On Sunday, I ran a half marathon. It wasn’t in the plan. I had a nice mental race calendar going on, with the highlight being a fabulously well organized, beautiful but brutal coast path run (http://www.mudcrew.co.uk). I have been looking forward to it for 12 months. For some reason, believing I was on good form and trained well, I toyed with the idea of entering a half the week before. After careful deliberation and a “why not?”, I secured my bib number in the nick of time.
When I am set to race, I am usually pumped. I don’t sleep well the night before because I am riddled with excitement and nerves, with the usual “Will I do ok? Will I get the time I want?” revolving round in my head. With this half marathon, I didn’t feel so enthusiastic. Over breakfast, I commented that I had “a feeling” about this one which, lets face it, isn’t a good starting point. I had doubts for a number of reasons. First of all, it wasn’t in the plan. Spontaneity is good but the race that mattered to me most was a week later; I think I was apprehensive about jeopardising it, alongside not being that bothered about running it at all. The adrenaline wasn’t working it’s usual magic around my body and the difference was apparent. Secondly, it is advertised as a fast, flat course. Fine. I have done loads of hill reps and heaven only knows how many steps I have run up and down over the past months to build up my resilience, a flat course should be a walk in the park. This wasn’t helpful for my mindset though. I put considerable pressure in myself before the race started, believing I should be able to sustain sub 9:00 min miles at least for the duration of the course. To be fair, I think I am capable, I have the pace but telling myself that wasn’t the best motivator. This is Cornwall, there are no other fast, flat runs. I felt I had to go for broke.
The first 3 or 4 miles pace-wise were fine. I was sub 7:30, 7:45, and 8:45, yet for some reason my brain would not connect with my body. The mental messages going through my mind were just unhelpful and gradually by mile 4, my legs felt like they were made of metal – heavy, dense, and an effort to pick up. Good old maladaptive thoughts prevailed, you know the usual stuff, “I can’t do this,” “this is awful,” “I will never do this in under 2 hours.” Usually, such doubts are quickly squashed by getting caught up in the event, the atmosphere, and just enjoying myself knowing I have what it takes to complete the course. This time though, no chance. By mile 6 I was crying. Running and weeping. Ridiculous. Even the brass band in the middle of the trail didn’t perk me up. Some lovely runners gave me encouragement and it was a case of taking it mile by mile. Sometimes, 0.3 of a mile at a time. I must have walked for part of every mile; something else that wasn’t in the plan.
Things changed a bit around mile 9 to 10. Sure, there’s only about 5k to go, that was a good reframe for me. The thing that drove me on and made me think, “THAT definitely isn’t happening” is seeing a runner with headphones. If there is one thing I don’t like, it’s cheating, rule breaking, whatever you want to call it. As soon as I saw her with them in, I decided in an instant there was no way I was going to come in behind her. It felt good to have something spurn me on, I tried to claw some time back, knowing that the sub 2 hour aim was long gone, and wished I had seen her at mile 5.
Looking back, obviously it wasn’t my best race. I didn’t enjoy the experience but I am hoping it was a poor rehearsal for the race yet to happen. I don’t feel rubbish though. If I had my phone on me at the time, I probably would have made a call and asked to be picked up. A DNF would have been worse under the circumstances. Afterwards, I was sure there was no way I would want do that half marathon again. Thanks but no thanks. That feeling didn’t last as long as my achey legs. Indian Queens, I think we have unfinished business, I might be back next year. I have a score to settle.