There’s no time for a lie-in when you’re running a half marathon. And there’s no time for a lie-in if you are closely related to someone running a half marathon.
I was up at 6 for breakfast, accompanied by two glasses of water and a glass of orange juice (this is actually normal for me, but when you’re running 13 miles, it seems sensible rather than weird). The kids were dragged out of bed at 7. My daughter got dressed. My boys, who had opted to stay at home and play rugby, went round to Grandma and Grandpa’s in their pyjamas, accompanied by a suitcase containing rugby kits, breakfast and gum shields.
We found a free parking space down a filthy road in Bristol, one of the few that hadn’t been closed, and it was a very uncomfortable walk to the first portaloo block – I’d consumed a further 500ml of water on the journey.
I put my suncream and sunglasses on. My husband says I was being optimistic. That’s one way of looking at it. The other way would be to say I was being pessimistic because running in sun is no fun at all. I find running pretty easy, but sun and heat do slow me down and leave me feeling drained.
We walked to the start area, then realised the start for the yellow numbers (basically the slowest runners of the fastest runners – if that makes sense) was some way away, almost back to the car. One more trip to a portaloo and it was time to line up.
The race started, but the yellow number racers didn’t know – we were miles from the start line. Slowly, this massive crowd of people began to move. I was surrounded by people mainly younger than myself and mainly in groups of friends, running for charity. One or two of them, I would guess, probably shouldn’t have been in the ‘slowest of the fastest’ group – or even running a half marathon at all. I hope they made it in one piece.
It was about 10 minutes before we even crossed the start line. It was amazing how the crowd just thinned out straight away. I expected to be jostling for space, but there was plenty of space for everyone. I overtook a few people, a few people overtook me. It was hot and sunny and I was running a really long way.
I have my music on and I zone in and out of it. I listen to it a bit, I think, remember, imagine and I look at the scenery and particularly the people around me. I try to remember things that make me smile for later.
After about a mile we were already on the very long, very straight, slightly uphill road which formed about half the race. We ran all the way along the river and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which was pretty spectacular.
I saw my first people walking after about half a mile. Just after a mile and the first few (well, more than a few) men stopped to have a wee. Along that road it appears there were a lot of good places to have a wee. There were a couple of toilet blocks. It was very thoughtful of them to leave these for the ladies.
At two miles, the first elite runners passed us going back the other way – they’d run something like six and a half miles at this point. Everyone running my way clapped and cheered them. They were tiny, skinny men who were basically sprinting. They had their names on their vests instead of poxy numbers. They were accompanied by a small number of very fast wheelchair athletes. Gradually the crowd on the other side got bigger, with people with actual numbers on their vests and the first women (skin, bone, muscle) coming through.
Somewhere between two and three miles I was disappointed to be overtaken by a man dressed as a pirate with an inflatable crocodile on his back. I’d done six miles before I managed to overtake him back. No wonder he’d slowed down, not only was he dressed as a pirate, he was shouting encouragement to his fellow runners non-stop in a ‘pirate’ voice – some might argue not dissimilar from the Bristol accent.
Close to my turning round point, I spotted a familiar face in the crowd – my old manager, watching her husband run (dressed as Elvis, but I didn’t see him – he was way to fast for me). I yelled out to her and she waved and smiled. I probably haven’t seen her for three years, but it’s amazing what a boost a friendly face gives you.
Call me boring, call me a creature of habit, I like familiarity. I actually like running round the same old streets at home. I can zone out and zone back in again and know exactly how far I’ve gone and how far I’ve still got to go (well, to the nearest half a mile or so). It’s weird to be running somewhere different. The mile markers gave me a good boost, except when I was expecting the six mile mark and it was only the five mile mark. The sun was beating down and there was no shade to be had and I was nowhere near half way.
I drank my trusty Lucozade Lite every couple of miles, supplemented by sips of water from bottles handed out by army cadets. Most of the water was used to wipe in my hair, over my face and across my chest. Bottles were disposed of very responsibly in the massive recycling bins. There were some disposed of less respnsibly, but there was obviously a massive clean-up operation going on – road sweepers and dustbin lourries were right behind the runners at the back. (I saw them on the other side, I wasn’t with them, you understand!)
Most of the people running around me were women. Tall, thin, young women, all dressed in black. They were mainly in their early to mid 20s – a lot younger than me. The men were of all ages, with a good showing for mid-life crisis age.
After about eight miles we got back into the city, which was nice because the streets were crowded with cheering people. The remaining five miles twisted and turned around the water and around the city centre.
At this point my husband started phoning me. He rang me three times during the run – to check where I was and to let me know where he would be standing. It’s not easy fumbling your phone out of your belt whilst running up a hill, then fumbling it back in again, putting your headphones back in your ears and switching your music back on. He told me he was waiting at 10 miles. I told him I was at eight miles. As it turns out, he was at nine and a quarter miles and I was at eight and three quarters, so it’s lucky we saw each other. It was so lovely to see my little girl balanced on his shoulders, smiling and waving her homemade ‘Go Mummy’ poster. The road twisted round and I saw them again. Near the end, after another phone call up a hill, I saw them yet again. Apparently they saw me another time and I didn’t see them – bad Mummy!
The centre of Bristol, I now know, is full of lots of steep hills. I pride myself on my ability to run up hills. I find the extra energy and I power past the people who are walking or who have slowed right down. But eventually a hill defeated me. It was very steep and nearly everyone was walking. I pushed myself, then realised I really couldn’t do it any longer. So I treated myself to 100 metres or so of walking.
Sometimes I get random thoughts as I run. My most random was an irrational fear that I had lost my phone – that was the same phone which at that moment was blasting Scissor Sisters in my ears – duh!
By 11 miles I wanted it over. It’s not that I thought I wouldn’t make it. I’d just really had enough – of the hills, the heat and the wind (in the shadows I actually had goose pimples!).
At 13 miles, I sprinted. A half marathon is actually 13.1 miles, so I pushed myself these last few metres and over the line.
I fumbled my phone one last time to check my time. Two hours and seven minutes. I admit I was a little bit disappointed, but it had definitely been harder than last time. I am blaming the weather.
I glugged a bottle of water, a bottle of Lucozade and set off to find my husband, my daughter – and my lunch.
This morning I was upset to read that a man had died close to the finish of the Bristol Half Marathon. He had collapsed just after 11am. To have got so close to the end in such a short time, he must have been very fit. He would have had no qualms whatsoever about his ability to finish and nor would his family.
I passed the Ambulance as his stretcher was being loaded on. Someone was holding up a sheet to shield him from onlookers. I just thought he was injured, so would all of the other runners.
I can’t stop thinking about this man and his family. They will never see this, but I am dedicating it to them anyway. May he rest in peace.