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My “Cancelled” First Half Marathon

I had completed my first ten mile run. I had walked some of it but a half marathon was only a couple of extra miles, I’d give it a go.

I wanted to support one of the run’s charities, a local Multiple Sclerosis rehab cent017re – I work with a friend that has it.

I had three weeks to prepare. I ran, cycled or swam a couple of times a week anyway, but I spent a week before it running every day, starting at 5k and working up to 16k, mostly on the treadmill. I prefer exercising outdoors because it gives you a sense of freedom, you actually go somewhere and you can enjoy nature.

My brother asked what time I was aiming for. I reckoned 2 hours and a half. It had taken me an hour to run 10 miles. He did his first full marathon last year in Copenhagen. We have a photo of him finishing, looking pale and ill. He reckons you need at least 8 weeks training.

He also cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats (the length of England) in 10 days (doing about 100 miles a day) when he was in sixth form and this year he canoed round all the major lochs in Scotland (52km).

Race Day

On race day I had some porridge with bananas for breakfast, great for slow energy release. I wore trainers I’d bought the week before, ones to stop pronation, or your foot rolling in towards your ankle when you run. They were specially fitted from “gait analysis” – I was filmed on a treadmill and action snapshots documented how my feet fell. I have used the same pronation trainers for years and never had any injury – I think because of the way they are made.

When I got to the stadium I had a cereal bar and picked up my charity t-shirt from where the finish was. Announcements were blaring out about the location of key areas. There was quite a queue for the toilets and I worried I’d miss the race. There was no indication of where the start was and quite a few people were asking around. Nothing was signed, but then I spotted the crowd and the time markers. I was surprised that I couldn’t hear any announcements. I wondered why I could hear them at the finish area but not at the start. When I did a 10k last year there were loudspeakers covering the whole of the start line and a guy with a megaphone on a platform getting everyone warming up.

Chaos and Confusion

The communication in this case was someone yelling repeatedly: “The race is delayed by 30 minutes”. He wasn’t wearing anything identifying him as an official so not everybody listened. Most people passed the message on, via chains of Chinese whispers.

About 15 minutes later the man returned, yelling “police are removing obstacles from the course“. I wondered what sort of obstacles and why.

My brother had recommended that I start ahead of the time I thought I’d run it in. The markers were all set out the same distance apart. This meant that there wasn’t enough space for the time the majority of runners were aiming for. I queued to enter the 2 hour section, which was only possible when runners left to warm up. I went back until I found a bit of space so that I wouldn’t be crushed when the crowd started to move. The earlier markers then went round a corner ahead of two hours, so we couldn’t see or hear what was happening at the start.

“Cancelled”

We waited to start for about an hour. At least it was warm in the crowd, but we had no idea what was happening as during that time we heard no announcements and there was not one official in sight. Eventually there was slow clapping from the 2 hour 15 section which rippled forward, followed about 15 minutes later by booing.

Then a rumour went back that the race was cancelled. Everyone stood there in disbelief. There had been no announcements, it must be some kind of joke, I said. Luckily a lady next to me, Sue, had an in-law who was one of the race volunteers. She had discovered by text that the water had not arrived for the race and that they were dashing round supermarkets buying more. I thought that wouldn’t happen somewhere like London.

We waited another 15 minutes or so and then someone in front showed us breaking BBC news on his phone – it was official. There was anger and disbelief. A lot of us were sponsored. Family, friends and colleagues had been generous. I didn’t want to let them down and besides, this was supposed to be my first half marathon. But in that moment, the whole crowd of over 4,000 just set off.

I saw Sue and we settled into a nice pace where we could just about chat. She was running for Macmillan and lived nearby. We passed two water stations, one after about 5 miles and one at about 7.

Superhero Spectators

The supporters were fantastic, there were people lining the route almost everywhere, with one group blowing whistles and horns. They were almost all holding out bottles. Runners passed these among themselves. I was moved by the kindness of strangers and the community spirit. Others had bowls of sweets, which helped keep sugar levels up at the half-way point. I saw people I knew and the cheers from them and the rest of the crowd gave me bursts of energy.

