Today I swapped Greenwich Park for Greenisland Golf Club for the latest instalment in my #18in18 Half Marathon Challenge, the East Antrim Marathon Series (EAMS) #NotTheLondonMarathon event.
As the name suggests, this was held on London Marathon day, and was my distraction/consolation for not being at Blackheath, and in the spirit of last year I wore the 2017 VLM finishers shirt instead of my normal club colours.
This was three races in one … a 10k, half and full marathon over a 6.5 mile course, so do it twice for a Half, four times for the full etc. etc.
I went to the race with Iverene and Bronagh from the club who elected – probably sensibly with the benefit of hindsight – to do the 10k.
These are small events, and despite being newcomers to the EAMS community we were warmly welcomed into the fold, something that proved to be the theme throughout the day. Everyone I encountered was friendly, and had a word whether it be at the drinks stations, the marshals or fellow runners out on the course.
At the pre-race briefing I looked around and felt like a fish out of water. These guys were hardcore runners! They were tall, athletic and more than a few of them had done ultra-marathons. What had I left myself in for?
Because they were doing the 10k, and the course was 6.5 miles, Bronagh and Iverene started further down the road from me so I was separated from them even before kick-off, basically turning left out of the golf club carpark whereas I turned right.
So, feeling totally inadequate amongst the company I found myself in, the race began and almost immediately there was an ascent which lasted for the first couple of miles, rising around 75 feet, before dropping almost 250 feet for right down to sea level at around the 7km mark.
This was very welcome, and was quite pleasant in places taking us through a wooded area. One drawback of a small race like this, however, was that quite often I was running on my own so there were times I did wonder if I had got lost.
Thankfully I spotted three ladies a little bit in front of me so I tailed them for a while before catching up and running the next section with them until I was confident that I had an idea of whereabouts I was going.
Passing them, I then spotted another couple so more or less followed them for the remainder of the loop, again to get my bearings for my second lap.
Everything was going ok. I wasn’t setting a blistering pace but I was doing well enough.
Until I hit the hill that is Station Road.
I had been warned about it, and had heard varying reports of how difficult it was going to be.
Oh bloody hell. This felt never-ending, relentless. From sea level to 175 feet for about a mile.
That marked the end of the first lap … but, of course, I then had that further rise over the next couple of miles ahead of me and it was here that it started to go a little bit wrong.
My legs started to cramp, and whilst I battled on I was also very aware that I needed to be sensible to reduce the risk of injury, so I made sure to slow it down as much as I needed. I haven’t suffered from cramp for a while so it was a bit concerning.
Thankfully the downhill section provided some respite, and allowed me to claw back a bit of time.
By now I was running on my own although, as I entered the woods again, the leaders of the full marathon lapped me and gave me some much needed words of encouragement.
Of course, with this being a public area it meant I regularly encountered folks out walking their dogs. Normally this isn’t a problem but, today, I happened across a couple out with their bulldogs, both of which were running loose.
There was a little one which didn’t bother me, it was a sprightly wee thing and looked to be more interested in having fun with its stick than having me for breakfast.
It’s a pity the same couldn’t be said for it’s much older, much chunkier mate. It clearly took exception to me being there so I literally stopped to let it walk on and create a bit of a distance between us.
At last the owners stopped to put the leash on it in order to let a cyclist past, so I spotted my opportunity and went as fast as my cramped, stumpy wee legs could carry me to get past.
That brought me back onto the Shore Road and a mile of relatively flat before starting the climb for the second and final time.
By now I wasn’t caring about time. My legs were empty, and hurting. I just wanted to finish.
Getting halfway up the hill I spotted this vision, a couple of angels in bling. My own personal cheer team, namely Bronagh and Iverene, bedecked in their medals.
Having done the hill themselves they appreciated how difficult it was. They encouraged me, cajoled me, permitted me to swear and added a few more expletives to vocabulary which I thought was pretty decent of them!
Honestly, I have never experienced a more difficult end to a race. I usually save a little for a sprint finish but I had nothing. Absolutely nothing. I don’t know if that means I gave everything I had, or that I had very little to give in the first place.
But I had done it, I’d finished another half marathon and had taken another step towards completing my challenge.
Thanks to the ladies for their company there and back, and for their support at end. Thanks to everyone associated with the race, it really was friendly affair with an absolutely massive medal and I’ll definitely be returning to tackle one of their range of races again … although maybe I’ll look for something that avoids Station Road next time!!!