I took the title of this post from Mary's lovely comment on my Facebook status - "I love a chick who can make her own magic"! That's what my life is all about right now, really. Making my own magic. Deciding what I want to do, and just going for it!
Anyway, here's the whole race report, including the lead up! Enjoy!
Five days before:
I was in the area so decided to go a few extra tube stops and do a "site visit", as was always recommended in the tri training clinics that I did a couple of years ago. The half marathon was held at a large park in East London called Hackney Marshes, quite near where they're building things for the 2012 Olympics.
It was a gorgeous sunny evening and I was so enchanted by the park. I felt very happy about running there on Sunday.
The day before:
I met up with a gorgeous friend who was in town from NYC, whom I hadn't seen since I was last there two years ago! We went for a light meal together in Bloomsbury - I was so tempted by the various delicious offerings in Giraffe, but stuck to the nutrition plan and ended up having a virgin fruit-based cocktail (it was more like a smoothie, really!) and raw vegetables and pitta bread with hummous:
Nischa brought me - what else - cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery! We had visited the bakery together on the Sex and the City tour in 2007, so it was a lovely reminder of that wonderful day, when we ate banana pudding in Central Park! I was so touched! A wonderful addition to my "after race" stash - beautiful K had sent me Cherry Ripes and Top Deck from Australia too! I felt spoiled rotten!
I had "tapered" off for most of the week - I had walked nearly every day, and had done a brief 2 mile run on Friday morning (which barely touched the sides, I have to say! I think my days of 20 minute runs are over!) I was feeling a little stiff so I did yoga when I got in from seeing Nischa - heaps of chauturangas, Warrior 2s, yogic squats (ouch!) and pigeon poses!
Dinner was wholewheat pasta with rocket, homemade pesto (so not as oily), lots of freshly steamed asparagus and raw red pepper, no cheese. I sipped Gatorade throughout.
I really wanted something sweet after dinner and felt a bit bereft at the thought of the Magnolia cupcakes and the Ben and Jerry's in the freezer! I had to say to myself many times during Saturday, "Phil, you can have whatever you want tomorrow afternoon! Just suck it up!" I had some grapes, and a stick or two of liquorice (my secret weapon!) instead.
Then I laid out everything! I was so paranoid I was going to forget something. The only thing we didn't pack the night before was the food and drink. Tom was responsible for battery charging (iPod, camera, etc!)
Slept fitfully. Woke up at 5.30am but managed to doze until the alarm went off at 7.
Got up and had a shower, and then had to switch my computer on and double check the race time as I was absolutely convinced I had got the time wrong and was going to miss it! Why oh why does the brain trick you like that when you're nervous?!
Had breakfast of an apple Muller rice (like Le Rice in Australia), most of 1 large banana, Gatorade and orange juice, and then I just kept eating liquorice. Tom had the leftover pasta for breakfast! In retrospect, a few mouthfuls of that would have been a good idea for me, as most of last night's meal had gone straight through me! (sorry was that TMI?!)
I deliberately wanted to leave early, knowing how unreliable the tubes can be sometimes! No Victoria line this weekend, so we walked to Victoria station and took the District line to Mile End (Tom sang me the song of the same name from Trainspotting! Very funny), and then the Central line to Leyton. I was so glad I went out there on Wednesday to make sure I knew where I was going and to suss the park out. It made such a difference to not have to faff about with maps and stuff!
We walked from Leyton station out to Hackney Marshes. It was a beautiful morning, and I felt nice and calm as I knew where we were going and we had plenty of time. It was only a mile out there, so I viewed that as my warm up!
I registered and then pinned my number on! Then needed the loo a few more times! (I had to use the gents the second time, as the line for the ladies was so long!) I also had to put on heaps of sunscreen because, for a change, it was HOT!
It was weird looking around and seeing all these amazingly fit people. I kept thinking, "am I really supposed to be here?" I know this will sound strange, but sometimes it still has to sink in for me that I'm fit and healthy, that I'm not overweight anymore, that I did something about it. I knew deep down that I had worked very hard to be there, that I deserved to be there and was not going to make a fool of myself, as I had sometimes thought in my freak-out moments!
