As I blogged yesterday, today was the BIG day that I ran my first half-marathon - even more exciting because I have twice before starting training for a half-marathon and both times had to pull out due to injury.
Yesterday morning I woke up with horribly painful back-ache and spent the morning shuffling around the office saying "Ow" a lot and possibly swearing a bit. It improved a bit through the day so I kept my fingers crossed it would keep improving.
This morning, I was woken up by a throbbing pain in my right calf and when I got out of bed, I felt quite achy and my back-ache was back, not as crippling as yesterday but quite sore. I dosed up on painkillers, soaked in the bath and applied Deep Heat to my back, calves and achilles tendons. I mixed up a High 5 drink and poured it into my two small bottles that fit on my running belt and filled up another bottle with cold water to carry.
My friend picked me up and drove to Wednesbury, where we bought a Metro ticket each and jumped on the tram for Wolverhampton. The tram terminated before Wolverhampton so we had to hop on a bus as well, then had a short walk to the starting point.
This half-marathon has staggered starts - it is along the canal tow-path from Wolverhampton to Birmingham so is quite narrow. I think some runners started at 8.00am, my start time should have been 10.45 and my friend's should have been 11.00. In the end, we were both sent off at around 11.21, so there was lots of standing around feeling nervous and visiting the smelly portaloos too many times ! It was SO hot - Deb's car told us it was 28 degrees outside - and I've never been good with heat. I slathered on Factor 30 sun-lotion, wore a visor and sun-glasses and hoped that would keep me safe from sunburn, as I do tend to burn very quickly.
We were sent off one at a time and I was surprised to find myself sneaking past people quite early on. At about 1 mile in, I heard a shriek from behind me and turned to see on young lady had tripped and fallen on the gravel path. The man behind her was running back to the marshals and three of us turned back to see if she was alright. She had grazes on both knees and hands and a nasty one on her shoulder and was quite shaken so we got her to sit at the side of the path and clean herself up a bit with tissues. After a while, one lady said she would stay with her while she waited for help so the rest of us set off again.
There were drink stations at miles 3,6,9 and 12 so I decided to aim not to stop for a walk until the first drink station. As it turned out, I got a bit of gravel in my shoe and had to stop to remove it but apart from that, I didn't need to stop again. It was quite hard running over the numerous bridges crossing the canal but it was an attractive route with lots of swans, ducks, ducklings and geese to see, as well as the canal boats. I got to the drink station at mile 3 quite comfortably and having managed to pass more people than I'd been passed by. All the marshals were really encouraging and the drinks station was being run efficiently by friendly folk, offering water and energy drinks. At each drinks station, I just walked a few steps while drinking my cup of water and started running once I'd put the cup in the bin.
Because of the spacing of the drinks stations, I was telling myself it was "just one parkrun to the next drink station and, mentally, I think that kept me feeling it was do-able. At mile four there is a nice long, dark tunnel - as you enter the tunnel droplets of water shower down on you, which was quite refreshing. I had to take my sunglasses off to see but managed to run all but the middle section of the tunnel, where it really was too dark to run safely. On the far side of the tunnel there was a slight detour due to some problems on a section of the towpath - this included 85 steep steps to ascend ! Now that was tough !
I was still managing to pass people regularly (picking them off!) but making sure I said something encouraging to them as I did so. It was swelteringly hot and I was surprised that I was coping with it reasonably well. I tried to just keep a steady pace, I'd speed up a little on the longer stretches of shade but on the whole it was in the full glare of the sun.
At about mile 6 I started to have a few sips of the High 5 but didn't really like it and had to follow it with a gulp of water to get rid of the sticky, sweet taste. The nice marshals at mile 6 had offered to re-fill my water bottle - the downside of which was it felt heavy while it was full, but that wasn't a problem for long. I was drinking quite frequently, water alternated with High 5 - I was sweating so much (oops, I mean I was glowing, of course!) that I could taste the salt on my skin so I thought it was probably important to have the High 5 as well as the water that I preferred.
I'm not sure when people stopped overtaking me, maybe around mile 8, but I was enjoying the novelty of having passed a lot more people than had passed me and I was also pretty sure I was pacing myself fairly steadily. My feet were starting to hurt and feel sore but I thought they'd hold up until the end - I'd put a Compeed blister plaster on the part that is most prone to blisters and was wearing my new Hilly twin-skin socks, which seem to help a bit, although the hot weather was really putting them to the test.
The last few climbs over the bridges were getting to feel harder work and I was counting the kilometres/miles on my Garmin but, although I was a bit slower than at the start, I didn't feel I was badly flagging. I felt a little bit queasy for a while in the last mile but was so pleased when I saw the finish line that I managed a short burst of speed - I always like to prove to myself that I've got just that little bit left !
The finish line was great - the lady on the microphone was enthusiastically congratulating all the finishers and there was a lot of support from spectators and I was handed water and a medal within a couple of minutes of finishing. I was then given a little slip of paper with my official time 2:36:32 ! I was really pleased with that - I'd hoped to be inside 2:40 but I'd sort of secretly wondered if i could get closer to 2:30 and dismissed it as perhaps too optimistic. Bearing in mind the heat and the short wait with the injured girl, I was more than satisfied.
I waited at the finish line for my friends and cheered and clapped all the other finishers. I was starting to get worried by the time they finished - one had waited with the injured girl for quite a while and the other had simply found the heat too much for her.
Then we had to trudge across Birmingham, looking for the train station for one friend and the Metro station for the two of us. That was hard work - I'd stretched after the race but everything was aching and my feet were very sore and it was too hot. I was glad to sit down on the tram and munch on the crisps from my goody bag !
When I checked my Garmin, I found that my moving time was actually 2:28 - the difference being the time spent with the injured girl and getting the gravel out of my shoe. I know it's not the same as an official time but I'm over the moon with that as I'd thought the heat would scupper my chances of the time I was hoping for. It was also the most consistent long run I've done in terms of average pace and the fact that I only walked at the water stations. It was difficult but at no point did I wish I wasn't there or doubt that I could finish.
I didn't feel the same bouncing up and down elation that I felt when I got my sub-30 minute parkrun last weekend but I do feel a quiet satisfaction that I've probably just done my best ever run. I also think I've learned how much of running is a matter of mental strength and determination.
Anyway, I'm very happy and I'm supping Recovery Red Wine, as one should on such an occasion !