Brace yourselves, this is a long one!
Monday saw Gary and I complete our first Half Marathon together in Milton Keynes. The night before we had laid out our running stuff out and went to bed nice and early to get as much rest as we could. I’d had butterflies for the whole week and nerves were kicking in for Gary too. We woke up on Monday morning and started to get ready, eat breakfast, prepare our bibs and shoes with timing chips. My Dad, our chauffeur for the day came to collect us and kept himself quiet whilst we chattered about nervously. Traffic to the stadium start line was heavy and we could see a huge amount of runners walking in our direction. The excitement continued to increase as we hopped out of the car, said goodbye to Dad and headed towards the action.
People were warming up, stretching, having little jogs up and down the closed roads we would be heading up later on. We were instructed to begin lining up behind the start line, both Marathon and Half Marathon event runners. I immediately started to feel like I needed to pee of course! But I held it together telling myself it was all in my mind.
Messages from friends who were meeting in the shopping centre, between miles 3-6 were pinging on my phone and I had to turn the notifications off to focus – but it was wonderful knowing they were there, getting in all the excitement and waiting to see me when I got there. Some more friends managed to find us waiting in the running line and it was great to see them and have a little chat before we set off.
And then we were running. It took about 5 minutes to get over the start mat and head off for our first half marathon, and my longest ever run. The route would take us from the outskirts of Bletchley towards the shopping centre which is mapped out like a grid, similar to New York. Our route had us running up and down the same roads using the one way systems, pretty much exhausting all of the roads and then running back out of the town centre.
The weather was sunny and warm and I was pleased I’d bought a running cap for the event. It really kept the sun from above my eyes where I’m prone to get migraines. I felt really good for the first few miles but lost Gary close to 5k. The elevation into the shopping centre was stupidly steep and my legs just weren’t working for me. Just as I was walking for the first time I heard someone saying “Come on Erin, you can do it. Just one foot in front of the other”. A complete stranger (I don’t even know how she knew my name from behind me since my name was on the front) was helping me along. It was just what I needed and I told her as much, thanked her and moved on.
The first water station was very welcomed and I was delighted to recognise one of the volunteers as an old work colleague. I made a beeline for her, waved excitedly and took a bottle from her. She recognised me and looked very excited to cheer me on. I took this as a sign that I could make it (over the course of the run, I took a lot of things as signs!). I did a lot of run-walking throughout the race, which would have annoyed me in the past but I know for this race it was the best thing for me to do. It was just how I would make it to the end. And around this area usually just as I was summoning the strength to walk again, the same lady from earlier would appear at my shoulder with words of encouragement. At this point we had a chat, and I learned her name (her christian name was difficult to read so she had the name Butterfly attached to her top) and that she was doing the full marathon for a charity called Bliss Baby. She had lost her baby at 8 days old and this was her second marathon to raise funds and awareness for the charity. We talked for a bit, and she encouraged me to run off whenever I wanted.
We came up to the library where I knew my Mum and Dad were waiting to cheer us on (Gary was long gone by this point!) and mid conversation with my new run-buddy I heard a massive “ERIN” and cheering. It was my Book Club girls! Jumping, screaming, taking photos, shouting my name. It was absolutely amazing and wonderful! Butterfly commented “That’s gotta be a boost!” and then just over the road I saw my Mum and Dad waving and cheering too.
To the right of me (my left) in this photo, I’m really pleased to see Butterfly captured running alongside me (blue vest). She has no idea how much of an impact she made on my run.
Running on and out of the town centre I knew I was nearly over half way done. I had prepared myself for the race being both mentally and literally downhill from here and I don’t think that was necessarily a good thing. Up until here the crowd support had been amazing. Charity supporters (mostly Team George, who for some reason would only cheer on their own charity – bad cheer etiquette!) and belly dancers, bongo players, bands and families with noise makers. But then we hit the road of doom that would never end. Between miles 7-10 it was long boring straight roads that never seemed to end. Roundabout after roundabout, with very few supporters. On some of the roads you could see other people running up the other side of the carriageway and you knew you would have to get to the end and run all the way back. It was a proper mental game.