With the first sugar hit wearing off, I suddenly felt a bit tired and had the rest of the sweets I’d been carrying for this point. There had been spectators until about 6 miles. I hadn’t drunk more than a bottle of water as I hadn’t wanted to get the stitch. At 8 miles there were no more as we were in the inner city industrial area. This meant there was no more water.

Casualties

When I hit 10 miles my legs decided they wanted to stop running and went heavy. A grey-haired runner had just collapsed at the side of the road and an official was bringing him round. Then I passed a young runner who was unconscious with blood on his mouth, paramedics around him. I felt like I was running in a war zone. I could be next I thought, with my parched mouth and heavy legs.

All I could think about was finishing. I remembered my brother’s advice that when you’re tired you shouldn’t run as if you’re tired, as that makes it worse. So I lightened my pace and managed to keep going, but exhaustion made it a massive effort. It was time for sheer willpower to keep my legs moving.

I finally came into the stadium and saw a sign “800m to go”. I sped up a little, not realising how far 800m feels when you’ve been running for 13 miles.

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Overtaken

Then I saw the “400m to go” and remembered how I felt in a school sports day race. I had no energy and was flagging but then someone cheered “it’s now or never!”.  I looked at my watch. I had to do it in under two hours. There wouldn’t be a repeat of this, this was my one chance. I accelerated and sprinted the last 400m.

I collected my race pack and looked for a water bottle. There had been one in my 10k race pack. Nothing.

Someone at the finish line had pointed out a water table further down so I went there. A lady looked helplessly at me “sorry”, she said. To the left of the table were four empty 2 litre water bottles.

As I finished I saw someone being attended to on a stretcher in the middle of the stadium, who was then rushed off in an ambulance.

The Long Walk Home

I was dehydrated but managed to get public transport to town. Then the bus didn’t turn up as the roads were still closed from the delayed race. So I took it on myself to walk the 3 miles home. It would be a challenge but I could do it. It was worth it, as on the way I met and chatted to a neighbour, who kindly sponsored me.

After walking uphill for the last two miles I was exhausted and had a migraine the rest of the day, but when I woke the next morning I was fine. A bit of a tender hip and left leg but the day after that I was fine.

Outrage

The event made the national news. Our local MP, Nick Clegg, said that lessons needed to be learnt. The winner said that it was the “first and last race” he would run in Sheffield.

 

We were still timed and knew that without sufficient water, we ran the race at our own risk, but I think the organisers should learn from those that arranged the BUPA 10k race, which was flawless in every detail.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me. The page is:

https://www.justgiving.com/firsthalfmarathon2014

Finally, a big thank you to all those who handed out water and saved the day.

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A Cheer-ful Community Race – My First City 10K

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Yesterday I did my third 10k and my first out of the countryside. There were over 3,300 entrants and the atmosphere in the city was electric.

My friends had told me they were doing it only a few days before the event and I was lucky that there were still places.

I had not done any training whatsoever. In fact the last time I had run was a month ago. However, before that I routinely did a couple of miles once a week. I also cycle to work regularly but that is a different sort of workout. It is about the race’s distance for the two journeys.

On race day I woke up at 5am excited and had some more carbs before going back to bed. Later, when I had put on my lucky running accessories and psyched up with some power ballads I set off. I had to leave my bag in the city hall and I hoped it wouldn’t get stolen as it was a free-for-all. I was almost late for the race queuing for the toilets – outside were a mere 20 to service thousands. I felt queasy and, worrying that I might be getting hungry and would then not be able to run, I dashed into the now empty bag area for my cereal bar. This was a bad move as I later got a double stitch for about 4k. But it’s true, if it’s not too bad you can get through it, and I did, gripping my fingers into the pain source to dull it.

runningecard05Crowds had gathered all along the route, filling every space near the starting funnel. I stood in the road, packed with competitors, most wearing charity shirts. There was an upbeat, excited tension in the air as we shifted and stretched. The starting horn went off periodically as we surged slowly forward. There were so many runners that I couldn’t start in my heat and had to start last.

