Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Camaraderie of the Long Distance Runners....

I made it and I've got a medal, energy bar and fruity Porsche shaped sweets to prove it!
TWO HOURS THIRTY SIX MINUTES AND THIRTY SEVEN SECONDS. That was my official race time. Although, rather confusingly, my chip time was about a minute and a half quicker than that. I'm told that the chip time is the actual time I took from crossing the line at the start to crossing it again 13.1 miles later. Now you might not think that the point one of a mile was worth mentioning but, let me tell you that, by the time I came staggering and stuttering around that bend onto Brook Street, that short distance seemed like an eternity. The number 30 in the picture refers to my race number and not, alas, my position at the end of the race; in fact I came in 762nd place. Look at least I didn't come last! First of all let's do what they do in those post match TV sports interviews and look at the positives, which is usually code for we didn't do all that great but you're making me do an interview so I got to encourage the lads by not being down beat. The positives then: bearing in mind that this was my first ever half marathon, I achieved my first goal of completing the distance without stopping or walking. Secondly, I was disciplined in my approach to the whole race and didn't get too carried away by the day; I kept checking my heart rate monitor to make sure that I stayed within the limits most of the time. Thirdly, apart from the aching legs and actually most other parts of my body come to think of it, I managed to stay injury free. I got my medal and completed the race in just about enough time to see the prizes being given. In fact the more I think about it the whole day was very enjoyable, very well organised and, so far as most were concerned, seemed to go without a hitch. Right now though, even two days on, I still feel like I've gone 12 rounds with Lennox Lewis, been forced to climb up Ben Nevis and then been beaten up by a gang of hoodies! I haven't felt like this since my University rugby days when a couple of sadist ex-army blokes took over the training sessions. Let's just say that I found it hard. I mean I knew it wasn't going to be like a stroll round Barden Lake but it was much harder than I'd allowed for. I'd trained up to about nine miles but those extra 4.1 (let's not forget the point 1) were ran on will power alone. I can't tell you how much respect I have for the many serious runners who came in with times of 1 hr and 20 minutes or there abouts, the winner, Thomas Fewster, came home with a time of 1hr 15 mins and 48 seconds. This is phenomenal if you think about it. It means that he ran a mile every 5.7 minutes for the whole 13 miles. It is incredible what the human body is capable of when pushed to it's limits. I'd be happy, as would most people, if I could do one mile in that time let alone 13. So hats off to the serious athletes, you must put in a lot of time and energy to be that fast. I would urge you to consider taking up reading instead though as it's a lot less taxing on the knee and hip joints!
As I write this the memories of a wonderful day come flooding back to me. The melee at the start line, the joking and the camaraderie amongst the runners. Seeing Kelly Holmes, the official starter, and hearing her tell us to pace ourselves "...as it's a long way and it's a hot day!" She wasn't kidding either I must have perspired, no let's call it what it was, sweated enough to fill Haysden Lake! I remember the pounding of two thousand feet on the road as we rounded the bend into Molescroft Way. The chats on the way with people I recognised, the friendly faces in Leigh clapping and pushing us all on with their shouts of encouragement. As the field of runners became ever more stretched out in the countryside around Watts Cross and Chiddingstone Causeway some where finding it all a little too much and where, in some cases literally, being carried by their fellow runners; others were receiving first aid from the St. John's Ambulance volunteers. As we rounded the corner in Leigh for the second time some one shouted out that there were only four miles to go and I realised that I was in unknown territory. I'd never ran further in my life so I knew the rest of the course was going to hurt and I'd have to dig deep. More than once I had the urge to stop and just walk for a bit but I also knew that once I'd done that the concentration and momentum would have gone and it would be difficult to start running again. Although I'd ran along Lower Haysden Lane many times, at the end of the half marathon it seemed to go on forever, it may as well have been Route 66! Past the Country Park entrance, even more familiar territory I thought that I'd have enough energy for one final flourish in front of the crowds still gathered along Brook Street but, when it came to it, my legs felt like lead and it was all I could do to just get to the finish line. My son shouted to me somewhere along that home straight and I was vaguely aware of him running along side me for a while on the other side of the barriers. I told him afterwards that I might not have finished but for his encouragement. He thinks I was joking, but I'm not sure I was! I don't think it was Dame Kelly who put the medal around my neck as I crossed the finish line but I was too knackered to notice anyway, all I wanted to do was drink some cool water and pour a few buckets of it over my over-heating head. So that was my experience of a wonderful day on Sunday. Thanks to the organisers and sponsors and may see you again next year when I reckon I should easily be able to shave off at least those 37 seconds!