So. I just ran my first official half marathon. Round the F1 race track at Silverstone! Which should be pretty awesome, and the bling was certainly impressive, but let’s get the negatives out of the way… As it turns out, running round a race track is not the most interesting way to spend a lunchtime – the route was hellishly cunningly designed and wiggle-woggled its way around the track and service roads, but as a result you never really knew where you were, or whether you’d been there before; there’s no scenery to see (Tarmac. Spectator stands. Crash barriers. Repeat.) and the overall effect leaves you feeling very much, I imagine, like a rat in a maze. You kind of know there’s some sort of reward at the end, but you have no idea when you’ll get to it, and after a certain point you’re less convinced that you care. The fact is, there is little spectator involvement – they’re not allowed on the track and you run through the stands 3, maybe 4 times. But apart from that it’s just marshals, water stations and runners. Which is fine, but there’s not much to distinguish it from simply a very crowded training run. So my first lesson learnt today is: think about the course.
All of that said, I have rarely laughed so much at a race. I went with my next door neighbour, Kirsty, whose second official HM it was, and we laughed so much that at one point there were actual tears! Although I can’t tell you that story, because it was about one of her university flatmates. Let’s just say I’ll never think of Pooh Sticks as a harmless AA Milne game again….
We started by getting our roundabouts confused. Well, no. We started with poor bowel planning…. which was kind of an effect of a race which starts at midday, not 9 or 10am. How do you plan your toilet stops so that you won’t have to interrupt a race when it is so late? This is a question we had both grappled with and in the end it wasn’t a problem, but at the beginning it *was* a worry… Anyway, we thought we’d stop at the McDonalds on the A43 and use their conveniences as a way of avoiding the almost always minging pre-race portaloos. As it turns out, we had mis-remembered the relationship of McDonalds to the Silverstone junction, but having seen the traffic queues we decided to go for it, and turn round and use the west-bound exit. But those queues were just as bad… so after an unproductive stop at McDonalds (who goes to McDonalds for a burger at 10am on a Sunday?? Lots of people, it seems… Bit baffling….) we decided to experiment with navigating up a backroad. All went well until Kirsty realised she’d thought we were a roundabout ahead of the one we were actually at, and we had to do a U Turn on somebody’s drive. The curtain twitching set us off, and then the fact we were at Frog Hall set us off even more… but it was actually a genius piece of queue jumping, and took us to the best positioned car park on the edge of an industrial estate at the circuit. We narrowly avoided a big, swanky coach which was determined to do a 3 point turn on the tractor track we were following… impressively, he didn’t hit anyone or anything, but neither of us could work out how.
It was cold and foggy when we arrived – we’d been forecast sun, no wind, and 10 degrees. We had fog, wind, no sun and more like 3. But we bundled ourselves up… As we were changing shoes and coats, and generally sorting stuff in the boot of the car, I noticed that the girl in the car next to us was a student at my College… I said hi, and told her I was the bursar, and we spent the next half hour stifling giggles at the look of sheer, naked terror on her face! Lord knows what she’s been up to…!!
There was a lot of hanging around at the pre-race ‘village’. We found a female changing room with its own secret toilet, and got our race kit in order. I offered to help Kirsty pin her number in place, and we ended up in hysterics again when we realised I’d pinned my glove to her boob. There was the usual people watching, and deciding which of the fancy dress costumes we had to beat. The dinosaur was obvious. We *had* to beat the dinosaur! We were bemused/impressed/intimidated by the commitment of the firemen running as a four… in a corrugated plastic fire engine! Apparently, they were trying it out for the London Marathon, next month – and they did well. We actually didn’t beat them… but more of that later.
The strategy was to run with the 2:15 pacer for as long as possible, before possibly dropping back toward the 2:30… As it turns out, we had such a long walk to the start line once the klaxon had sounded (5 minutes!!), that we lost the 2:15 pacer almost immediately
. Which was probably a good thing – as it turns out the pacers get a cluster of runners around them, and it’s virtually impossible to find your own space. Anyway, it wasn’t an issue, because no sooner had we actually crossed the timing mats ourselves, than I realised I had a stone in my shoe…So there was a stoppage to sort that out, and then we got going and found our pace. I think the 2:29 pace maker found us about an hour in, and we stuck with him until the crowding got on our nerves, forcing a quick sprint to overtake the group. We stayed comfortably ahead of them for about another 45 minutes, when a wheelchair runner threatened to take out Kirsty’s achilles, prompting another dash for it. So we were a good way ahead of them until the 10th mile, when the dashes claimed their payback and we slowed down, and they caught us up (at about the same time as the fire engine, actually). They remained in sight, though, and all was going well until some way into the 13th mile, when my knee went ‘pop’ and a searing pain shot across it, forcing me to a standstill. I couldn’t bear weight on it at all for a while and Kirsty, bless her, slowed to a walk with me. Another woman stopped to check I was OK and we hobbled in. I was determined not to go over 2:30, and developed a gait where I could use the tiptoe on my right leg, and normal strike on my left. It turned out this could be adapted into a shambling sort of a run and we did manage to cross the finish line at a run. Sort of. Unofficial time was 2:30:06 which is a PB by about 4 minutes, I think.
We went to the physio at the St John’s Ambulance stand, and a very kind woman looked at my knee, and declared that I have ‘weak hips’. She wasn’t impressed by my theory that this could be an affect of two half marathons (ish) in one week, and strapped me up sufficiently for me to get to the car and home again. Via the vet, to pick up the big dog who has been in hospital most of the week… but that’s another story.
Positives for this week…
*** I ran two half marathons (more or less! I’m totally claiming Monday’s run as a half…). All I have to do now is stitch them together
*** I’m 80% of the way to my fundraising total, which is utterly AMAZING!! Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who have supported me! You are brilliant and lovely, and your comments continue to move me to tears on a regular basis
*** I have learnt some valuable lessons about race strategy. Primary amongst which: check the course. And check your shoes.
Thank you, Kirsty, for being brilliant company and keeping me going at the end!