There's no getting away from it, a half marathon is HARD! The Saltash Half Marathon is, in the words of the organisers, (rude word coming up) a real BASTARD! One of the hilliest in the country, (and they weren't kidding). When I hobbled to the goody bag tent after the event, the girl, when I confessed it was my first half, said "You picked a real pig then!" The race starts in a field which is literally 200 hundred yards from my front door so an easy wee walk and we're there. Hubby is there to take my jacket and see me off. He can nip home, mess about for a couple plus hours, then nip back to see me stagger home.
The weather is smiling on us. It is dry, partly overcast with just a slight breeze. When the sun comes out occasionally during the race, I frown hard at it and it goes away again! I have forgotten to put on sunscreen and can well do without sunburn to add to the blisters and aches.
I am wearing a basic red and white Nike vest, black capris, my new Karrimor "marathon" socks (and yes, I've tested them, they were fine and kept me blister free on my six miler last weekend) and my trainers which were gait analysed for me, but that was last September, and they are getting a bit worn. I plan to get some new ones soon.
I am disappointed that the wonderful Royal Mail has screwed up the delivery of my t-shirt which had been specially designed and sent to me by the hen rescue organisation that I am running for, but the donations have been coming in from lots of wellwishers and "mad chicken people" (like me), and there is nothing I can do about the delivery now. It's Sunday.
Trying to do it right, I have a quick five min warm up around the field , then, with the loud blare of a klaxon, we are off, pretty much on time. Having queued at the back, I am making up the rear end as we dash off through the local housing estate, and out towards the edge of our little Cornish town. I check my Garmin after the first mile only to find I've done it in 9 mins flat, so I make myself slow down, petrified that I am going out much, much too fast. Up and down the hills, through the beautiful little village of Forder, up and up and up, and down and on and on and up and up. The marshalling is brilliant, as is the organisation and the water stations are evenly spaced. Grabbing a cup of water offered to me from a helper, I gulp a bit, and chuck the cup into the kerb, as everyone who ran in front of me seems to have already done (ooh, littering!!! How guilty do I feel?). Luckily there are kids everywhere with black plastic bags picking up after us. There are even jelly babies in big dishes!!
Out into the countryside we go, narrow Cornish lanes with high hedges partly blocking out the view of the surrounding fields which are newly sprouting with spring crops. The bluebells and other spring flowers are out, the banks are green, the air smells wonderful. Without my running music, (race rules for health and safety) I can hear my feet slapping with every step, and every gasp in and out. My lungs definitely sound like they are working harder than they have for several weeks, but I'm hoping that this is just because I'm not used to hearing them!
Seven and a half miles out, deep in the lanes behind the town, a collie type sheepdog starts running alongside me. According to one of the Tamar Trotters (the town's running club) he belongs to one of the local farms. Ok, he isn't trouble, or so I think. Then, about a hundred yards past the St Johns Ambulance station, as I am watching the collie to make sure he doesn't get under my feet, I fall!! Down I go, onto the roughly surfaced road, sprawling onto my hands, boobs, stomach, knees, and HARD! Flat on my face in other words. I feel like I'm falling for ever, but with no way to stop myself.
The cry goes up "RUNNER DOWN!!" I sort of lay there, (totally embarrassed) not sure if I am ok or not. I'm thinking, "Nine bloody months of running and training, two other short races, and never so much as a slip or trip, but give me a half marathon and I know how to make a complete idiot out of myself."
A runner going the other way round the loop I've just started, says as he goes flying past, "Don't get up too fast, take your time" Cheers I think, lol. The ambulance guy came running up, "Are you ok?" I'm up on my feet by this time, looking down, palms grazed and bleeding, knees sore, I pull my capris up to see that they too are bleeding and skinned. My left arm is bloody, my boobs are hurting (but I don't want to inspect THEM with the St John's man standing there!) He says do I need patching up...I look back up the road the hundred yards to where the ambulance is..."No, I'm fine" I reply (I don't want to lose time walking back there and being cleaned up!!!)
What happened, was it the dog?" he asks.
"Yes" say I. "I'm going on, I'm ok!" I know I can't give up now, there are four thousand hens being released in a few months. Funds are needed! At least for the next mile or two, the stinging coming from my hands and knees takes my mind off the effort needed for the interminable climbs.
