Tuesday, 11 June 2013

My Southend Half-Marathon experience

After 4 months blogging, 228 km running and countless sleepless nights of worrying I had reached the climax of my training: the Southend Half Marathon. One year ago I completed the 3k fun run, now I was back to tackle my biggest challenge so far: 21.1 km along the Thames Estuary promenade.

Over 2,600 runners had signed up to take part in this race, Robert and I - taking positions 1938 and 1939 - were amongst those runners to master a PB or, as in my case,  a half marathon debut. After a week of warm summer sun, race day presented itself to be a bleak, misty, and typically for a coastal town, windy day with highs of only 14 degrees Celsius.
As I used to back in school, I had prepared my running kit the day before and had labelled my bag. For breakfast I had prepared a cinnamon & raisin bagel with a banana and a cup of tea. I didn't want to leave anything to chance in case panic gripped me. However, when I woke up that morning, I felt surprisingly calm. I had come to the realization that there was nothing I could change now. What was gonna happen that morning, would happen. I had prepared myself best to my abilities despite my time constrictions due to work and studies. I wouldn't let myself fail or drop out of the run - I would rather walk.

Robert & I before the run

We arrived at East Beach at 9 am, one hour before planned start time. I braved the cold weather and wore my 3/4 tights with my blue running top and running jacket. I put a hoodie in my bag to wear after the run. 30 min before start Robert and I shared a chocolate chip energy bar and I prepared my water bottle with electrolyte tablet supplement.
Runners started to accumulate close to the start line to do a last minute warm up session. At 9:45 am it was announced that the race start was to be delayed for 15 min. Slowly but surely my nerves started to kick in, I triple checked my earphones were in place, my shoelaces were done up tight and my water bottle wasn't dripping. I squeezed Robert's hand tightly. He tried to tell me some comforting words, but I just felt like crying. Why was I putting myself through this? It was too late now, no way of return.
Before the run - putting on a brave smile...

It was 10:13 am, we were all huddled up close to the start line. Britney Spears had the honour to start my shuffled half marathon playlist. My running app was ready and there it was: the honk - the race had started.

5,200 feet made their way to squeeze through the small, pink start and off we were. I remember running around blocks of houses, a park and along broken pavements. My mind was occupied with breathing and keeping my strides at a manageable pace. Soon I felt too hot and I had to get rid of my running jacket. At that point I had already lost Robert, who's pace I simply couldn't match (just yet).
I knew I was going too fast when my app told me after 1 km that I was running at 6:30 min/km when I tried to aim for 7:20. My body responded and I could feel stitches coming up on the right side of my diaphragm. I must have been only 3 km in when I halted to a walking pace and tried to get back into my breathing rhythm. I felt all over the place and runners kept going past me - this was not how it was supposed to go. I had trained for this and here I was close to finishing the race before I had even started.
However, once we reached the promenade I hit familiar territory, I knew these roads and I started to get back into things. I adopted my usual stride and felt comfortable again, my motivation picked up too. I heard my phone bleeping, I had text messages coming through. I knew it was either family or my friends who knew what I was up to that morning. Even though I didn't get to read them till after the run, it gave me a huge motivation boost, so thank you Mum, Lia and Rose :)

I always kept an eye open for Robert who must have been far in front of me. I passed him on lap one and he looked at ease, I felt embarrassed of my ordeal but kept it up. On the second lap I spotted him once more, but this time he looked like he had a hard time. I instantly worried, but I knew he wasn't far from the finish line. I on the other hand was trotting along with the tail of the crowd. When I completed lap one I was overtaken by the front runner, who was on its way to the finish line. That felt like a kick in the butt, but hey.

