In my ‘Hopes and Goals for 2019’ blog post I set myself the personal and physical challenge of completing a Half Marathon and I did it. Until now I’ve not thought to look back, but now one year on, I find myself going back 365 days to the moment I crossed the finish line and wanting to capture it all. So here it is, my reflections of a half marathon…
Over the last few years my brother and sister had superseded me with physical challenges. Having both done ‘Tough Guy’ at university, both regularly spending time in the Lake District on walking holidays, my sister completing a sprint triathlon and my brother generally being crazy fit, doing half marathons as his warm ups, marathons for fun and being accepted into the GB Ironman team.
I’ve always been ‘sporty’ though, being in all the teams at school, playing netball and lacrosse at university, horse riding my whole life, tennis, skiing, rounders etc. At university I started properly going to the gym, particular in 3rd year where I was doing 6 sessions a week. Adjusting to London life though and working a full-time job, I definitely found it hard to maintain a balance with exercise as I was mentally and physically tired after long days at work.
After having a really lazy Christmas in 2018, drinking too much, partying too hard and putting on a few pounds, I realised it was time to set myself a real challenge. What I’ve always been told about setting yourself challenges and goals, is to make them realistic and achievable. I’m not a natural runner but I knew a half marathon would be a good one to give me a focus and something to work towards that was wholly doable. So, in between Christmas and NYE in 2018 I signed up to the Hackney Half.
In this blog post I’m going to talk through my reflections of a half marathon in 4 parts – Training, Injury, the Run and the Aftermath.
It’s amazing what setting a simple goal can do to your motivation. I started training straight away in January when I was back in London and found myself running early mornings in pitch darkness, late nights in the rain and at the weekends through over-polluted roads – all with the intention of gradually building my fitness.
I had 5 months to train, which felt like plenty of time to increase my fitness and distance slowly, allowing myself physically and mentally to keep up. What I quickly learned in the first few months was that running any sort of distance requires huge mental strength and I knew that I had a way to go as I was only used to 5km runs and the gym.
I read through quite a few training plans for half marathons, none of which seemed to exactly fit my timescales or current level of fitness (either they were for a race in a couple of months time, or for people who’d never been quicker than a power walk). So, I took advice from numerous sources and created my own. I made a word document ‘table’ with each week planned out. As part of my plan, I was fitting training in around work, holidays, weekends away and also around existing exercise I had in (gym classes and netball). I wanted my training to let me to continue living my life as normal which I’m thankful it did and it allowed me to stay on track.
My training was based upon quite a simple routine – a couple of runs mid-week, an exercise class and/or netball and a long run at the weekend. The idea behind my ‘long run’ was that I would increase this by 1km every weekend, allowing it to feel like an achievable addition each week. The focus for the longer distances was not to go ‘quick’ but to just mentally complete the distance. I actually looked forward to the long runs, of having a productive morning achieving something new each time, working towards a goal. I was lucky that G had signed up to the race too, so I had a running buddy!
In theory, I’d planned to get up to about 18km before the run as my max distance and then start to tail down so that my legs were ready for race day. I made it to 15km one Sunday before it all went wrong…
On the 30th March (yes the date is scarred on my memory) I was over 2 months into my training. I woke up with my day planned – long run in the morning followed by a dinner party in the evening with school friends. I was excited because this was the longest run I’d ever done in my life to date, the plan was to run a route around Hyde Park. I’d followed my plan in previous weeks, having increased my runs by 1km each week, except I’d been on a skiing holiday in mid-March which meant I hadn’t done my ‘long run’ for a few weeks.
Setting off in good time on Saturday morning we completed the 15km run without any major problems, I felt good. As soon as finished though, my foot felt a little sore – no problem, right? I’d just done a long run which my body isn’t used to. All I really remember is my legs feeling very fatigued when we walked to Pret to get some breakfast to fuel up. G and I sat on the grass by Marble Arch and I kicked off my old trainers.