About a mile later I catch up with a lady who shot past me up a local hill one night out a couple of weeks ago while I was doing an "easy" four/five miler. I recognise her from behind by the high bobbing blonde ponytail. This time I manage to get to her shoulder and I say "Hello" and stay respectfully behind her as I'm pretty sure she's just going to pick up her pace and leave me standing, but after a minute of this I think that actually I'm doing ok, and I GO PAST HER, and I never see her again after that!! (GO ME!!)
So, more up and up, and down, and at about nine miles+ my left knee (which has been hurting a bit at the back the last two training runs) starts playing up. I had deliberately not run for nearly three days from Thursday till today to try and help it through. The downhills are the hardest on it - I want to take them fast because they help me make up for the horrid slow uphills (where I've stopped to do brisk walking a couple of times because that is actually faster than the very slow jog I am managing on the very steep bits) but that damn knee is really starting to hurt. I'm limping as I go past two marshalling stations and they are looking concerned and saying can I finish?? I have no breath to speak but I nod and wave them away. I think of my friend Jo who is starting the Cornish branch of Fresh Start for Hens...and keep going.
Then, even worse than that, at between ten and eleven miles, which is new running territory for me, (I have only ever gone up to 10 miles in training, "they" tell you that "the adrenaline will carry you through") I can feel that I am approaching "the wall". Lactic acid is building up in my legs and my stride just seems to be getting shorter and shorter while my effort level seems to be getting harder and harder. There are yet more hills and even the flatter, shallower ones seem like mountains, but I've made it to nearly eleven miles now and how can I give up?? I am nothing if not bloody minded and stubborn when I need to be.
Wishing the miles away like I have never before, a little further on, I can see by my Garmin that I have finally passed the twelve mile mark, I keep checking my pace and trying to recalculate my approximate finishing time. I know that I did the first six miles in about 1hr 2m (ok I was TRYING to slow my speed down at the time but not succeeding because my legs don't seem to know how to go slower when they're fresh),but I also know that I have not maintained this speed, and anyway my target was always to try to beat 2.5 hrs because of the hills which I knew would get me in the end. I THINK I can still do it, but at this stage anything can happen, and I am too inexperienced to know what!
The marshalls can see the pain on my face and they're geeing me on, "Only half a mile to go, you'm nearly there!" ...and somehow I'm at the bottom of my road, which is yet another bloody HILL, but I know this hill, I've run up it a million times in training and I won't walk this one, no, it won't beat me!!
I look both ways and make it over the road, "Come on number 72, nearly home maid, 200 yards to go!!" the marshall is yelling...they have taped off a length of the field as a finishing track. I look over around a sort of bend made by the tape and can see the finish line where a huge f**k off digital clock is ticking off the minutes and seconds (I know where I am anyway because of the Garmin). Two hours and twenty minutes and the seconds are ticking away, away. I see my hubby with the camera in his hand and a big smile on his face. "Come on, where's the sprint finish??" I refrain from making the obvious gesture (!) and from somewhere find a teeny bit of strength (it must have been those jelly babies kicking in finally!) and I lurch towards the finish line, knee threatening to collapse under me completely. I get over the line, loads of people cheering (not because they know me, just because the whole town is out to watch the crazy running people!) and practically fall into hubby's arms.
There is a young male marshall ten yards past the finish line who asks me if I am ok because he has had a phone call to look out for my number to check out my injuries. He looks at my hands and offers to dress them but I decline;" I live two hundred yards away, I can sort them out for myself when I get home."
The very minute I stopped running my knees seemed to stiffen like Medusa when she was turned to stone and I barely make it to the goody bag tent and water. I immediately investigate the bag - I feel I've earned it. What a great t-shirt! It's made of black and white technical fabric, with a "I survived the Saltash Mayfair Half Marathon" written on the back. There is also a bottle of Betty Stogs beer (the race sponsor!), an energy drink and a Daim bar!
Then I am trying to stretch, but my legs won't hold me up individually to do it! Even walking suddenly becomes impossible (who knew that adrenaline was such a great painkiller?) and Dave has to let me lean on him as I limp painfully over to say hello to some people I know and receive their congratulations.
Now, I am home, my left knee has ice under it, I have stretched, (or rather, laid on my stomach and had hubby lean on my legs to get my heels up to my rear) while I screamed silently inside lol. I have showered and am sitting on my sofa quietly thinking about the whole experience.
You know what? When is the next one?? Whenever it is, and wherever it is, it has got to be a dawdle compared to this feat of endurance. Hasn't it?? Besides, if the post office ever get around to delivering that t-shirt, I have a charity to run for!!
Yup, sign me up!! (but can we wait a day or two?) PHEW!!