It took so long that my boyfriend thought he’d missed me. The starting horn blared and I was held back by a wall of joggers until I found a gap. Then I was off, carried away with the enthusiasm and good spirit I clapped and waved to those running past on the other side, to their bewilderment. That was the lovely part of the race, the paths were parallel to each other so you could see the athletes and aspire to be that the next year and see your fitter friends. I was too in-the-zone to notice much but the occasional group of supporters. All the kids wanted to high five you like a hero and I was especially grateful to the sweet Grandma sitting on a fold-out chair whose face crinkled into a smile as I waved at her and  she clapped me on both ways.

With my terrific playlist and the blended sound of cheering pushing me forward I completely missed my boyfriend on the way up. Another advantage of the track going straight back down was that he didn’t lose me. It was helpful having kilometre markers so you knew when you were nearly halfway. As I hit the 6k mark I spotted my boyfriend. He’s waited almost an hour for a few seconds of support and managed to take a photo or two.

A highlight was a sprinkler tunnel, adding welcome relief to my pounding heart and burning body. The second wind I had somehow experienced in the last race didn’t quite kick in and going uphill on the way back really separated the wheat from the chaff as those who had not paced themselves fell back gasping for breath.

I managed a short sprint to the finish line, bringing me into the top third at 55 minutes 53 seconds. This was a personal best and I was delighted. WinHill_0051

I then foolishly decided to do do a 462m hill-climb walk with my boyfriend in the afternoon. At one point the path reached up almost vertically into the sky as I scrabbled on the rocks. But no challenge was too much for me now and I soon reached the top, although when I did my legs made a silent protest and went weak. Luckily I found a stick on the way up and supported myself on that. The view in the golden evening sunlight with a fine mist in the valley was incredible and I wish I had taken my camera.

The run was a wonderful experience and I want to do it again. I felt relaxed, triumphant and high on endorphins afterwards.

I didn’t do it for charity this year as I am already doing my first fundraising event – a 40 mile bicycle ride. If you can spare even just a little for my British Heart Foundation cycle please help the cause by clicking on the link here.

I think if I have energy to do a hill climb 6 hours after a 10k I should probably run a greater distance. Maybe my 2014 goal will be a half-marathon. Now that will require training. Are you a (female) runner? Read this post to find out!

So go on, compete in a city 10k next year. Be part of a an event uniting those of all ages and backgrounds in a thrilling uplifting and challenging race. It will be tiring and you may be a bit achy the next day but trust me, it’s worth it.

 

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Dust and Delerium – My Second 10K

 

After managing to finish my first 10k last year despite going up one of the steepest hills instead of around it and stopping to tie my shoelaces, I decided to try it this year.

I intended to carb-load the night before, that is filling yourself with carbohydrates (as the Mighty Mo Farrah recommends) to fuel you through. However as I was at a barbecue for dinner I couldn’t stomach it.

The weather forecast was great if you wanted to sunbathe, but not ideal for a race. Twenty-one degree heat was predicted, which feels double that when you’re wheezing your guts out.

I hadn’t trained more than once a week, although I have been cycling to work for a week or two. You need to exercise about five days a week to really push your stamina levels up according to my doctor dad and lately I have been getting to work faster and faster.

I was already feeling tired as I had not been able to get to sleep the night before, being hot and restless.

It seemed to take an age to register. We got some gimicky freebies in a goody bag – foot cream, sweat towel and so forth.

My boyfriend and I limbered up in the dust bowl of my local farm’s lane as an athletic, macho crowd gathered. I wondered whether I was crazy. What was I doing here? The only other females were honed toned and looked rather pleased with themselves already.

My friend couldn’t contain her excitement, paparazzi-style and I was grateful for her support.

The “ready, set go” of the race wasn’t quite the shock of the starting gun I was hoping for, but off we went, long lean bodies jostling for position, elbows flying. It was almost as risky as a mosh pit.

