On Sunday morning, following not quite 5 hours of sleep, I woke up and headed to Bath for the Bath Half Marathon. I was incredibly nervous. This was my first ever half marathon and I hadn’t quite hit the distance in training. This was also the biggest race I’ve ever been part of. Sticking to 5ks, 5-milers and 10ks means I’ve never been part of a pack of 15,000 and I’m somewhat claustrophobic. Getting there early meant I was at the front of the final starting pen and had some breathing space for the hour pre-race. The only time the crowds really affected me was on the occasions where I looked back and saw the tide of people behind me, and then feeding back through into the runner’s village to collect medals at the very end. It’s safe to say that I prefer smaller races for my comfort levels but I’m also absolutely sure I wouldn’t have made it to the end had it not been for the crowd support.
It was about 10 degrees and bright sunshine for the duration of the whole race. This isn’t hot weather by any means – it’s actually probably as close to my favoured running conditions as it’s possible to be, but it was decidedly more pleasant than I had been counting on in mid-March. My chest, upper arms and forehead are all showing a touch of sunburn (the perils of being ghostly pale) and plenty of people around the course were commiserating about being warmer than expected. The ultimate way to send my mind spinning off into meltdown? Diverge from my best laid plans.
During last summer’s heatwave in London, I ran 5km on the hottest day of the year when the temperatures hit 36C. I’m not averse to heat. But I wasn’t planning on it, and I’ve just trained through a long rainy winter. I drink a lot of water anyway – a lifetime of migraines has made me live in fear of dehydration – and I don’t even think about water for anything less than a 10km. Even for longer runs, I pop my credit card in my shorts pocket and get a drink if and when I feel I need it. On Sunday, I was unreasonably panicked by how hot I felt after only 3km, a mix of nerves and the glorious weather and at the first water station I practically inhaled a bottle of water I didn’t really need. Rookie error. I knew that. Shortly after the 6km mark, I was sick. Having never had much grace or dignity to start with, my main concern was that if I was seen, someone would tell me I had to stop running.
I picked myself up, cut my pace right down and trudged on. Around the 8km mark, my left hip flexor started to niggle. It’s been playing up a little bit on my longer runs recently but I’ve never known it to hurt so early on before, definitely something I need to address sooner rather than later. I suspect post-sickness my form was really suffering which probably didn’t help matters. By the end of race, picking my left leg up was agony and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I suddenly discovered I could barely walk. Funny what the body forces itself through when it knows it “has” to. It did make 2/3 of the race extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t really need any extra misery!
My 10km time was 1:15:03. I knew then just what dire straits I was in. Even on my long slow runs, I hit 10km at just under the hour mark. Not even halfway through and mentally I was just beaten. From there on, it was only about the very possibility of finishing. Any plans for a time were long destroyed and there was no hope of recovering. I really started to worry that I wouldn’t make it through the race.
At 12km, not long after starting the second loop of Bath, I spotted my friends in the crowd. Slightly over halfway through the worst run of my life, there’s a tiny blip in my Garmin data, where my pace suddenly and briefly hits 4:13/km as I sprinted across the course to high-five them both. The second loop was hard, I ran/walked the entire way. At 18km, I was sick again, I think probably just from exhaustion at that point. At 19km, I sat down at the side of the road and cried for a bit. At that moment, with only 2km left to run, it seemed so impossible that I would actually finish. I dragged my feet, alternating running and walking in about 300m bursts, I didn’t have enough left to manage anything more. As I rounded the corner on to Great Pulteney Street and saw the finish line, my pace climbed and climbed again. I saw my parents in the crowd, I spotted my friends slightly further along the straight and I ran.
After collecting my medal and finisher’s shirt, I phoned my parents and genuinely cried down the phone like a lost child as I tried to find my way back to the Abbey to meet them. I was really truly broken. Yet more proof that I can’t cope with exhaustion.
My chip time ended up being 2:38:34, a good 30 minutes slower than I had expected/hoped for. A lot of weaving about meant that I covered more additional distance than I usually manage over the course of a race and the Garmin clocked me hitting half marathon distance at 2:36:18. Either way, the whole thing was a hard knock. As I joked (not at all joking) to several friends yesterday, why be proud of what you’ve achieved when there’s the opportunity to relentlessly punish yourself for not being better? I’ve written before that this is a constant issue in my running (and life), and the worse the day, the harsher I am.
The key here is that I still ran it. Whilst it wasn’t a good time, it’s a bloody good time considering that it involves stopping to be sick twice, sitting down to cry, and running 15km of it on empty – no fuel, minimal hydration. If I can manage that, I should have no problems running the distance on a better day.
So. Bath was a bad race. They happen; the fact that it was my first half is sad, but they happen. I have 8 weeks until Run Hackney (with a 10km between now and then). Training for a half, from a half, should (theoretically) be reasonably straightforward. I know I can cover that distance now, even when I feel awful. I’ll be factoring in some glute strengthening to try and sort out this hip issue. Lighter, warmer evenings should result in a more positive attitude to training. At Hackney, I’ll be crossing the line in the time I know I’m capable of.