After 12 weeks of training, the day of the Marlow Half Marathon finally dawned on me yesterday! I have to say it was one of the best things I have ever done in my life and I can’t wait to do it again. Below is my account of how the day went…
I went to the race with an extremely stressful and frustrating week behind me. All of this was coupled with feeling on the edge of a bad cold waiting to devour me. With the changing of the clocks and darkness descending on everything at 4pm already, I felt even less motivated to drag myself to the gym during the week, not to mention go out in the dark, cold and damp night to do training runs after work.
Reading the reviews about the Marlow half marathon on the online forums of the Runners World Magazine was not exactly a great idea just the night before the race – people were warning against deadly hills and pointed out this was one of the most challenging terrains for a half marathon and we had better not dream about setting a new personal best timing during this race! Fortunately, there were plenty of comments praising the scenery and the organisation itself, so I felt there was still some hope of at least enjoying the participation.
Following a recommendation from a friend, I got some First Defence by Vicks to keep the cold bugs at bay, which did not let me down, so I will keep it in my training kit going forwards. I managed to catch and neutralise my cold in its early stages by generously applying the nasal spray in the 2 days leading up to the race.
On Sunday, I got ready at a leisurely pace at home, filling my tummy with my run-proof breakfast of porridge with banana and honey and a good cup of coffee. I arrived in Marlow just after 8.15. Being an early bird definitely paid off, as within 5 minutes all the parking spaces were taken up near the race HQ. Soon after realising that parking would only cost me a pound for the whole day, instead of the usual fortune, did I start to think that perhaps these were the early signs of a rather good day!
First mental note to self: if you go to a race, be there as early as you can, especially if you can’t stand stressful situations, such as trouble with parking. Too much stress about the logistics can easily undermine your performance and race-readiness.
There were a lot of people flocking towards the race on the streets already, following directions from the marshals. The town was just waking up, with the smell of roast coffee penetrating the air from the coffee shops as I was approaching the venue, the local grammar school’s sports field. I was surprised to see a huge crowd gathering so early. (Later it was confirmed that there were over a 1,000 people participating).
After collecting and fixing my number and my timer chip, I took some time to study the participants. I was happy to ascertain that there were all kinds of people of all ages, so I didn’t feel out of place. Most people turned up with someone else or were in groups, chinwagging, getting geared up, or warming up outside the track field. I thought that the venue set up was great – local running shops displayed their products, a tent was set up for drinks and there was a commentator speaking from a loudspeaker giving an “Olympic importance” feel to the event. The only thing that I was not impressed with was the fact that there were not enough loo’s so I had to give up going after seeing the mile long queue forming at the ladies’. Some people had to resort to certain “creative solutions” only to be told off by the commentator tactfully reminding them through he loudspeaker that pissing on the field will result in disqualification!
Second mental note to self: Go loo hunting well before the race starts. Ignore the bushes within the race organiser’s eye sight.
I was quite surprised that we were called to line up for the race about 20 minutes before it was supposed to start, so I had to resort to doing a rather dodgy warm up and stretch in the queue. I felt a bit nervous because it was quite cold, and I knew I really should have done a proper and longer warm up. In the end, we did need 20 minutes to get organised for the start!
I must say that having to pee, being nervous about the lack of proper warm up and feeling frozen were not a good start for me. Nevertheless, I was soon starting to feel very excited about tackling my very first half marathon!
The start of the race was signalled by a small rocket (I think most of us expected a firework-like display, given it was the weekend when there are firework displays all across the UK to commemorate Guy Fawkes Night) and it took me some time to be able to start moving with the crowd. I switched on my Nike + iPod kit to get some stats later and I suddenly started to feel at ease as soon as my favourite half marathon music mix started pounding in my ears. As soon as I was able to start moving my feet, I felt full of energy as if an invisible power had possessed me. I did not feel too bothered about the fact that a lot of people ran past me – I was the one who overtook them later or saw them walking in the last stretch having hit the wall.
Third mental note: it always pays off to start slow and save up energy for the second half, if for nothing else, but for being able to finish the race with a dignified sprint rather than walking through the finish line with your head down.
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the race. The route was breathtakingly beautiful – autumn forests dressed up in amazing colours, green fields with sheep, cows and horse feeding on the grass, pretty villages with stone cottages, hidden farms and rolling hills… The air so fresh and crisp waking all my senses. I am so glad it was a mostly windless day with no rain. Even the sun left its hiding place from behind the clouds a few times, dressing the scenery into warmer and more vibrant colours.
There was plenty of cheering from the localspectators and marshals along the way, which gave me a further adrenaline boost. There were plenty of drinking stations along the way, which I was grateful for, as I did not need to carry the extra weight of my water bottle. I felt totally “in the zone” most of the time, taking the first few hills almost effortlessly. I felt the same invisible power pushing me up the same hills which demanded their first “victims” as I ran past. I thought perhaps not being able to train so much during last week was not a bad thing after all, it may have given me just the right amount of rest and recovery time I needed to be able to cope with such a challenging terrain.
Fourth mental note to self: Doing those body pump classes and lifting heavy weight on the legs have definitely paid off on the hills. However, to get the benefits from weight training make sure to allow yourself to fully recover from these sessions before you race.
On the whole, I am quite pleased with how I managed my energy levels throughout the race. I knew there was going to be a killer hill towards the end. Well, that last hill was a real b*tch and the name of the place is a totally fitting description of how it felt like toiling up the hill: “Rotten Row”. A rotten climb it was indeed! I believe the climb on this last hill must have added quite a few extra minutes to my finishing time, but I was satisfied to see that I was not the only one trying to power walk with her tongue hanging out!
Fifth mental note: perhaps testing the route or parts of it before the race would have been a good idea to see which points I need to push harder on or save my energy for and where I can really go crazy with the speed. And perhaps a bit more hill training would not have hurt in the weeks leading up to the race!
After surviving Rotten Row, the last few miles were flat and downhill, praise God for that. I had some energy left in my hidden reserves to blast into the finish line. Simon, my fiance, was already there waiting for me! He managed to capture the look of determination on my face as I was running towards the finish line and he indeed captured the moment when I reached the final destination in 2 hours and 3 minutes!
I am not angry – that look on my face is determination and actually I felt very happy the finish line was so close!
It felt great overtaking the last few people whilst running towards the finish line and hearing the commentator announce my name in the loudspeaker, then bumping into Simon who gave me a congratulatory hug!
Even though I was slightly disappointed about not being able to complete the race under two hours, I reminded myself how far I had come in the past couple of months in terms of building up my capability to run such a distance and how much I enjoyed learning more about the “art” of running and the training. It has been an amazing journey and I felt very proud to have completed one of the most challenging half marathons in the country! At this point I just want to say thank you for those of you who believed in me and encouraged me, without the support of my fiance and my friends I feel I couldn’t have done so well.
I have got an incredible emotional uplift from the race, it feels like I have been overdosed with happiness! I hope this feeling will not wear off too soon – another long and tough week is lying ahead.
Now that the race is over, I feel I don’t want to stop here. I fell in love with running so much that I don’t think I will ever want to stop! I have achieved a goal and I need a new one now… What will it be – perhaps a marathon next year? Today, I am feeling invincible.