So finally after training through the winter months, wrestling with various injuries, blisters and last minute illnesses the day of my first half marathon was upon me.
The day started with a 5am start. Brekkie consisted of a bowl of porridge, 2 mugs of black coffee and some peanut butter on toast. Slightly more than I’d usually consume but considering the early start and that I wasn’t planning on eating again before the race I thought it prudent to have a little extra. We’d read lots of advice regarding parking for the event and the consensus was arriving early and using the park and ride bus service was a safe bet and likely to lead to reduced stress levels before tackling the 13.1 mile course (that for me was going to be stressful enough). The drive to Bath was a foggy one but we were one of the first cars to arrive at the park & ride and we managed to get on the first bus into the city centre. This was followed by a short walk to the Runners Village where we wandered around the very well organised facilities and got our bearings.
The first order of business (after a stop off at the porta-loo) was heading to the #teamUNICEF tent to say hello. The combined warm welcome from both @AlyreneRosser and Sally George from @unicef_uk plus chatting to a few of the other UNICEF runners made us feel right at home. They also furnished my loyal supporting squad (Chloe and Robyn) with t-shirts, flags and noise making doo-hickies so I would be able to spot them on my way round. Despite my nerves I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I said my goodbye’s to the girls and headed for my starting pen roughly an hour before the starters gun was due to sound.
Based on my two hour target time I’d been placed in the green start group which was basically in between the faster (white) group and the slower group (orange). Whilst waiting in the starting pen, the sun appeared and it became apparent it was going to be both a lovely sunny day and also a little warmer than I’d been used to in recent training sessions. I came across another #teamUNICEF runner in my start pen called Fredrik (originally from Norway) and we got chatting for a while which helped calm the nerves and pass the time. Fredrik had previously run marathon distance and was aiming for around 1hr 45mins so I knew he’d be setting a quicker pace than I could handle and be leaving me behind shortly after the starting line. The time approached 11am and it was clear they were going to start on time. We all bunched up in the pen and waited for the sound of the horn.
The Bath Half this year had somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000 runners so after the horn was sounded there was a good couple of minutes of shuffling forward before actually crossing the starting line and breaking into a run. All runners had a timing chip attached to their shoe though so you’d end up with an accurate start to finish time after the race and as well as a record of your time at the 10Km mark. I also started the race setting my stopwatch so I could get a handle on my time at a glance of my watch and also the garminFIT GPS app on my phone (carried in bumbag) so that I’d have an idea of my mile split times after the event (statwhore? yup).
I started off at what felt like a reasonable pace and tried to get into a rhythm. On rounding the first corner the scale of the event became apparent, Pulteney Road from the start is a reasonably gentle downhill (uphill on the finish stretch) so from the top you got a great view of a sea of heads bobbing up and down in unified running motion. It’s quite an impressive sight and one that immediately put a smile on my face. The smile got bigger as just after passing the first mile marker I spotted Chloe and Robyn in the crowd waving and cheering me on.
Just before the second mile point the course dog-legs around Queen Square. I remember this bit of the course clearly as they had some kind of drum band bashing out tribal beats and there were a lot of supporters in the area going mental with cheers, clapping and encouragement. Those drums helped me keep my groove for a good couple of miles past that point (and helped even more so on the second lap). Running wasn’t coming easy (it rarely does for me) but I also wasn’t in any pain either at this point so I just tried to concentrate on keeping a manageable steady pace making sure I’d have enough left in the tank for the long haul. The field of runners had thinned out since the start of the race but I was still running in an ever changing pack of people. Lots of people constantly thundered past me and likewise I was leaving slower paced runners behind. I found a useful way of maintaining momentum and occupying my mind was spotting larger gaps in the pack ahead of me then using small bursts of energy to push forward and occupy those gaps. This meant by the time I reached the 3rd mile marker and checked my watch I was pleasantly surprised by my time. In fact somewhere between mile 3 and 4 I noticed Fredrik (spotted by his UNICEF running shirt) about 100-200 metres in front of me. It struck me that if he was running anywhere close to his target pace I was doing well to not be much further behind him. I did try to push forward and say hello but soon realised that his pace was faster than mine and the gap began to widen rather than diminish. It was also around this point that I got stuck between two ladies running for the Coppafeel breast cancer awareness charity. They each had one of these large breasts attached to their backs (see here) and were running side by side. The surreal nature of running behind two GIANT knockers bouncing up and down in front of me was almost too much and I’m sure had a negative impact on my next mile split ;0)
During miles 4 and 5 I started to notice the heat and started to consciously move into shade when it became available on the route. Checking my watch again somewhere around this point of the race had confirmed that my pace was good, in fact far faster than I’d run in quite some time, this coupled with the heat made me start to wonder if I would be in danger of burning out before completing the required distance. I decided that although out of character when running these distances I should make use of the available water and drinks stations. The scouts and other volunteers were doing a great job of dishing out Lucozade and bottles of Highland Spring water at various points. I tried to keep the bottles with me for long enough to take small sips and then dumped what was left over my noggin to cool me down. I didn’t want to end up having to make a loo stop but I’d also had to move over for two ambulances already and I didn’t want to be the cause of the next one being called. I think I must have struck the balance just right and I don’t think without the extra fluids I would have completed the course.
