Sunday 12th June marked the day I completed the St Alban’s Half Marathon. Building up to this race, the last 12 weeks has seen me undertake a structured training plan, clocking up over 200 miles. Within this I have also been able to get my weekly fix of HotPod Yoga and fit in multiple strength training gym sessions. These few months has resulted in me experiencing a lot of nerves, doubt but also joy and excitement. It’s now Wednesday, 3 days later and I’m still on such a high from the race. My legs may not be feeling the same and slightly disconnected from the rest of my body, but I know the aches will soon subside. Not only did I earn myself a pretty cool and sparkly medal, but also was able to reach an official new PB of 1 hour 45 minutes and 12 seconds. Something I thought at the start of this process would not be possible. I’ve been able to exceed my expectations throughout this journey continually and am so happy with what I have achieved.
The initial journey began 3 months ago back in March when I decided to set myself a new challenge. I had got myself into a slight rut. Being injured and not being able to do something you love is one of the most frustrating things to experience. Any runner who has been injured will be able to fully sympathise with this. Post injury and once I thought I had recovered, I began to slowly get back to running, however, not long after this it was apparent that I was not ready. I took a few more months off to make sure and once I was 100% again I wondered to myself what was next? I decided that I needed a new focus, so carried out some research and booked the St Albans Half Marathon. Looking back, maybe I didn’t do enough research, as I soon realised that it was not a flat course and at the time didn’t think it would be PB potential. Aside from that, a Personal Best time wasn’t my goal. I was looking to find my running ‘mo-jo’ again. It had been lost since being out of action and I really was struggling to find it. Realistically I was just really scared of becoming injured again.
So with the Half Marathon booked and a new target in my sights I devised a new training plan. Many of my friends and family will know how anal organised I am, which is why I’ve probably always had a job in the Events and Projects Industry. These personality characteristics have paid off extremely well in my training, meaning that all of my sessions have been well thought out and structured accordingly. I took all previous knowledge and experience and put this into my training too. I tried to remain as consistent and committed as possible but also listened to my body to ensure I was looking after myself, allowing enough rest and recovery too.
11 weeks in and I was fast approaching race day…
Race Week aka Tapering Time
Tapering is the word used to describe when training frequency and intensity is reduced in the lead up to a race and the only word I could use to describe myself last week was ‘hypochondriac’. Marathon runners usually begin tapering around 2 weeks out from the race, however, from previous experience I thought a week would be sufficient for this Half Marathon. I reduced the number of miles during the week and also did little strength work at the gym. Come Wednesday I walked into the gym like I’d never been before. I wanted to do an effective workout but was so sceptical of doing anything too straining. The whole week the tapering was really playing mind games with me. On Monday and Tuesday, I had an awful pain in my lower back. I went to Yoga on Tuesday which soon eased the soreness and my nerves were slightly settled. Then on Wednesday, I started to feel a pain in my chest. At first I thought it was heartburn, so took some Rennie tablets but as soon as I realised they weren’t working, panic set in, what if I was going to struggle with my breathing whilst running on Sunday? Why was the pain coming and going? I even deliberated that I’d done damage to a rib! I feel sorry for poor Barry at this point, he got an earful that week of all the potential injuries that I thought I was experiencing. So many thoughts were flying around my head which would prevent me from getting to that start line. Double that with my nerves, I must have been great company at points last week. He must have the patience of a Saint! By Saturday I had calmed myself down and was completely pain free, phew!
On Saturday morning I woke up and began to organise my race kit. I laid out everything I was going to wear, attached my timing chip to my trainers and fastened my bib number to my vest. I had also booked myself onto another Yoga session on Saturday morning for a final stretch out and to calm any nerves. HotPod Yoga had put on an open day and there was a guest instructor from London taking the class. It was great to experience a different teacher and to also learn some varied poses and stretches which I had not done before. It was good to challenge and test myself and I left the class a nice shade of tomato! Once I cooled down later on that afternoon I carried out a few usual weekend errands and caught up with my parents and best friends before an evening of relaxing.
Dinner was steak, sweet potato and veg, my tried and tested pre-race meal and sat down to watch Spurs, sorry I mean England take on Russia. After a disappointing finish to the game, I took myself to bed in the hope of getting some good shut eye before the next day. I glanced over my packing list one last time to ensure everything was organised for the morning.
Sunday 12th June, 7am, and it’s D-Day!! I woke up, showered and had my usual pre-race breakfast of coffee and porridge. I took one look outside to assess the weather, rain! Barry and I headed down the M1 to St Albans and I tried to not let the downpour ‘dampen’ my spirts. We parked up in one of the race hosted car parks nearby to the start and walked the short distance to the start line. Once we had arrived at the ‘Race Village’ I met up with a few fellow Redway Runners and John who had agreed to run with me during the race.
