I’m into double figures! I’ve now done ten out of my planned 18 half marathons this year, and what a day it was to kick off the second part of my challenge.
Being from Northern Ireland I’m well aware that the fantasy TV series Games of Thrones is filmed here and although I’ve never watched it I do know that an area called the ‘Kings Road’ seems to be quite iconic.
In real life this road is better known locally as The Dark Hedges, an avenue of what appears to be interlocking trees that make a kind of ‘tunnel’ for a few hundred yards.
Technically, the race forms part of Kennedy Kane McArthur Festival of Running, but The Dark Hedges rolls a lot easier off the tongue plus, I suppose, gets the event a lot of free publicity.
The ‘hedges’ came approximately seven miles into today’s race … but more of that later.
Let’s go back to the start. I travelled to the race with my normal training buddies, Iverene and Bronagh. This was Iv’s second half, Bronagh’s first and my 10th this year so, for those reasons, this was quite a big milestone event.
Although we had pre-registered we had entered at different times, and our surnames didn’t follow in immediate alphabetical order so imagine our surprise when, collecting our numbers, they ran in sequential order – 521, 522 and 523. That was just freaky, especially considering we travelled together! It could only have been random, the organisers couldn’t have known, could they?
The race itself started on grass, with almost two laps of the event ‘village’ before eventually turning off onto the road. We didn’t expect this and found it a little awkward to get used to so it was nice to get onto the good old trusty tarmac.
Running with Bronagh right from the start I felt good during the opening three miles. The organisers had promised an undulating course and so it proved, but it was nothing that posed too much of a challenge.
Indeed, we were ticking along nicely for the first five miles. The route was getting progressively hillier but, as I said, it was manageable. I knew that there was a steady climb ahead between five and seven but I decided not to tell or remind Bronagh of this, as much for my own sake as anything else. If I didn’t mention it, it didn’t exist. Right?
In the end it wasn’t actually that bad. I took it slow, steady and in a methodical manner … not looking ahead, just concentrating on the road below my feet.
Pretty soon we reached the aforementioned Dark Hedges. Despite never having been here before and therefore not really knowing where I was I still detected a change in the air. I’m not quite sure what it was because right until the final moments there was no real tourist activity.
That all changed dramatically as we turned left. From running on largely deserted roads the place was suddenly heaving with people of all nationalities. Obviously I was expecting tourists but I don’t think I had really anticipated as many as there was.
I’ll admit to getting goosebumps. Whether it was the scenery or just the sheer numbers out on the road, but it was as close as I’ve come to matching the feeling of running across Tower Bridge that I’ve so far experienced at home.
The tourists were fantastic. As I approached it felt like I was parting the Red Sea, they stood to either side, applauded and shouted words of encouragement in a myriad of different languages. It really was a special moment.
Pretty soon it was all over. Emerging the other end of the road I still had the small matter of around five miles left. Time to knuckle down and get this thing done.
Throughout the race up to this point I was running well. I felt reasonably fresh and, mentally, this usually tough part of a half marathon (7/8 to 10 miles) wasn’t really an issue. Having Bronagh for company no doubt helped with that, but I really did feel ok.
Hitting ten miles is always an important part of any half for me, only a parkrun left and all that. I seemed to get a little bit extra from somewhere and despite the course still being very ‘up and down’ I surprised myself by how well I coped. I wasn’t particularly fast but I had a strength I don’t normally have at this stage.
Ten became 11, 11 became 12 and pretty soon there was only a mile left.
Then an amazing thing happened. As we turned the corner for the final approach down into the village of Dervock we heard this almighty whooping and cheering a little bit in the distance. It was Sylvia from our club! Now, Sylvia is only a little thing, and usually quite quiet, but it seemed she was making as much noise as an entire cheer point! It was fantastic and so very, very welcome. Thank-you Sylvia!
Before we knew it we were almost done. Returning back to the grass I had a quick look to check we didn’t have to do more laps. We didn’t. It was a straight run to the finish or, in our case, a sprint. I knew Bronagh was going to do this but I think she might just have edged it, it was certainly a photo finish. We went as hard as we could muster – not easy on grass after 13 miles! – so it was quite a relief to cross the line.
Unfortunately there was no medal to collect at the end. Because of a huge number of late and on the day entries the organisers had run out but we were approached by a lady who took a note of our numbers and reassured us extra medals have been ordered and would be sent out as soon as possible. That’s fair enough. Disappointment, yes, but the issue was handled very efficiently and promptly and was typical of an otherwise well organised event.
Not to be deterred, we borrowed a couple of medals from random strangers and got the obligatory post-race pics taken with them.
Afterwards it was picnic time. It’s Bronagh’s birthday this weekend, so the three of us got out the tartan rug, the wine glasses, some bubbles and treats and chewed the fat for the next hour or so. So what if it was drizzling slightly? We had just run a half marathon, we didn’t care! It was a lovely end to a memorable day. Thanks and well done to both Bronagh and Iverene … here’s to many more great days out.