15 minutes later, we decided to head home but when I tried getting up I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. Again, no problem, right? I’d just done 15km and was bound to feel achy? I kept calm and carried on, limping my way back home to prepare for the dinner party. I had a good night, drank a few too many proseccos and woke up feeling a little worse for wear.
Long story short, I’d damaged my foot – I didn’t know for over a month what was wrong. I took a couple of days to work from home, stopped all exercise, tried to limit even walking, wore a foot support and iced it regularly. If I’m honest, I thought if I did all of those things that having a month off would heal everything and I’d be 100% fine. But no, after a month off training I tried running and couldn’t even manage a few strides. It was probably about 6 weeks until the half marathon so I thought the only thing left to do was go to the doctors.
The doctor didn’t know what was wrong but advised against all running and against the half marathon. They suggested as a next step to recovery I should go to a physio. I cried. I cried at the thought that all my training was wasted, that I wouldn’t be able to do the half marathon and at the pain I was in. I waited a week for the doctor’s referral to come through for the physio, but by then the half marathon was 4 weeks away and there was a huge waiting list for the NHS so I paid for a private physio appointment.
I told them the back story and someone was finally able to tell me what was wrong . They told me not to do the half marathon. They gave some exercises to do to strengthen my foot. I went home and cried. You get the running theme (pardon the pun…)
I had plantar fasciitis from overdoing the running too quickly, damaging the muscle in my foot and it needed time. TIME I didn’t have. It’s a fairly common running injury – one I’d already diagnosed myself from reading articles on the internet, but one I was in denial about having. I listened to the physio’s advice (for the next 2 weeks). I didn’t exercise, I did my daily exercises and I bought new trainers.
When it comes to trainers, I hadn’t once thought that my 3-year-old pair from university would be half the cause of my injury. But, if the palava I went through taught me anything it was that a decent pair of trainers is the best thing that money can buy. Fact!
A couple of week before the half marathon and after the physio’s advice, G and I went to ‘Runners Need’ for Gait Analysis to find out which trainers we needed. It’s free advice and no need to book in advance, you try on a few different brands of trainers, run on a treadmill and they video you and playback in slow motion so you can see if your ankles roll, whether your knees bend inward, how your feet land etc.
I was recommended a pair of Hoka trainers (Clifton 6) which are super cushioned and unbelievably bouncy. Wearing them felt like I was on a fluffy cloud (no joke). I was 50/50 in the shop though because they were unlike anything I’ve ever worn before. It was a matter of days until the half marathon and all the advice says ‘don’t run a half marathon in new trainers’ and you have to ‘break them in’. The problem was that I couldn’t ‘break them in’ because I wasn’t supposed to be training.
1 week to go until the run, I had to go out and give the trainers a spin. I ran so slowly (a walking pace jog), allowing my feet to really feel the cushioning and thinking about every step I took and how I placed my feet down on the ground. I managed about 5km round Victoria Park but it wasn’t pleasant.
I now had to make the decision of whether I would do the half marathon or not…
After tears, multiple phone calls later to my brother for advice, I decided that given I’d paid for the half marathon place, I would give it a go. This decision was based off knowing that even if I could only manage a very short distance, then that was fine and I’d stop knowing I’d given it my best shot. It wasn’t worth damaging my foot long term.
I knew if I decided not to do the half marathon and woke up on Sunday morning feeling fine, I would have felt such huge regret (which isn’t a nice feeling at all).
The actual run:
I won’t go into loads of detail on the actual run because you know I completed it. But I won’t lie when I say it was hard. I’d had 2 months off training, brand new trainers and my injury playing on my mind. I’d originally planned to do the race in sub 2-hours (as a goal) but I knew going into it that I’d hit nowhere close to that given the circumstances.
The event itself was incredible – so much buzz in the air, adrenalin running high and lots of smiles. There was a whole village with refreshments, entertainment, warm up areas, massage tents, companies handing out snack bars etc. It definitely helped everyone feel ‘pumped’ and ready to go. We had good weather too – not too hot and not too cold – a cloudy May morning. With 30 minutes until the race started we were all hearded into our starting pens. I was really anxious about needing a wee, but again I’ve heard that’s a common thing too, so tried not to worry!
