Thirteen miles and me.

In case anyone’s missed it, I ran the Brighton half marathon yesterday. Which partly accounts for my once again, lengthy absence from this blog. Training for the half marathon took up a lot of my time, especially when I have never been a committed runner. I’ve only ever used the treadmill in the gym for exercise, I’ve never belonged to a running club, I’ve never trained with a friend, I don’t have any particular interest in running, but funnily enough I’ve always hoped that one day I would be able to push myself enough to run a marathon. However that was before I did the half marathon. Now I’m a bit more sceptical. And injured.

I decided to run the Great South Run 5k race with some friends to raise money for charity after a little boy at my daughters’ school died suddenly last year. That was the catalyst to make me finally think about achieving my ambition. I did not feel at that stage that I could possibly hope to run the GSR ten mile race as I was only running 1-2 miles as part of my fitness regime, but increasing that distance to 5k (approx. 3 miles) was a manageable task. So then I agreed to run the half-marathon in a fit of post-5k GSR endorphin high. I felt fabulous after the 5k, I’d thoroughly enjoyed it and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to move on a bit to the next running stage. By jumping straight into a half-marathon I think I missed out a few stages, it would have been better to run a 10k race, then a ten mile and then half-marathon but I am nothing if not impulsive and extreme so I went straight for the thirteen mile race in my ignorance.

That’s not to say that I didn’t take my training seriously. I knew I would have to improve my fitness and do it carefully. So I immediately started running more frequently and gradually increasing the distance. I joined a gym so I could train indoors during horrible winter weather and have a pool to use for non-impact training. I took up playing racket ball and played often – all part of my endeavours to become as fit as I possibly could. I had a meeting with a fitness instructor and discussed what my aims should be, wrote in my diary the distances I would hope to cover each week and began to eat more and different types of food. And it worked. Pretty soon I was running five miles easily and thirteen didn’t seem unachievable. I went from five to five and a half and then, rather painfully, to six. And soon I was running six miles easily, on a 1.5 incline on the treadmill in the gym, in an hour. Perfect. And then Christmas arrived so with the flurry of activity that ensued and the fact that we were away for periods of time, I didn’t really get much running done. And then it was my 30th birthday at the end of January which took a lot of preparation so I didn’t really get much running done around that time either. So before I knew it, it was a couple of weeks before the race and I had still never run further than six miles. At this stage I decided that there was no point making a concerted effort to run further, I just ran the same distance a bit faster and a bit more often. And continued playing racket ball. The swimming fell by the wayside because I don’t like being cold and it’s boring and I have a horror of wet, changing room floors with their disgusting bits of dirt and discarded pieces of other peoples’ feet on them. I did wonder how I would get on running more than double the distance I was used to but by now it was far too late to do anything about it.

In the immediate run-up to the race I was quite anxious. I knew I’d complete it, there was no doubt about that, but I was worried about how slowly I might run, or whether I’d have to walk for long distances. I had also read the race website thoroughly and I knew that the Brighton roads would re-open at 1pm and whilst there’s nothing better to get a person going than a few cars bearing down on them, I didn’t particularly want it to happen to me. Plus the ignominy of being asked to run on the pavement rather than the road was unappealing. But I just took a deep breath and told myself it was simply time to get on with it. I ate lots of carbs the night before, as advised, and on the morning of the race and consequently drove to Brighton feeling very sick and full. And stood on the start line feeling very sick and full and wondering if this was actually the best way to be. But too late now; it was time for the race. There was a ten second countdown, the horn blew and this long-anticipated, slightly dreaded event was underway. Over 9,000 people, including a few celebrities such as Katie Price and Norman Cook, and ME (!) started running.

I’ll be honest – I struggled immediately through the first two miles. It was a combination of knowing what Herculean effort lay ahead of me, and also my legs hurt. Already. Down the front of my right shin, to be precise. But it was a beautiful morning in Brighton, blue skies, sunny and wonderfully crisp and cold. So I began to feel better as I turned left out of the town centre and headed out on the road towards Roedean School. I’d also passed the one and two mile markers by that point and that reminded me that I had well and truly embarked on this race. Only eleven miles to go….

