Cheltenham half marathon day started at 3.30am, when I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. But I was pain-free. Right until the day before, I’d been convinced I would have to pull out.
The route to the start line at the racecourse consisted of traffic gridlock. My husband and daughter were driving me to the course, but I had to jump out the car and walk the last mile and a half to Cheltenham racecourse. I wasn’t the only one! The pavements were full of speed-walking runners and the roads were full of stationary cars.
The one advantage of the half marathon moving to the racecourse from its previous venue at Pittville Park down the road was better toilet facilities! I didn’t have to queue for a second. Which meant I can then have a few mouthfuls of water to replenish my liquid lost from the unexpected walk.
For the first time this year, runners were in start pens based on their times. Mine was D for runners between 1:45 and 2 hours. So many people seem to run with friends and family, but I’m always on my own, so it was good to bump into an old friend from work in the start pen. I say hello to him at Parkrun, but never stop for a chat.
When the race started, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. As I ran down the first hill at a fast pace, I couldn’t believe I was actually there. I’d come so close to pulling out and here I was running at less than eight minutes per mile.
The course went round the park, through a council estate and into the town centre. Before I knew it, I’d already run two miles. And I was still smiling.
The route went up the Promenade and through Montpellier, then did a circuit of the suburb of Hatherley, which was almost two miles long. As I entered the circuit, the fastest runners were already leaving it. And as I left it, plenty of slower runners were still entering it.
By this point, I was suffering a little bit of hip discomfort. The weather was changing from one minute to the next – from hot sun to cloudy and windy. I’d run about 4.5 miles and my legs were yelling at me to walk. I told them they would have to wait until the hill at nine miles. I’m not a fan of running on half marathons, but I figured that as I’d come so close to pulling out, I should actually walk if I needed to.
I don’t usually take much water as I run (I carry my own drink with me), but I took water from most of the stops. I had a few sips, then tipped the remainder over myself. The only downside of this is a new problem I’ve encountered this year – chafing! Wet thighs soon become very sore thighs.
The course looped round near the hospital and the cricket ground and, before I knew it, I’d done 6.5 miles and I was back on the Promenade. I was amazed to see people were still running up there – about four miles behind me. I realised they must have started late due to the traffic problems.
I hadn’t seen a single person I knew spectating, which I was surprised at. And then a shout: ‘Mummy!’
There were my husband and daughter on a random street corner. It put the smile back on my face to see them.
The course headed out of town and towards the village of Prestbury. Once through Prestbury, there was the hill I’d dreamed of walking up. Although it was eight and a bit miles, rather than nine miles. I had a small walk and a very nice young lady told me to stop walking as she wasn’t going to let me. It made me smile and stopped my walking nonsense. To be honest, walking hurt as much as running.
We ran right past Cheltenham racecourse, but it wasn’t quite time to go back there. We had to run down the hill and round the park first. On a corner, I saw my daughter’s best friend with her brother and auntie, watching out for their mum and dad and uncle (our Parkrun friends). Seconds later, I saw my husband and daughter again. My daughter had no idea her friend was nearby.
Then it was up the big hill back to the racecourse. I hadn’t planned to walk, but I felt a pull in my hip and it seemed sensible to walk a bit to ease the pressure.
And so to the final stretch – Cheltenham racecourse. I haven’t spoken to a single person who enjoys running round the racecourse. It’s soul-destroying. Just looping round and round, with runners like ants as far as the eye can see. But at least I got to see my mum and dad cheering me at the entrance.
The surface changes, the weather kept changing, my legs hurt and I felt a bit sick. I wasn’t sure if I’d had too much to drink or not enough. I kept checking my watch – my pace, how far I’d run, how long I’d been running for. My dehydrated brain started to become confused between units of time and measurement. Running 11.44 miles meant just that, it didn’t mean 11 and three quarters. Reaching 11 miles and then 12 miles didn’t give me a buzz like it would normally. It was a huge relief to finally see the finish line in the distance.
It was only when I was half a mile from the end that I felt a real buzz and a burst of adrenaline. I picked up the pace just a little bit and crossed the line with my arms in the air and a big smile on my face. I was very happy to see my sons and my mum and dad right on the finish line.
And my time?
Well, it wasn’t a PB, but I’d run it 1 hour 55 minutes and 24 seconds, making it my third best time and just 11 seconds short of my second best time. I finished in 1141st position out of 3491 finishers, was 287th woman out of 1554 female finishers and 51st in my age category out of 263.
Not bad for an old bird with a bad leg!