Thursday, November 05, 2009

Marathon muppet

Apologies to anyone who reads this for not keeping you up to date with the events of the past month or so, I know you will have been on the edge of your seat, anxiously waiting to hear how the Aviemore half marathon went.

Well, it went OK. I finished it, and I did so in under my target time of 2 hours

I should be really happy with my time of 1 hour 52 minutes and 10 seconds, but I really struggled for the majority of the race, and the last three miles were a nightmare.

It was a bright but chilly morning. Before the race I was feeling good, quite excited and eager to get going.

Here's the intrepid (1/2) marathon runners, Mel, me and Laura, before we started.

My lack of experience showed and I let the adrenalin and excitement of the event get to me.

We lined up at the start next to our predicted finishing time, so I positioned myself at the 2 hour marker. When the gun went off, we were a fair bit back from the start so couldn't go anywhere until the people in front of us got going, even then it was a walk to start with. As we crossed the start line we could break into a jog, then as the field started spreading out a little we could start running properly.

Now, I had positioned myself at the 2 hour mark, and this is my first half marathon, so I assume that the other people starting at the 2 hour mark probably know what they are doing. So we all start running at roughly the same speed. I'm thinking 'OK, this is the speed we need to go at to finish in 2 hours'.

I know, because I've worked it out, that to finish in 2 hours I have to do a mile every 9 minutes or faster. At the first mile marker I look at my watch and see that only 7 and a half minutes has gone. Oops! better slow down a touch. But it's hard to do that. It's hard to remember that you're not racing against these other people that are doing the same route; you are only running against yourself.

At two miles, only 15 and a half minutes has gone, still too fast, but I'm feeling alright, maybe I can keep up this pace, and I've already got 2 and a half minutes in the bank should I need a break.

I keep going and hit the 3 mile marker after 23 and three quarter minutes, so the third mile took me 8 and a quarter.

The first of three hydration stations was at 3 and a half miles. My plan was to use these as rest points; to walk for 30 seconds or so while taking on some fluids. The truth is that by this stage I was already starting to feel the pace and was glad of a rest.

During training I had started develop a pain in my hip which would come on after a while when running. I had felt the discomfort almost immediately after starting but
I had already had a couple of ibuprofen and was hoping it wouldn't come to much. At this first water stop I swallowed another couple of tablets because I knew I was in for some serious pain.

I kicked off again and was making good time when I passed Pablo, waiting to see us all. That gave me a bit of a boost and kept me going for a while but I was only four miles in and the only thing I could think about was trying to work out what percentage of the way through it I was.

I really did feel like chucking it before I was a third of the way through.

I eventually had to stop to stretch at about 5 miles, then pushed on again. At 6 miles my time was 48 and a half minutes, so my second 3 miles was only one minute slower than the first 3. That means I have 5 and a half minutes in the bank, I think to myself.

The next few miles I just bashed on, stopping occasionally to walk and have a bit of a stretch. The hip was bothering me but I was mainly just tired. The scenery was wonderful, round the banks of the beautiful Loch Morlich and through the Rothiemurchus Forest, but I had no time or energy to appreciate it at all. The sun came out and it was just annoying and hot and in my eyes.

At 9 miles I had taken one hour 13 and a half minutes, so my pace was pretty steady. If I could keep this up I would get a good time, but I was really starting to struggle. I had passed the second water point a while ago and was just holding out for the next one to appear as I rounded a bend.

I was on the long, slightly downhill stretch from the forest towards Aviemore itself. It was like I was going backwards the rate at which people were overtaking me. I even had to stop for a pee in the trees, but I was actually glad of another reason to stop for a while.

Next I started getting cramp in my calf muscle, having to walk for about 30 seconds every two or three minutes. All I wanted was for a drink and someone to tell me it's OK to stop. When it started raining I was glad. I opened up my mouth and tried to catch drops as I ran along.

The other runners were great. They would see my hobbling along, clutching my hip or rubbing at my calf and give words of encouragement. "It's not far now", and "Keep going, almost there" helped, for about 20 seconds then I lost the momentum again.

I made it to 12 miles, there was a water station, I only had one mile to go, I was on the outskirts of Aviemore. I was going to make it.

After all the pain and sweat and near tears I was going to get to the finish line. I had to make a big final push to make sure I beat the 2 hours.

The previous day we had taken a walk down the last half mile or so of the route so we would know where we were as we approached the finish. I crossed the bridge, went through the tunnel under the railway line, up the slope and onto the main road.

Summoning all my reserves of energy I lengthened my stride and picked up the pace once again. It actually felt better to be running a bit more freely, but there's no way I could have done that for much longer.

As I crossed the line I was overjoyed to see that I had smashed the 2 hour mark, 1.52:10, and was delighted to see my mate Richy in the crowd, but I was well and truly broken.

I collected my medal and goodie bag and then sat down in the first spot I could find. I think I must have looked a bit ill as people were giving me strange looks. I caught Richy's eye and just shook my head at him; never again.

Amazing how quickly you feel better though. After munching the banana and drinking the juice from my goodie bag I was able to walk again. I went to get my outer kit on then went to speak to Richy who told me Mel had just come in, just outside 2 hours, an excellent time.

I went and hugged Mel and then found Pablo as we waited for Laura who wasn't too far behind. I'm so proud of us all, if you don't mind me saying, I think we all did amazingly well.

After the race we went for lunch and a beer in Aviemore then headed back to Grantown where we were staying and had a very quiet evening including an Indian takeaway. The main challenge for the next couple of days was trying to walk, but that soon passed.

Now I'm thinking, I could definitely beat 1.45 next year....

ps Managed to raise over 200 quid for charity while doing this, so thanks to anyone who sponsored me.

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