Somewhere between mile 5 and 6 Edwin Kiptoo (the leader runner) passed me. He finished the entire course in 62 minutes. Witnessing the amazing speed, power and focus of this guy thundering past me as he lapped me was enough to keep my mind occupied for another few minutes. Just astounding! The 10km came and went and I could see from the route ahead that I was about to pass over Churchill Bridge and start the second lap. At this point some pain began to set in, luckily though I had the bands and drums of Queens Square to perk me up again and after that the hundreds and hundreds of people that lined pretty much every part of the route to spur runners on. Some people were having parties in their gardens and the occasional student hi-fi had been taken outside and turned to maximum, the support and encouragement from people was great. I could feel my pace had begun to slow around mile 8 (possibly before) but my watch was telling me I could still go sub 2 as long as I didn’t really slow up. I dug deep and spent the next few miles just pushing myself to keep running. My legs were pleading with me to walk for a little while and by this point I was really feeling the heat. I ignored the legs and kept reminding myself I’d entered the race to run it and not walk. This coupled with thoughts of how far I’d come since 13 months before where I wouldn’t have been able to run quarter of a mile let alone 13.1 kept me going.
Mile 9 to Mile 11 were probably the lowest points of the run. My pace didn’t feel great, I could feel the blisters forming on my feet and my calf muscles were also burning. I remember glancing at my watch a few times and trying to work out what my chances of going sub 2 were. My brain was struggling to do basic arithmetic at this point though so I’m not sure I ever came to a conclusion. I decided I had to just keep running. Dig Deep and keep running.
Miles 12 and 13 I guess were actually more physically demanding with various parts of my body really not very happy with my brain ignoring their advice. Mentally though I was near enough the finish to not care. I just needed to cover these last two miles, however slowly, I just wanted to cover the distance. By the time I started the 13th mile I’d all but given up on going sub 2. It wasn’t important to me now though. I had managed in my head to convince myself that the pain and discomfort was now just an internal battle of wills between old me and new me. I was certainly not going to let old me get the upper hand. I just kept pushing.
The incline towards the finish line although far from steep felt like a mountain but passing two or three people un-concious at the roadside getting medical treatment served as a reminder that my situation could be much worse. I was finding it hard to judge where the final corner was ahead as I knew from that point it was only probably 100-200 metres to the finish. I couldn’t separate runners from spectators in the distance. It was at this point I glanced at my watch and realised that it was reading roughly 1hr 56mins. Several long seconds later I checked it again as it finally dawned on me that I still had a chance to get in under 2 hours. This gave me the kick I needed to give an audible growl and push onwards up the road. As I turned the corner and saw the finish line I went into some kind of auto-pilot. I’m not sure if it was my body’s desire to cross the finish line and stop running as soon as possible or the desire to try and cross the line under 2 hours but from somewhere I found enough energy to break into a sprint. I weaved in and out of several other runners and crossed the line. I stopped my watch and confirmed (at least from my own timing) that I’d come in under 2 hours at a time of 1hr 58min 45secs. I was pretty happy, and sore, and I needed a wee. Suddenly the girls appeared from nowhere with our friend Meghann, they’d been at a special viewing area at the finish line (thanks to UNICEF) and had all seen me cross the line. I struggled to walk back to the runners village but stopping to pick up my medal, have my photo snapped, pick up goody bag and have my timing chip removed all gave me time for suitable stops and an opportunity to get my head together. Once again the pleasure of running with #teamUNICEF paid dividends as I had somewhere to head and rest up for a short while before trashing a Mars Bar and getting changed. Once I had control of my legs again, caught up with Fredrick and some of the other UNICEF runners me and the girls headed into Bath for ice cream and a picnic. A great end to a super day.
My official chip time is now recorded as 1hr 58mins 28secs. Considering the ups and downs I’ve had with my training and considering this is my first half marathon I’m more than chuffed with this result.
I’ve included a few photo’s below that we snapped ourselves. I’m waiting for the spare funds to buy the shots taken by the official event photographers. Once I have these I’ll share them here also.
If you ever consider entering this race yourself I can give you the following advice…
1. Bath is beautiful
2. This race is very well organised, follow the information in emails and blog posts and you can’t go wrong.
3. The people of Bath are awesome.
4. #teamUNICEF rock consider running with them.
If you’ve thus far missed the opportunity to sponsor me for my efforts (where the hell have you been hiding?) then please follow this link where you can still donate until 11th April 2012. To all those who have sponsored me or offered words of encouragement via facebook, twitter or dailymile THANK YOU!