“If you doubt your ability to finish, do not start.” – FUCK THAT.
On Sunday, I ran my first half marathon. I’ll say that again, ON SUNDAY, I RAN MY FIRST HALF MARATHON, (thank you, thank you very much) and I’m in absolute bits both mentally and physically. I kept the fact that I was doing this event, a bit of a secret. I thought if I admitted to the world via the magic that is social media then I would be held to account and, until Sunday morning, when I found myself on the start line, I was still fairly sure that I was going to pull out if it.
I signed up to the event about six months ago with my friend Sophie and we were going to run it together. About two months ago though she realised that her knees would not support her on this particular adventure and she had to pull out. Secretly I celebrated, thinking: OK, if she’s not doing it, I’m off the hook. Unfortunately however, there were still a few of my friends and family signed up so I kept my reservations to myself. I started running a little bit, a three mile run at first, a five mile run the next week and eventually, just before I went to Barbados at the end of March, a six miler. Whilst away though, my training ground to a halt. Rum punches tasted too good and so, as it turned out, did I, to the sea lice that took it upon themselves to attack my feet. Thanks to the swelling and pain I was unable to wear trainers for the week and by the time I was able to again, I had fallen in love with not doing any exercise and chose instead to put my feet up and not set any alarms.
Once I returned home though I was reminded that I had less than a month to go and, still toying with the idea of quitting, I thought I ought to go out for a little jog to work out how hard it would really be. Unfortunately the day I chose to run on was the day after the London Marathon and I found myself so utterly inspired by the actions of some extraordinary people that I pulled the ultimate Forrest Gump and somehow found it within me to run 10 miles. Honestly, I don’t know how I did it, or WHY I did it but I just kept going. With hindsight, this was really fucking stupid. As it turns out, you can’t just run ten miles having not done anything more strenuous than reach for a packet of cigarettes in the month before it.
I ended up having to see a physio last Friday as the pain in my hip was becoming unbearable. I thought to myself: if he tells me that I’ve seriously damaged myself, it will be the perfect excuse to pull out. If he fixes me then I will do the run because, if I can run 10 miles, then all I will need to do is a three mile walk at the end of that. Unfortunately, he did neither thing, instead telling me that I had some nerve damage or fluid build up or something in my hip and that I could run without doing any lasting damage but that it would hurt like fuck and I would be crazy. (Direct quote.) Turns out I’m crazy, but I had some more obstacles to overcome before we get to that.
Still toying with the idea of pulling out on Saturday afternoon, I logged on to the event’s website where I read the following sentence: “if you have not trained or have a heavy cold or other febrile illness, you should not run. Do not expect to achieve what you have not trained for. If you doubt your ability to finish, do not start.” IF YOU DOUBT YOUR ABILITY TO FINISH, DO NOT START. What twat wrote that? What evil little shit bag thought that that was an appropriately inspiring message to leave on the website for any nervous race-goers to stumble across? Someone that has had one too many protein shakes in his life probably. At this point I was fully prepared to pull out. In as many words, the website had told me to. Everything around me was telling me to.
Except my fingers it seems as, on 6am on Sunday morning I had my trainers on, my race-number attached to my top and had written the following introduction to the Pretty Normal Me Monday morning newsletter: “Yesterday I ran a half marathon and it absolutely killed me.” – knowing that if I got home later that day, defeated, and had to delete those words, I would never forgive myself. So I ran the bloody thing, and here’s what happened:
8am – arrived at the event, had a cigarette, a nervous wee and totally freaked out when I looked around the carpark and saw hundreds of Mamils (Middle-aged-men-in-lycra) looking totally pro and ready to kick my arse.
9am – start line. I had decided to do this run with my mum, since it was my first one and she is not a quick runner anyway. We both plugged in our headphones (running together but not talking to each other) and ran for the first three miles through the town of Stratford. Christ knows how but we did the first few SO quickly, averaging about 10min20sec miles which was a huge surprise to both of us and eventually the crowd thinned as we all settled into our stride.
Mile 4 – I made my first mistake. The volunteers were really kindly handing out water every two miles and, since it was so hot, I couldn’t get enough in me. In training I had never taken any water with me and so it hadn’t occurred to me that when you are drinking, you are unable to breath. This really screwed me up and I ended up basically winding myself and totally knocking my confidence. After that I couldn’t stop feeling the pain in my hip and talked myself into stopping. I told my mum that I was sorry but that I wouldn’t be able to keep going and that she was going to need to go on without me. She thought about this for thirty seconds but concluded that you didn’t leave a man behind and encouraged me to get going again. This time, with only one headphone in each so we could talk to each other, we kept going, at a slightly slower pace.
