Wow! That really couldn’t have gone any better. If I had drawn up a bucket list for the Vitality Big Half I would have ticked off every item, every single last one.
Maybe I should just go out on a high and retire now! Obviously I won’t, but the events of the weekend have inspired me to push on to achieve even bigger and better things.
Given the recent weather there was a little uncertainty as to whether or not the race would actually go ahead. The organisers had already cancelled the associated ‘Little Half’ but, in the end, all the snow disappeared and conditions were almost perfect on race day.
After a hassle free journey to the start I dropped off my baggage and made my way to my starting pen, Wave E. I assumed I would be in the final wave but it turned out there were eight waves and I found myself in the fifth one wondering just how I ended up here! Did I over-estimate my finishing time when I entered months and months ago? Did a lot of really slow runners enter to push me up a wave or two as a result?
I did feel a little like a fish out of water. And that feeling didn’t disappear when I bumped into Sheila and then Louise, two ladies running for Diabetes UK whom I’ve known for a couple of years now and who are at least half-an-hour faster than me over a half marathon. I was definitely in the wrong wave!
It was great to chat and catch up with them as we waited to start. We eventually got underway at 9:26am and, as we did, we were told to look to our right because the front-runners, including Mo Farah, were about to go past us in the other direction.
I drifted over to the right to try to have a look but, unfortunately for Mo, he wasn’t fast enough to catch a glimpse of me. His loss, really, I just hope winning the overall race was ample compensation for him.
After that, my next task was to try to spot Dawn as she stood at the side of the road to support me. In time-honoured fashion I missed her … but, not to worry, sure I would catch her again at Tower Bridge.
I started the race with the intention of going slow at the beginning, to ease myself into it, but obviously I was swept up in the occasion recording a first mile split of 10:31 which was much faster than normal.
I told myself to slow down in the second mile. Ummmm …. 10 minutes dead. I was getting faster! What was happening? Surely I’d blow up soon.
Not so, it seems. My next mile was again faster than usual with the result that I had smashed my 5k PB without intending to do so. This wasn’t meant to happen. This was an endurance race, I was supposed to pace myself, not set a personal best at the first recognised distance marker.
But so it continued, my 5 mile PB was next to fall … then my 10k. Really, Martin, really? What were you doing? I was still waiting for my legs to tell me I’ve done enough but it just didn’t happen.
I’ll admit by now that having known I’d set new best times for 5k, 5 miles and 10k I made a conscious effort to really kick on go for my longest outstanding PB – 10 miles.
Before that, however, was Tower Bridge. It never gets old running over this iconic structure and this was no different. On the approach I got a very welcome cheer from a couple of girls who had spotted my club shirt. I don’t know who they were, nor where they were from other than that they had Northern Irish accents.
This propelled me over the bridge, knowing that Dawn and the Diabetes UK cheer point were waiting on the other side. Surely I wouldn’t miss Dawn a second time? Oops. I ran past the cheer point but didn’t spot her before, out of the corner of my eye, there she was so I turned back for a much welcome hug and words of encouragement. In my defence she missed me too but a gentleman wouldn’t mention that, right?
Anyway, back to my PBs. My next target was that pesky 10-mile record which has stood for over two years and to which I’ve never come close to matching, never mind beat.
Realising I’d really have to kick on I dug deep and, for the first time in the race, I began to struggle mentally to keep going strong. I wanted, briefly, to ease off but I knew I’d regret it afterwards. A bit of pain now would be worth it for the glow of satisfaction I’d feel afterwards. I pushed hard and the huge sense of relief I felt when I did it was palpable.
At the time I knew I’d beaten it, but my scrambled brain couldn’t figure out by how much. It was only checking out my stats afterwards that I realised I’d taken a whole three minutes off it! My 10-mile time had taunted me for ages. I look back to the time when I set it as my golden era since taking up running. It was before my injury and I never thought I would get back to that level of form again but now I know I have and bettered it.
Back to the race, the only thing to aim for now was my half marathon PB. It was very much on and because I was actually so far ahead of where I thought I’d be timewise I could allow myself the luxury of easing off a little.
In my mind I’d done all the hard work so now was the time for a little ‘victory lap’. I gently ran those last three miles, albeit still keeping an eye on my time in case I got too complacent.
I coasted for a while before, turning into the last few hundred metres, I thought I’d finish really strongly so started to sprint for the line. I didn’t need to but it was almost instinctive. I wanted to end on a high, and duly did, running at six-minute mile pace … absolutely unheard of for me, and especially not at the end of a half marathon!
I was absolutely exhausted, may have had a bit of a quivering lip as I crossed the line and possibly something in my eye. I had set five personal bests, overcome some mental struggles mid-race and finished in an almost euphoric state.
Afterwards I met up with Dawn in the event village, and we made our way to a local pub to meet up with the rest of the Diabetes UK team for a catch up, a couple of drinks, some brownies, fingers and cake (!). What a bunch of legends they are, I feel so lucky to be part of that group.
That was my race, but what about the course? I’ve read some negative comments about it but I can’t find fault with any event that starts with Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as a backdrop and ends in the shadow of the Cutty Sark.
Yes, there was a long, long tunnel at around two miles – but my fellow runners created a fantastic atmosphere as we ran through it – and there were sizeable cobbled sections but this didn’t really trouble or concern me. In fact, I’d consider both to be part of the charm of the race. Spectator wise, it was a bit patchy in places but the support was still great at all the major points which was very much appreciated.
What a fantastic and memorable event to kick off my #18in18 Challenge. I’m running 18 Half Marathons this year as a personal challenge to myself, as well as to hopefully inspire others and raise a little something for Diabetes UK.
One down, 17 to go!!!