grenwich Park last Sunday the first thing I saw was the 12 mile marker and the long 45degree incline hill beyond it. I was already panting a bit after just walking up it to the event village!! That hill was going to hurt, and proved to be the nail in the coffin for many later in the day. At least I knew it was coming now, and so I stored my lucozade gel pack in my zip-pouch ready with a mental note to take it at mile 11 for a pre-hill boost!

        Lining up in the pens at RTTB

After a delayed start, we were on the move and my aim was to keep a steady pace of 9.15-9.20 per mile for the first few miles to ease myself in. It was a perfect crisp but sunny day and I trotted along feeling fine. Until mile 4...

In their infinite wisdom, the race organisers decided to set up one of the rehydration stations on a 400m loop inside a car park for which there was only one entrance and exit gate. Now, I'm pretty sure that a high school maths student could tell you that fitting 20,000 people through a 6-foot wide space would be a logistical nightmare. And they'd be right!! We were in a mass ball of people queuing to get in for about 3.5-4 minutes and again for 2 minutes trying to get out the other side. This really knocked my pacing off, and so I tried to speed up a little to get myself back on schedule - I'd now lost sight of the 2-hour pacemaker. After the rage subsided I pulled myself back in to a rhythm and settled in at a slightly quicker pace than planned for the remaining 9 miles.

Some parts of the course were a bit derelict but by the time we hit 8 miles in the crowds had begun to gather and the cheering was a real motivator. Parts of the route were a bit narrow, only space enough for four people side by side, which made overtaking difficult and dangerous - I witnessed a few jostles and falls, but managed myself to pass by without taking anybody out!

Just after mile 10 I spotted the lovely Leah, handing out jelly babies and words of encouragement in spades! Seeing a friendly face really lifted my spirits, and knowing I only had 3 miles left (in my head I was saying: it's just a 5K. Man up!!) I guzzled my gel down and pushed hard. Talk about keeping some in the tank, my fastest mile was mile 11!

Entering the park, I knew that hill was coming so I got my head down, pumped the arms and willed my legs to keep going as gravity started to pull on the up-hill. Most people had stopped to walk by that point, so the hardest part was keeping moving while weaving in among everyone! 

At the top was a cruel teaser: like at Disneyland, when the entrance of the ride seems really close then they send you round a winding queue system for an hour, the finish line was about 200 meters away from the top of the hill, but we had 1 mile of winding course to go before glory!

Although the legs were quickly jellifying (a real word?) I managed to kick hard and finish with some sort of sprint-flail finish, coming over the line at 2h10 - I crossed at the start at 0h07 so completed the race, with set-backs and all, in just over 2 hours.

That's me crossing the line with my sprint-flail on the far left, behind the girl in black shorts. Flail!

Anyone who knows anyone who did RTTB last week will have heard the grumbles about delayed start times, huge bottlenecks at 4 miles, and the hill of death. Yes, these things were annoying (bar the hill, which is just part of a course and to be expected at some point!). Yes, I had a mild tantrum when I was forced to queue for 5 mins at mile 4 and then crossed the finish line 3 mins over my 2-hour target. But y'know what? 'Official time' can take a long walk off a short cliff - according to my Nike+ app I nailed that 2-hour target by a good 3 mins!!


And despite it all, and people telling me that it was a hard course and not the best half event, I had a ball!! I really enjoyed the distance, loved the atmosphere and was chuffed to bits with my bling:

Only one conclusion can be reached, therefore: If this wasn't the best half marathon then how much will I love other half marathons?! So I am now planning 2014 - a year of half marathons (and triathlons, of course!). And yes, I will be back at RTTB. Like your first love, your first half should always have a special place in your heart. 

Thanks again to Vita Coco, Women's Running and Nike for the competition that enabled me to run this race. But know that you've created a monster - a half marathon monster!

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