Monday, 17 May 2010

The GDF SUEZ Leeds Half Marathon

As I stood at the start of my first race on a warm Sunday morning in Leeds I had plenty of time to reflect on the past four months...

It was Boxing Day when I went out for a one mile run with my brand new Garmin watch. I struggled to get round and even had a little walk towards the end of it. My heart rate averaged at 87% of its maximum and my pace was very slow. All I could think about was stopping running and with all the will in the world I couldn’t have kept moving. I collapsed on the sofa to motor through about three turkey sandwiches and a tube of Pringles.

Slowly, through January I ran a couple of times a week doing short and slow runs. I struggled on each of them but most importantly, I got better. From the start of February I started taking things a bit more seriously. I set the rather over ambitious goal of running an ultra marathon next year and planned some races this year, the first being the Leeds Half Marathon. I made a training schedule and stuck it on the wall above my bed. I started reading books and magazines about running, taking in every tip and trick. I started to understand and accept that lots of little small steps were the way forward.

By April I started to get ahead of myself. I thought that it would be nice to finish the Half Marathon in less than two hours. This was a bit silly considering I was (still am) overweight, a previous smoker and had never even run more than 10 miles. I tried to get realistic and forget about doing a specific time but the idea had set in. I hoped that it wouldn’t come back to haunt me in the form of a disappointing time.

My fitness progressed steadily and I was only slowed down by a slight hamstring injury for a couple of weeks. I joined a gym and cross trained intensively to strengthen myself against any future injuries. I organised my pre, mid and post race nutrition to perfection. I scheduled the week before the race down to the exact times for my meals. The night before the race I set out my race kit on the floor. I arrived at the start with plenty of time to warm up and soak in the morning sun.

All the hard work and organisational precision had led me to the countdown and start of my first race, The Leeds Half Marathon. It was strange to run with so many people around and took a couple of miles to get used to. However, another matter was pressing. I needed to piss. I had taken a few unscheduled sips of drink 30 minutes before starting and was about to pay the price. Fortunately, there wasn’t a queue for the portaloos and I was able to relieve myself whilst only losing a couple of minutes. Feeling better, I powered through the first couple of hills, head down and arms pumping.

After mile seven I started to get a stitch. I had been running nine minute miles and the pace was starting to get to me. My legs were feeling good but that damn stitch! I tried to relax my breathing and slow my pace slightly and got rid of it by mile 10. However, by then my legs were starting to burn and it was starting to feel like hard hard work. A few people were walking at this stage and I wanted to join them. I resisted but those last three miles were a blur in my mind. I was pushing very hard but still managed to sprint the last 400 metres and must have passed about 50 people in doing so.

As soon as I crossed the finish line every major muscle in my legs cramped up. I grabbed my goody bag and hobbled over to the water station resisting the urge to sit down. After hanging round the finish area for a bit I went straight to McDonalds for my reward: a Big Mac. I still had no idea of my exact time. I knew it was about two hours and three minutes but I was hoping that my chip time would give me a sub two hours. Then came a text from the race organisers: CHIP TIME 01:59:55.

Boy, am I glad I sprinted at the end. What a result!

Needless to say, I have been resting up this last week. I went for a couple of easy runs but my legs felt very heavy and so I didn’t try anything more intense. I am pleased with the race result but even more pleased that it shows my training is working well. There are things to learn from and it was an excellent first race experience. I am working on a new training program with some more races over the next few months. But more on that later.

For now, racing is good, life is good and more importantly, running is good.