The Reading Half Marathon ROCKED!
We got a fairly decent night's sleep on Saturday, even though I could feel the start of a head cold coming on (which has since developed!) and were awake at 5:30am on Sunday.
*shudder* It's not my favourite hour of the day. I must admit it's when I hear the furious parp parp parp of the alarm that I think to myself "once this is over I'm never doing this again!"
But once I'm awake I'm fine :)
Because of the Silverstone car park debacle of a few weeks ago, we had decided to take the train to Reading. There were only two trains that would get us there in time - the 6:43 or the 7:57. As tempting as the 7:57 was, I knew it would be cutting it way too fine, and would probably be crowded so we opted for the sensible but oh so early (and still crowded) 6:43!!
Because we'd only allowed ourselves forty minutes to get up (everything was packed the night before - I'm a pro now, ha ha), there was no time for me to make porridge, my usual pre half breakfast. So I flung extra bananas and Lucozade fuel bars into the backpack, thinking that the risotto we'd enjoyed the night before would probably be enough anyway.
Cab to Paddington station, and then up to the ticket desk to get our tickets. The ticket seller took one look at me and knew where we were going! I didn't even have to say "Reading"!
I kept thinking about my strategies, and what had worked so far and what hadn't. I don't run very well when I've had a lot to eat - I run best on an empty stomach, having had a large meal the night before. So I wondered whether just having snacky things before a race would work better than putting a whole bowl of porridge in front of myself, which due to nerves I never finish anyway.
So my fuel for the Reading half ended up being - 2 bananas, 1 Lucozade Fuel bar, 2 bottles Lucozade Body Fuel, 1 packet of Lucozade sports beans, 2 pieces of Darrell Lea liquorice and a few bites of Soreen malt loaf. I ate this over about 3 hours - between 6:30 and 9:30am.
We got on the free shuttle bus that was picking up runners and supporters from Reading Station and taking us to Madjeski Stadium - it was so easy and quick! We found the Lucozade crew in the marquee area, who gave us some special VIP wrist bands which got us into the adidas runner reception area - out of the cold! Whoo hoo! We were shown to the Luoczade room, which had a prime view of the finish line. I was so relieved Tom was going to be able to watch the race in comfort. For getting up at 5.30am on a Sunday and coming out to Reading with me he deserved a bit of luxury :)
We watched the Green Park challenge from the box, which was really fun and inspiring and we thought all the little kids running with their mums and dads were so cute. We talked about doing the same thing with Babycino one day - get it, Skinny Latte, Babycino, ha ha. :P
Then it was time for me to put on my number and go!!
It took AGES to get to my start! There were thousands and thousands of people - very good preparation for the Big Day in four weeks time, I reasoned!
When you enter the race, you give them your estimated finish time and they give you a number with a colour on it. The colour puts you with other runners who will run the same kind of time as you - the idea is that the faster people are at the front, the slower people are at the back and that way (in theory at least!) no one gets cranky for getting caught behind someone really slow, or feels bad that they're being constantly overtaken :)
I wriggled in to the only free spot I could see, which had me right by a pacer who was holding a 2:25 sign. I knew that was way too slow so I was going to have to work my way forwards once the race started. I also really started needing the loo. But I thought that was just nerves so tried to tell it to go away.
It didn't though!! But the line for the emergency toilets on the side was just too long and I was paranoid I was going to miss the start! I figured I could always go during the race if things got dire...and break my no toilet record :(
Eventually, about 15 minutes after the official clock had started, I crossed the start line, having glanced longingly at the toilets again as we marched forwards. It turned out I really didn't need to go, and it was just nerves. Well, maybe it was - either way, I held on!!
Another thing I did differently on this day: I told myself that this was the real deal, this was a marathon. I had to run 26 miles. I put the actual distance of the race I was running out of my head and told myself to pretend it was the real thing. Oh, my brain is so gullible - it believes ANYTHING :P So I started out slow, slower than I normally would have, until it became painfully clear that I was getting too choked up with slower runners, so I made it my aim to pass Mr 2:25 Pacer first. Done. Then my next aim was to pass Mr 2:20 Pacer. Once I had done both of those, I knew I was at my pace for the last half I had done and could only aim to do better! I looked for Mr 2:15 Pacer but he was nowhere to be seen. But I must have passed him at some point!
The iPod Nike + thing had also screwed up again very early on in the piece - very disappointing. I was so hoping that Silverstone was a one off mistake, but I think it's very obvious I have to ditch it now and find another timepiece/distance tracker! But right there and then I had to just forget about it and just listen to the music, concentrate and use my wristwatch for timing, which thank God I had remembered to wear.
