Half marathon: being the first loser
Leith Hill Half Marathon. Maybe if you know what to expect it’s not so bad? Maybe if it wasn’t all uphill? Maybe if it’s actually run with the other runners in the group instead of just me and Matt and the confused spectators wondering whether we started late. Well, at least I got to see everyone running- on their way back down whilst I was still going up and they pretty much hugged me because they were so glad they weren’t me. Oh well… so I didn’t quite have the en masse experience of a major event. Apparently I’ll save that for the London Marathon. Tactically of course. I don’t want to take away any of the joy of the Big Event and all that.
Anyway, they say to take your best time and add at least half an hour on it- so my best time is 2hrs 5 minutes… yup, I ran uphill on dirt tracks- some sand, some mud, a few paces on lovely wonderful tarmac, which I’ve never quite appreciated. It is beautiful, so smooth, so consistent, reliable and solid. Not like this rubbish earth and soil covered with little nuggets of rock and sometimes hard, sometimes soft, sometimes slippy but very clingy. All the bits I dislike about being human. Tarmac, now… well that’s a substance to build an empire upon.
Another surprising- although not as surprising joy was water. Who knew? Water and jelly babies. Yum. I actually was lost in reverie babbling away to Matt about how lovely the little green fellow was as I bit his head off (Matt should’ve seen the warning but bless him- married for better or worse). Maybe that was why we ran in solitude in a race that actually had over 300 registered runners. Maybe.
So, I’ll paint a quick visual of the race itself. I was really nervous. At the start everyone was bouncing about in a group seeming all very horse like- raring to go and chit chating with wind swept faces (seriously, has anyone else noticed how real competitive runners look like they are in a wind tunnel that affects no one else?). Then a dude in union jack running pants (I mean those shorts are so short- why bother?) does some warm up thingys like asking who’s done Leith Hill half before, raise your hand- a solid few handfuls raise their hands. Who’s run a half marathon- loads raise their hand. So I was getting really into this now- pretty much tried to raise my hand for the other 2 categories too, I am nothing if not a sheep- a very brave and clever one, but still almost bleating in joy at mass activity. So the next question was applicable to me I threw my hand wildly in the air, my florescent pink sleeve shooting greetings far and wide. Thing is, the question was who’d never run a half marathon and my arm was like a lonely poppy in a barren field. Blowing about. Everyone laughed patronisingly and sympathetically. Damn being a sheep in a herd of horses. Damn it.
Anyway, after singing the national anthem- another thing I didn’t realise they did- like soldiers going off to war. Obviously I joined in.Nothing nicer then a good ol sing along. Not too sure the words but still I made appropriate noise I think. Matt wasn’t as sure but hey.
And then, just as I was lulled into a merry sense of camaraderie off they went, up this steep grassy slope- masses of limbs and polyester. I held my own on the hill- to a point but then plodded a bit as congestion caught up. Then went charging down the muddy slopes the other side- I quickly clocked that it meant I’d have to do this hill at the end, after 12 miles. Started to lose the will to live. Sheep are nothing if not quickly defeated. Luckily I had my Judas goat with me.
Anyway, the runners started stretching out. I overtook a golden oldie on the downwards slope- more accidently than through prowess. I was NOT going to be last. So when there was a queue for a turnstile (did I mention we were in quite rural setting) I was perturbed, I mean, how can an athlete like me, build up steam if only to queue? I was partly embarrassed that Grandpa was behind me, staring- talking about his Bad Knees… Anyway, we were through, ran past some gorgeous quaint houses with streams and fat chickens and really idyllic places. (I’m building this section out as it kind of gets dark after a while… I don’t mean I don’t remember, it just means I don’t want to talk about it.)
We finally came upon the water station after what seemed like forever- particularly for Matt who was, obviously, to blame. Although I was still being nice at this stage.
The path continued up. Up a little street, onto some gravel roads, onto dirt tracks, onto a 4 x4 mud path, by which time there weren’t too many people left around me. I had been overtaken, pretty much by everyone.
That’s when this little sheep got a little grumpy- bear in mind this is mile 4, ok? But jelly babies can only carry one so far…It was a beautiful run though and at moments- brief splintering moments I really took in how gorgeous England is. Then I returned to the slopes and realised what lumpy meant- it doesn’t mean hilly, it means there are lumps, which would make me so happy if I was on a bike or horse, which I had neither, my sneakers/ takkies/ trainers are no Hi Ho Silvers… they’re more downlow Browns now after the mud. There were horses chilling in a field at one point- and I won’t lie, the temptation was strong.
Thing is, I can tell you about the lumps, and soil conditions because the first thing to go when i realised how hard and unforgiving this race was going to be was my posture. Butt out, shoulders slumped, Bring it. I am hunkering down for a winter of Coooold. it also means I don’t breathe so well. Another of my ‘cute’ quirks up there with my mathamatical disability, distance perception impediment, is my ability to forget to breathe – which means I sigh a lot. I sighed alot yesterday.
The worst is yet to come. There was a girl behind me and a boy. The boy had strapping on his leg, he was carrying a bit extra around the middle and he looked in a lot of pain, a lot of the time. The good thing was he had a very sporadic cough, which was helpful when I would drift off and slow down, his breathing would alert me and the cough would spur me on to catch up with Matt.
I eventually summited- having passed all the groups of runners coming back down I thought to myself how nice and fun it would’ve been to run with them, instead of just me, Matt (waiting around) and heavy breather in the near distance behind me, and silence in the pine forests and muddy tracks. There were times when it seemed like I wasn’t even in an official race. Kind of made me sad.
This is how you should look: Matt on the up slopes: and as a lesson to you budding runners, this is me demonstrating (obviously for you educational purposes) how you shouldn’t: Yes, we may have walked erect for millenium but when the proverbial dung hits the rung, instinct takes over. It’s a medical fact.
On the way down we met everyone putting the stuff away, asking if there was anyone still to come- creased faces questioning: Did you leave a man behind? Nope, just non-sweaty (barely even flushed) Matt, me, and ol’ Heavy Breather (aka HB, we’d grown close over the last few miles, no words needed, just an understanding only runners and athletes of the highest order appreciate). I didn’t get to experience passing other runners, feeling sympathy. I just felt sorry for myself. Especially when HB overtook me one final time and I didn’t catch him up. I surmounted the final hill, where only 2 and half hours earlier I’d been an excited little sheep, so proud that I was playing in the horses pen. Now I was jogging, brokenly down the slope, my secret hope of proving myself foiled.
I’d made it, and I’m proud, I got a little emotional at seeing my name printed on my winners t-shirt and at getting a hefty medal saying: Not the toughest, but tough enough. And maybe that’s all this little sheep should aim for. Maybe this marathon running melarkey is about realising that I’m not a horse. I’m just a sheep. But a tough one.
I think my first lesson in choosing my battles is to pick easier starting challenges. I want to run, so I enter the London Marathon. Ag, stuff it, I’d rather a life lived in fluorescent pink serenaded by mad men in union jack pants, than one without such stories to tell the other farm yard creatures that are my friends. All of whom I thought about at some point in my biggest adventure yet!
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