September 30th 2018 is a day I will remember for a long time. The day I ran my first half marathon, the Robin Hood half marathon.
It started at around 7am on a chilly but dry Sunday morning with a pink sunrise. After breakfast of bread and jam, cheese, and a banana, my Dad gave me a lift to the start, dropping me off just across the river Trent from where the race village was set up at Victoria Embankment. It was easy to find, and I walked past the start zones to reach the various tents so getting my bearings was easy. I took a walk around, used the loo, popped in to browse in the retail tent, kept moving to try to keep warm.
It was cold by the riverside and I kept hold of my sweatshirt for as long as I could but it finally got to the stage where I decided I had to hand over my bag at the baggage tent, go to the toilet one last time, and then head for my starting zone. Unfortunately I wasn’t the only person to have had that idea and my 20-minute wait for the loo meant I was absolutely freezing by the time I got to the orange start zone.
The party atmosphere had started though. There was music playing, a DJ calling out encouragement to everybody, and the crowd started moving forward as the elite runners were set off at the front and everybody started moving slowly towards the start line. I was so nervous, I couldn’t believe this was it and I was about to go and run 13.1 miles. I tried to distract myself by making sure my watch was set up correctly to record the run, and that my music was working properly. I chatted to two ladies standing near me who had both run half marathons before. They gave me some quick tips, about not starting too fast and to try to enjoy the atmosphere. Being in the last group to start, it took nearly 20 minutes for me to reach the start line and then we were off!
It was really crowded at the start and I was frustrated for the first few minutes that I was stuck behind slower runners and couldn’t get into my stride but then I spotted a gap, nipped through it, and then I had space to get to my own pace and off I went. There was a local choir at the first road junction which made me smile, and then it was just a case of following everyone else.
I had no particular strategy in mind. I had hoped to finish in under two and a half hours but with no previous half marathon experience and with my longest run in the last three months being 10 miles, I would be happy to just finish! I decided I wouldn’t think about the distance but just enjoy the run and take the pace as I felt comfortable. If I was a bit fast and got tired, I could just slow down, no pressure. I have a bad habit of thinking a particular pace is too fast for me if I see the numbers, and slowing down when I don’t need to, and decided for this run to just go with how I was feeling instead of what my watch said. I was so happy just before the first mile marker to see a friend in the crowd! She gave me a shout, I gave her a huge wave, and then I ran on with a smile on my face knowing she was there. The mile markers seemed to go by so fast. Before I knew it I was rounding Nottingham castle and entering The Park area, which I knew was the first of two hilly parts of the course. The roads are quite steep and while I powered my way round the castle, the residential streets were more of a challenge and I decided to take what turned out to be my only short walk of a hundred yards or so to get up to the top of the steepest hill and then I was running again. I was amazed by the support from the crowds. The roads so far had been lined with people clapping and cheering, calling out messages of encouragement, and it spurred me on to hear a woman call out “downhill for a few miles now!”.
My pace was faster than I thought up to that point but I felt fine so I just kept on. As I ran down the long downhill stretch of Derby Road I let gravity help me and started to think about fueling my run. I hadn’t really planned that much in training but knew I would need energy for the ten miles I still had in front of me. I had a packet of energy blocks in my running belt and decided I would eat one at 5 miles, one at 7 and one at 10. No particular reasoning but it seemed like the start of a plan. I took water from the first drinks station and had a bit of a mental head scratch moment as I had never seen that kind of soft water bottle before and didn’t know how to open it! The top tore off and then you squeezed the water out! I soon worked it out but it wasn’t the easiest thing to drink from. I soon passed mile 4, then mile 5, where I ate my first energy gel block, and then I saw I was entering Wollaton Park. I knew this was the furthest west part of the route, and also that the other major hill on the course was coming up. I was also somewhat surprised that I had run the fourth and fifth miles in under 9-and-a-half minutes each, but I wasn’t going to let it faze me. I still felt good. I would keep on running.
Still the spectators cheered and clapped. I couldn’t get over the number of people who had come out to cheer on friends, family members, and strangers alike. Residents of the streets closed for the run leaned out of windows or sat in their front gardens to support the runners. Next came the 6-mile marker and the second water station where I discarded my first water pouch and took a second one. Unfortunately I must have taken a faulty one because the water was really reluctant to come out. I sucked, I squeezed, I got either nothing or a massive mouthful squirted hard into my mouth which was really awkward to deal with while running. At mile marker 7, having nearly choked on another uncontrolled squirt from the water bottle, and deciding it tasted pretty rubbish anyway, I abandoned it.
