13.1 miles

Yesterday I ran 13.1 miles. If someone had told me last year, on the day that I downloaded the couch to 5k app that I would go onto run 13.1 miles, I would laughed in their face. But there we are and honestly I can hardly believe it myself, but I have a medal that confirms it. A medal that I am still wearing it today and a medal that I also wore to bed last night.

The fortnight leading up the half marathon was a bit of a head scramble to say the least. Once you have completed your last “long run” a couple of weeks’ before the big day, you are supposed to “taper”. This means that you run much shorter distances to keep your legs moving but the aim is to preserve your energy ahead of the big day. This sounds good in theory, but the reality is that you exist in a state of continual panic that you are not doing enough and will arrive on the start line, not fit enough, not having run enough and basically unprepared.

Olympic Park...RUNIn the fortnight preceding the Half marathon, I found myself in London for work with an overnight stay. In 2012, as a family, we managed to get Olympics tickets but not to anything in the Olympic Park, which always disappointed me. So I was very excited to finally have the opportunity to run around the Park as I had booked a hotel near to it on purpose. I was only supposed to be running 5k but enjoyed a lovely 7.5k trundle, telling myself that by stopping for numerous selfie stops (the Velodrome, Aquatics Centre, Main Stadium and Hockey park) it was ok to go longer in distance. It was one of the most enjoyable runs I have done for a very long time and I partially wonder if this is because I didn’t try and run fast and just enjoyed the scenery as I peeked through the window of the velodrome and just generally took in the ambience of the arena. It was wonderful. Events are all well and good but it’s important to not fall out of love with the sport. It was important for me to remind myself that I enjoy running (sometimes!!) and that exploring is all part of that enjoyment. I made a mental note to do more of this once the half was completed.

The night before the half marathon I laid my kit out and tried to steady my nerves. I had a sensible tea (Spaghetti Bolognese, old faithful – carbs and protein), drank lots of water and tried to get an early night. Unfortunately, nerves and the combination of drinking too much water, meant that I was out of bed for much of the wee small hours so when the alarm went off at 7am and I crawled out of bed not feeling at all rested or ready to run 13 miles. Frankly I felt nauseous. I was terrified and wondering what on earth had possessed me to believe that I could run 13 miles? I had a little cry to Husband who as usual gave me a wonderfully reassuring pep talk and calmed me down a bit. I also knew I couldn’t let Hattie down whose entire family had travelled down for the weekend to be a loud and supportive cheerleading squad.

Husband was taking daughters to a School’s Orienteering fixture at Ashton Court that started at 10am and then would rush to get back in time to see Hattie and I as we arrived into town for the final 4 miles of the course. There is , at least, one advantage of not being a very fast runner!

As we arrived in the Athlete’s village, Hattie’s Mum accompanied us which meant that we could keep our hoodies on until the very last minute. The conditions were perfect for running being dry, no wind, slightly cloudy and importantly no bright, strength sapping sunshine. However, whilst we were waiting to start and join our pen, it was decidedly chilly so we were grateful for our extra layer. We met up with some other TMR Mums and we chatted and worried together, with the faster ladies going off earlier and then finally it was time to join our “pen”. I was very aware that Hattie had never run a large organised race before and so was careful to stay with her and we worked to keep each other calm. Our whole mental preparation had been around the plan that this was to be “just another training run” but the problem was that a few thousand people seemed to have turned up to accompany us for this training run and it was hard to pretend. However we did our best as we danced to “Sweet Caroline” that was pumped out over the speakers whilst we waited in the pen for the start. I love that song but it seemed slightly surreal to be dancing to it before we started a 13 mile run along with a few thousand other Neil Diamond fans.

The first couple of kilometres were difficult as we got swept along with the crowd and so we ended up going too fast with the first mile being the fastest of the whole run by some considerable margin. Dr Wellababy (a lovely TMR Mum) ran with us for the first 5k which was great and then she was off chasing her own times as it was her first half marathon too. Then it was just Hattie and I. I found the first 3k of the run yesterday quite tough and I still to this very moment, can’t really identify why. We went off very fast (as you always do at an event) and this meant that I couldn’t catch my breath and so chatting was out of the question. It took me quite a while to settle down and much longer than usual. The turn on the Portway also seemed to never arrive and whilst we were cheered and high fived by Marshalls and TMR Mamas who recognised one or both of us in equal measure, and it did help, I really only settled down once we turned to run back towards the City.

