It finally arrived.
I’d been waiting for this day since July last year. From unsteadily limping 1.3 miles that first day in the summer. On Saturday, one day before my 30th birthday, 23lbs lighter and a non-smoker, I stood in a crowd of 170 people, flanked by my uncle and my second cousin, and waited for the klaxon.
I had been a little nervous last week, and it finally hit me when I drove into town a few days before the race and the arrows and mile markers were nailed up round the course. That’s when it actually hit me that I was running 13 miles. That summer’s day didn’t seem so long ago (I realise that it wasn’t) and I was all of a sudden very aware that in terms of distance, I was a very inexperienced runner, and there was a responsibility on me now to run this and get to the end, for all the sponsors who had faith in me.
I ate very little, and paced about like a caged animal most of Friday. I had planned ahead (of course, this is me we’re talking about!) and forced myself to eat some pasta in the evening, but I might as well have been eating cardboard. I did relax a bit when my parents arrived, and mum helped me pack my bag and go through my checklist for the morning. I had a Jack Daniels to ease the nerves and went to bed.
As I stood at the start, doubt engulfed me. I felt sick, and looked at all the ‘professional’ and clearly experienced half-marathoners around me with their fancy glasses, sooper-dooper running belts and Rolls-Royce running shoes. Here’s little ol’ dumpy Gem, right in the middle.
When I woke up earlier that morning, you could have instantly scraped me off the ceiling. I was HYPER. Weighing myself bolstered my confidence, as did my quick Happy Wardrobe Dance before the race. I felt good, and almost relaxed as I stepped out the car at the start line, and thats’ when the doubts kicked in. The first thing I saw was a red-haired girl, probably around 5 years younger than me, and she was about 6ft tall. She elegantly strode the length of the car park, warming up and I swear her legs stopped at my shoulder-height. I felt instantly huge. I nearly did get back in the car.
And that was it- too late to pull out, we were off – the Klaxon had sounded. I had deliberately placed myself at the back of the starters, because I knew I would be slow, and didn’t want the psychological negativity of having a squillion people pass me. The agreement between my Uncle, my second Cousin Christine and I was that we would stick together at my pace, but if either of them wanted to go faster, they were just to go. Both are experienced runners, with 18 years, 7 marathons and numerous other races between them, I wasn’t going to be the one holding them back.
I started the way I start every run, giving myself a few minutes to settle into my pace. Christine and Uncle were already away ahead and my body was desperately wanting to speed up to catch them up. I repeatedly told myself no, if I did that, I’d end up walking. There was to be no walking. Thankfully, they soon realized, and let me catch up.
The race went well, with the three of us laughing, talking about the most absurd things on the way round. Miles 3, 4, 5 passed quickly, and then the hills started. I was bizarrely looking forward to this, as my whole life is a hill run. As we approached the first very (steep) hill what happened in front of me was outrageous. We’d caught up with a tall, slim-built guy in his 30s, who clearly started too quick and was flagging. He didn’t even attempt to run up the hill, he just stopped at the bottom and started walking. Most would have felt sorry for him or tried to encourage him. Not me. I was angry. I was angry because I was busting a gut and he didn’t deserve to be in front of me because he clearly wasn’t trying. I was passing him and there was no two ways about it. I gave him a nod as I dropped a gear and sailed past him uphill. It’s the only time during the race that I was at an advantage. Christine did comment that maybe I should be doing some fell running or something, as I ran quicker up hills, still talking, than on the flat!
Jolly job, target pace (minus having to stop for water – it was paper cups, and if I’d known that, I’d have brought my water bottle. Advice – don’t try and run with cups of water. Soggy.) and my strategy worked – not a single person passed me, and we in fact, passed nearly a dozen people on the way round. This tells me my strategy was a good one. Either that or my hill work is super-fly.
Then the last mile happened. Oh. My. God. My legs started to slow, my heart rate shot through the roof and I could feel myself slowing down every step. I was tired. I was out of breath. I began to panic. Uncle and Christine pushed on, leaving me trailing. I started to hate myself. I started to cry. I hated myself for not being able to keep up with relatives twice my age, and how embarrassed I’d be at the finish line, knowing that they’d run most of the way round at a very slow pace for me. I hated myself for smoking for the last 15 years, I hated myself for ever getting fat in the first place, and leaving my life this long without doing things I really wanted to achieve – I could have done this at 23, the last time I’d lost weight and it would be me leaving the oldies in the dust. I’m really glad my relatives didn’t see me crying. I hated it all, and was ashamed that I’d let everyone down – James, my Mum, Dad, Aunt who were all waiting at the finish line and would have to wait even longer for me to wheeze across the line.
I sucked it up – I had to. There was no way that I had gone through all this to limp over the finish line like a wilted flower. (Plus, it’s just not my bag) I stuck my headphones in, sang as loud as I could, when I could, and sped up. I rounded the corner, and spotted Christines’ little pink hat. I ran faster. I caught her. Then I realised the finish line was RIGHT THERE. Across the road, through the gate, then on to the track. Uncle was looking back, waving from the gate, shouting “Hurry up! We’ll finish together!” I talked to myself all the way into the gate and I saw it. The finish line. I shouted, “I can see it! I can see the finish!”
I have no idea what happened next, other than I broke into the biggest grin ever, and went into what I can only describe as Beast Mode. I’d just run 13 miles and I was SPRINTING. I ran as fast as I could, trying to catch Uncle and Christine, like a small child chasing their parents, still with the grin. I felt Uncle’s hand touch mine, and I reached for Christines’. I went “WOOOOOOO!” as we crossed the finish line, together, as a family.
I freakin’ did it.