My stomach is doing somersaults and the relaxing swim I had planned is cancelled due to a delivery being due ‘sometime between today and next Thursday’. Or something.
My already nervous disposition is in overdrive as I re-read the email of final instructions I’ve received from the race organisers, Kinross Road Runners. It is full of helpful information. Inexplicably, I cry.
Too late, I get back to reading ‘Marathon Running for Morons’. There is a chapter about the last week prior to your first race, which gives advice on diet, hydration, mental attitude and rest. As I said, I got to it too late and am now only too aware of all the things I haven’t done to prepare me adequately for tomorrow.
If there is one positive, it is this; for the first time in many years (two pregnancies notwithstanding) I have consumed NO ALCOHOL this week. Zero units. If I can do that, a half marathon should be a breeze.
After a fitful nights sleep where I dreamt that I had forgotten to register and collect my number, lost my spare blister plasters and had to pee in full view of spectators and other runners halfway round the course, I get up less than rested.
The last thing I read in ‘MRforM’ was ‘Don’t try anything new on race day’. They wrote it several times in bold so I assume it is a rule worth following.
I decide on porridge for breakfast but cannot eat more than three spoonfuls. Instead I opt for wholemeal toast with peanut butter and mashed banana. I manage one small slice.
I have never been so nervous. It feels like Higher English all over again.
I head down to call on V so we can head over to register when it opens at 10.30am.
We collect our numbers from the sceptical women behind the registration desk and V comments that she’d feel much better if a very old and very overweight woman walked past right now clutching one of the same imposing-looking brown envelopes we’ve been handed. We sit and empty the contents.
It contains our race numbers, five safety pins, two small cable ties and a little black rectangular thing about the size of pencil sharpener. It has a sticker with my race number on it.
“Timing chip”. I say, with more conviction than I feel. We survey these for a minute or two. “Where do they go?” asks V.
I have, of course, no idea, but we are both too embarrassed to ask the stern-faced officials behind the desk as we already feel like complete amateurs, and their no doubt smirk-filled response would cause any tiny shred of self-belief we have to evaporate altogether.
I text R who is an elite athlete and although I know he will cast this up on many a public forum for years to come, I feel he is our best bet. Why I didn’t think of Google then, I don’t know.
He hasn’t replied by the time we get back home so I do a web search and find that the chip is supposed to attach to one’s shoe using the supplied cable ties. It is so glaringly obvious I feel like a prize arse.
Not for the first time during this process.
The next two hours feel like days. I am having sweats and my stomach is churning. I am forced to take a precautionary immodium, per the advice of C several months ago. There is a long and unnecessary discussion about the placement of race numbers before V’s mum collects us to drive us down to the start point. My Dad and N decide to follow on bikes – the road will be closed shortly – to wave us off at the starting line.
We meet lots of people we know, both competitors and spectators and the last 20 minutes before the gun goes off is a blur. I remember having conversations with people, but not a word of what was said. Except a quote from a woman in her 60’s who tells a friend within our earshot that she hopes to finish quicker than last year. “Something under 1:35” she says calmly. V and I stare at each other and head to the back of the throng.
The weather has been wet and dreary all morning but suddenly, the skies clear and it becomes sunnier, warmer and more humid. I try to remove the safety pins attaching my number so I can take off the training top but too late – the gun goes off and we are swept along with the crowd.
The sun is out and we’re off! The start is really narrow and it takes a few minutes to get in to our stride and find a bit of room.
It feels fantastic. There are lots of spectators lining the route shouting words of encouragement and clapping. For the first time, it seems to me as though we are doing something special.
We’re feeling good but there is an obvious silence between us which is rare during our runs, usually we’re fighting for airtime. After a couple of miles, V gestures to a point in the distance where we see a snake of brightly coloured neon. The lead runners must be at least a mile or two ahead of us already. I try not to look but my eyes are drawn to them while I take quick glances behind me to make sure we aren’t brining up the rear. Luckily, it looks like there are at least 100 runners behind us.
The weather is fantastic for a weekend in early May but a bit too hot for a half marathon and the first water station is a very welcome sight.
Coming around the RSPB reserve the flies which have hounded us on our recent training runs, are out in force and it is easy to spot the locals who have trained in these conditions. We are holding a hand up to shield our faces and cracking on with our heads down, quietly getting on with it. The incomers are jumping around, flailing, spitting and yelping like schoolgirls.
I check the Garmin and we are on pace at a 10 minute mile. We stick with the pack, which helps us to keep the pace on track. The faces around us will become familiar over the coming miles. Apart from a female competitor in front of us who appears to be running with a motivational coach. He is loud and Glasweigian with a laugh like a drain. After 15 minutes or so, I can take no more of his forced joviality towards his resolutely mute and stony faced charge, and push out to overtake. If he’d been my motivator, I’d have punched him.
A few minutes later, I hear a thudding footfall right at my back and unsure of the etiquette, V and I move out slightly, allowing a good-sized gap to appear between us. The thudding footfalls belong to a runner well into his 70’s who shows no intention of moving forwards so we close the gap and plod on.
He sticks with us for the whole race until the last couple of hundred metres where we decide we cannot be beaten by a pensioner.
I feel great until about mile 10 when my breathing starts to become erratic. It may be the heat coupled with something in the fields we are passing, although generally I am not susceptible to allergies and don’t have asthma, but I am genuinely struggling for breath.
This carries on for a the next couple of miles and during that time my mood crashes. V feeds me up with a power bar but it may be too late. My head is filled with dark thoughts and I am overcome with negativity. This, along with the breathlessness – and my subsequent panic about it which of course only serves to make it worse – makes the last 3 miles a deeply unpleasant experience.
V is a stalwart training partner. She sticks by me despite my seething silence and my expression resembling a bulldog chewing a wasp.
I constantly tell her to carry on without me, I am sure she could break 2 hours if she goes it alone. But she sticks with me and keeps me going with words of encouragement. It cannot be understated that without her on those last 3 miles, I doubt very much I would have finished the race.
As we come into the last 200 metres, my feet hurt, my legs are wobbly and I feel like I am about to cough up a lung. Then I spot my Mum and rugrat 2 waving and cheering and I find I am smiling. I see my Dad and N along with lots of other friends and I cross the line with a feeling of absolute elation.
The running club marshal removes the timing chip and I all but collapse. I am handed a goody bag which I tip out and down the bottle of Lucozade it contains in about 7 seconds.
We are surrounded by friends and family and there is lots of photography and hugging. I feel very close to tears as I hug V and quietly whisper my thanks.
She is the reason I finished.
Rugrat 1 runs up to give me a hug and I really am overcome with emotion now. G, my Thursday morning motivator turns up holding out a gin & tonic and although I feel like throwing up, I gamely take a swig before surreptitiously passing it to N who very kindly finishes it off for me.
WE HAVE DONE IT!
Would I do it again?
Not bloody likely.