It was at this point the magnitude of what we had to do started to hit me. But it was also now that Hattie and I did slip into “training mode” and started to chat. We chatted about what fancy dress outfit we should wear for the 10k Christmas Cracker in December (we think mice from Cinderella, I’ve always fancied a Onesie), our families and how I was sad that Hockey Sister wasn’t able to come and cheer me on due to a prior engagement, all the food we would eat when we finished and how much champagne we would drink (this part of the discussion was long and detailed).  This carried us all the way to the end of the Portway and onto the Cumberland Road, which I had been dreading. But Hattie’s family cheer squad were positioned perfectly which spurred us on a bit more. As we crossed the swing bridge on Princes’ Street I started to anxiously look for Husband and Daughters. Not only because I wanted to see them (and I really, really did), but also because Husband was carrying a fresh headband so I could swap my now sweat-sodden and cold one for a fresh and dry one. But they weren’t there. Hattie tried to reassure me but I started to inwardly panic and this unhappily coincided with the worst part of the course. The final four miles were twisty turns in and around the centre which took you forward, then back on yourself, over cobbles which killed my feet, up hills which I had never realised existed before, then seemingly towards the finish, only to cruelly then send you away again in the opposite direction again. Over the main part of this section, there weren’t too many people watching and so apart from the Marshalls, we were largely on our own. We arrived at a jelly baby station, which Hattie had particularly been looking forward to, only to find that they had run out and additionally to rub salt into the wounds, we had to run through piles discarded jelly babies strewn all over the floor like confetti at a wedding. Unfortunately it seemed that the 3 second rule was probably un-useable and so we ploughed on. I was feeling a bit tearful at the thought of not seeing my family at all over this horrendous section of the run and then suddenly Husband was there. He started running in the opposite direction shouting into his phone “she’s here, I’m coming to you” like he was part of the Secret Service and then as we turned the corner not only were daughters there but Hockey Sister too, who’d been playing a joke on me as I’ve since learnt that she had always planned to come and watch as she’s been a solid supporter of my running efforts since day one. I simultaneously fought back tears of joy whilst as well as gratefully placing a dry headband on my head (which felt so good) I was so chuffed to see them all that suddenly I felt like I could keep going. I didn’t want to walk in front of my daughters and so Hattie and I chugged on.

During HM run photo

Unfortunately this positivity was short lived as although my head was once again enthusiastic, my legs were absolutely knackered and it was at this point that even though I had been effectively using the energy gels throughout the run, my stomach started to experience sharp stabbing pains. I could feel that I had a blister on my foot, my “hammer toe” was throbbing, my hips were aching and frankly I was wondering if the twisty turning streets of Bristol would ever take me to the finish line. As we turned near to Baldwin Street, we saw Husband and Daughters again who had now met up with Hattie’s family to make one enormous (and very loud, the Marshalls commented on the volume) big cheer squad but I was struggling BIG TIME. We were now into the last mile and I had had enough but Hattie told me to dig in as we were nearly there. As we hit the final straight there was a sign that said 400 metres to the finish…I was so relieved but it seemed MUCH longer until we could see the finish line. It felt like another kilometre at least. My legs were screaming at me but Hattie took my hand and we crossed the finish line together. I burst into uncontrollable tears as I was overcome with achievement by what we had both accomplished coupled with absolute relief that it was over. As in previous races a St John’s Ambulance Man approached quickly, but once he could see it was emotion rather than pain he wondered off again to leave me sobbing on Hattie’s shoulder.

Although I had only ever wanted to complete the race in one piece, I did have half an eye on completing it in under 3 hours (you know I can’t help myself). I had worked out the split times required and had the times for 5k, 10k and 16k (which is 10 miles) written in biro on my arm (very technical!) so if we got to 10 miles and were on schedule, we knew it was possible so could really give it a final big push over the final stretch. We were on track throughout the whole race right up to 18 kilometres. Yesterday I ran my second ever fastest 5k and 10k time (we were overtaken at about 3 miles the 2 hour and 30 minute pacer which was an indication that we were going MUCH too fast) and then my fastest ever 15k and 16k (which is 10 miles) but at 18 kilometres (11 and a bit miles) the wheels fell off a bit as the course looped back and forth and we seemed to encounter hill after hill and in the end I was glad simply to finish. My final time was 3 hours, 2 minutes and 11 seconds so as you can see, although we weren’t that far off, the last 3 kilometres were awful.

Hattie and I are both running another half marathon in March next year and so now our goal is to run it in less than 3 hours and that’s what we will work towards over the next 6 months. The cheer squad arrived at the end to see us cross the line (now en masse) and we started our party which included champagne in a hot tub, chocolate, and a barbeque in Hattie’s garden.

I’ve always said that my running is a team sport. I might put my feet in front one step at a time, but without the encouragement of my husband and daughters and then Hattie and her family (who were fantastic yesterday) it would never happen.