Then they announced that it was time to start! I kissed Tom goodbye and then went over to join the group, trying to get not quite right at the back but far enough so I wouldn't get crushed by the super fast people! It was only at that moment that I felt a bit alone and weird - there were heaps of people there running with friends, but I was all by myself and it felt a bit funny. Luckily I found a really nice girl about my age who was trying to start near the back too and we talked a bit and wished each other well before we started. That made me feel better.
I wasn't scared anymore. I just wanted to get going!
iPod on, headphones in. And we were off!!
The way this half marathon was organised was that it was 6 laps of a large park. We had to keep a tally in our own heads of how many laps we'd done and when we finished our sixth lap, instead of going to the left to do another lap, we had to run straight ahead towards the finish!
So, lap one (miles 1-2.2). Great music blaring through my headphones and I kept up a solid pace - it was tempting to go all out, but I knew if I did that I'd hit a major wall later on. I just tried to keep up with people and not lag behind. I overtook a few people and made up my mind that if I could stay ahead of them I'd be happy.
I was really happy on this lap. It was really sinking in for me that I was really doing it! I got a bit choked up actually! I took the time to look around the lovely park, and the gorgeous lily-pad covered canals, the trees showing just the smallest blush of the impending, inevitable autumn.
Also, it was HOT. The hottest I have ever run in was 29 C (my second triathlon) and it hit about 26 by midday. I usually run in the evenings when it's cooler, so I wasn't really used to this! I found myself needing water at every water station, which probably slowed me down a little.
I turned to the left to start the home stretch down towards the end of lap one and the start of the next - and saw Tom with his "Go Phil Go" t-shirt, pointing the camera at me and waving! At this point on every lap, I got this amazing surge of adrenalin and energy as I rounded the park towards where he would be standing, knowing that I'd be seeing him, and also knowing that the end of a lap was near!
Lap two (miles 2.2-4.4):
This was a bit harder than the first, but I felt I was settling into it well. I barely noticed anything except the water station, and then rounding the corner to see Tom again! I kept thinking "ok, two laps down, you only have to do this again twice and you're there!"
Lap three (miles 4.4-6.6):
This was probably the best lap. I felt great and flew through it. I do remember my lips getting very dry and wishing that I'd remembered the old triathlon trick of putting a glob of Vaseline on your cap!
All the marshalls had a participant list, and they'd look for your number as you passed and then they'd call out "keep going X!" It was really sweet! I cannot praise the organisation of this event enough - they were absolutely superb. Everyone was so friendly, and it didn't feel like a competition - it felt like everyone was just there to have fun!
When I reached Tom, I made a fist in the air as I ran and yelled, "halfway baby!"
I remember seeing the timer, and it was just over an hour. I couldn't believe how quickly I was getting through it!
Lap four (miles 6.6-8.8):
This too was an excellent lap, but I did start to slow down a little. It had taken about twenty minutes (sometimes less) per lap, but this one took me about 25. I was on top of my game mentally, really trying to stay strong, but I did have to slow the strides down because I could feel the fatigue starting to creep in. About halfway through lap four, I had a bit of panic and thought "you're much faster than you usually are! You must only be on lap 3, not lap 4!" But of course I was!
I was really in the zone now, I just did a quick wave to Tom and kept going!
Lap five (miles 8.8-11.0):
This was when I started to struggle! I got about halfway through the lap, so probably at 9.5 miles, and just needed to walk for a bit. On all my training that I'd done, I'd always had a brief little stop - even if it was just at traffic lights along the Embankment! So to have run nearly 10 miles without really stopping went above and beyond what I thought I could do!
I walked for about 60 seconds and then started running again. I kept telling myself "you can walk again once you're at the water station", which was about a mile away.
I walked again for about a minute after getting some water, and then ran again. My God, it was hard. I am welling up writing this - I could feel everything in my legs seizing and it was such a struggle to stay strong mentally. I kept telling myself "you're so close! Once you've done this it's only one more lap! You can do it!" But my body really was fighting this! I always knew but never fully appreciated what a mental sport running is. It takes SO much strength to keep going when fatigue is overwhelming your body, it's hot (for London!) and you just want to STOP!
Seriously, to anyone who runs - I take my hat off to you. It's hard work.
Just as I was nearing the turn off to go down to where the next lap would start, I saw people going to the right to finish and I thought, "Goddamn it, why aren't I on my last lap?! I have to do that again?!"