As we made our way towards the starting pens I tried to focus and push any last minute reservations to the back of my mind. There was nothing else I could do at this point, I needed to have faith in my training and just enjoy myself (as much as possible).
Earlier on that week a fellow runner had shared the course profile from last year with me on Twitter. I had decided to analyse this at length. With an idea of how hilly this course was I thought this would be a smart plan. And boy am I pleased I did this. Throughout the run, I broke the course into sections, knowing exactly when to anticipate the hills. It did a world of good for my mental strength as I already knew which parts of the course would be harder and when to preserve energy for. I will make sure for all future races that I do this as I’m not sure I could have tackled parts of the course as well without doing so. I also was able to ‘fuel’ accordingly and took a gel at 4.5 miles in and another at 8, each time before a few miles leading up to some of the harder parts of the course. I then had my trusty jelly babies for pick me up energy towards the end.
The first mile was relatively steady as we had to make our way through out of the Verulamium Park and its narrow pathways. This helped to not head out too quick at the start and find a stable rhythm for the first section of the course.
There were plenty of marshals along the route who were also in great spirits despite the rain! It’s one thing having a good amount of marshals out on the course, but on a completely different level when they’re encouraging, smiling and generally happy to be there. The 1 hour 45 pacer was also a lovely guy and very motivational. In the starting pens, John and I were slightly behind him but at various points were able to catch up to the rest of the group that were chasing that time. He often shouted words of encouragement and the group around him were a good bunch.
The views around St Albans were stunning and made it a quite scenic route. I didn’t find some of the narrower paths or high volume of people a hindrance at all and most people were in high spirits which made for a good atmosphere for the whole way round.
The 10 mile mark was fast approaching and I was scared off ‘hitting the wall’. In a couple of other Half’s, I’ve really struggled beyond this point and was fearful of experiencing the same. 10 miles had past and John had stated that there was only 3.1 miles aka a ParkRun left. I knew I was so close to the end and that some of the final miles were more downhill than the rest of the course. 11 miles in and the hills were starting to take their toll. Another couple of red jelly babies swallowed and I pushed through. We came back into the Veralamium Park and at 12.5 miles with only half a mile left in my legs I began to fade and it was the first time throughout the course that I really felt tired. John was shouting words of encouragement knowing how close we were to the finish and also on for a good time. In the short distance I could see Barry and my Parents. This gave me the biggest boost of energy and saw me through to the end.
A surge of energy had appeared from nowhere and a sprint finish saw us through to the end! YAAAYYY! I took at a glance at my watch and could not believe it, average page of 8 minute miles!!
After collecting my medal, goodie bag and ice lolly I met up with Barry and my parents.
The goodie bag was pretty amazing in my opinion. It contained a T-Shirt which I have already worn during my recovery run yesterday, some needed H2O, an isotonic drink, flapjack bar, a bag of haribo and most favourite of them all… POPCORN! I am huge fan of coffee and peanut butter, but at the moment am also addicted to popcorn. I quickly hung the medal around my neck and ate the ice lolly in delight. A strange feeling eating an ice lolly in the pouring rain, but all the same I enjoyed it!
John and I had a celebratory photo together before Baz, my parents and I headed out for lunch. I also treated myself to a glass of wine, something I had been so excited for as soon as I had finished the race. I had decided to give up alcohol mid-April during my training which meant that I had been tee-total 9 weeks.
After getting home and freshening up Barry and I headed out for another meal with the Rooney family for birthday celebrations and we finished the evening by having some celebratory cocktails with my best friend Freya. I went to bed very content and with a full and happy tummy.
Good question… Now that St Albans is out the way, I need a new motivation and something else to work towards. I find I always train better when I have something to focus on and have set myself goals and targets.
In less than 2 weeks I am off on holiday with my family for a week in of full relaxation in the sun. I’m excited for the break and am looking forward to coming back refreshed and recharged.
Once I’m back on UK soil, training will resume and my focus will be on the Bournemouth Half Marathon. A number of friends from the Club have done this race a few times before, so a group of us are heading down to the coast on the first weekend of October. After achieving 1 hour 45 on a hilly course, I’m eager to see what I’m capable of on a flatter route with even more training behind me. As well as a half marathon PB, along this journey I have also been able to beat my 5K PB three times and also achieve a new 10K time too. Not bad going if I must say so 😉
I’ve had a lot of fun the past 12 weeks. At times training has been hard and I’ve battled through, trying to stay consistent and fit everything in, balancing training, my social life and work. I’ve really enjoyed sharing this process with you all throughout my blog and thank you to anyone who has taken the time out to read my progress each week and offer their support. It just shows that if you put your mind to something and stick at it, anything is possible.