Well I can’t quite believe it but I have run a half marathon! All the preparation during the past year has led up to this event and it feels totally surreal that it’s happened. I started the year barely able to run a 3K and now I have completed 21K. Running a half marathon is not something I ever thought I could do. As a ‘non-runner’ I have never been able to run for more than a minute at a time, have always finished a run feeling completely out of breath and always hated every moment of it. So for me, a half marathon was never a challenge I wanted to take on. But last year I decided I wanted to do something for charity and I wanted to do it for Crohn’s and Colitis UK (more on that later). And when my boyfriend suggested I run a half marathon (he obviously knew how much I hated running) I surprisingly didn’t argue. I wanted to take on a challenge that, for me, seemed almost impossible.
Any regular runners reading this might run half marathons in their sleep but for me this was a huge personal challenge and one I knew I would really struggle to complete. But if you’re going to do something for charity and want to raise a good amount of money, you have to do something outside of your comfort zone.
So at the end of last year I signed up to take part in the Bournemouth Marathon Festival. It’s an entire weekend of running with 5K and 10K runs taking place on the Saturday and the half marathon and the almighty marathon taking place on the Sunday. I signed up and gave myself roughly eight months to train. Now, it’s two days after the event, and I wanted to reflect on my journey and share some thoughts on running! So if you’re into running at all or need some inspiration to set a personal challenge read on…
Why I Ran for Crohn’s and Colitis
There are so many amazing charities to choose from so why Crohn’s and Colitis UK? The main reason is because I can sympathise with people that look to this charity for support. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease around two years ago and although I have been fortunate in that my case is mild, others are not so fortunate and spend most of their lives in and out of hospitals and facing operations. As a Crohn’s sufferer I can tell you that stomach pain, chronic fatigue and diarrhoea are just a few of the symptoms that people with bowel diseases have to endure. And this IBD is incurable – so although people can live in ‘remission’ with few symptoms for most of their lives, there’s always the threat that a dodgy meal or a change of environment could make their bowel ‘flare’ up. I also have known people that have suffered with Colitis and have seen the devastating effects this can have on someone’s life. For this reason I wanted to run for the charity, not only for personal reasons, but because I truly believe the support they offer can help thousands of people. As well as providing support and guidance for people the charity also invests time and money on research papers. Hopefully the little bit of money I have raised can go towards this and help the charity in finding out why these bowel diseases occur and perhaps one day they can find a cure. I think it’s hugely important that awareness is raised about IBD – for too long people have felt embarrassed to talk about issues like this and in reality, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If you’re suffering with anything related to this it’s worth heading to the charity’s page here.
The Preparation for the Half Marathon
So as I’ve already covered, at the start of the year I couldn’t run. But now I want to correct that sentence – I wouldn’t run. I think most people who don’t want to run think it’s because they can’t but in reality all it takes is a few gentle jogs to get into a routine. And this is what I began with. I always thought that to be a runner you had to go out and run continuously for long periods of time. The key to completing this half marathon was finding out that that is not the case. I started running with walk breaks – more walk breaks than running actually. But this routine got me out, built up my confidence and improved my fitness levels. Eventually instead of running for a minute and walking for two, I was walking for a minute and running for two. This kept on improving and by the spring I found I could run a 5K without stopping. It’s incredible really – I spent a lot of time cricising myself for my runs, thinking I wasn’t fast enough or my form wasn’t right. But I should have spent more time looking at the small successes. I remember one of my runs in the summer, I headed out through the local park and down into the town centre. I crossed a gate at the local park and casually kept on running and it was only a few miles later that I realised that the gate was my ‘target’ during my first few runs. I used to aim for that gate and think ‘if I can make it there I can have a break’. On most of my first runs I couldn’t even make it to the gate yet here I was, a few months later, running past it without even thinking about it.
It’s for this reason that I would encourage anyone who wants to run to just go out and do it. It might seem like an impossible task but once you get into a routine you’ll surprise yourself!
