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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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Filed under Life of Lydia, News Comment, Running, Uncategorized

A Near Miss

Commuter cycling is the most dangerous form of transport, especially in the morning rush hour. Perhaps this explains why only 2% of us get to work on two wheels. 

I enjoy it because it gets me more alert and relaxed and saves me £11.50 a week, which adds up over time. It’s also exciting whizzing along as clumsy cars wait in a queue.

A few days ago though, I took my eyes off the road for the first time and the unthinkable happened.

I knew it was a possibility – all our cycling friends had been hit at least once. But I thought I was too careful for it to happen to me.

I was a little concerned about setting off late, it was already 8.15am and the roads were incredibly busy. There was a traffic jam briefly in the bus lane and I had to dodge round buses, motorbikes, school transport vehicles and even other cyclists. It was mayhem.

But after the jam everything seemed fine and I continued as usual. 

On my way to the junction I was keeping an eye out for pedestrians, giving space for cars coming out of side roads, slowing down when cars were switching lanes ahead, following all the usual safety precautions.

But as the lights went green I felt the angry breath of the car’s radiator on my back as I sensed it trying to turn impatiently. So I put my head down to get some speed for a split second. Then I looked up just as a white van was turning into me. It hadn’t seen me speeding through in my bright blue top and high visibility vest. I immediately applied the breaks hard, skidding along. I looked opened mouthed at it coming towards me, bracing myself for the inevitable. But by some miracle I stopped just before the bonnet.

I pedalled on furiously in both senses of the word. How could they not see me? I had right of way, they SHOULD have seen me. Arriving at my destination shaken, I got myself some calming chamomile tea and talked about it. They reminded me that the van’s driver would only have seen a blur if anything.

I later celebrated my survival with an indulgent shop at Waitrose.

Cyclist versus vehicle is all too common. In 2011 52 490 cyclists were injured on the roads and the number killed or seriously injured increased by 9%. In my city alone, 15% of “slight accidents” had risen between 2006-11.

In my experience red lanes are inadequate, badly maintained and sometimes completely illogical, like the lane which stops before a vehicle bottleneck. We need street signs raising awareness of bicycles using the lanes.

My brother’s friend was knocked off in a hit and run, a family friend was injured by a car not leaving enough room, and a fellow zero emissions commuter told me how he once didn’t see a Land Rover and ended up in a neck brace. But even as a pedestrian the roads are perilous. A friend tripped over her shoes and landed across two lanes. The car on one side stopped but the bus didn’t see her. She rolled over and the wheels

This picture is not of the subjects referred to belowpassed inches from her head. Quick reactions can be the difference between life and death.

I think myself lucky that I escaped unharmed but learnt an important lesson. I haven’t let it stop me, indeed I cycled in to work today. Due to my added awareness I managed to avoid going into a car that had seen me, but thought that it could turn before I came towards it. How a driver can be on the road with that sort of spatial awareness I don’t know. I also avoided a car crossing into the lane I was in ahead of me, without leaving sufficient space.

I had inspired a friend to think about cycling to work, but she is now deterred by my near miss and safety warnings from her family.

However, I think it’s important to remember that if you keep safety in check, the health benefits will make two-wheeling worth it. Research shows that cyclists have lower weight, blood pressure and insulin levels. It can even cut the risk of breast cancer. I have certainly noticed my stamina and general fitness improve. I think it is still possible to cycle to work safely. Here’s how…

LEAVE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.

  • I have found that the earlier before 8am the better. The roads are quieter, less traffic and I haven’t had an incident yet before this time.
  • alarm-clock-ringing
  • THINK – CYCLE LIKE YOU’RE DRIVING A CAR
  • This is probably the best advice I have seen, from an accident lawyer. Since following this I have not had any trouble. Anticipate just as you would when driving.
  • 1. Pedestrians – are they about to cross the road? If they are crossing the road, have they seen you?
  • 2. Vehicles – have they seen you at junctions? Slow down until you can be sure they are not going to move off.
  • Are they switching lanes? Let them do this ahead of you as they may not have seen you and so may not allow enough room.
  • – Be aware of hidden side roads – cars can come shooting out of them so slow down when you pass them and look right into them.

DON’T RISK YOUR SAFETY FOR A

MOTORIST’S CONVENIENCE

  • If I hadn’t been rushing to try to allow the tailgating car behind me to turn, I would have seen the van coming turning towards me.
  • If I had been cycling in the middle of the lane the van would be more likely to have seen me. It is often better to cycle with the cars than at the side of the road, which can encourage them to pass you, sometimes without leaving enough room.

All this sounds obvious but it’s easily overlooked. Don’t ever get complacent because as soon as you lose concentration like I did, something could happen. But don’t let a brush with danger stop you getting on your bike. Stay safe out there everyone!

Bicycle+messenger+vs+car+in+Helsinki+106381

So what am I taking away from my experience?

 ALWAYS SLOW DOWN AND LOOK AS YOU GO THROUGH A JUNCTION.

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Filed under Cycling, Life of Lydia