When the race began it actually took us a while to ‘start’ because there were so many people going over the line. At this point I was just excited, not putting too much pressure on myself to do ‘well’ or get a certain time. I really enjoyed the first 10km, kept a good pace (following the 1.5 hour pacemaker!) and loved all the entertainment on the way around (bands, cheering and people handing out refreshments). I was surprised at how easy that first section was.
G and I decided to have an energy gel at 12km and another piece of advice I have – try these before you do a half marathon. I’d never eaten one before and it was rank (the consistency, the taste…everything) – anyway perhaps mentally it helped?!
Once we got to 15km I knew I was going to finish the run, there was no dropping out now even if I had to walk. At 18km I questioned that determination because that’s when the real fatigue kicked in. I was tired, really tired. I had 3km left, which was nothing right? I could do it. This was the type of back and forth that played in my mind continually for the next 15 minutes as I got step-by-step closer to the end.
With 1km left I could see a ‘cooling station’ up ahead – essentially a spray of water you can run through that is supposed to be refreshing. I ran through it and instead of feeling a sudden splurge of energy, I stopped. I don’t know why, but my legs just stopped and I felt like I’d given up. G said something to me (can’t remember what, even after I finished the race) but it got me going again for those final minutes, despite the pain my whole body was in. I recognised my surroundings and heard all the cheering, but I now had tunnel vision, only focused on getting over that finish line.
That last kilometre was so unbelievably hard and as I mumbled my way through it G was there every step of the way encouraging me and pushing me to the home stretch. I’d recommend doing your first half marathon with someone else to keep each other going (or in my case to have the constant motivation!) When the inflatable finish line was in sight G grabbed my hand and we crossed the line together. I can’t really remember crossing the finish line, I can’t really remember even saying anything to G – I had no energy to speak, no energy to smile and laugh, no energy to realise what I’d just done. It was a really odd feeling. But I made it and I went to collect my medal to prove it.
After about 10 minutes, I’d composed myself and could enjoy the immense sense of satisfaction and achievement. It was really something!
I know for some people, who are natural runners, they might think these reflections of a half marathon are a bit ‘OTT’ because at the end of the day it isn’t that far to run. But for me it was. For me, it was really hard physically and mentally. Looking back on it, I think of parts of it really fondly – the first 10km, the feeling of adrenalin as I started the race and the little girls handing out sweets at 16km. However, on the whole I remember it as being tough.
I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone else, nor be embarrassed about my time. I was really proud and not only because I crossed the line, but also because I’d set myself a challenge when I was feeling really low and I’d picked myself up, overcome challenges and pushed through pain, to do something I’d put my mind to.
I won’t lie, I often do question how on earth I managed to do it and have no desire at all to do another one any time soon (let alone a whole marathon as a step up!) Perhaps some time in the next few years I’ll decide to do it again and hopefully then I will be extra cautious about my training. Regardless no-one can take away me completing the Hackney Half!
This year, I set myself a different challenge in my ‘2020 New Year’s Resolutions’ – I want to complete 500km of running over the course of the year. To date, I’ve done 220km so I’m nearly half way with over half of the year to go. I don’t have a training plan in place, it’s roughly 10km every week. Some weeks I do more, some weeks I do less. I enjoy having goals and things to achieve that are personal to me. Everyone has their own things to work towards no matter how big or small and it’s determination that will get you there. Where I used to think of ‘physical’ fitness or grit to get you through challenges in life, I’m increasingly realising that ‘mental’ stability is far more important (although both are key!) Having the right ‘frame of mind’ can get you through most things and not being in that state can really make you struggle. Be kind to yourself, give your body and mind rest and don’t try and run before you can walk! Achievable, step-by-step goals are the only way to climb!
Have any questions about my reflections of a half marathon? Want to know more about the event? Or have any running advice? Comment below!