I’d had a great running spring, completing the Coniston 14 in March (beautiful), getting a new PB at the Sunderland half in May, and breaking my Durham park run PB twice in two months on the way. Now was my time to step up to try my first marathon. I’d never felt fitter. So, at the end of May, I put my name in for the Birmingham International Marathon, on the basis that it looked flatish.
Training began well, building up distances, covering 25+ miles for five weeks running. Then after doing too much in a short space of time (Willow Miner followed by a 14.5-mile training run 36 hours later) injury struck. A trip to the physio revealed it wasn’t serious, but I needed some time off running, with strengthening exercises for my knee. That time amounted to be about six weeks. Fitness gone! Bad luck number 1.
Towards the end of August, my injury was slowly improving and I was out running short distances on the flat again when I received an email from the marathon team. The essence of it (although in a different language) was this: ‘26.2 miles is a long way. Are you sure you haven’t made a big mistake?’ The email offered the chance to switch down to the Great Birmingham Run half marathon on the same day. This was good as getting fit for the marathon was not going to happen in the time I had whereas a half might have been achievable. So that was that.
Fast forward to the week of the race. I’d built up my distances although training was nowhere near what I would have liked. I’d completed a 18km training run two weeks earlier, maintaining a reasonable pace of just over 10 minutes per mile. It seemed likely that I would get around, even if my PB was not under threat. However, a bad cold struck. A sore throat, no voice, nasty cough, the works. I hadn’t had a cold like this for ages. Bad luck number 2. Still, the hotel was booked and we’d arranged to see friends on Saturday, so we travelled. The morning of the run, I’d not slept well from coughing. Should I run? A bit of googling indicated that, as symptoms were above the neck, it would be safe to run. I wasn’t sure I wanted to but went ahead.
Error number 1. I’d run six previous half marathons; they’d all been in the morning. I knew what to eat beforehand: carb load on the night before, decent (not massive) breakfast on the morning of. This half marathon was going off just after lunchtime (as the marathon was going off in the morning). I had a reasonable breakfast but didn’t have any lunch. Rookie mistake.
On the start line, I realised that the only reason I was there was that I’d paid for it. I didn’t feel like running and wasn’t confident about how my cold would hold up. (I’d forgotten about my knee, which actually didn’t trouble me all the way around). Still, there I was in the start pen and I wasn’t going to pull out now. Off we went.
First 5k went well. I set off at a steady pace, 10:30 minutes per miles, not rushing, and felt okay. We wound our way around the warehouses and Pentecostal churches of Birmingham, through some residential streets, through Cannon Hill Park, and around Edgbaston Cricket ground. I passed Dumbledore and noticed that the marathon running Ghostbusters had ditched their car in the park. Then we turned onto the A411 Pershore Road, which I will refer to as the longest street in the world. The crowd of runners stretched off in a straight line in the distance with no turns or end in sight. At about 7k, I ran out of energy and noticeably slowed 11 minutes per mile. Should’ve had lunch. I start cheering on the slower marathon runners coming in the other direction to take my mind off things. I spot a hill coming up for the returning runners (at about 9 miles) and give myself permission to walk up it when I get there. Hard work, but this section had good support, with musicians and homeowners out making noise, with some handing out sweets.
Eventually, we get to the turning point, just over halfway, turning up into Bourneville. No chocolate on offer. The gradual incline topped out and I enjoyed a stretch of downhill, still feeling exhausted (12 mins per mile). Back onto Pershore Road running in the other direction. This road is not any shorter coming in the Saturday direction. At least we were heading home. Brief respite walking up the hill at 9 miles followed by more jogging (12.30 mins per mile). At 18km I give up and walk for a bit. It feels good. I tell myself I’ll run the last 2km, so I start running again at 19k. I must look knackered, as suddenly most of the crowd are calling me by name and shouting encouraging things “Not far to go, you’re doing REALLY WELL!” I appreciated their support even if they were lying! I don’t manage to run the last 2k; it is stop-start from there.
Back past the Bullring and my family should be around somewhere. I have to be running when my kids see me, but it hurts (not the injury, thank goodness, but everything else). Two hundred metres from the end, I see them. They give me a boost, and I’m delighted to cross the line. Thank goodness that is over. It’s my slowest half by a long way (2:37), but at least it’s done. And thanks to Wagamama for offering all runners a free post-run meal!
On the plus side: First (only) Strider Home!