Chester Half Marathon
Let me start with the fact that running is addictive. It’s a little known fact to non runners, and it is certainly not something that I was aware of when I started running in early February for the first time in 25 years, with the goal of just completing the Chester Half Marathon, a popular local event. I certainly had no plans at that time to continue running after the event. I wasn’t enjoying it in the first month much, it was hard work and I found it boring. Mind you, I had only been running outside once, the rest was on a treadmill. Then, less than 5 weeks into my training, I picked up a heavy cold and cough that lingered. I didn’t run again for 23 days. If somebody had offered me an all you can eat Chinese buffet in exchange for my half marathon entry, I’d have snapped their hand off. It was tough going again after the break. 10 days after I started running again, I went on the training run with Chester Half Marathon.
My goal time was 2 hours but I went with the 2 hours 10 minutes pace group because I hadn’t been back running for long. About halfway, I felt it was a bit too slow so pushed on ahead of the pace group. I was happy with the distance of 10 miles but final pace was about 9:30 a mile. I have to admit though that this was the day that transformed the way that I thought about running and when I actually started to enjoy it, it was the day that I first thought of myself as a runner. I realised that I loved running with other people, it brought out the competitive side in me and I really enjoyed chatting with other runners too where as usually I’m not very sociable.
Just four days later, on 7th April, I turned up for my first run with Buckley Runners and I’ve not looked back since. Everybody at the club made me feel welcome, and I have made some new friends, met a lot of enthusiastic runners and had a lot of helpful advice. After just a few weeks with the club, I was a much faster, more confident runner. After running in the Borders League Race in Prestatyn, I had to miss my first session with Buckley Runners with a tight hamstring, coincidentally there was heavy rain that Thursday evening.
I didn’t run for 6 days. I started to feel pain in my left knee after I started running again and after 3 more short runs, the knee was really sore, and I picked up another cold. It was only 7 days until the half marathon, so a bit worrying, but I made the decision to rest. I iced my knee regularly and elevated it. I was determined that I would at least start the race. Two days before the race, my knee was still pretty sore and my cold had started to get on my chest. I was unsure whether I would be able to complete the half marathon, and I was pretty sure that I certainly wouldn’t be able to give it my best shot. I didn’t want to come in with 2 hours now, I was confident that I could beat 1:45, and probably 1:40 if my knee was okay and cold gone.
Race day arrived. I’d had about 3 hours sleep and my chest felt really tight. Maybe it was all nerves. I don’t really get nervous in sport if I have no chance of winning, perhaps I was worried about letting myself down. I went on a short 0.3 mile run up the hill to where I was getting picked up by Dave Wootton. The knee didn’t feel too bad, but the chest felt awful. It was still hurting one hour later, which was just one hour until the start of the race. I saw a few people from Buckley Runners who assured me that things would probably be okay once I got going; Ian Hogg, Rob Mahoney and Kirsty Matthews. I was far from sure, I was worried that it was dangerous for me to run with a cold on my chest. I was so sure that I would be unable to run far, that I abandoned my plan to go in the 1:40 pace group, and went in the 2 hour pace group with my friend from work.
We finally crossed the start line after 4 minutes had elapsed on the official race clock. I looked at my watch after about half a mile, and it was at about 9:30 pace. I made a decision that this was far too slow for me and my chest wasn’t feeling too bad, so I pushed on ahead. This involved dodging in and out of a lot of slower runners though, using up more energy and risking falling. First mile pace was about 8:55 so pretty slow. I kept passing runners, but then I heard a shout from Steve Harris of Buckley Runners, so I slowed down to talk to Steve and Nicola Kay. Not long later, I found myself doing a bad Superman impression as I flew through the air and hit the ground hard. I hurt my left hand, grazed my right elbow badly, bruised my hip and hurt my ribs badly with a bit of road rash on my back. It could have been worse, at least the blue vest didn’t rip, it’s tougher than me. Steve and Nicola kindly stopped to help me, a volunteer asked if I wanted to be treated but I turned it down and got straight back up and started running again. I once finished a football match with a broken elbow, this wasn’t going to stop me, maybe I was tougher than the blue vest after all. It shook me up a bit though. Understandably, the second mile was a bit slow too at 8:40. As Nicola said later, maybe the fall gave me a bit of an adrenaline kick.
Once I’d had a couple of minutes to get over the shock, I pushed on again and started to enjoy it. It was hard work though, I was having to go up on pavements and grass verges sometimes to find a safer way through the crowds of runners. I passed another friendly face from the club, Kirsty Matthews, who is always very encouraging and positive. I started to notice and appreciate the support from the crowds of people that had come to watch the race, especially enjoying the encouraging shouts of ‘Go Buckley’ from Nicole van den Wittenboer, both on the way out and the return. Lots of runners from the club told me to enjoy my first big race. With being apprehensive about whether I would finish the race, I hadn’t really enjoyed the atmosphere before the race. I was certainly enjoying it now and taking it all in, noticing the enthusiasm of the spectators.
I was running consistent miles of approximately 7:30. I was still passing lots of runners and feeling confident. Maybe starting further back helped in a way, as nobody was passing me. I got to mile 10 and the bruised ribs were really starting to hurt now. I had plenty of stamina left in the tank, but the rib pain and worry about my chest still was stopping me from pushing harder. I was starting to get a little bit warm now so welcomed the relief of running through a spray of cold water. A resident on the race route had his hose pipe out and was holding it up near the side of the road for runners to run through if they wanted a bit of a cooling down. It was most welcome as I ran through it with my arms spread wide. We got closer to the finish and a kind runner gave me a couple of jelly babies as I passed him coming up to the final hill, another kind gesture which kept me going. Biting the head off a jelly baby felt quite satisfying at this point. Then there were spectators holding out their hands for runners to slap through on the way through, more crowd encouragement, that was fun. The final sprint in front of big crowds was a moment to savour. At this point, I’d have been quite content to run the whole course again, to take it all in and appreciate the support from the crowds right from the start.
All in all, it was a great experience for my first half marathon, and I’d recommend the Chester Half Marathon to anyone who enjoys running. I beat my original target time of 2 hours easily, coming in at 1:42:53 and a lot of that is to do with the support, advice and encouragement received from the friendly faces at Buckley Runners. I am pretty confident that I could have ran sub 1:40 if I had started in the 1:40 pace group. I lost 3 minutes in the first 3 miles for 1:40 pace and fell and hurt myself, used up a lot of energy zipping in and out of slower runners to overtake too. The good news is that this means it won’t be as difficult to set a new PB next time. One lesson to be learned is to have a bit more confidence in myself as plenty of club members have shown confidence in me; Paul Davis, Steve Harris, Lisa MacPherson, Ann Broughton and Kirsty Matthews, to name a few that I need to thank for their enthusiasm and encouragement. Plenty of others have given helpful advice, guys like Rob Mackey, Ian Hogg, Steve Bellis, Dave Wootton and Jason Dwan. So overall, really pleased with my time, especially as I have only ran just over 200 miles so far since I took up running, but room for improvement if I start in the correct pacing group and dodge the pesky traffic cones. Just call me conehead! Bring on the next half marathon or maybe the full Chester half marathon in October, I’d much rather be doing that now than a TV marathon. I can’t wait for my next big race. I’ve officially got the running bug, and most of that is due to the amazing team at Buckley Runners. If you’ve not been running with the club before, try it, you won’t be disappointed, we are a friendly bunch and there is a pace to suit all. Keep running, but remember most of all, take it all in and enjoy yourself!