WHEN I signed up for the Great Eastern Half Marathon earlier this year I had one goal in mind – to break one hour thirty. I was full of good intentions, had a great training plan and was determined to do it.
But then life got in the way. Degree finals, a postgraduate diploma submission, wedding planning and honeymooning all put an end to my sub-one-thirty hopes. Regular readers of my blog might have noticed that I did two weeks of training updates and then stopped. There was no time to train, let alone write about training.
I did what I could, a few track sessions here, a few long runs there, but it was difficult and my heart wasn’t really in it. Rather than pull out of the race, I decided to do it anyway.
Before Chris and I started training a bit more seriously, we were fun runners. We would happily turn up at a half marathon having not done much training, and get round in whatever time we could. One year we rocked up to the Blackpool Half after a particularly boozy holiday in Portugal. We’d done hardly any training but got round in two hours and fifteen minutes. It was fun and just completing the race was an achievement.
So, rather than pull out of the Great Eastern Half, we decided we would return to our carefree days of running. I was definitely not going to break one hour thirty. I was definitely not going to be anywhere near my one hour thirty-four personal best, but I was going to enjoy it.
The aim was to finish with a smile on my face.
‘Is that possible?’ Chris asked. ‘It’s a half marathon. They’re not easy.’
‘It’s perfectly possible,’ I said. ‘Just watch.’
Tucking into pasta, followed by Tiramisu, the night before the race, I quickly devised my race strategy. My plan was to run at eight minute mile pace. I didn’t dare risk setting off any faster because I’d missed my long run for the last three weeks.
‘Can’t you go quicker?’ Chris asked.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t think I can.’ Having not raced for a long time I didn’t have the confidence to commit to a faster pace. I didn’t want to blow up and not enjoy it. The whole point was to enjoy the race.
‘What about going for sub one-forty?’ Chris seemed determined to get me to run faster.
I laughed. ‘That would be amazing, but I don’t think I can.’
My race strategy was decided. I was aiming for one hour forty-four. I lined up in the correct pen, watched with a little sadness when the sub one-hour thirty group set off. ‘Next time,’ I told myself. ‘Definitely next time.’
Then it was time for the one hour forty plus runners to go. I took it very steady, telling myself that I needed to enjoy it. The first mile was in 7.49. A mile down and I felt comfortable. Mile two was 7.48 and I was enjoying it. Mile three was faster, a 7.36 mile. I told myself this was too fast, but it felt comfortable. I slowed it slightly to 7.37 for mile four. But then miles five and six were faster, 7.36 and 7.34. I needed to slow down because what if I blew up in the later stages of the race. I’d not done the training, so blowing up was very likely. I slowed mile seven to 7.44.
Mile eight was on a straight road and my pace went to 7.37. I felt fine, but my lack of racing and confidence showed. I didn’t want to push too hard, just in case the wheels came off. Mile nine was 7.31 and I still felt fine. ‘Just go for it,’ I told myself. So I did. Mile ten was 7.22, mile eleven even faster at 7.15. By mile twelve it was starting to hurt but I pushed through for a 7.26 mile at mile twelve. That’s when I glanced at my watch. There was a real possibility that I might break one hour forty!
The competitive me returned. I got my head down and worked for a 7.09 mile. But the finish wasn’t coming fast enough. We turned onto the grass. I glanced at my watch. To get under one hour forty I would need to do the last 400m in the time that I do my sprints on the track. I wasn’t going to give in, so off I went, running like a mad woman, feeling like my lungs would burst, and I ran harder and harder. There was no way I was giving in.
I crossed the line in 1:39.55. Not used to finishing at such speed my body immediately went into shock.
‘I’m going to be sick,’ I said.
‘She’s going to be sick!’ An official grabbed my arm and pulled me to the side. ‘Sit here.’ He plonked me on a chair, the kind of chair that kids have at primary school, grey with short wobbly legs. He handed me a water.
I sat by the side of the finish line, trying desperately not to be sick. I sipped the drink, and looked at my watch. I’d only gone and done it. A sub one-hour forty! And I’d thought it was impossible.
After a minute or so I staggered to my feet and made my way through the finish area to where Chris was waiting. ‘You’re not smiling,’ he said.
‘Inside I am.’