By three miles I felt fantastic. That was obviously my transition phase. I was running gently up an incline towards Roedean, my legs had stopped hurting, the views were beautiful and I felt full of energy. By four miles I felt like I could sprint the rest of the way with no problem. That was obviously my delusional phase. We ran right past the school, which looked magnificent and enormous, I spent quite some time wondering what all the different buildings could possibly be, and then we doubled back on ourselves to run back towards Brighton. At the top of the hill by the school there was a wonderful woman, who I would love to think was one of the teachers, in a multi-coloured cardigan and some sort of felt hat, standing alone and periodically blowing an alarmingly-loud horn and shouting in a very upper-class accent “Come on! Run! Or I’ll get behind you with this horn and that’ll scare you!” Teaching technique at Roedean? Who knows.

Before I knew it I’d reached five miles and knew I was approaching unknown territory. Anything after six miles was unfamiliar to me. It was about this point that the thought occurred to me: “I just can’t do this”. My body was beginning to think about starting to be tired and the thought of another eight miles was beyond daunting. But I switched my iPod on, pushed through the mental block and just after the 10k marker I saw my husband and daughters waiting to cheer me on and that gave me a boost. I sort of thought about going over and giving them a quick kiss but oddly, my brain refused to acknowledge that idea. I was very much ‘in the zone’ and running – and running was all I could do. Just after that point I did give in to my urge to sprint and I speeded up dramatically going down the hill into Brighton and over-taking Katie Price, which was pleasing. Then I saw the seven mile marker and I knew all I had to do now was run down to Hove Lagoons, turn around and come back. Easy. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

By this stage I’d noticed that my knees were hurting, and my right hip and my right ankle. I altered my running technique to bear more weight on my left leg and it helped a bit, but there was no doubt that I was in pain. We were also by now far away from the beautiful, sunny, cliff top views and it was dark and cold in comparison running through the town. By 8 miles I knew I needed a break so I slowed to a walk briefly. I’d thought this would be a relief – but it wasn’t. It stopped the pain but my body wanted to run so after a very few strides I gave in and started up again. I was cheered by the thought that I was well over halfway through, and by the sight of my father, step-mother and small sister at the side of the road, but the road down to the lagoons seemed interminable and I could see the faster runners doubled back and running past me in the opposite direction. I was aware that my fitness levels were fine, I didn’t feel tired, but the pain was becoming worse and every stride jarred my knees. It was horrible, but there was nothing I could do but carry on. The blasted lagoons couldn’t be far away. But oh they were…..very far. They just didn’t appear. I was sure the miles were getting longer, the nine mile marker took ages to get to, but still there was no sign of the lagoons on this very straight, very boring road. It was also about now that I was glad that I had never run thirteen miles, or anything close to it, before because the sheer hideousness of it would have put me off the race. At least this way I knew I only had to do it once. The pain in my knees was increasing rapidly and I began to wonder what damage I was doing to my body. A significant amount, I was sure. The only thing that really kept me going was the knowledge that Katie Price was behind me. I actually can’t remember whether the lagoons were before or after the ten mile marker, but I do know that between nine and ten miles was my lowest ebb. I could have cried. I was in tremendous amounts of pain, I still had four miles to go with no idea how I was going to manage, but just at the point that I was convinced that the lagoons were entirely mythical and I’d be running down this road in search of them for the rest of my life, I suddenly caught a glimpse of water on my left and it was time to turn for home.