Pretty soon we fell into line and I felt charged with the energy and vitality of the competitors. The breaths behind spurred me into action, giving it all I got with my weak legs. They felt empty of all strength and drive, the result of a couple of hours sleep and an early start. The running devil in my head wondered whether I was going to have to walk it, but I didn’t pay any attention. The voice I wanted to give attention to was the angel saying “go on, you can do it, you’ll be fine, you’re doing well”. Later on in the race I verbalised that voice and found it gave me incredible comfort and support.

We wound round country lanes and up hills, in fact almost all the race was a hill. The sun beat down us and the air was frustratingly still and warm. I found myself sweating all over and gasping for air. I felt like I was drowning. My heartbeat wouldn’t slow down, it raced and raced faster than my feet did. I tried to regulate it and at first succeeded but as it got faster it got more difficult.

Thankfully there were stiles to give a welcome break as I waited for the queue to jump it. I felt like a ninja, Ipod blaring, vaulting them with ease. But once I was off the stile I became a car low on fuel again. Without the carbs my body was almost stalling, and on the hills my pace slowed to that of walking.

But I refused to let the running devil win. I wasn’t going to walk, otherwise I might stroll round the course and it would cease to be a race.

So on I went, gasping, wheezing, with sweat sticking my clothes to me. I was grateful when we ran in shade but a lot of the track was open to the harsh rays. It was a real test of motivation to keep going. Half way round the line of girls in front began walking and I knew then that I was too far back. I was so frustrated with my body, where was the power my legs needed? I could almost hear the thud of my heart over the music in my headphones, a dull cacophony of desperation. Surely it wasn’t going to be this body-breaking all the way around.

Two runners gave me motivation. One was embarrassingly near the start, by a strangely cheerful young man. Another was towards the halfway mark. As I began to give way to the running devil and seriously consider walking, just for a little bit, only for a bit, a lady encouraged me just at the right time. There she was, running but still smiling. I had seen her walking ahead for a while but my pace had been so slow that I hadn’t been able to overtake anyone! These words of advice were just what I needed and suddenly I found myself on the right track and not just physically. I had a new determination, a new power from within. I felt like Asterix after he had drunk the magic strength potion. Suddenly I had new belief in myself and the angel kicked the devil out for good.

I felt my legs charge up, my heart-rate slow and my body relax. Stamina had arrived.

The motivational runner, who had said I would “overtake her at the next stile” found her prediction come true and tried in vain to catch up, keeping the pressure on for some time as I wound through woodland, now almost alone. I could dimly see my competitors in front. I aimed for them, not taking my eyes off them. I would not be beaten. I would not.

We were through the woods and I had caught up to the dim figures. I began to run into the downhill slope, whereas they ran in a lop-sided careless fashion. This enabled me to overtake them on the hill, I was perfectly balanced this way, bending my knees more and taking the hill in my stride literally.

They tailed me for a while before I managed to gain some ground. Finally I saw the first man I had seen in the race for a while up ahead. I felt like I was improving – there had only been one man walking further back. I took advantage of the shade from the trees and my new slower heart beat to allow myself to go faster.

It took much longer this time, but I closed in on my prey, a long-limbed man in a black shirt and shorts. The wrong colour for hot weather. He tried to quicken his pace. I finally passed him, but he overtook me and stayed just ahead for some time. Shortly after him was my first motivational speaker. He had run too fast at the start and was running in a manner which said “let me finish NOW!”. At this point the elevation went up and down with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. He looked exhausted. As I passed him I returned the encouragement. He instantly brightened up and a smile returned to his face. I saw power return to him in the way which I felt when I was spurred to success.

But I was not going to let him win now, that would be embarrassing. The first man I had passed, dressed in black, was just ahead as I went up the hill, telling myself to come on as I controlled my breathing.

As we went over the last hurdle (or stile) and went through a funnel of trees before the finish, I was tantalisingly close to my prey. One last push and I could beat him. He tried to accelerate but he was too exhausted. The tunnel vision kicked in and I sprinted past him to the finish line.

In the end I was a minute faster than last year! Completing it in an hour and six minutes and on the hottest day of the year, in the high 20 degree heat. It was thrilling to finally beat the guy in front. I then enjoyed a free burger and sports massage, just what I needed!

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