[Preamble: As you can tell if you can see, this blog has a new look. A change is as good as a rest. I’m not sure how I feel about the header but it’s the happiest visual representation of my life right now I can think of]
On Sunday I ran the Oxford Half Marathon. Here’s how it went:
I followed a 16-week training plan with RunKeeper and was generally pretty calm about it. Not quite as much as for the 10K but still pretty free of self-doubt for someone who worries about a lot of things and had hardly run more than 3K before January. I got more used to the frequent munchies but the fatigue during peak training week was pretty bad. I slept in like a student, then felt guilty because I could (Clients! Please ignore!), then got a cold. But the rest and sleep helped. Doing a full-length “dress rehearsal” run on day two of my period and being a sobbing hormonal mess had left me confident that the race day itself couldn’t possibly go worse, and I’d had a couple of lovely short runs at the end of my tapering period.
The night before:
A suitably carb-laden Saturday night family dinner. My mum made pasta with aubergine non-meatballs for everyone, with pecan roulade and chocolate for afters. I had another mini-freakout as we sat down to eat. Not really so much about the race itself but the future beyond it, and the state of the rest of my life, which my brain had apparently decided the night before a half marathon was the perfect time to panic about. There was guilt for the single farewell rum and coke at the pub on Friday. There was worry about doing a full Marathon next year and being completely out of my depth. There were the usual complicated feelings about the people and the tragic events that led to all this running in the first place. New Lodger had not seen me emotionally wobbly before and thought nothing of it. We maybe ought to have a chat about my anxiety levels at some point. Probably in January when my parents are on a four-month round-the-world trip and I’m checking the Foreign Office website every day to make sure they haven’t fallen off a mountain or been kidnapped (I’ve thoroughly had enough of people dying, in case you were wondering).
A mix of tried, nervous, hyper, excited, toasty warm on my top half and bloody freezing on my legs (I might need to locate some longer leggings. Or – OMG – some unironic leg warmers!). I was persuaded into a free pre-race calf massage courtesy of Brooks Running, which, surprise, turned out to be a better way to kill time than wandering around in the cold. As well as the massage tent, the race village featured an overpowering smell of sausages and a slightly ropey-but-cute motivational choir singing Mr Blue Sky from an open-topped bus. I was a bit alarmed by the crowd at first. There seemed to be a lot of elite runners in club tops, and Oxford girls who looked like they were called Lucy and Fliss and took College sport very seriously indeed. “These look more My Sort Of People,” I mused, as I filed down to the start pens with lots of thirtysomething misfits running for charity. My dad laughed knowingly.
The start line: St Giles
Our start was delayed by about 20 minutes due to some runners being stuck on a delayed train (poor them!). Cue lots of impatient faffing, and trying to work out when to start RunKeeper and how to do it without knocking anyone over. The race organisers and several other people advised me not to run with music but frankly, anyone who thinks I’m running for two and a quarter hours without music can get in the sea.
Unlike most of the London running events, spectators stand right alongside you at the start and are easy to spot. Had a little snap at mum for being mum-ish but managed to smile for a pre-race pic.
Mile 1-3: St Giles to Summertown
A bit of an understated start. I suppose nothing was ever going to live up to the euphoric jog down the Mall to James’s Sit Down during the London 10K. The opening song of my playlist – We Used To Be Friends by the Dandy Warhols – was drowned out by the crowds, and by a chirpy DJ yelling encouragement over a tannoy. I’d forgotten my name was on my vest until I heard her yell it. I Know Him So Well – which nearly made me cry happy tears during the 10K when it came on just as I reached St Paul’s Cathedral – came on next as we weaved through the City Centre streets. Only this time, instead of making me deliriously happy an inner-voice decided to taunt me with it: “Hahahaha, an Elaine Paige song sums up your life! My GOD, woman, you are SO SAD! You’re worse than Bridget Jones singing All By Myself in her pyjamas! And you don’t even have a flat in Zone 1 like her!” Deep Purple’s Hush didn’t help the mood-dip either. As Alright by Cast came on, I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t “alright”. Physically all was well. Mentally I just wasn’t quite on board with this yet. I tried to stop caring whether my brain was working properly and just be glad my legs were.
Mile 4-6: Summertown and Old Marston
I’m not sure exactly what or where the turning point was but by about mile 4 my mental rubbishness had lifted and I got into my stride, physically and emotionally; really feeling the benefits of all my careful hydrating and my mum’s elaborate energising smoothies. I’d trained like a thing possessed for this and I was damn well going to enjoy it. We were coming into residential areas and a smattering of crowds had lined the streets. Hearing my name shouted from the roadside became encouraging again. Blondie’s Maria and Girls Aloud’s No Good Advice bolstered me, then for a while afterwards I stopped really taking in the music and even considered turning it off altogether so I could take in more atmosphere. I also started to adjust to looking out for the mile markers rather than waiting for the audio prompts from RunKeeper which are in kilometres. I grinned at and high-fived some small children (Parents: Take your kids to a running event. They seem to like it). I remembered to drink water at exactly the right time. I hit 10K in about an hour and five minutes – slower than in the summer but well-paced for a longer run.