Thx, Andrew Kenyon for the snapshot!
On approx. the 16th km, my app whispered in my ear that I finished 3/4 of my workout. I was so pleased with myself, I thought to myself I could my finish time get under my target time of 2:30. After 16km though, your body disconnects from your mind and you have to play along its rules. My legs felt like bricks and my pace slowed down to 8:30 min/km. My strides turned from a comfortable run to a tough jog. I tried to pick up speed but I simply couldn't. On the last three kilometers the race track goes along a block of houses, back out to the promenade, along back roads and then along the seafront where it eventually would lead to the finish line. I knew the finish line was so close, but it felt miles away. Suddenly, an Indian girl broke down in front of me, I stopped to help but others were quicker to help her back on her feet.

A proud half-marathon runner...
Then I saw the sign '800 meters to finish line' and my finisher's song 'On a day like this' by Elbow started to play. I must have had the biggest smile on my face, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I had made it! When I turned the corner to the finish line I could spot Robert, who finished the run with an incredible time of 2:06, waiting for me on the right hand side of the finish line. With all my energy that I had left I tried to sprint, lifted my arms and crossed the finish line at 2:43:26. Through my earphones I could hear people cheering my arrival. I was so proud of myself and happy that I've completed my challenge.

The next day at work I told a colleague of my ordeal and he asked me: "So, are you gonna stop running now?" My response was instant and from the heart: "No! I've come so far I'm not gonna stop now."

Despite minor aches and pain, I've come away in a pretty good condition. My legs will get a well deserved rest until Sunday and then I'll slowly pick up my training again. The next race will be the British London 10k in four weeks' time, which we'll be running for the PetSavers charity. Please sponsor us, your support would be very much appreciated!

Finally the question lingers: Would I run the Southend half marathon again? Possibly maybe. At the moment I don't feel like running 21.1km in two laps, but in 12 months' time I probably want to beat my finishing time. I've simply caught the running bug...

PS: Find all pictures of the event here or browse Andrew Kenyon's album with hundreds of pictures of the day.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Only a few days to go...

On Sunday it's judgement day, the day of my first ever half marathon. I'm feeling anxious, nervous but also excited about the upcoming challenge. I've not set myself a target finishing time - anything below 3hrs is great - it would just be amazing to be able to finish. Of course, I've had doubts in my abilities because of bad runs in the past, but all I can do is try my best.

I've come across a inspirational tweet by my mentor Dean Karanzes the other day...

Tapering off

In the last week I've been tuning down my training runs and taking on lots of carbs - in runner's terms I've been 'tapering off'. Basically, it means you give your body enough time to recover and re-energise before race day. Experts say, you should eat approx 400 to 700 gr of carbs a day, that can be pasta, potatoes, rice, porridge, beans. At the same time you should reduce your intake of fats and protein (remember my 'Nutrition basics' blog post a couple of weeks back). Even though I love my carbs, I didn't feel great eating so much of it. I started feeling bloated and today, my stomach just didn't feel right. I hope to be better tomorrow… Also, I've started to hydrate my body with at least 1.5 litres of water a day. I'm not a big drinkers, so that is a hard undertaking for me.

MyASICS training plan

Since I've launched my running blog, I've done a total of 38 training runs and ran a total distance of 227.6km. Even though I didn't completely follow the MyASICS training plan that I laid out for me (77runs/546km), I feel confident that I'll at least manage to complete my half marathon goal. It will all depend on how I feel on race day.

My training progress

Race day preparations

For race day I've prepared…
  • My running clothes and shoes
  • Water bottles with electrolyte tabs at hand
  • adjusted the padding on my running earphones to ensure a tight fit and
  • post-run snack, consisting of bananas, energy bars and chocolate milk shake.

Tomorrow I'll update my running music playlist with some new tunes and will try to keep my mind busy. This week it's been worried about the wearer forecast. It's been hot and sunny, just like it should be in June and at the beginning of summer. However, for my first half I'd want anything else but hot weather. But it seems like the weather god might be listening to me…

So wish me luck - I'll see you on the other side ;) Good luck to all runners taking part in the #Southendhalf!