The corner I turned at the lagoons was literal and mental. I had three miles to go and I was truly on the home straight. And three miles? I run three miles easily! Could do it in my sleep. It’s nothing! I put the thought of the ten miles that I had already covered out of my mind. But the problem was in my knees. I was wearing supports on both, but they felt like they were on fire. Slowing to a walk didn’t help either because when I started running again that initial impact was agony. The pain in my ankle and hip was secondary in comparison and I was wondering if I was damaging myself beyond repair and what to do about it when I caught sight of Katie Price ahead of me. Ahead?! How had she slipped past me? She was running quite anonymously, with just her personal trainer with “COACH” emblazoned across his back and an enormous pair of purple headphones to give any clue as to her identity. And her familiar-from-television mother who had leapt out into the road to greet her before being hauled back by an entourage who presumably wanted to keep Katie’s identity secret. However she’d spoiled any chance of going incognito by parking her whacking great bright pink Range Rover on the start line and slipping out of it seconds before the race began. In other words, I’d happened to be standing right next to the car and knew exactly who I was looking for. And there was no way she was going to beat me. So I started running purposefully, I was on my way home after all, and it was lighter on the seafront than it had been on the road. But I barely noticed my surroundings by now, not even the beautifully blue, glinting sea to my right, I was entirely focussed on getting through the race and conquering the pain. It was at this point that the supporters came into their own. I’m sure there were some people who just happened to be out for a seaside stroll, but there were also some who had come specifically to cheer us on and bless those lovely, lovely people because by that stage I needed it. I particularly appreciated the girl who told us we had “less than two and half miles to go!” No idea if it was true or not but it certainly helped. I also knew I was on track for time and due to finish in what I considered to be the best I could reasonably achieve; two and half hours. I had actually given myself two and half to three hours as an OK time. I also knew that Katie Price was literally right behind me and there was no way I could stop. At one point we were running next to each other (she smelled lovely by the way, all perfume and body lotion) so I knew she couldn’t be far behind me and I was already looking forward to telling people that I’d beaten her so I couldn’t let her over take me. Then I saw the eleven mile marker and knew the next would be twelve and then it would be my last mile. We turned back into the town and I could see the pier from where we’d started on Madeira Drive and I knew I was ever so close. As did the supporters, urging us on with cries of “Come on! You can do it! You’re so nearly there!” And then I saw my father again and then I saw the twelve mile marker and about that point my teeth started chattering for no reason, I’m sure my body went into shock – as it was well entitled to do. It had been through thirty years without me ever inflicting anything like this on it. But I could see the pier and I was getting nearer all the time and Katie Price was still behind me so I just kept going and going and ignoring the pain and knowing that in a very few minutes I could stop. And then I turned the final corner back onto Madeira Drive, eyes searching desperately for the finish line but I couldn’t see it for what felt like an age but must have been seconds, and then I saw my husband cheering me on and then I actually sprinted over the finish line because I could see on the clock that I had fifteen seconds to get over it and complete the race in less than two and half hours. Which I did. Two hours, twenty-nine minutes.

And then I stopped. But I had to walk another 0.1 of a mile to get my medal and I honestly think that was the hardest part; it seemed utter cruelty to make people who have just run thirteen miles go a further 0.1 to get a medal. And from then it’s all a blur. The pain in my knees was so intense, and compounded by the constrictive supports I was wearing, that I was desperate to rip the things off but I also knew that if I sat down, my knees simply would not take the strain of getting me back up so I chose not to sit down and instead hobbled the mile back to the car through the crowds, which was agony but also a good warm-down. If I’d had a choice I would have been stretchered between finish line and car but luckily for the sake of my muscles I wasn’t.

So all in all, it was a good experience. I do feel like I’ve achieved an aim and I’m still amazed that I turned out to be fit enough to run thirteen miles!  I needn’t have worried. Although there are downsides, I must be honest, because now – the day afterwards – I am not fit enough to walk across a room and I certainly won’t be running anywhere for quite some considerable period of time. I shall just sit quietly on the sofa and admire my medal :)

 

xxx

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5 Responses to “Thirteen miles and me.”

  1. Abi Gray says:

    Well done you! I’m completely in awe. Can’t run for more than 10 minutes personally.
    x

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you! I used to be like you actually and now the very fact that I’ve earned two medals for running has my family falling around with laughter. Anything is possible :) xx

  2. Luke Ashworth says:

    I’d just like to say again how proud we were of you running Sarah. You showed incredible guts and determination in both of your runs – there’s a little man in the sky smiling down on you for it too :) xx

  3. Father says:

    What a wonderful photograph of you!! We are all very proud of you x