One week after running my first postpartum half marathon I’m reflecting on the experience with a race recap of the July 2021 Running Grand Prix at Goodwood Motor Circuit.
Although this was my first postpartum half marathon, it wasn’t my first half marathon ever – I ran my first and only other race of this distance so far just over two years ago – so although a lot of things in my life had changed in between these two races I had a little bit more confidence going into it this time that I could and would cross that finish line, especially as I had learned so many valuable lessons from my first attempt back in 2019. I was also feeling good about the flat course, although I wasn’t sure how I would feel having to run five laps in a row. I was so in awe of the marathon runners who had to go round eleven times!
As we are still coming out of a pandemic, I was a bit worried about being surrounded by big crowds of people, even though I was also so excited to be getting back to my first ‘real’ race since I stopped running when I was pregnant with Max. But I needn’t have worried. The event (and the free parking!) was so well organised and held on such a spacious outdoor site that I never felt too closely confined, and I didn’t even have to queue for the toilets pre or post-race which has always been a big worry at big events before. Conversely, it actually felt so special to finally be in amongst other runners collecting our race numbers, warming up together and making our way to the start line, and I shared quite a few smiles and conversations with strangers all with the common goal of earning that medal – whether they were running 5k, 10k, 13.1 miles, 20 miles or a full marathon.
Once we were through the rolling start and onto the track, everyone had to run a short distance in the opposite direction from the main section of the course, before returning past the start line and beginning the real lap countdown. Although it was early on, this section was quite mentally challenging, as I felt like I’d run quite a long way before I really started and got into my groove. But I was soon settled into my run and for the first two laps I felt really strong. I purposefully started relatively slowly, to avoid making the mistake of going out too fast and having nothing left to give at the end, but during that second lap I really thought that I was on track for a sub-2hour10 time. If I’m being completely honest with myself, that was my goal time, even though I wanted to use this race to set a benchmark to see where my current race speed and fitness levels were at, rather than going for a specific finish time.
Even though there were very limited spectators, as the event organisers had asked them to stay away if possible due to the delay in the final easing of lockdown restrictions, I never felt lonely out on the course and was constantly supported by the volunteers and staff positioned at different points ready to give me a smile, a cheer of encouragement and a much needed motivation boost. It was also lovely to smile and exchange a few words with different participants and to see the bright yellow mile markers counting me down to that final mile.
Once I passed the 10k mark, just before halfway round, I decided to take my energy gel as planned. Although there was a water station at the end of each lap, I was grateful for my hydration pack, as, even though it was by no means a scorcher, the few sips of water every so often were so refreshing. I genuinely don’t know how I ran that first half marathon without it! However, I’m really not sure if the gel helped or hindered my performance from then on and I still don’t feel very confident about taking them or knowing what mid-race fuel works best for me. I managed to open it and squeeze it out with no issues, which had actually been something I was worried about doing mid-race despite practising on training runs, and I enjoyed the taste. But soon after slurping it up, I started to get quite a tight and uncomfortable feeling in my chest which I couldn’t really shake for the rest of the race. I don’t know if it was purely linked to the gel, or if it was the horrible cough and cold I developed after the race starting to manifest itself, or a combination of both, but the second half of the race felt pretty tough. But I was buoyed up every time I passed the start/finish line and saw my dad (who’d driven me and stayed to support me) waving and smiling and giving me a big thumbs up.
During the last lap, it seemed to take so long until I finally reached the ‘1 mile to go’ sign and although I still wanted to give myself a shot at a strong finish, I put it off a few times. I was going to start pushing harder for the final lap, which then became the final mile, which then became the last stretch once the finish line came into view. I was gutted that I didn’t realise there was another runner so close behind me and who would overtake me just a few metres before the end of the race – if I’d been aware that he was going to do that it probably would have been the exact form of motivation I needed to speed up just a little bit more for those last few strides. My official chip time was 02:14:56 and I’m so proud of that, especially as I didn’t stop or walk at all during the race, which had been another (secret) goal of mine this time.
I am so grateful to the race photographer who managed to capture that moment of pure relief and joy at having smashed such a huge goal I’d been working towards over the past six months since my return to running postpartum – and even more grateful that all the photos are released for nothing to participants as part of their race entry! The medal and goody bag were also very well received – even though I was a tiny bit gutted that there is no longer a finisher’s t-shirt as there has been in previous versions of these quarterly events. But a free pair of RunThrough socks instead isn’t a bad swap!
As well as crossing the finish line, another highlight of the race was seeing two buggy runners taking part in the 10k with their little ones. I felt gutted that I hadn't realised that buggies would be permitted at the Running Grand Prix, but also not sure if either me or Max would be ready for a half marathon distance race together yet. I would really love to return to Goodwood later in the year and run the 10k distance with my little running buddy though – so watch this space!