So what now for me? You’ve journeyed with me from couch to half marathon and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support and encouragement that I have received since January last year. I never thought I would run a half marathon, in fact I never really believed that I would be able to run 5k when I started this and I still have days where I’m not sure I will be able to again when I lace my trainers up.

I wish I had started running before I did and I’m not someone who has regrets. Running has changed my entire outlook on life and it’s changed my family’s life too – all for the better. I was lucky enough to have a sister who believed in me enough to convince me to try to run (whilst feeding me cheese). In case you don’t have the same, I’m here to tell you that you can do it too, because genuinely, and I hope this blog adequately demonstrates that, if I can, anyone can. You’re never too old, unfit, overweight to try. It is hard but that’s no reason not to try it. Believe me. I’m constantly surprised by what my knackered old body can do and I intend to keep challenging it. I will keep running half marathons and 10ks, attending parkrun, leading the This Mum Runs 30 minute runs and will also probably always be near the back but it doesn’t matter.

I started this blog by asking if I would and could ever become a runner? Well the answer to that question is yes – not a fast or record breaking runner for certain, but a social, trundling, happy and occasionally competitive runner.

I definitely am a runner.

Runner T Shirt

Narcolepsy, Christian Grey and final preparations

The Bristol half marathon is 2 weeks tomorrow. In 15 days’ time, I will be running along the Portway.

Over the past couple of weeks and since my last blog post, I have undertaken lots of different activities, swimming, cycling, kettlebell sessions, another painful sports massage (why are my bum muscles so lazy) and most importantly 2 more very long runs as I try to be as prepared as possible.

Hattie and I are both working Mums and so we can’t run together all the time but we have managed to co-ordinate do all but one of our long runs together. It’s boring running for 3 hours on your own, and even I have limits as to how much Take That I can listen to and so we have endeavoured in our planning to manage our longer runs (10 miles plus) together.

I’m not going to miss having to get up at 5.57am in order to eat and be ready to leave at 7am as I am not exactly what you would call a lark. The only time getting up at this time is acceptable is if you’re going on holiday and a gin and tonic for breakfast is on the horizon (holiday rules).

Having said this, once I am out of bed which is always the most challenging part, the early morning part of the runs have been lovely, felt very invigorating and dare I say it, pleasant. I’m always amazed at how many people are up and about at this time, especially on a Saturday. There are many “larks” in Bristol including the chap who looks to be in his 70s that I have seen twice doing harbour loops on a Saturday morning before 8am. He is incredibly inspiring, friendly and always ready to wave at fellow runners up and about.

The longest distance I have run so far is 19k which is 11.9 miles. Frankly I am not running further than that unless there is a goodie bag and a really big medal at the end (as well as hopefully some champagne).

Apart from the running and the chatting that happens on our long runs, there is a series of strange things that have happened that I could not have predicted and had absolutely no knowledge of prior to running more than 10 miles.

Chafing. Yes this is a word that makes you wince as you read it, but trust me this is nothing compared to the reality of runner’s chafe. I am aware of runner’s nipple of course, as husband has taken steps to avoid this on his previous half marathons. This is where the running motion of your body creates friction as your skin connects relentlessly with your clothes and basically rubs your skin away – it’s especially a problem in men and their nipples (which stick out) as they don’t wear bras (well some do of course, but that’s probably a discussion point for a different type of blog!) But as I wear a bra when I run, I had thought that this wouldn’t be an issue.

Many running bras are made from “wick away” material which is supposed to keep the runner fresh and dry (i.e. not too sweaty). However, when you have boobs the size of mine (they have got smaller with weight loss but are still VERY present) all running bras that work (i.e. are strong enough to minimise the bounce) are essentially made from a tarpaulin-like material. By 10k, my running bras are always soaking wet and with the “bounce factor”, once the bra is wet and then starts to move a bit to accommodate the bounce, it inevitably rubs against your skin and then rubs your skin away. This doesn’t happen only under your boobs and on your ribcage, it happens on the shoulders and on my back too.

I look like I had been whipped and it really hurts. When I got into the shower after the run the pain was horrific, akin to getting under a shower is you are sunburnt. Yowch. It burnt and stung and was painful to endure. Paracetamol, sudocream and loose clothing came to my rescue. This is a photo taken 4 days after the long run (heavily cropped to preserve my modesty and not to give you nightmares).

Chafe marks

Running Sister suggested I apply “Bodyglide” to the affected areas before a run and promised that this would help. I was sceptical, not least because “Bodyglide” sounds like something that Christian Grey would have stashed in a drawer somewhere in his red room of pain, but she was right. It’s like an enormous lip balm and generous application before subsequent long runs has reduced the issue, but not completely eradicated it. I guess this is just part of the trials of a longer distance runner.

