Monday, 3 October 2011

N is for NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE!

I did it! Honestly, I did it. I ran/walked 13.1 consecutive miles and I completed the Bradford Half Marathon- which shall hereon be referred to as ‘hell on earth.’ It wasn’t stylish, it wasn’t pretty, heck, it must have been as painful to watch as it was to run but by jove I finished WITHOUT the aid of an ambulance (although I could do with one now, preferably the paramedic would be a Michael Bublee look-alike sports masseuse… a girl can dream!)
            Now, you might have heard me mention before that I am not a big morning person. In truth I am a horrible morning person- did you ever see the film ‘The exorcist?’ well imagine the haunted girl with crows feet, her hair sticking up like a haystack and a snarling top lip- that’s me if I ever, EVER have to get out of bed before 7am. The wonderful people at Pennine Events decided, with no consideration given to my fragile morning state, to start the race at 9am. 9am! 9AM! Which meant that I had to get up at 6am just so that I could stuff myself with enough carbs to get me through the impending 13.1 miles of doom. (I agree, dear reader, ‘13.1 miles of doom’ would be an excellent title for a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Dibs on the copywrite. Perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow could play me, she’s almost as gorgeous as I am)
            Because I am a cheerful, resilient, happy go lucky kinda girl, I got up, ate as many carbs as was humanly possible, drank so much water that I sloshed inside then started the ritual of the ‘hell on earth running clothes selection.’ Now it has to be said that I have a shocking amount of lycra in my closet, I fear that I many need to join a support group, ‘lyrca wearers anonymous.’ So it took quite a while to select ‘the outfit.’ But when I did, the grumpy fog started to clear- I even managed a smile… (make the most of this image of ‘smiling,’ there aren’t many more once the race photo’s start.)
     Attractive I know. Especially the bit where the leggings cut into my tummy, forcing my ‘second baby roll’ to poke through my t-shirt. Damn you lyrca! I felt pretty positive at this point. I had been told by many different people on many different occasions that the Bradford Half is ‘the hardest in the country/ Don’t do it/ You’d be mad to run that as your first half/ It’s all uphill.’ To all of these comments, I had simply shaken my head and replied, ‘I run up and down hills during my training… how hard can it actually be?’ If I had known exactly how hard it would be, I would have peeled off my lycra and returned to the warmth of my duvet!
      Do you see that smile? The one on the photographs? That is the smile of a na├»ve, enthusiastic runner. A happily swimming fish who has no idea she is about to be eaten by a shark. That is the face of innocence! I miss that face.

                                                     Ah, those innocent times!
                   At 8am (in the morning) we reached the Alhambra theatre in Bradford- a wonderful old building full of history, charm, period features… and 63 foot long queues for the toilets! In order to share the love, I had invited my parents to join with the frivolities (and because, if I have to get up at 6, I don’t see why everyone else should get a lie in!) Bless them, they were already there. My mum was more nervous than me… until I looked outside and saw this…


Look at all of those proper runners! They were prepared, they were organised. Some were doing star jumps, others were talking excitedly about personal bests and the easiest way to make a bin bag into a poncho. 
Suddenly I felt VERY insecure! 


               Walking to the starting line, I felt like I was having an out-of body experience. After months of training, I could barely remember how to run, all I could think was ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ Some people were so keen to start that they actually RAN to the starting line- adding an extra 0.5 miles to the race length. I tried to absorb the atmosphere but my legs were trembling and my stomach was holding a gymnastics display- turning cartwheels and somersaults under my rib cage.

My husband, bless him, was talking excitedly saying things like ‘You’ll be brilliant, just think how you’ll feel at the end…’ and all the time, I was walking further and further into the ‘pen’ and getting nearer to the front of the runners. And that’s where I made my first newbie runner mistake. In fact, I made a few newbie runner mistakes and I am going to list them here in the vain hope that no newbie will suffer as I did:

Newbie mistakes I made:
1)     I started near the front of the running pack. This meant that I started the race with the 5- 8 minute mile runners. There was no system, you simply stood wherever you wanted. This meant that when the race started, I was trying to keep pace with much faster runners than myself… not a good idea when you are running up a bloody big hill…which leads me to… 
2)     Stretching. I never stretch before I run. I run half a mile first, then I stop and stretch out once my muscles are warm. I had been told ‘not to do anything different on the day’ so I set off, chasing the enthusiastic ones, and after a mile I knew I should stop. My mind screamed stop. My thighs started to HURT! Not only had they been forced to be upright since 6am, they were now being pushed to travel much faster than usual without stretching. But I didn’t want to lose my place. I hopped onto the path, stretched for about 30 seconds, then jumped back into the sea of runners… which leads me to…
3)     Focus. As in, I couldn’t. I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by the pace (I had run a 9minute first mile up a really big hill, I knew that I could not sustain this!) I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was with proper runners who weren’t even breaking a sweat yet. I was overwhelmed by the pain in my legs. All I could think was ‘I don’t like this, I want to go home.’ And I wanted to cry.