I was very aware that my stomach couldn’t handle any more Shot Bloks and that I was hot and sweating but that I couldn’t over drink because my stomach would just slosh. I made it to the turn off where the marathon runners diverted off and knew I only had 5k left. I looked at my watch and saw it was 35 mins until my 2.5hrs goal but was aware I wouldn’t hit this. I had been running 11:50mm for the last however-long and I knew I wouldn’t be able to pick it up. Running, walking, stopping to stretch out my hip frequently (which was now hurting a lot) a woman asked if I was okay since I was walking. Her name was Julia, running her first half marathon, along with her marathon savvy husband Norman. I had a little chat with her and then they carried on. I managed to run further and felt okay, quicker pace, hip not hurting – but then I started to feel dizzy and moved off the road onto a verge. I had my head near my knees and then Julia was next to me, telling me to drink her water and pouring some down my neck to cool me down. At this point I decided I needed to run with her and her husband. I knew I could help her and she could help me. She was struggling, I was struggling, he was motivating her and soon both of us. She was running for her Grandchildren and I could see so much determination in her.
The last water station was sponsored by World Vision, a charity my sister works for, and as I took water here someone shouted “Go on Erin” – I know I have my name on my top but there was recognition in their voice as if my sister had told them to look out for me. Whether that was true or not I got a boost.
The last 5k was a group effort (Norman was amazing at motivating!) and as we got towards the stadium knowing there wasn’t much left to do a massive smile covered Julia’s face. We couldn’t get our legs to go any faster but it seemed somewhat easier at this point. Being told by a steward that shiny medals awaited us, we headed on down and into the stadium to finish our half marathon.
I entered the stadium and I felt so so small. The seats looming above me, I was aware I was running very slow and stiff and that so many people were watching. So strange and exhilarating all at once. But soon I saw Jen and Rich who had met me at the start. They were right at the front of the seating cheering me on and I knew I was supported and with friends and could just concentrate on getting on with it.
Crossing the finish line the first thing I did was turn and give Julia and Norman hugs, well dones and thanked them for helping me towards the end.
You can actually see them in the above photo hugging each other whilst I scanned the crowds for Gary (Norman in white vest, Julia in blue t-shirt and sunglasses)
Gary was soon shouting from the stands having finished 15 mins earlier than me. I walked down along the track and saw Tash who hugged me and offered me Vitacoco and I think all I managed to get out was “after medal” – Tash I’m aware I was staring vacantly at you and not saying any words, but I was listening to every word, I promise! I walked on to get my medal and then just randomly carried on walking and wondering where I was meant to go. In my delirious state I had no idea where I was going and didn’t realise I was passing where I was meant to exit, so found myself back at Rich and Jen which was great because I was able to get my brain in gear, sit for a second and we then headed back to where I’d seen the rest of my friends and family.
Seeing all my friends who had been cheering along and my family was so amazing. We took pictures, I tried to string a sentence together and they gave me and Gary our own little goody bags with more Vitacoco (that stuff is amazing post-run), bananas, protein bars, water and a glucose tablet. They’re the best cheerleaders ever!
After having got my bearings I found my way to the finishers room where I collected a goody bag and made my way up a slope and some stairs (a cruel trick) to see all of our wonderful friends and family again.
This race was amazing. It was HARD but it was my race. I met some wonderful people, the stewards were wonderful, the cheerleaders were top-notch, and the medal has GLITTER on it!
I’m still recovering now, but I have heard it takes a day for every mile to recover so I’ll be fine in a fortnight! My official finish time was 2:40:47. It’s not the 2.5hrs I hoped for but I knew in my heart that this wasn’t possible on the training I’d done. Next time 🙂
So now I have to focus on the Race For Life 5k coming up next month and the Women’s Running 10k the month after……. and I’m secretly searching for my next half marathon challenge so I can top this one, but don’t tell anyone.