My First Half* – Paddock Wood 

My first half

Standing in a crowd of almost 3,000 runners, I shook my legs, felt the drizzle on my face and wondered how this would go. I had already spoken to a number of runners from my club and moved slowly back to a time marker that was more my pace. In an instant we started to move forward and I with it.  I was surprisingly calm, not much in the way of expectations.

After bailing out of the Rotterdam marathon due to injuries earlier in the year, to train for this I’d downloaded a dozen or so elaborate half marathon training plans. The weeks didn’t add up, work got stressful, and my planning went to pot. So I focused on the long runs. Sunday runs of 10 then 12 then 14 miles, followed by 5 then 7 the weekend before. I knew I could cover the distance. How long it would take me I didn’t know. Over the weeks I’d only been averaging 20 to 25 miles and my core training hadn’t happened. I’d thought of bailing out of this one the day before.

I’d slept badly the night before – it was the start of British Summer Time when clocks go forward so an early start became a really early start and I was afraid of missing my ride. Also, as a relative newbie to races, I was nervous.  I woke up, had some toast with honey, a couple of coffees and put jelly babies in my back pocket. Pick up was at 7.30. It was cold, wet and windy. We drove through South London and hit the countryside.

The Paddock Wood Half Marathon is an annual race through the orchards and hops gardens of Kent. It’s a flat, fast and scenic course. And it’s a popular club race, always attracting a good field of runners. A little intimidating for a slowish relative newbie like me. I remember turning up at Tadworth 10 a few months earlier, looking around and thinking ‘Shit, there are too many proper runners here!’

The line started to move forward and I was gently jostled by runners eager to get moving. Passing the start line, I heard the familiar beep of garmins. Few spoke. This was a IPod free race for our safety as it wasn’t all traffic free.  We ran out of the small industrial estate and turned right over a railway bridge. I kept looking at my garmin. Runners surged ahead. I was mindful that starting too quickly could spell disaster so I slowed. My aim, a 10 min mile pace. If I could keep that up, I’d be happy with the outcome.

At mile 1, I had a brief chat with Polly from my club. I then waved her off as I knew she was faster than me. I started feeling comfortable around mile 4. My legs felt good though the light rain and strong side winds weren’t so pleasant. I passed a few runners who had already started to walk – perhaps they’d gone out too quickly. A few stretching cramped muscles. Men running into the hedgerows to pee.

For the second half of the race, the side wind turned into a head wind. We were running along country lanes with a few farm smells. But I’d expected to smell the hops. A house I was lived in at uni was down the road from a brewery and I was very familiar with the smell, but none of that here. I remember lots of earth worms on the road. There has been heavy rain the night before so they’d moved aboveground. Being on the road in the middle of a race was not a good place for them to be.

I was running near a group of three women. I heard one say the first of the runners will be about to finish. While perhaps for some a depressing thought, the response was ‘well that means we’re the real endurance runners.’ I smiled.

At mile 9 I felt good. I felt strong. I was on track. At mile 10, the tiredness hit and my legs felt like lead. Going around corners with strong, cold headwinds elicited a bit of swearing on my part. This was when the work began. But only a 5k to go, ‘I can do that,’ I thought to myself. A few moments of walking, then more running and some high fives as we passed through small and very committed groups of supporters.

With a mile to go, I clenched my fists and ran as hard as my legs would carry me. Four hundred meters from the finish line I was overwhelmed with emotion and a sob almost escaped me. On reflection, I had no idea what that meant. Perhaps my sugar levels were low or I was so tired it all seemed too much. Perhaps I was a little shocked with how far I’d come over three years.

Fifty metres from the finish line, I heard a fellow club member shout ‘Go Sophie.’ I gritted my teeth and ran harder.

I finished. The timing tag was cut off my shoe, I picked up my medal and goody bag and then breathed. It was time for much coffee, cake and ANZAC biscuits with my club.

So how did I do? 2:10:42 – 18 seconds better than the best time I could have hoped for. A result I could be pleased with. Can’t wait till next year.

And a week later – my next half is in 5 weeks, so back to running though legs still a little tired. I’ve  managed a couple of short runs and even a little strength training. Bring it on!

*While I’ve done some 10 mile races, a 20 miler and a marathon, I’d managed to miss doing a half.

Let me know about any good half marathons you’d recommend. UK based or otherwise.

(April 2015)

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