Today was the day. A long time ago back in September last year I signed up for this year’s Scottish Half Marathon. Ha ha, can you say ‘tube’? I had no idea back then of the hell I would to go through before I got to this point. But I got here!
Today was the day – for what? What was my goal? What was I doing it for? I was doing it for me, to prove that I could still run in a proper race and push myself further than I’ve ever done, if even only a little bit. Which brings me to my goal. A simple one. Get a new Half Marathon Personal Best. Simple – yes, easy – no. My previous PB for a half was 1 hour 41 minute and 47 seconds and I was in peak condition then. This time however my fitness wasn’t quite where I’d have liked it. I knew I could do the distance but the speed was a BIG concern. Would I get that all important PB? Read on…
Gayle dropped me off at the road end at Meadowmill Sports Centre which gave me a ten minute walk to the start line. I did it in five (always looking for a challenge!). At this point I was passing runners of all shapes and sizes and and I noticed that most smelled of fabric conditioner and perfume/aftershave (from what I could smell going past them, I wasn’t getting all up in their personal space and having a good sniff if that’s what you’re thinking!). I knew for a fact that those smells would change by the end of the race. I’ll describe them later, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the descriptions.
At the starting area I performed some light stretches and then some easy sprints to get warmed up. Then I did some people watching. I always enjoy a wee chuckle at some of the bizarre stretches that some runners do, and then I get envious of all those that can touch their toes – I can’t. If God had wanted me to touch my toes he’d have put the bloody things on my knees.
Then we were all called up to enter our pens. Yes, like sheep, us runners are herded into colour coded pens to await our fate. I was in the red pen, just behind the white pen containing all the best runners. I looked about at all the mega fit looking people in my pen and wondered what the f*ck I was doing in here? All the red pen people had estimated a finish time of 1 hour 30 or quicker. So did I – a year ago! I really felt out of place and more than a tad self conscious but would that stop me? Hell no. My legs are skinny but they can carry me through a marathon so all you muscle clad guys are really just carrying extra weight that (I hope) will slow you all down!
15 minutes to go – time for a quick update on Facebook. All the likes, reactions and comments on that post really gave me a boost so a huge thanks to all you Facebookers!
10 minutes to go – I was getting cold and really annoyed with the guy in front of me who thought it’d be acceptable to swing his arms in circles and nearly smack me in the face (and my lower bits on the back swing). Please look around you next time you perform your bespoke stretches Mister.
5 minutes to go – blimey I was getting nervous. This part of the race is unique. There’s a palpable air of pent up energy just waiting to be released as everyone is anxious to start after weeks of training.
Finally the ten second count down begins. Oh man, here it comes… bang! We’re off. I could hear the crowds cheering and the compare shouting his encouragement (seriously, that guy didn’t need a microphone). And then once we got past all the spectators there was an amazing period of silence. All I could hear was hundreds of running shoes gently pounding the road – it sounded like raindrops hitting a well insulated window, almost hypnotic, and if I hadn’t been buzzing with excitement and nerves I’d have found it a really relaxing sound.
The first four miles were a blur. I felt really good even though I know I started out too quick after getting caught up in the thrill of that first mile. Did I slow my pace? Eh, no. Tube. I ran past slower runners and was overtaken by quicker runners and even managed to high five a few children naively holding their hands out. I really don’t think they were prepared for how mingingly warm and sweaty my palms were. I heard more than one ‘yuck!’ after I’d obliged the outstretched hand. It certainly cheered me up!
Mile 4/5 took us out of Longniddry and onto the coast road. The other side of the road was where we’d eventually run back past on our way to Musselburgh and it was clear! The leaders were still to get to that point which meant I wasn’t quite as slow as I’d thought I’d be by there. A few minutes further and the elite runners came into view. A few of us clapped them and then turned our focus back to the task at hand – surviving the next eight miles.
Running these races is lonely. Even though I was competing with about three thousand other half-marathoners, I couldn’t spare a single breath for talking and I couldn’t make eye contact for a reassuring nod as everyone was solely focused on the road ahead.
Once the route turned back on itself at the furthest out point I received a boost from running past others going in the opposite direction knowing that I was further on than them. I did feel guilty about feeling that way, but when you’re pushing your body that much you’ll really take any boost that you can find, regardless. Sorry folks, I hope you can forgive me?
I was still feeling full of energy by mile eight helped by a carb gel and a well placed water station. I love water stations! You have to time it just right to whip the bottle out of the attendant’s outstretched hand as you fly past and I’m proud to say I’ve never mistimed it. Go me.
By mile ten it was a different story. My energy levels were dropping too soon thanks to starting at too quick a pace and I’d already consumed my last gel. Time to dig deep and push my body through. And then I saw Gayle’s parents in the crowd. Another boost, woo hoo! I gave my mother-in-law Anne a sweaty high five and performed some running poses for father-in-law Dave who was snapping away with his camera. Thanks guys!
That boost only lasted a few hundred metres though and then it was back to digging deep for those hidden depths of strength. I then started to look for distractions. Highfiving kids, smiling wide at all the supporters that called out encouragement, and enjoying the scenic views got me to mile eleven. I even braved paying attention to the smells. Not a one was smelling as fresh as they did at the start. As they ran past me or I ran past them all I could smell was sweat. And some of them smelled of worse things, they were the ones who’d obviously tried to eke out a cheeky wee fart that had turned into something a bit more watery. It happens people! Not to me though. I can remember running behind a guy once who was wearing lime green shorts that had a nice brown stain spreading from the inside out which threatened to start dribbling down his leg. Needless to say I pushed a bit quicker to get past him before it did!
Then I seriously began to wonder why I was there. And then I firmly told myself to effing quit with the negativity! Six months ago I was barely even able to walk and now I was running a half marathon. Get over yourself and get going Derek! Only two miles to go.
I slowed to a walk briefly at mile twelve, my body trying to give up and my mind too tired to stop it. And then an angel (in the form of a running club member) told me to keep pushing, to keep going and dig deeper. So I did. Thank you Mister Angel!
That last mile was tough. My legs didn’t feel too bad and I could still breath, but my energy was gone. I just wasn’t used to the pace I was going at over a long distance. But I’m stubborn. So I pushed and I pushed, I dug deep and then dug deeper. I thought about seeing my family at the finish line. I imagined getting my medal and finally being able to stop running. I cherished every single word of encouragement from all those amazing spectators. And my Angel helped me once more just before the winning straight. Thank you Mrs Angel this time!
Finally onto the winning straight I was a bit disappointed that the crowd wasn’t cheering much. So I cheered myself on and the crowd eventually joined in. I managed to find the very last drop of energy right at the bottom of the barrel and ran as fast as I was able past my cheering family (love you guys) and finally over that beautiful beautiful finish line!
I had managed to get a quick look at the big timer and knew I’d got a new Personal Best so I whooped loudly, stopped running, and then staggered drunkenly out of the finishers area. What a feeling! I was drained, breathless, sweating like mad and sore but I’d done it! Ya beauty!
I eventually got a chance to look at the tracker on my phone which showed not just one PB but six. Six! I’d smashed my PBs for my 5k, 10k, 15k, 10 mile, 20k and half marathon in just one race. I’m still grinning like a moron now.
And now it’s all over. I did what I set out to do and managed to do a lot more besides. My final message on this blog? Up yours arthritis!
Onwards and upwards people…