Mile 7: Somewhere between Old Marston and Lady Margaret Hall
I had no idea where we were anymore. A happy blur of underpasses, residential areas and countryside. I stopped for the loo on a country road in the sunshine (Petula Clark’s Strangers In The Night takes on new meanings when you’re queuing for a portaloo in a sweaty pack of runners…). At exactly the halfway point we were given energy drinks in party cups by lovely volunteers (The ladies told us to pretend it was champagne). Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car eased me back in.
Mile 8-10: Back towards the City Centre
Lots of weaving through streets with period houses and university faculty buildings. I was on fire, thanks to the combination of a sugar rush, perfect autumn sunshine and the perfect stream of music (Oooh La La by Goldfrapp, Keep On Movin’ by Soul II Soul, Just Like Honey by the Jesus and Mary Chain, La Roux’s Kiss and Not Tell and – thank you, THANK YOU, Taylor Swift – Shake It Off). Lots of people had started to walk or slow down; I was still half-sprinting and not wanting it to be over.
Mile 11-12: River Cherwell and University Parks
The University Parks were beautifully sun-dappled. I used to have a blogger friend at Oxford and the ambience certainly lived up to the photos she used to post while avoiding revision (with a camera; this was pre-phone cameras. She still lives in Oxford, married an Old Etonian from my neck of the woods and has an adorable baby girl. Hello Aimee, if you’re reading…). I slowed down just a little to take in the views. A kind lady in fabulous hot-pink trainers admired my leggings and I attempted a little chat. Then she and her running buddy started comparing traumatic labours and frankly, I did not need to hear about one crazy physical exertion while in the middle of another, so I cranked up Britney’s Toxic and PJ Harvey’s Big Exit and left them to it. The scenery continued to impress; I almost wanted to stop and photograph the lake. We ran back into the City Centre and buildings started being recognisable again. I was still running well (the course is virtually all flat, unlike where I live) and was sure I’d finish in under 2:20 minutes.
Mile 13: Back in the City Centre.
A cobbled area of the route had been especially astroturfed over to make life easier for us. Hurrah! We went from Radcliffe Square onto Brasenose Lane, then Turl Street, then onto Broad Street, then back down Magdalen Street. Just as during the 10K, I started to flag a bit at the final half mile. The start and finish were in the same place so we were running back the way we’d come. Not having absorbed that bit very well due to my Elaine Paige-soundtracked emotional flail at the start, I kept anticipating the finish line, not seeing any sign of it and feeling my knees’ protests. I reminded myself there would be spectators in a minute who’d want to see me looking happy. At probably about that point, this was taken:
I finished at 2:20 (2:23 including the loo and drink break). A text message told me straight away. I picked up my finisher’s medal and goody bag containing snacks and a rather snazzy free technical t-shirt. We had a bit of a familial farce at the finish line in which our carefully-laid plans went to jelly due to dying phones and confusing barriers. But eventually everyone found each other. As well as my parents, a family friend who has known me since I was born (literally – she was a nurse at the hospital) came to watch, with her elderly mum. Sadly, Lodger couldn’t make it out due to a nasty cold (she’s Australian and has wanted to see Oxford since she was four) but I had a text from her. I had crowdsourced recommendations for pub lunches but everywhere was solidly booked (duh) so we went to Zizzi on George Street for pizza and prosecco. I was so hungry I ate crisps out of my bag under the table while we were waiting…
- A week of rest and not running or talking about running at all….
- …Except to remind myself that I RAN HALF A GOD DAMN MARATHON. And that this time last year the very idea would have been laughable.
- Trying not to freak out about THE LONDON BLOODY MARATHON until I have to start the planning (and decide firmly whether I am mentally fit to handle the logistics and fundraising this year or defer to 2017).
- Doing things I’ve neglected during training.
- Crying at my desk to the Crash Test Dummies. I have no idea why a daft song I’ve hardly thought about since I was ten years old, that I don’t associate with anyone, dead or alive, and which isn’t even about relationships of any kind, should make me weepy. But there we are. Post-run blues; they exist.
- Storifying my race day and pre-race day tweets.
- Thanking everyone who has supported me and not been bored to death. This wasn’t a fundraiser but kind words mean a lot.