If you are connected with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram then you will no doubt have noticed that over the past few months I’ve been spamming your feeds with all sorts of half marathon nonsense!
First of all, kudos to you for not unfollowing or unfriending me. Secondly, good news for both you and I: it’s all over!
This past Sunday I took part in and successfully completed the Vitoria-Gasteiz half marathon, ending what was a three month process of hungover training (surely only a nutter decides to do a big run every Sunday?) and fundraising/begging people to sponsor me.
Seriously, I’m not exaggerating when I say about 80% of my training was done with a hangover. Not bad when you’re at the beginning of your plan and just doing short four mile runs; when you’re logging 10 miles on a Sunday and you’re very far from home feeling like you’re about to puke everywhere it’s a slightly different story.
I was joined by my surrogate parents/cheerleaders Nicola and Nick for the weekend who had come over from Lanzarote. Nick was originally planning to run the race with me but an injury in training meant he’d have to settle for being my coach and provide motivation from the sidelines instead of the course.
The night before the race was a very chilled one, unlike the Friday night where I put away far too much beer for a man preparing to run 21 kilometres (13 miles doesn’t sound as impressive!) that same weekend.
The first port of call was El Boulevard shopping centre, where I had only discovered that morning we had to go before 8pm to collect my number and timing chip! Had I not had a last-minute look on the website it could have been a disaster before the race even started, as I was expecting this to happen in the morning just prior to the race!
After a few pintxos and beers (purely medicinal, to settle the nerves) an early night was on the cards ready for a 6.30am wake up call. On a Sunday. Pure blasphemy. Thanks to my lingering hangover I was able to get to sleep very quickly and get a good night’s kip, which to me fully justified my decision to go out on Friday night.
With an early start, a few coffees and a bit of breakfast behind me we walked into the city and arrived at the starting point about 40 minutes before the race was due to start. Slowly but surely the city became abuzz with runners warming up, settling nerves and taking on some last minute nutrition.
9am was approaching and it was time to head towards the start line. Throughout my training I’d been clocking in at about 5.30-6 minutes per kilometre which I thought was pretty impressive; however after seeing the starting pack it appeared that with this pace I’d be starting amongst the back-markers! The only way was up, I guess.
Cheered on by my two-person fan club, the starting gun went off and a few minutes later I trundled over the line to begin the first of 21 kilometres. It was hard to stick to my own pace during the early kilometres and despite monitoring my time it was almost impossible not to just revert to type and go along with the same pace as the pack. The first kilometre rolled around and I can clearly remember my thoughts at this point:
“Jesus Christ, is that it?”
As the pack spread out it was a little easier to set my own pace and get into my groove, so to speak. Nick and I had set a loose target of finishing the race in under two hours and as I reached the four kilometre mark I was running at a pace of around six minutes per km. If anything, I was being a little over-cautious and reserving a lot of energy for later on.
A few quick sums in my head (easier said than done when you’re running and listening to a podcast at the same time!) said I needed to pick up the pace if I was to finish in under two hours. Challenge accepted.
From that point on I set myself a target of 5.30 minutes maximum per km; it was early enough to claw back the time and finish under my target. The tactic I used was to set myself a 30 second target window per kilometre. Let’s say I reached the 4km mark at 24 minutes, I’d set myself the goal of reaching the 5km sign between 29-29.30 minutes. It was very much a mental workout as well as a physical one!
There were times when my mind would wander and I’d slip into a bit of a slower pace, but on the whole I managed to stick to my goals throughout the majority of the run. Reaching the 11km mark was something of a turning point as instead of counting up I was able to start counting down now I was past the halfway point.
I was greeted by Nicola and Nick at both the 10km and 16km marks, which gave me a little bit more motivation. As the race went on the day got warmer and warmer and I was incredibly grateful for the early start – had it started at midday I’m not sure this little baldy would have made it as temperatures reached the high 20s!
In addition to the rising temperatures, I had to deal with a small problem of my own making too. As everyone did, I attached my number to my t-shirt with safety pins. However as I’m sure not everyone did, I didn’t take into account the positioning of the safety pins, which actually caused some rather uncomfortable chafing as the race went on and – to my horror when I removed my top – a rather bloody nipple. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.
With just a few kilometres to go I seemed to find a bit more energy in reserve; call it adrenaline, call it what you want. With the Manic Street Preachers providing the soundtrack to the last few stretches I’m almost certain I logged my fastest kilometres of the race. For extra motivation I deliberately ran the last few minutes with ‘A Design For Life’ playing – a song that means so much to me and my mum and a fitting end to an event I took part in to raise money in her memory.
To mine (and Nick’s!) surprise, I crossed the finish line at 1:55:29 – almost five minutes under my goal. Considering the slow start I made, I was expecting to be cutting it fine but as it happened I had time to spare! Within seconds of crossing the finish line I had a bottle of Powerade in one hand, water in the other and a medal round my neck. And not much longer after that, I had a beer in my hand too!
So, job done. I beat my target in terms of time, but most importantly I eclipsed my rather modest fundraising target of £200. At the time of writing my total stands at £696.32 for Brain Tumour Research, a charity that is of course very close to my heart. The fundraising page will remain active, so it’s never too late to donate. You can find it here. I’d love to pass the £700 mark…*hint hint*.
Finally, a huge thank you to anybody who donated to my cause, shared my fundraising page, offered words of encouragement, or even just put up with me going on and on about my training. I promise that’s the last you’ll hear of it, until I sign up for the Bilbao half night marathon in October.*
* – maybe