I have run three half marathons in my life – two back in the dim and distant past and one earlier this year. I run my fourth on Sunday.
Running a half marathon is a commitment. You can’t just do it, you need to find space for it in your life. But it is DO-ABLE. The commitment is not as big as doing a full marathon, swimming the Channel (or the Thames!), a Three Peaks or an Ironman. I firmly believe pretty much anyone could do it because, if you prepare properly it’s really NOT THAT HARD.
Back in the day, my husband and I signed up for a half-marathon and did our training in two months. I went from three mile runs to 13 and he went from nothing to 13. We proved the theory that if you can run eight miles, you can run 13. We did it in two hours dead, but it nearly killed my husband.
The following year we took it a bit more seriously and knocked three minutes off our time. We still did all our training in two months, but we at least got up to 12 miles. We also thought about energy needs and hydration. Our young, healthy bodies didn’t seem to mind what we put into them, as long as put something in. My pre-run snack was a Kingsize Mars Bar and a bottle of still Tango. I rehydrated with a 750ml bottle of squash glugged down in one go which I picked up as I ran past my house half-way through the run.
Fast forward 15 years and things are a bit more serious. Well, for me at least. My husband has run a few half marathons in recent years, settling into a rather unhealthy training pattern. Did I mention that he works too hard?! Because of this, and despite his best intentions, he only ever managed one training run a week. Over the course of three months he went from nothing to 12 miles, picking up an injury which would niggle him over the last month or so. The race would exacerbate the injury, leaving him unable to run any more. He would take a three month break to recover, sign up for another half marathon, and the cycle would begin again.
We were going to do the Bath Half together earlier this year (his injury kicked in earlier this time and he didn’t make it). He signed me up without asking me. After my initial shock and fear, I was pleased. My little girl had just started school and I needed something else in my life to plug the gap. I was already running three miles three or four times a week and I immediately stepped it up to five miles.
I felt exhilirated running five miles. It was weird to be running somewhere that was too far away to walk. I never found the running hard, but at first I felt tired later in the day. Five miles became eight, eight became 10 and 10 became 12. At each stage I would have to deal with feeling a bit tired later in the day. Much as I loved the training and the feeling of triumph, I admit the tiredness was starting to get to me and I was looking forward to cutting my runs right back after the big day.
What I didn’t have to deal with, surprisingly, was aching or tired legs. There are plenty of people happy to tell me that it’s bad for my knees. Well, when my knees start to hurt, I will consider stopping. The benefits for me far outweigh the possibility of injuring my knees. I’m not stupid enough to keep running mega distances all year round, though. If I was running 12 miles twice a week forever, I’m pretty sure my knees would knacker up in no time.
The only thing I did have to worry about was my (sorry – hope you’re not eating) toenails! Who would have known your toenails could ache?! But they did, big time. During a run, after a run, almost until my next run. They were a multicoloured assortment of bruises. I lost one shortly after Bath. Sorry, again. They hurt for two weeks after Bath. I was seriously starting to wonder if they were going to hurt forever.
This time round things have gone even better. My toenails haven’t hurt, although one is definitely ready to fall off. They are covered in nail varnish, so I can’t see if they’ve gone multicoloured. I don’t even get tired in the evenings. I am a lean, mean running machine.
I did Bath in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 54 seconds. Yes, those six seconds are very significant to me and I am proud of them. I’d be happy with another time in that ball park, but even happier if I could get down to 1 hour 57 or 58.
Training is only half the story. I also have to think carefully about what I will politely call my nutrition, but is really my digestion (I could get a whole lot less polite about what we are actually talking about here, but I won’t). I’m a vegetarian with a big appetite at the best of times. I also have to be careful about what I eat at the best of times. Throw in a tough training regime and I have to be VERY careful what I eat and drink.
I have the same breakfast every day and I can run OK after it. Therefore, I wouldn’t risk eating anything else before running. So if a race is at 11am, I am already running on almost empty. The day before a big run (training or a race) I need to eat lots of vegetables and lots of calories. I know that a massive plate of wheat free pasta with vegetables and Dolmio works. Other things may not work, so I don’t dare eat them. The obsession with my running meal gets slightly on my husband’s nerves because it means we are always eating different meals. It also meant I had to take it around to my friend’s barbecue the other week – and I was even prepared to go out for a ‘meal’ with my two oldest friends and drink water and eat nothing while they ate proper food.
To hydrate on a run I drink Lucozade Sport Lite. Lite is stupid, I know. I am not running to lose weight, I don’t need to lose weight, and I need the energy for running. But I like lemon and lime flavour and it only comes in Lite. On race day, there will be Lucozade to drink on the way round. Having never drunk it, I don’t know if my stomach could handle it, so I will carry my trusty lemon and lime Lite.
The good news is, when I’ve finished running I eat like a pig. The first thing I do is eat an apple and Green & Blacks chocolate, accompanied by water and smoothie. Then I embark on a day long eating fest of massive meals, interspersed with generous helpings of Green & Blacks. On a long run I will lose at least two pounds. My legs and face are noticeably thinner. My aim is to put that weight back on within a couple of days – and I make sure I enjoy it while I do. Then it’s back on the straight and narrow ready for the next training run.
The final thing the semi-serious runner needs (or thinks they need) is proper clothes. I used to pride myself on plodding around in my Tesco sale tracksuit bottoms and stretched Primark Tshirt. Hey, look at me, I go running, but I don’t waste money on pose-y running clothes! Not any more, now I wear the right gear. Flourescent pink long-sleeved top with black leggings for winter and bright blue vest top and lightweight shorts for summer. You can see me a mile off. It is amazing how many people tell me they’ve seen me out running, but I do cover half the town and I do glow in the dark. My trainers were matched to my running style by Up & Running, in stark contrast to my old pair which were purchased because they were the cheapest in the shop.
Actually, there is one final thing I failed to consider this week. All I can say is, I’m glad I work Monday to Wednesday and not Wednesday to Friday. With the weather getting distinctly autumnal, not that it was much to write home about in the summer, I switched to chunky high-heeled boots for work this week, after months of flip-flops and flat sandals. Schoolgirl error. Mild discomfort on Tuesday turned to major stiffness and aching on both legs on Wednesday. I walked a lot yesterday to try to ease it off and, thank goodness, it seems to be working.
So that’s it, I’m ready for my fourth half marathon – bring it on!