Well, 24 hours later the whole thing is starting to fade a little in my memory already. My legs feel more normal hour by hour, and my only real reminder that it happened (other than my medal of course!) is the 3 inch line of rubbed skin on my ribs, courtesy of my heart rate monitor!
Directly after the race yesterday, I swore blind that I'd never do another one, but as the memory of the pain blurs a little, I can see how some people might decide to do it all again. I don't think I'm that silly though .... at least not for a good long time!
I didn't sleep well on Saturday night at all - a mixture of nerves and drunken students singing in the road outside (thanks very much for waking me up at mignight, 3.40am, 6am and 6.45am respectively!). I did spend Saturday resting up, and trying to eat relatively sensibly - small portion of pasta and lots of kale for lunch, small portion of pasta in the evening, and possibly a gloriously decadent milkshake from Rocatillos on Saturday afternoon. It felt odd deliberately taking it easy when I wasn't ill, and I started getting fidgety towards the end of the day, but watched a film and caught an early night anyway.
Sunday dawned with thick, thick fog which was expected from our scouring of the weather forecasts last week. Having other runners in the house, including one who'd done the Bath Half several times before, was a blessing as we were all up early to eat breakfast and prepare, and we could travel together too.
This time I managed to get breakfast right - 4 slices of granary toast with jam and a banana to follow, and left feeling relatively full of energy (albeit mixed with nerves), rather than the leaden porridge disaster of the duathlon last year. We all scrambled our kit together and were just about ready for our taxi at half 8 to take us to the station. In fact, everything went remarkably smoothly getting there - we picked up friends en route in the taxi (another runner and her supporter), met Hannah at the station (who was supporting me and kindly carrying whatever I didn't want to put in the baggage claim), and all to soon we were off the train and following the masses to the runners' village. It was absolutely heaving in there, and it didn't take long for Hannah and I had to lose all the others as we all made our last minute preparations. Not that it would have mattered anyway as we were all starting from different coloured starting pens.
I had to do a last minute stop at my charity tent to pick up my race top, as the original pack had somehow got lost in the post and never arrived. I was a bit gutted about that, as I'd really wanted my name to be on my shirt - I saw how much support runners with names got when I was spectating the Bristol Half last year - but there was nothing to be done. Whilst we were still in the runners' village, the sun suddenly came out and the temperature rocketed. Apparently the weather forecast had changed at the without us noticing and we were all set for glorious sunshine. Luckily, I'd shoved my running shades in my bag at the last moment that morning. Unluckily, I was wearing a long-sleeved merino base-layer in black under my charity vest.
Before I'd really had time to get too nervous, the tannoy was calling for all remaining runners to make their way to the start. Hannah wished me one last good luck, told me I'd be fine, and I made my way off to follow the coloured markers to the start. I'm not kidding - the crush of people making their way to the slower two pens was immense - it literally took me 30 mins to get through to the start from the village! This actually worked in my favour though, as it meant I was busy worrying about getting there rather than having time to worry about what lay ahead.
We heard the countdown to the start, and at 11.04 I crossed the start line myself - thankfully remembering to start my own watch at the same time.
I deliberately took it really easy to start with. Last week's run on Thursday was the first run that had felt even vaguely together since my chest infection, and I really didn't want to push myself too hard. Besides that though, there was so much atmosphere to soak up! Down the opening straight (which would also be the closing straight) the crowds lined the route in numbers, and there was a big screen set up at the first bend, showing the live view of the runners streaming through. Turning the corner, the road swooped down and the field of runners ahead stretched as far as the eye could see. Luckily, I didn't think at the time, that I'd have to come back up that at the end.
I tried to settle myself into an easy pace, and not get pulled along by the inevitably faster people streaming past me. It's hard not to though, not to feel like you're running in treacle and to try and speed up, but I reminded myself that those same people would likely struggle later. I don't remember much else about the first mile or so, apart from hoping I'd find my pace and being grateful when I saw the first mile marker go past and thinking that that was one down.
The route loops around Queens Sqaure twice, around mile 2 and mile 7ish, and I'd been told that the atmosphere there is amazing as the runners stream round 3 sides of the square. In actual fact, I nearly burst into tears going round for the first time, as I realised that I was really running this. There was a fantastic samba drum band in the square, which continued to play until everyone was through on there second lap of the course, and hundreds of people cheering in a relatively enclosed space, and my adrenaline must have spiked as I suddenly had the biggest lump in my throat. Have you ever tried running like that? It's pretty hard to breathe! Hannah told me later that I just looked fed-up, and she was scared I was regretting doing it, where in reality I was holding back tears.
Out of the square and there was a long downhill away from town. Down there I started to settle into a bit of a rhythm, and enjoyed seeing how many houses had set up little parties in their front gardens with speaker systems bought out and blaring music. Those actually really helped. Although I'd taken my iPod Shuffle, I didn't listen to it much in the end, preferring to hear what was going on around me. I took advantage of a house that had jelly baby trays out front somewhere around mile 3, but otherwise started to feel more comfortable with my running. The only problem was, I was starting to get really hot.
It had turned out to be a largely cloudless day, and the sun was beating down. Lovely for the spectaters, not so lovely for the sweating runners. I fairly quickly came to the conclusion that I was going to need to lose my base-layer at some point. That would mean stripping down to my bra and then getting my vest back on. There were still a lot of spectators out along the road, so nowhere obvious to stop. I looked thoughtfully at a few of the St John's tents, wondering if they'd let me take shelter. We were running out of town into the countryside by then, so I started looking at field gateways. Eventually, around mile 4, I just got fed up and stopped. In a gateway. Right next to a man and his small children. And I didn't care. I did think to turn my vest the right way out before taking off my base-layer, but ultimately I thought "tough luck to anyone watching". It was such a relief to get out of my sleeves!
