One month on I look back at the highs and lows of my first 13.1 mile race.
1. Wear less clothes - I took part in the Bournemouth Bay Run in early April. In the weeks leading up to the race some glimpses of spring sunshine were trying to poke their way through the clouds, but it felt like the warmer weather was still a long way off. I arrived at the start in thick black leggings, thick cotton socks and a black t-shirt. It felt cold and breezy while I was waiting to set off and I remember looking around at other runners in shorts thinking that they must be regretting their choice of minimal attire! But after about 8 miles the sun had got much stronger and I felt my lower body starting to overheat. The finish line suddenly seemed so much further away and I started to panic that I wouldn't be able to cool down. I promised myself that shorts would be my default race gear in future!
2. Fuelling is essential - Another reason for my mid-race panic was that I hadn't planned to take on any fuel. Spectators and volunteers were offering jelly babies around the course but I politely (and perhaps stupidly!) refused. I had survived without a problem on my training runs of up to 12 miles so I didn't think one extra mile would make too much difference. How wrong I was! I could definitely have done with an extra burst of energy to help me reach the finish. I was a bit sceptical about possible artificial ingredients in some running gels but during my next training stint I will experiment with what fuel works for me. Whole foods such as dates will be my starting point - delicious!
3. Plan your playlist - I love listening to podcasts when I run and find it easier to maintain pace than when I listen to music. Before every training run leading up to the race I carefully selected a few that I could queue to play automatically without interrupting my run. However, in all my previous races, the longest distance being 10k, I had abandoned my headphones and chosen instead to immerse myself into the atmosphere surrounding me. A half marathon being more than double the distance of those races I thought I might need more of an audio distraction. But planning playlists wasn't a normal part of my pre-race routine. I hurriedly selected a couple of podcasts I knew I hadn't heard while I stood at the start line. An hour later and only half-way round the course, the two short podcasts I had chosen were already over. I didn't think it would matter - something different was bound to play next. Disappointingly, the one that had just finished started repeating! Not such a great distraction for the final part of the race when I needed it most.
4. The first few miles are deceptive - For the first 3 miles of the race I felt like I was flying. The cool breeze and gathered crowds around that first section made for pretty much perfect conditions as far as I was concerned. I passed my parents at the 3-mile mark and jovially called out: "Only ten miles to go!" Just half a mile later I realised I had got carried away by the deceptively easy start and that I would really struggle to maintain such a pace for the rest of the race. With each passing mile I was slowing down and I knew that I had squandered my sub-two-hour goal time.
5. Smile through the pain (and for the camera!) – When the race got really tough I remembered a fact I had read about smiling during a difficult run. It mentioned 'grinning and bearing it' as a strategy to help trick your mind into thinking you are still enjoying yourself even when you feel horrendous. It works! It was a shame I didn't manage to smile properly for any of the cameras on the course though!
6. Bring supporters with you – Looking out for my cheering parents along the route was a really great motivator, but don’t worry if you can’t bring any friends or family – the crowd will carry you to the finish! Everyone is willing you to run your best race; it’s one of those rare moments that everyone unites for a common purpose, and I wanted to do my supporters justice by crossing that finish line. I’m definitely going to invest in a t-shirt with my name on for future races too.
7. Rest the day before – I was in two minds about going to parkrun the day before the Bournemouth Bay Run. Eventually the fear of missing out convinced me to go for it – I thought it would be a good idea to warm up those muscles with a short and comfortable distance. I should have run at easy pace, but having smashed my previous PB the week before, I couldn’t help but try and match my new record time. My legs definitely felt heavier than usual the next day – not ideal for running 4 times the distance of a parkrun.
8. Pack a post-race snack – When I hauled myself over the finish line I didn’t know whether I wanted to eat a three-course meal or be violently sick. I had also jettisoned my usual post race nakd bar as we had planned to go for a late celebratory brunch. But with my energy reserves completely depleted I knew I needed something to combat the combination of fatigue and nausea and I needed it soon. Next time I will bring a selection of snacks to choose from at the end of the race.
9. Flip-flops are your friend - Pretty much the first thing I did after the race was peel off my sweat-drenched socks and shoes. It was instant relief, until I realised I would have to put them straight back on again if I didn’t want to traipse through the centre of Bournemouth barefoot. Flip-flops will be one of the first things I pack in my race bag in future – no matter what the season.
10. A beautiful course provides a great distraction – Although there were certainly peaks and troughs throughout my first half marathon experience, the idyllic course provided an enormous plus. The Bournemouth seaside is one of my favourite places in the world and I loved looking out along the beach and coastline as I ran along in parallel to the pleasantly flat miles of golden sand.
11. It’s worth it for the medal (and the t-shirt) – I was especially ecstatic to hang my medal around my neck after finishing this race. It was among the toughest I’ve done to date and I felt that I had worked particularly hard (both physically and mentally) to earn this one. It’s great to have that memento to remind myself of what I overcame; that I pushed myself to succeed where I feared I would fail. I loved seeing some fellow finishers proudly wearing their t-shirts at parkrun the following Saturday – that shared success definitely strengthens the bonds of the local running community.
12. You will want to give up – I never thought that the race would be easy, but I did underestimate the mental strength that it would take to complete it. Running 13.1 miles is hard. You will want to give up. But with every half mile that you ignore those niggling negative thoughts you gain so much. I was overwhelmingly proud of my body and what it had achieved that Sunday morning – not a feeling I am used to experiencing very often.
13. You will want to do it all over again – Yes, I wore the wrong leggings. Yes, I refused fuel that was offered. Yes, I started far too fast. Yet despite all those struggles and oversights, all it took was 20 minutes after finishing for me to start planning my next races and even consider taking on longer distances. The endorphins kicked in and the pain was forgotten. A half marathon is a gateway run to a full marathon – I had conquered the former, why not challenge myself to go for the latter?
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