Around the 8-mile mark I started noticing tightness in the back of my left leg. This wasn’t something I had been troubled with before and I tried to stretch it out as I ran but it was something that would remain to the finish, luckily without hampering me.
Just before mile marker 9, the course made its final sharp turn with the last area of two-way running, and it was such a relief to round the cone marking the turning point and know I was really heading back toward the finish. Just after mile marker 9 there was another drinks station so I took a bottle of Lucozade this time. I figured it couldn’t taste any worse than the water, even if I got a flavour I didn’t like, but I know how the sports caps work on those bottles and it would make drinking on the move much easier. I got orange flavour, which I like.
On I went, still following the runners in front, reading funny signs in the crowd, giving children high fives, listening to what people were calling out, past marker number 10, and thinking “just over half an hour to go now”. And then I looked at the time. I knew I’d passed through the start at around ten to ten. My estimation of a two-and-a-half hour run would have me finishing around twenty past twelve. But here I was at the 10-mile mark and it was just about half past eleven. Really? I did the mental arithmetic, thinking I must have got my maths wrong. Ten miles in a hour and forty minutes? That was 100 minutes. Was I really doing 10-minute miles? I’d been anticipating more like 11. I decided I must be either adding up wrong or my watch was wrong, and pressed on.
Mile marker 11 was a rather surreal one. Anything more than this was uncharted territory for me. I was now literally running further than I had ever run before. I was getting tired, I had about two miles to go which sounded both a short way and an awfully long way at the same time, but still the crowds cheered us on. Students in pyjamas by the roadside, couples, families, charity cheering groups, running club cheering groups, all clapping and calling out “well done, keep going, you’ve got this, you’re doing so well”.
The last part of the course retraced some of the first part and as I ran past what had been the 1-mile marker on the way out, I heard a man behind me shout “Have we really only done one mile? That took ages!” which made me laugh. Around the corner was the 12-mile marker and I told myself I had just over ten more minutes to go. I was nearly there. Soon I saw the floodlights of what must have been either Trent Bridge cricket ground or the Nottingham Forest football ground towering over buildings ahead of me and knew I was almost back at Victoria Embankment. Past the choir again, almost there, and then I saw the gates of the park in front of me. I thought I could see the finish ahead of me, a red archway with a clock on it over the path, but was puzzled that people were still running once they were through. Then I realised that I hadn’t passed the 13-mile marker yet and that this was the start and I was going to have to keep going to a finish line that I couldn’t yet see. Oh no, so near and yet so far, and I was so tired.
Someone in the crowd called out “Turn on to the grass and then run for the finish”. I turned on to the grass but still couldn’t see the finish. Where was it? How much further? Then there was the 13-mile marker, almost done, and then one more corner and then there up ahead I saw the real finish line with the clock overhead showing 2 hours 27 minutes. I was determined to finish strong. I couldn’t sprint, I didn’t have that left, but I ran as hard as I could. Breathing hard, I concentrated on getting across that line and then there I was. Across the finish line, I’d done it. Marshals ushered people forwards, I stopped my watch, 2:11:18. Tired, sore, and a bit confused what to do next I saw people handing out medals so went and collected mine then moved through to collect my finisher’s goody bag and t-shirt.
It was only once I was through the finish tents and back into the event village that the emotion hit me. I’d done it! I’d run a half marathon. And I’d not done it in two and a half hours but in two hours and 11 minutes. I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it. I phoned my Dad who was meeting me at the finish, and he hadn’t arrived yet. I was too fast for him! I went to collect my bag and to speak to the ladies from the Nottingham Hospitals Charity that I was fundraising for. Checking my phone I saw I’d now raised £400. They took my photo, gave me chocolate and congratulations, and then sore but happy I found my Dad.
When my official result came through, it confirmed my time as 2:11:10. I still don’t quite believe I ran that time. I won’t say I won’t do another half marathon- I probably will – but what an amazing experience for my first, and one I’ll never forget.