Although I had months to think about the half marathon, the pace it came around at was quite incredible. It felt like I had a long time to train but the last few months have flown by and all of a sudden I found myself at the starting line. I had never run in an actual event (apart from a Park Run) so had no idea what to expect. I was worried people were going to be staring at my horrible running style, that I was going to see lots of spectators gawping at me around the track and (most of all) I was worried I wouldn’t make it around the entire route. But all of those worries went away as soon as I stood on the start line. It could have been because of the adrenaline or it could have been because I was dashing out of the portaloo before the race so didn’t have much time to think – either way I wasn’t nervous when we set off. I was surrounded by thousands of people and during the first few minutes I was shuffling along in the crowds at walking pace. Then a mile or so in the crowd started to disperse and I was able to pick up a bit of pace.
If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that I have a back injury at the moment which certainly didn’t help around the route. About four miles in my back started to hurt and I found myself going down to walking pace. I started to worry that I might not make it and that’s when an amazing thing happened – the crowd kicked in. My friends and family were cheering support and randoms were ushering me through the course with ‘come ons!’ and ‘you can do it!’. It was a huge sense of community and something I had never felt before. I’ve read a few running books and in Alexandra Heminsley’s Running Like a Girl, she explains how much the crowd get behind you and how running events are not something you do alone; that there’s always someone to turn to, another runner to pull you through. And this couldn’t have been more true on half marathon day. As I made my way through mile eight, I was suffering. My back was hurting, shin splints were starting to happen and I was running out of energy. I kept going, shuffling along the beach and towards the pier. The views were breath-taking and the running conditions couldn’t have been better – sunny and warm but with a crisp October feel in the air.
At about mile 12, with only one mile to go, I began to really suffer. I started thinking about all of the reasons I was running this race and all of the fantastic people that had donated and supported me, which gave me a little lift. But I needed more – I needed a Snickers bar or something! But just as I was beginning to doubt myself a tap came from behind me and a runner emerged by my side. I had passed this girl a few miles back and she was wearing a Crohn’s and Colitis t-shirt too. Now she was next to me and came down to walking pace to join me. We had a quick chat as to why she was running it and why I was and then decided to go for it – we’d jog the last part in together and then do a sprint finish. It was this little bit of interaction that Heminsley talks about in her book that can give you a real boost. Suddenly my energy levels picked up and I started to run into the finish line. We rounded a bend from the pier onto the promenade and there it was, the finish line! I sprinted towards it, hearing my friends and family shouting, and I’m not sure where the sudden energy came from to be honest! I’ve heard that adrenaline kicks in in the final few minutes of a race but I was surprised at how fast my feet took me. I crossed the finish line, got my medal and some much needed food and headed out of the runner’s area. The race was done.
I finished the race in 2hr 34 minutes – I was aiming for under 2hr 30 but with an injury I’m not too frustrated by this. The most important part of this run was the fundraising – and a whopping £570 was raised for the charity.
Thoughts on Running
It’s been a few days since the half marathon and I’m still recovering. I’m still treating my bad back, my legs ache like crazy and I don’t feel ready to go for a run…yet. But although it was tough, I think the half marathon event and training has truly given me the running bug. Yes I get foot cramps. Yes I’ve had blisters. Yes I’ve used those nasty foam rollers and yes I’ve struggled with other aches and pains but what I’ve found is that the benefits of running far outweigh the negatives. I have managed to explore areas a lot more by running, have seen some amazing sunsets and sunrises, have pushed myself to new limits, have found a hobby to talk about and have finally got fitter. So all in all, although I am suffering with serious doms today, I think running is definitely going to be a part of my regular get fit routine.
I never thought I would say this but running is easy – it’s cheap, you don’t need any equipment (apart from some running kit) and you can do it anywhere. So I encourage anyone thinking about doing it to get out there and start walking – you might find yourself building up to a race sometime soon.