It was a wonderful course. I had never been to Reading. We ran around suburban streets lined with locals cheering us on, through parks and the University, and then on a main road into the city centre. There were bands playing, and even a local pub offering free beer for runners at Mile 8! I didn't take them up on it :P Once we hit the city centre (which reminded me of Launceston for some weird reason) there was an amazing smell of garlic and chilli coming from a Thai place. Much nicer than smelling bacon every morning like I am accustomed to when going through my neighbourhood streets ;)
Coach Julia had told me to try and run the whole thing without stopping to walk. She had set me a pace for it too, but I had no idea whether I was meeting it or not - the iPod said I was, in fact it said I was going faster than what she'd said, but I knew to take that with a grain of salt! I just tried to concentrate on the first task she had set me and not stop to walk. And the way I was doing that was, again, telling myself this was the real deal, I was running a marathon, and I could stop at the halfway point. It worked!!!!!
I had tried gels on my last half marathon and didn't particularly like them, relying on my favourite beans instead. Having eaten the best part of a packet before the race, I found I didn't need the two extra packets I had strapped to my person! All I needed for fuel during the race was a few sips of water at the first water station (3.5 miles) and then I grabbed a bottle of Lucozade Fuel at mile 4. I carried that bottle with me for the rest of the race. I took a few sips of it maybe every 1km. It was much easier than reaching into my pocket for beans and I found it was all I needed. Having something in my hand was kind of comforting too, because I normally carry my keys in my right hand when I run.
The rest of the race is a bit of a blur really. I just tried to think about things that are easy to think about - like hopefully going home to Australia for Christmas, or my nieces and nephews, or getting catapulted to literary fame, that kind of thing ;) I enjoyed looking around and taking in all the sights - it was so much easier to run in a place I'd never seen before, because it was interesting and new. It's much harder to keep yourself interested when you run the same stretch of pavement all the time!
I remember seeing the sign for Mile 9, just as I was overtaking a few superheroes (!), and thinking to myself ooh, I only have to do what I've just done another two times and I've done it, so my whole "this is the real thing" thinking was really working! Running is TOTALLY a mind game!
I got excited when I saw the furniture store that I'd seen from the bus window on the way in on the shuttle bus....that meant the end wasn't far now!
Mile 12 saw us coming back in to where we had started, and then doing a loop that would complete the distance and take us into the stadium for the final finish. I was getting tired, but I didn't stop. But I think my mind knew it had been fooled at this point! Stop! Stop! it was screaming. "Not long now," I said aloud, through gritted teeth. Having seen some of the official pictures of the race I think I definitely need to smile more when I run! I look so damn serious and like I'm not having fun at all!
Finally, there was the 400m to go sign! Even with my iPod playing I could hear the roar of the crowds in the stadium.
I took the turn in to the gate, and there it was. The sweetest word to an endurance athlete's ears:
I ran and ran and ran, surprising myself with how much speed I suddenly picked up out of nowhere! I looked up at the corporate boxes and saw Tom waving!! It was wonderful to see him :) I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch. By my calculation, considering I had left Mr 2:20 Pacer for dust (!), I had done it in about 2 hours 15 minutes. Stoked!!
I had to walk through a crowd of finishers, where first we had our chips taken off, and were given foil blankets (I didn't take one), then our medals, then more Lucozade (I happily threw away my now warm race bottle and got a fresh one!) and then our goody bags. I went straight back to the VIP area to find Tom, who wrapped me in an enormous hug, despite me dripping sweat everywhere ;)
We sat and talked about the race, and watched more people finish for a while, and then after trying to find the Lucozade crew to say goodbye and not finding them, we decided to get in line for the shuttle bus back to town.
Again, it was so well organised - I think we were in line for a bus for about 15 minutes, if that. It was so easy. The earlier express train back to London had been delayed and pulled in about three minutes after we got back to the station - so we ended up back home in about half an hour! There were no seats so we stood up in the buffet car, but we were stoked to arrive back home at 3pm!
The chip time results were already up on the web site by the time we got home and my time was......
2 hours, 14 minutes and 3 seconds!!
Over 4 minutes faster than the race two weeks earlier, and 7 minutes faster than 2009!!
I had earned a beer. Or two.
We showered and lounged around for a few hours and then went out for dinner at our local Indian again, which was great fun. Unfortunately, this was when my cold decided to make a comeback! One plus, I was able to eat the green chillies from the paneer makhani with no side effects at all (I had once mistaken a sliver of green chilli for a green bean....you can guess how that went!). But the cold steadily got worse over the next 24 hours - I went home early from work the next day and I have been laying low ever since! Damn cold! Fortunately the Wellness pills have come to the rescue again, and this evening I feel well and truly on the mend. Fingers crossed for Sunday - the last race before the Big Day, when tapering will officially begin.
Overall, I loved the Reading Half Marathon. It makes such a difference when the race is really well organised, everything is clear, and there is so much local support and enthusiasm - it makes the day so much fun! Getting there and back home was so much easier as well. The atmosphere was really friendly and fun. "Running seems to bring out the best in people," Tom remarked as we caught the bus back.
I would thoroughly recommend doing this race - I'll be trying to do it again next year for sure!!
Hope you're having a lovely week and keeping yourselves cold-free :)