A couple of weeks ago (Sunday 20th May), I took part in a massive personal challenge – my first half marathon (The Great Manchester Run). I wanted to share this on my blog just to show that with hard work, anything is possible.
My first half marathon – training
I love to push myself and completing a half marathon was one of my goals for this year. So back in January, I signed up to the Manchester half marathon, which gave me 5 months to train. I’m the sort of person that when I set a goal, nothing stops me from achieving it. So I downloaded a half marathon training app (I used Asics, thought it was really good) and started my training. To be honest, I was already doing quite a lot of running anyway. In January I joined a run club, so I was running a couple of times a week with them and doing quite a few 10k races and Park Run to keep my fitness up. Over the next few months I was running several times a week, as well as mixing in some strength training and classes at the gym.
When it got towards April, I started trying to build the distance up a bit. I’m fine with running 6-7 miles but I’m not really used to doing any further than this. Hence why this half marathon was such a challenge for me. Over the couple of months leading up the race I used my Sunday’s as a practice for longer runs. I started with 8 miles and built up to a 10 mile run a few weeks before the race. To be honest, I really, really struggled with the 10 mile run I did in training. I felt ok in terms of my fitness, but it was my legs. They just hurt so much and I struggled to physically keep running. I now know that this was due to me not fuelling properly during the run or taking any water with me (schoolgirl error!). I’m not used to long runs so I didn’t realise I’d need some sweets or energy gels during the run.
The longer training runs knocked my confidence a bit. I had to slow right down to keep going for 10 miles and I really struggled. I also ran out of time leading up to the race so only managed to do one 10 mile run before race day – I would have liked to fit a few more in to be honest or get a bit closer to the half marathon distance. Basically, I did not feel ready for it! But I read somewhere that if you can run 8 miles, you should be able to safely complete a half marathon. So this reassured me a bit.
My first half marathon – preparing for race day
The days before the race I tried to prepare as best I could. It was going to be a hot day (typical!) for the race, so I made sure I drank lots of water in the days leading up to it and avoided alcohol. I also made sure I ate as much as I could, especially carbs like pasta. I also toned down the running and exercise about 4 days before so that I wouldn’t be tired and have sore legs on the day of the race. The night before, I got all my kit ready and packed my back pack that I was taking. I made sure I took plenty of water, some sweets (jelly babies and Haribo) to have while I was running, some spare clothes, suncream as it was a hot day and some post race snacks. I then got an early night as I had to get up at about 5am for the journey to Manchester! But could I sleep? No way!
On the morning of the race I kept hydrated on the journey to Manchester. I was so nervous I felt sick. I have done plenty of 10k races before but I was worrying that I wouldn’t be able to finish the 13.1 mile distance, as it’s something I’d never done. I was also worrying about when to eat my sweets during the run to keep my energy up, and about how hot it was as I’m not used to running in the heat.
Luckily we arrived in Manchester with plenty of time to spare and I had time to go to the toilet (twice) as I had drank so much water! I have taken part in this event before – last year I did the 10k – and I just love it. It’s so well organised and the atmosphere is amazing. So as soon as I saw all the crowds and headed to the start area I started to feel more excited than nervous and like I could actually, maybe, do this.
During the race…
My strategy for this race was just to complete it, without stopping. I didn’t care what time I got. I just wanted to complete it, as it was my first one, to prove I could do it. As I normally run around 9 – 9.30 min miles during races, I thought I’d be best going slower (for me) and aiming for 10 minute miles, which is what I did during training. The last thing I wanted to do was start off too fast and then burn out. I also decided I would have some sweets after about 40 minutes of running and then after about 60 minutes and so on, to avoid what happened in my training where I felt like I couldn’t physically go on after 10 miles. I had worked out that I would probably finish in around 2hr 20 mins if I went steady and this factored in possibly having to stop and/or walk a bit.
I started steady and luckily, as I was in the group that were expected to finish in over 2 hours, everyone was running at a similar, steady pace to me. This helped as I felt I was in the right group and it meant I didn’t get caught up trying to run too fast.
In all honesty, because I was running slower than I usually would for a shorter race – I found it quite enjoyable mostly. I just took it steady, had my sweets for energy and took all the water that was offered. It was very hot though with limited shade and I found that side of it pretty tough. I kept going and felt fine until I got to mile 10 – yep, the milestone! After mile 10 I really started to struggle, my legs hurt so much and it was a struggle to keep going. I didn’t stop though and pushed through the pain.
By mile 11/12 so many people had started to walk and some had actually collapsed at the side of the road and were receiving medical attention, which shows just how tough going it is really. I carried on pushing through the pain and when I got to mile 12 and realised I only had 1 mile left, I think adrenaline or something must have taken over! My legs were still hurting but I started to speed up again and did the final mile almost a minute quicker than the previous 2. As soon as I saw the finish line I went for it – I really don’t know how I had the energy but I just sprinted as fast as I could towards the finish line! Once over it though I could hardly walk and sort of hobbled towards where they were handing out the medals and finishers packs.
After the race…
As I was hobbling towards the meeting point I checked my watch and I just couldn’t quite believe it. I’d completed the half marathon in 2 hours 8 minutes, which I was over the moon at. I had been expecting about 2 hours 20 minutes as I thought I’d have to walk at some point. If I had been able to hold my pace between miles 10-12 then I would have probably finished around 2 hours 5 minutes. Plus if it was cooler maybe even quicker. I’m so pleased with myself it’s unbelievable. I still cannot believe that I’ve been able to train and run a half marathon, after having scoliosis surgery. It took me about a week to recover from it – my legs hurt pretty bad for at least 4 days – but I’m so proud of myself. In fact, I have even signed up to another one at the end of the year 🙂