Mile 8 – Somehow, the last four miles had zoomed by and, although by this point I did feel that my hip was on FIRE, I had been able to keep going without too much trouble. That was until the we found ourselves running uphill for about a mile. When I am on the bike I can do any amount of uphill because I know that in a minute it will all go back down again and it will be SO worth it. Unfortunately, it is NOT the same story with running. The downhill that we had ‘earned’ caught me surprise and put me in more pain that I thought possible, it must have been from the added weight that my joints were taking on what with all the gravity but by the time we got to the bottom I was in screaming pain and had to stop to stretch. This was a HUGE cock up.
Stopping was so painful and I realised to my horror that I could barely even walk. I hobbled my way to a drinks station a few hundred meters away and stopped to stretch. Again I told my mum to go on without me, again, she didn’t. I set off at a walk again but found that it was just too painful on my hip and randomly, running was marginally more comfortable, so at an even slower pace the running started again.
(N.B. The amount of people that stopped to ask if I was OK was unreal and they were all so supportive when I started running again that it just melted my heart.)
Mile 11 – Officially running slower than most people were walking at this point and it was about here that I hit the ultimate wall. Walking was agonisingly painful but running was not much better. My head kept telling me to stop but every time I did the pain of walking again had me in tears. With two miles still to go all I could think was TWO MILES IS STILL A REALLY FUCKING LONG WAY and found myself rattling off everything that I knew that was two miles away from my house and how there was no way I could get there. The pace was embarrassingly slow and the tears kept coming but my amazing mum didn’t leave my side and the hobble continued.
Mile 12 – Somehow the hardest of all of the miles. The pain was unreal and still, a mile seemed like a long way. This was made so much worse as the course became a really windy little loop to add the distance so although I could hear and see the finish line for ages, I was being herded around totally unnecessary corners that were tearing my soul apart. Hip was beyond painful at this point and I was running at almost half the speed of my first mile.
The last 100 feet – it’s funny how pain can vanish isn’t it? Upon seeing the finish line mum took my hand and together we picked up the pace. I could see Alex and all my friends and everyone was cheering and I sobbed my way up the final stretch.
The finish line – I had a big cuddle with my mum, got a medal, a banana and a bottle of water and realised that I literally couldn’t move another metre. When Alex found me and hugged me I told him that he literally wouldn’t be able to put me down again as I was unable to walk so he ushered me away from the finish line and plopped me on the grass where I proceeded to sob uncontrollably.
I then went home, via the co-op where we picked up cider and crisps, because the thought of this was the only thing that got me round, the non-runners and my mum who is more machine than woman cooked an incredible Sunday lunch whilst I showered and then slept. Although everything hurt and I felt like I had been running for a lifetime, by 1pm we were home and able to spend the rest of the day doing what normal people do on Sundays, reading the papers, enjoying the sunshine and eating too much food. The only MASSIVE annoyance that afternoon was realising 40 miles too late that my half marathon brain had caused me to leave my wallet at a petrol station which made our drive back to London just over three hours: NOT what you need when you’re totally exhausted.
So, what did I learn? Well, despite the fact I have not painted a remotely pretty picture, I think I loved it. I am incredibly proud of my achievement and, in a weird sort of way, am really looking forward to the next one. Yes, there will be a next one. One that I will train for properly and not do with an injury and one that I hope to do so much faster. I feel like it will be easier now I know what I am getting myself in for. It will also be easier because I will not make the mistake of reading the bullshit website.
That sentence really, REALLY pissed me off. Because when I read that, I WAS doubting myself, this was an absolutely huge deal for me and reading that really fucked with my head. What I needed to read was something so much more positive, more supportive and more encouraging. I did not need another excuse to doubt myself. But I suppose the good thing that I did take from that is that I turned my doubt into something powerful. Yes, I was doubting myself, hello, even the website was doubting me, but rather than let them win, I instead found myself having to prove them wrong. And if I’m honest with you, it felt really really good.
I know you get asked this all the time but if you can spare anything, please do donate to my Just Giving page, it was not at all easy and I am raising money for a charity incredibly close to my heart: Help For Heroes. Thank you all xxxx MY JUST GIVING.