And then, at that very second, a song came on my iPod shuffle - it was a last minute inclusion at 7 that morning, as Tom was adding a few other songs to it for me. I asked him to put on a song by George Harrison that I love. I had never run to it, but it has such an awesome beat that I was pretty sure it would be fun to run to. I remembered thinking it would be cool if it came on when I really needed a boost. And it did. I couldn't believe it. When I heard it, those opening chords, that was it, something in me snapped and all the fatigue I'd been feeling for the last mile and a half vanished! I felt tears but I swallowed them and kept going! Thank you George, I thought!
"ONE MORE!!" I yelled as I passed Tom!
Considering how tired I was, my form was still pretty good!
Final lap (miles 11.0-13.1):
Right. I'm not going to lie, this lap was really tough. Once the George euphoria wore off, I was back to sore legs! I had to walk about a third of it. But when I walked I took huge strides and kept up the pace as much as I could. I also kept saying to myself "last lap! Make it count! Stay strong!" and I was keen as anything, believe it or not, to get back to running as soon as I could.
Once I got to the last water station I knew I was nearly there! I told myself I could walk until I saw the stained glass angel sculpture (about a mile from finish) and from thereon in, I had to run, no matter how slow or tired I was!
Oh man. It was so tough! For a split second I didn't think I could make it, and I kept thinking "Why the hell was I looking up the New York marathon the other day?! There's no way I could do a full marathon!" But then came that little corner - and I knew this time I wasn't going left, I was going right! I was going to finish!!
Again, it's so funny what adrenalin does to the body - the minute I saw finish in front of me, all the fatigue vanished and I just ran like I was being chased by rabid dogs! As I got closer, I saw Tom standing behind it, waving!
Do you know what song was playing as I ran to the finish? "Unbelievable" by EMF!! :P
And just as I was going through, I threw up my arms in victory!! YEAH!!!!
And my time? Two hours and twenty one minutes exactly!
I was absolutely stoked with that. Time was never a big concern for me, I just wanted to finish it. But secretly I was hoping for 2 and a half hours, under it if possible! I'm so thrilled that I reached my goal!
Tom wrapped me in a bear hug once I was through! I thought I would be so emotional, but I wasn't - I was just ELATED! But then a wave of strong nausea hit me and I thought I was going to spew! I hobbled off to find a quiet tree in case I did, but I didn't! All I needed was some water and to calm down! "Oh my god, I just ran a half marathon!" I kept saying.
I remember there being a crust of salt-like stuff all over my face and arms! Sweat mixed with sunscreen?!
Then I collected my medal and certificate! I couldn't wipe the grin off my face!
And then it was time to flop! We sat in the shade while I texted people. Tom told me Ash had been messaging pretty much the whole race, which made me very happy! We were given a goody bag by the organisers which had heaps of food in it - fruit, muesli bars, a bagel, jam, enough for a picnic really! But all I wanted was a cold fizzy drink and some grapes. I wasn't hungry at all!
When I'd recovered sufficiently, we decided to walk back to Leyton to get the tube home. We changed at Mile End again, and thought it was most apt for me to have a picture with the station sign!
We went home and had showers, looked at all the wonderful photos (!) and then headed out for a celebration late lunch/early dinner!
We went to Dim T where I fell upon the little steamer baskets like a hungry seagull!
Then we went to a new pub on our street which serves fabulous Belgian beer (no Kwak though Ali! The landlord reckons it's rubbish!) and we had a fine brew to toast my victory!
Later on we relaxed with a DVD and some Ben and Jerry's chocolate brownie icecream, and I managed one of my Magnolia Bakery cupcakes! Everything else had to wait, I was quite stuffed by now!
So, there you have it! My first half marathon! And it probably won't be my last! I'm already plotting which one I'll do next!!!
It's funny, once all the pain is over you forget how tough it was and are just in awe of what you've done as those incredible endorphins kick in! I am still absolutely buzzing!!
This post is probably long enough, so next time I'll write about my lessons learned, and Tom has said he might write a few paragraphs about the race from his perspective, so stay tuned!
I'm feeling so good right now. As hard as it was, I honestly had the time of my life. When I think of all the negative thoughts I had that prevented me from entering races most of this year, I can't believe I let them hold me back. If only I had remembered sooner what I learned three years ago - there is nothing stronger in this world than your own will. When you really want to accomplish something, you will find a way.
Too busy to train?
I DON'T THINK SO!!
Thanks for reading, and for supporting me!
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.