… For the first time in a long time, I seriously considered giving up- at only mile 2. I scoured the off roads for any sign that my husband would be able to reach me in his car. I spotted an idle ambulance and wondered if they would give me a lift- I had always said my only aim was NOT to finish in an ambulance, I could image how funny the photograph would have been if I HAD crossed the line with the blue lights flashing… to give myself time to think, I did something really sensible (for the first time that day), I walked. Well, first I stopped to properly stretch, then I walked.
While I was walking 165 people passed me. I know this. I counted. And I kept on walking. And, by the time all of the serious runners had passed me, I found myself with a group of people who were also moving at my pace. The first 7 miles of the Bradford marathon are up-hill, as Miley Cyrus would say ‘It’s the climb.’ I started to run walk-run and my confidence came back. Then I started a conversation with a lovely lady who was running next to me and the whole race changed. I had never met the lady before, but she was brilliant! We ran together and talked (in that kind of wheezy, breathy way that only runners and telephone sex pests do) for the next 10 miles, we even crossed the finish line together! 
The miles just disappeared. My running buddy and I covered everything: jobs, children, families, hobbies. I know more about my running buddy that I do about some of my Facebook friends… yet I never knew her name. By mile 8, I knew that I was going to finish the half marathon. I had never been MORE certain of anything. I knew I had run slowly. I knew I wasn’t going to break any land speed records. But I knew I would finish… and after all, that was my aim all along. Just to finish. And finish we did. After 2 hours and 26 minutes, we crossed the finishing line. Then my buddy vanished into a sea of well wishes and congratulatory hugs.
  Really attractive running there Kel! Crossing the finish line!

Things I learned from being a virgin half marathon runner:
  • People are amazing. I could not believe how many wonderful people gave up their Sunday mornings to stand outside their houses with cups of water, orange juice and oranges… people clapped, cheered and smiled. They wanted us to do well and it still makes my heart swell when I remember the kids who ran out of their gardens to ‘high five’ the runners and the really old lady who was offering water on her best tray. They restored my faith in human nature!
  • People are amazing. I’m pretty sure that my running buddy slowed her pace because she could see that I was struggling. Thank God for her. There were people dressed as bananas in pyjama’s, one man ran the whole 13.1 juggling… all for charity. People are amazing! 
  • People are amazing. This time last year, I got out of breath running up the stairs. I drank too much and smoked too much. Yesterday, I completed the Bradford half marathon. And if I can do it, anyone can. Like I said, people are amazing.

At mile 2, I thought I wasn’t going to make it and I promised myself that I would never, ever run again. As soon as I was able to move my aching body down the stairs to my office/ cellar (this morning... I am still walking like John Wayne), I booked 2 more races. Next month I am running a 6 mile FLAT race in Leeds and have signed up to a Santa themed run in December in aid of the Lifeboat appeal. I said a few blogs ago that running is like childbirth and I stand by that… at the time, the pain is unbearable and you never want to do it again. As soon as it’s over, you realise it was worth it and want to do it all over again! And, like having a baby, running will definitely change your life for the better!
Me in my race t-shirt, which I might NEVER take off!

Relieved times x

11 comments:

  1. Well done Kelly , your humourous writing adds to your running achievements . If you need someone to pace you on your jaunts , don`t let me volunteer , unless you are running on a firstbus route.. then no problem as long as you keep up with the bus.. lol. Well done once again , kindest regards Steve Parr.

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  2. Congratulations! Now, you can say you did it...but what is the next challenge. Certianly there is one, right?

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  3. Amazing - very well done Kelly. I love that you admitted to walking. I've been wondering if it really is ok to walk some of a half marathon and not run the whole lot - and it is!
    Congratulations! You will now have to change the title of your blog - It'll be interesting to see what title you come up with

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  4. I am so proud of you...and I don't even know you! You have no idea how many times your blog has kept me training...knowing there was someone just like me somewhere that knew she could do it...and you did!! I can't wait to run my first half!! (although I pray it's not all up hill....i did that with my first 5k, and thought I'd die after that!)

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  5. Congratulations! The best part is that the next one will be easier. Isn't it amazing how much faster the miles go by in a race as opposed to ye olde' training run?

    You forgot something, though. N stands for "Gwyneth has got Nothin' on me!" (well, 'me' as in 'you', as it were.. you know what I mean) :)

    Congrats again - enjoy this post-race time off. You deserve it!

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  6. Congratulations! Well done and enjoy! I think you'll find that it gets easier now that you have a bit more confidence.

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  7. I'm so proud of you! Mine is this Saturday...say a prayer for me!

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  8. Great job Kelly! A great performance and an always humorous blog post to chronicle your journey from smoker to half marathoner! Congrats on a great race!

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  9. Well done Kelly!

    You now have a PB for a Half Marathon.
    One that you can beat by doing a less hilly Half.

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  10. Kelly, fantastic job! Interestingly enough, I finished my first half marathon last October in 2:26, and reading your post brought it all back to me - how great the volunteers are, what it's like to suddenly be running in a crowd, and being ready to do it all again so soon afterward. I'm so excited to run the same race again this year, and hopefully pull down a nice PR - imagine what you'll be doing a year from now!

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