One week ago today, I ran my first ever half marathon and, it may sound dramatic, but training for this event completely changed my life. I learnt so much about myself along the way that it became more than just a race and almost a journey of discovery.
While I have always been an active person, aged 4 I started dancing, at primary school I played every sport that I could and at secondary school I fell in love with sprinting, I actively despised distance running. My mum, a keen runner was always trying to push me into going out for runs but I always dug my heels (or spikes!) in and stuck to the track.
When I started university last year, I had got to the stage where I’d fallen out of love with running, I’d put on weight, wasn’t eating well and had no motivation- until I met my boyfriend. As a steeplechaser he loves the long stuff, and trying to impress him, I went for a group run (only 3 miles) in fresher’s week. Through the whole run my lungs were burning and my legs hated every step, but my mind was loving it, I could feel a sense of freedom that I never had with sprint training; slowly I added more and more runs into my training plan and moved up to a middle distance track group.
So when Christmas 2015 came around, I started looking into Autumn half marathons for 2016. Then I found Hillingdon Half Marathon. I entered and then realised I only had 12 weeks to train for it!
HOW I TRAINED
Starting out, I had already built myself up to running around 5 miles comfortably, so I started my training with a ‘long’ run of 4 miles. A standard training week was one swimming session, one speed session on the track and three runs. I aimed for one steady medium length run (around 4 miles), one fast/interval run (about 3-4 miles) and one long run per week.
Starting from 4 miles, each week I’d add 1 mile to my long run, and before I knew it I was running distances that I never thought that I could. My furthest run was 12 miles and I ran that 2 weeks before the race in order to give myself enough time to taper the week before.
I had run a 10k before so getting up to 6/7 miles at my training pace felt relatively comfortable which was a real confidence booster for me, at least I’d make halfway!
Unfortunately, my 9 mile run was one of the hardest things that I had ever done, for some reason, the jump from 8 to 9 miles was really tough for me mentally and it took a lot for me to keep myself going. It meant that I was apprehensive going into the 10 mile run the week after, so I decided to spend to weekend at home and have a change of scene for the run. It must have done the trick because that run was the quickest I’d done in training so far! I felt like I was floating along and it gave me that boost of confidence that I needed to finish my training.
For what felt like the first time in my life, I’d been able to push the boundaries of what I thought my body was capable of.
I couldn’t believe how quickly 12 weeks went, and before I knew it, race day was here.
The couple of days before a race are the most important, so for the two days before the race I made sure that I ate really well, did some easy walking and went to bed nice and early- luckily for me, my lovely boyfriend waited on me, cooking me dinner and doing all the washing up! The night before the race, I put out my kit, fuel and watch so that the morning would be stress free.
When race day finally arrived, I woke up nice and early (the race was at 9am), ate my toast and peanut butter (I found that to be my perfect pre-run fuel) and got dressed. I put my hair into my go-to double french braid and got dressed.
It was absolutely pouring walking over to the race HQ to get my number and I knew that it certainly wouldn’t be the perfect day for racing, but weather aside, I laced up and started my race. I used Jelly Babies as my fuel, and I decided on mile 5, 7, 9 and 11 to fuel- I was glad that I practised eating while running in my training because it’s not easy! I found that breathing became harder and it took me a bit of time to get back into my stride after.
The first half of the race went without me even thinking about it and I managed to stick perfectly to my pace, I think seeing my parents waving madly at me at mile 6 helped with that! By mile 10 I was starting to struggle physically, my pace was nearly a minute/ mile faster than I had been running in training and it used a lot of mental strength to keep pushing. Coming into the last mile, I could hear my boyfriend shouting for me and I knew that if I had already run 12 miles, I could easily run the last 1.1!
I’m not sure I can put into words what I felt when I crossed the finish line, a mixture of pride, endorphins and just pure exhaustion! I remember that the first thing I said to my mum after I crossed the line was ‘when do the entries for Cardiff Half Marathon open?’!
Through 12 weeks of training and I had learnt that if I fuelled myself right, my body was capable of amazing things, never has the saying ‘mind over matter’ been so true, on the days when my legs wanted to give up, my 9 mile training run was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I found the strength to say to myself that I am strong and carry on running.
It was by no means easy and I won’t pretend that I didn’t have days where I wanted to stamp my feet, give up or stay in bed, but I can quite honestly say that the feeling I got when I crossed that line was enough to make up for all the blisters, early mornings and cold, wet runs and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.