It’s now just under two weeks until I take my running to the next level as I take on the Leeds half marathon, I have a confession to make though, I’ve actually attempted a half marathon before. Rewind nearly 10 years and my life was rather different. I was single, I didn’t have kids, I lived on my own, I had a lot of spare time on my minds, but aside from the usual ties that bind us (family, friends, football teams) there was one similarity, I was training for a half marathon. When I say training I mean half-arsed runs with no plan or structure that somewhere in my head meant I was prepared for what lay ahead, the 2007 Great North Run.
A friend from university, thanks Catherine (not my wife!), had talked me into doing it and so in the summer of 2007 I knocked out maybe one run a week at most and went for it.
On the morning of 30th September I woke up early and headed up the A1. My nod to pre-race fuelling on the drive was knocking back a bottle of Lucozade Sport and working my way through a chocolate covered Kendal Mint Cake. Arriving in the North East I parked up near the finish line in South Shields and jumped on the Metro bound for Newcastle. It was still quite early but there were plenty of people around and so I headed over to eye up the start line. I seem to recall there was a stand dishing out free energy drinks and so I downed another bottle. Eventually I needed the loo, that was an experience in itself! I’ve never before used a urinal in the back of a converted HGV trailer, it wasn’t long before there was a steady stream of steaming you know what overflowing across the car park.
I got myself ready, handed my bag in and made my way down to the starting pen. I couldn’t tell you what finish time I’d estimated when I entered but looking around me there were some serious looking athletes, doubts were already creeping in. It wasn’t long until the mass warm-up and then the start gun and we were off down the inner-city motorway. Within a couple of hundred yards people were already stopping for a wee, guess they didn’t fancy the HGV trailer. As we ran under a couple of underpasses a shout of “oggy, oggy, oggy” went up, what had I got myself into? I’d never run in a large group before and it was carnage, people cutting me up, barging into me, a real baptism of fire.
It wasn’t too far before we crossed the iconic Tyne Bridge, out of nowhere a wave of emotion crashed over me and I found myself in tears, I was raising money for the British Heart Foundation who had supported my dad in his recovery from a heart attack and I think that combined with the occasion reduced me temporarily to an emotional wreck. Crossing into Gateshead I soon got myself together though and as the field thinned out a bit I plodded away down the dual carriageway. At just before 10k we turned off this road and started down towards South Shields, I remember seeing a large roadside display with the distance and gun time on and for me I was flying, 49:53 according to my race certificate. Even my 10 mile time split was decent.
Catherine though had warned me about the hill in the second half of the race. Memory tells me it started around mile 8 or so but I can’t be certain, you’ll know if you’ve ever done this event. What I do remember though is the amazing support on that section, it was a hot day and the crowds were out in force, there were bands playing on roundabouts and spectators offering us pints as we passed, welcome to the North East!
As the hill dragged and the heat seemingly intensified my early, frankly ridiculous pace, started to take its toll. My legs first became heavy and then turned to jelly, I sat down at the side of the road, next thing I was flat out on my back and a passing medic was loading me onto a stretcher and taking me to a conveniently close medical tent where I was put on a drip due to dehydration. 45 minutes passed and two saline bags later I felt better, I talked the medics into letting me continue and headed back out, bouncebackability. At the time of flaking out I hadn’t realised how close I was to the top of the hill, from there on it was down to the sea front and along the finishing straight. I was gutted, I’d blown it, how was I going to tell people what had happened? I sought comfort in a 4 pack of chocolate doughnuts and a family size pizza, refuelling at its best! My finisher’s medal and t-shirt from that day are emblazoned with the slogan, “Participate, Enjoy, Succeed”, just the one out of three for me then! After this experience my confidence was shot to pieces and although I did the Manchester 10k in 2009 I hadn’t until last year done any serious running since.
So there you have it, my demons laid bare. 10 years is a long time and I’ve learned a huge amount about myself in the interim. This time around I’ve trained properly, I think 13.1 miles may be my distance, physically I’m ready.
Mentally I have baggage but I’m confident that I’ve done all I can and in taking on this race I am starting to write a new chapter, there’ll no doubt still be setbacks to endure along the way but believe me when I say I won’t let them fester so long this time!