Other problems with 10 mile plus runs include (don’t read if you are eating):

  • Being so sweaty that you genuinely wonder if you might have wet yourself and not remembered, during the run. Dark coloured running leggings are important for modesty.
  • Being able to wring out my headband during and at the end of the run. (I’m trying to work out if I could be slick enough in my planning that I could swap my headband for a fresh one somewhere during the half itself as sweat running into the eyes is not helpful).
  • Having an itchy bottom (caused my sweat running down your bottom crack) and then trying to scratch your bottom as you run along, whilst attempting to look casual, trying to disguise the fact that you are indeed scratching your bottom in public. Casual comedy whistling is very hard when you are out breath.
  • Sore toes. Apparently in runners, it’s fairly common to lose toenails (yuk) as this is caused by the constant banging of your feet on the floor with each step you take. I haven’t suffered with this (thankfully) as I keep my toenails very short (and painted of course!) But my index toe (is that even a real thing? – I mean the toe next to your big toe) has been battered to bits. After every long run it goes red, the skin puffs up and often it “peels”. Basically it’s very, very bruised. For 3 days after the run, I can only wear flip flops (this will be an issue after Christmas when I start training again for the London Landmarks half in the Spring) to allow it time to recover.
  • Extreme tiredness akin to narcolepsy – for the 36 hours following the long run, I am shattered. I don’t mean, I’m feeling a bit lethargic – more, I need to lay on the sofa and do nothing, ideally watching a film with Benedict Cumberbatch or Ryan Reynolds in it. Unfortunately, having daughters, what happens is that I end up watching “The Next Step” which is a bit like Fame, except it is not as good. On the last but one long run, I came in, stretched and then fell asleep within 20 minutes. I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open and apparently nodded off mid-sentence whilst talking to my daughters. As you train for something like a half marathon, it’s easy to be a bit blasé (yes I ran 10 miles) but I’ve learned that you mustn’t underestimate the effect the exertion has on your body. Yes I can run (with a bit of walking, and it’s always at trundle speed) for a long time, but, I’m still heavier than is ideal for a longer distance runner and could always be a bit fitter.

The final thing I have found, and I am sure this is why I haven’t lost any weight during the whole training process, is how hungry I get. I’m not talking about feeling a bit peckish so you might have an extra biscuit, I am talking about the fact that I am starving. For the 24 hours following a run, I could eat everything and anything. I try and be restrained but the genuine hunger, coupled with the little devil in my head saying “you burnt 2200 calories this morning, you DESERVE it” means that not only have I not lost any weight, over the Summer I have gained 4 pounds. Regular readers of this blog will know that over the past 19 months I have lost a lot of weight through running and lifestyle choices but not dieted. I do take measurements though and was very interested to know that although I have gained 4 pounds, I have lost 5 inches, predominantly around my middle, hips and thighs.

It’s a constant battle for me and most women I know have a complicated relationship with the scales. I try not care of course and kid myself that I’m not interested in what the scales tell me, and in the main part this is true. I do care more about being fit and strong and promote this thinking heavily in front of my daughters. However, if the numbers go down then I feel pleased. I am repeatedly told that muscle weighs more than fat, which I know to be true and I know I am getting smaller, but it’s a hard conundrum to mentally resolve.

What I do know is that you cannot eat WHATEVER you want, even if you do lots of exercise and lose weight. This is why I think my final preparations over the next fortnight need to be as sensible food wise as much as keeping my legs moving.

I’ve purchased my Runner T shirt and it fits (actually it’s a touch big at a size 16, which I think means that I am now the same size as when I was last 16 years old – cue celebrations) so as long as I can keep all my planning, training, eating on track for the next 15 days, hopefully I will be wearing it with pride having finished the half in one piece.

Picture with Half Marathon race numberThis is my race number and I will be wearing my trusty Trundler T shirt (always good to manage spectator expectations!)

If you see me, please shout, wave and say hello. I love high fives and as you know jelly babies are always appreciated. I am deliberately trying to not to have a “time” in mind and Hattie and I have resolved to try and treat the half like any other “run/chat” that we do. However, as you know me, of course I DO have a time in mind that I would like to achieve, but this time I am keeping it secret – but I’ll tell you on the next (and what will be my final) blog post what it was and whether I achieved it or not. Fingers crossed. However, times aside, I am going to do my best to enjoy the experience and get round in one piece.

We are nearly there……so far couch to 19k (which was never the plan when I started all those months ago) has worked. Can I make it Couch to 21.2k? Time will tell but whatever happens, finally, I know in my heart that I AM a runner and I never thought I would have said that.