Minutes later, we turned the corner and started heading back into town again. I had to stop for quick walk break on the return leg, but otherwise was running fairly comfortably. I'd decided to go without my normal running bottle for a change and just use the designated water stations, so picked up a fresh Lucozade from a station along the way.
I thought I'd crossed the 10k marker at around 1hr 12mins, but the official time says 1hr 23mins. That's interesting because it means I actually ran the second lap faster than the first, which I wouldn't have expected. Back into town, back around Queens Square and back out to the countryside. I remember noticing the 7 mile marker, because I was running strongly around there, and I remember seeing the one for 8 miles, and thinking "this is it, I'll shortly be running further than I ever have before". And I remember 9. In fact, I felt pretty good all along there, and found a short but faster stride that kept me going. My energy felt good, although I'd switched to water as I couldn't stomach anymore Lucozade. My legs didn't feel bad, and although my foot threatend to get sore, it never really happened apart from strongish twinge once. Coming back up to where I'd got changed, probably around mile 9 1/2, I saw the first ambulance. I was to see a lot more of those, as it seems a lot of people had either under-trained, over-cooked it or not hydrated enough in the heat.
A man shouted at us that the 10 mile marker was just around the corner, and I felt elation. However, his idea of just around the corner and mine differ, as it felt like it was a good half a mile further. When I finally got there, I felt excitement as, in my head, 10 miles meant I was nearly done. I thought "but that's just an easy run around the harbour left to do". I forgot my legs had already run 10 miles, further that I'd ever run before. I'd just been taking occasional walking breaks so far on the second lap, probably only 1 every mile or so - just 10 seconds here or there. Suddenly, the miles seemed to double in length, and I started to feel every mile I'd run.
My right hip started to ache, and there was soreness under my knee-caps. Although I still felt like I had some energy, it was getting harder and harder to run. My walking breaks became more frequent, perhaps every half mile or so, although I was still keeping pace with people around me. My breathing was starting to become short and choppy. Where I'd been chatty and happy around mile 9, now I slumped.
Before the race, I had a phone call with Jo, where I admitted how nervous I was of not being able to finish the course. She told me that of course I would, because I was too damn stubborn and competitive not to. Thankfully, she proved right, as I kept stumbling forward at what felt like a snail's pace. As everything started to tighten up, it was harder and harder not to limp as I walked on my breaks. The only thing that really kept me pushing myself to run when I could was the thought that the more I ran, the sooner I'd be finished. I was also surprised to look at my watch and see that I wasn't far off my original projected finish time of 2:30 that I put on my race application. I wouldn't quite get it, but I could probably get close.
Slowly, mile 11 ticked by, and finally mile 12. I actually thought I must have missed the marker for 12 as it seemed so long coming. Occasionally, we had to move over to let ambulances past, and I saw too many people being tended to on the side of the road, covered in grit where they'd obviously gone down hard, and I do remember thinking that at least that wasn't me. I was in quite a lot of pain though - my hip and knees a dull ache, and my breathing actually rasping and squeaking.
I think the saving grace came from a man who was yelling at the runners "see that hill? Just run up there, round to the left, and the finish is there". I couldn't recognise where I was, coming at it in reverse, but I did my best to keep going. Up a bit, around a roundabout (and I freely admit I thought he was lying at that point), and then I saw the big screen up ahead. On it, runners were just finishing and hugging each other and crying. That got me up to the corner, and I turned left (also feeling a little sad I was running alone and wouldn't have anyone to hug).
For a minute I didn't clock the finish line - it somehow looked smaller than I expected or remembered - but then I realised what I was looking at, and from somewhere there was a final burst of energy. I sped up, suddenly feeling fresh again, and just wanting to be done. I overtook people in front of me, and I crossed the line. 2:41:32 was my official time.
For once, I didn't feel sick crossing the line. Just absolutely exhausted.
The one blessing of finishing nearer the back of the field, is that the finish area is much quieter. Not for me the sudden halt in a crush of people, or having to queue to get de-chipped and get fluids, medal and race-pack. Instead a leisurely stroll through. I had to stop and take my own chip off, as I'd done it on my laces, rather than with twist ties like they suggest (they have a whole team of people snipping them off for you!), and my legs were shaking as I reached to do that. I went to look for Hannah, but she wasn't there yet, so I got my bag back, and thought about stretching when I saw her and she ran up to hug me, sweaty and salt-rinded as I was. Good friends are like that!
After the race, we made our way back to the station, me walking rather gingerly. My lovely (non-running) flatmate was acting as taxi service and very kindly came to pick us up from the station, despite already having collected Sam (who finished in an amazing 1:58!). What a star! She'd also put up congratulations banners in the kitchen, blown up balloons, got some bubbly and put out cakes for us!
I very slowly and carefully climbed in the shower, and was surprised when the water really stung my ribs. I'd had to re-position my chest band from my heart rate monitor a couple of times while I was running, as it didn't seem to be sitting right, and I took it off as soon as I was done, but when I looked down, there was a whole line of raw skin that it must have rubbed off - I've got a 3 inch scab across the front, just below my bra band today! Ouch!
Other than that, I seem to have escaped reltively unscathed. My leg muscles, although tight, aren't terrible, and the aches in my hips and knees seemed to have died down. My shoulders feel inexplicably tight, and I had very rosy cheeks last night from the sun. I also had a stubborn headache last night, and after Sunday lunch / dinner at a nearby pub, I was home by half 8 and in bed!
And so, The Great 2012 Half Marathon Adventure comes to an end.
Thank god for that! :o)