That time when I did a half marathon

Well! Who would’ve thunk it?! The me of six months ago certainly wouldn’t have. But yes. It happened. Ladies and gentlemen, I ran a half marathon!

Fortunately, I had done the distance in my long run the week before so I wasn’t worried about whether I could do it. I guess my nervousness came from the officialness of the whole occasion. Rather than just me pottering along the river by myself for 6.5 miles then turning back around for home, there was more ceremony about this, more people. More people to see me fall over or talk aloud to myself (a thing I do often whilst running) or losing my running ‘form’ through achy-leg-ness.

My nervousness about trying to do everything right before hand (stay hydrated, get a good night’s sleep, don’t exert oneself) kept me awake a bit, defeating the very object of what I was trying to do. Thankfully that didn’t seem to affect me too much.

Off I went, to the starting point, for the third wave of runners (first is for fastees, second wave for medium-speed, third for slowees) and got my groove on. It is a very slow groove but that is how my groove is. It’s slow but continuous. No run-walking for me, thank you!

Mile 1 was pleasant enough, chitchatting and marvelling at the lady in front of me who genuinely looked like she was walking. I was puzzled by how she could be walking yet in front of me!

Mile 2 was the first time I noticed a mile marker and immediately my mind clicked into LongRun mode. I started portioning the thing up. One sixth done already! I said to myself. One sixth done. Easy.

Miles 3 to 7 were fairly uneventful in that I just portioned up time again. One quarter done. Half done. Five sixths.

Mile 7 to 8 I could swear I saw a tiny tiny horse in a field with people around it acting as they would towards a dog. But I stared and stared and was sure it was a tiny tiny horse. At this point my thoughts started to get away from me slightly. I felt like there was still a mountain of time to go. I was just past half way but it’s not the home straight until about three quarters, in my mind.

So I pressed forward, feet planting down each time, contemplating the mileage I still had to cover. I spotted a lady in a red top in front and kept my eyes looking up and forward and on her top. And while I thought and thought and wanted to sit down, my legs kept going, and I realised something. No matter what’s going around in your brain, your legs know better. So even if you’re sunk in the deepest despair, they will keep going.

I’ve always known that running long distances is a mental thing but it became even more apparent at mile 7.5 while having these thoughts, that your body can usually always do it. It’s whether your mind wins or your legs win.

Example conversation my mind and legs were having at this point.

Mind: “Oo, sitting down, hey? That would be nice.”
Legs: “Yeh. We’re not so bothered. We’re fine with the running. We like it. It makes us feel strong.”
Mind: “Yes, I know. But we’re not trying to prove anything to anyone. We did 13 miles last week. We know we can. If you wanna sit down, don’t beat yourself up about it.”
Legs: “Yeh, maybe. But not yet. Just shut up and let us do our thing for a bit.”
Mind: “But legs! I WANT to sit down! Pleeeeeeease….. oo! Mile 8! Good one. Five miles to go.”

You see? The legs know best. Between mile 8 and 9 wasn’t my finest hour. I felt like the home straight feeling could only kick in at mile 9 so I ran in a kind of mental limbo where I didn’t allow myself to indulge in home-straight feelings yet I didn’t feel the desire to sit down that I had at mile 7.

Mile 9 kicked in and my brain relaxed a bit. I kept checking how my body and legs felt and there was nothing to worry about. To keep my attention on my surroundings rather than the finish line, still 4 miles off, I greeted the things around me.

“Hello swans,” I muttered under my breath whilst looking out to the river. “Hello, field. Hello Eygptian geese. Hello trees. Hello other runners. Hello cheering spectators. Hello rowers.” And so on until there was nothing else to greet and mile 10 was upon me.

Three miles to go. Eeeeeasy. Only about half an hour of running to go. No big deal. Now 29 minutes. Now 28. O god. Stop counting. It’s not helping.

I watched the runners around me, some run-walking by this point, and congratulated myself that I had not stopped to walk at all. IT’S RUNNING OR NOTHING! I promised. Digging around in my pocket, I found a little snack which I practically inhaled then had trouble working out how to swallow as breathing heavily and closing one’s mouth to swallow need careful organisation.

Suddenly, despite the little hint of despair that threatened to take hold somewhere in my chest and destroy me, the eating had distracted me for long enough so that I only had a mile and a half to go. Them legs sure do know what to do if you leave em to it and stop interrupting with all your thoughts of sitting down.

My heart lifted as I saw we were nearing our start point and I allowed myself to feel relieved. Through the park, into the passage under the road and turn the corner. 400 metres to go. As I plodded heavily toward the finish line, a voice full of the joys of spring sounded behind me and I felt a slap on my bum.

“Don’t let me catch you!” the woman with the 2hour 30min marker said. I had no idea I was in front of her. I’d thought I was far slower than 2 hours 30. The shock of it put fire into my bones and I shot off towards the finish, passing two people right before the line and finishing 13 seconds under 2:30.

It was very, very exciting to finish. Also very exciting to have done it. And very exciting to be able to walk afterwards. Actually, I ran to work the next morning and felt ok. So yes, little legs. It appears you really did know best.

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