The Half Challenge

In 2015, my boyfriend started training for an Iron Man. 70.3 miles of swimming, cycling and running and my gosh he smashed it (Well Done!).  As he started training, I thought to myself – yep I need to do something challenging too, it’s such a good thing to do.  So I plucked up the courage and signed myself up for a Half Marathon; the Cardiff Half.

My Iron Man!

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Back then, my sporting background consisted of sports such as basketball, dance, hockey, sprinting.  All of which do not involve any form of long distance work, but I had been for the odd 2/3 mile run; nevertheless, I had a lot of work to do.

I went to Centre Parcs with my family, friends and boyfriend in March and for some reason we were all on a fitness mission, so there was my ‘first’ run of training.  A slow and scenic route around the beautiful forest somewhere near Nottingham. It went okay, but I think I only ran 2.5 miles, remembering that a half marathon is 13.1 miles. After that weekend away, I tried to build on what I was doing. Such as making sure I was running at least every other week, which led to running once a week and then to several times a week – you get the idea.

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By July I was running about 50-60 miles a month, I roughly followed what the Nike training app was telling me to do and listened to advice from other half marathon runners.  I think what they were basically saying was that you needed to build the miles up per week rather than adding a mile on the end to each run you do.  Either way, I think it is best to go with how you are feeling on the day.  There’s nothing worse than being told you have to run 6 miles when you’re tired and could just about manage 4.  I think the important thing is to keep your legs active and get used to running on the roads and pavements and find a pace that suits you and build up when you’re feeling strong.

I remember the day I got to the 6 mile mark, which is about an hours worth of running. That was such an achievement for me already, purely because I had never ran for so long in a straight line before – I found it incredibly boring and I didn’t see any skill involved. There’s no sprint intervals, no balls to chase, no area to defend, no team work, no opponents – nothing.

I read online and was told by other people that, if you get to the 10th mile, that’s all you need to get up to in training; because on the day you can add an extra 3 miles purely by the adrenalin rush you’ll get and from being ‘carried’ by the sea of runners.  WHAT? How does that make sense? 3 miles is a long way; and a long way when you have already ran 10 miles.  Anyway, after struggling with 6, 7 and 8 miles, I think I ran 10 miles twice and 9 miles twice. I probably should have hit the 9’s and 10’s more, but as previously mentioned, I found it boring so I didn’t run much more than that (I was still going to my gym classes though).

Frustration kicked in at the end of July.  I was running around the same routes, I was running in a straight line, I found anything after 7 miles painful in my knees, almost as though my knee was getting rusty – quite an odd feeling actually.  I also found that I couldn’t bend my knee the day after a long run, which was telling me this isn’t good on the body! Because how can running for over an hour consistently be good for you? I’m still a little sceptical on it.  But hey, I’m not an expert.

Unfortunately, I am extremely stubborn.  When I feel I can’t do something ‘well’ I give up and stop doing it all together!  If I can’t pick a new gym class up straight away, I’ll leave.  If I don’t think I’m fast enough, I’ll stop training.  Probably not a good mindset, but then my enjoyment goes.  If you don’t enjoy something, your heart is not in it and your effort is lost. Thus, I didn’t run once for 5 weeks.  Not during the whole of August or the first week of September.  Not even on a treadmill in the gym. I thought, what’s the point. I can’t push myself to keep going, it hurts and it’s not fun anymore.

But. With encouragement and some self motivation, I managed to pull out a couple more runs before the big day.  I think I ran a couple of 3 miles and maybe a 6 to keep my legs warm!  The day arrived and I remember seeing the crowd of runners.  It was actually quite nice to see so many active people of all ages, people younger than me and people older than my grandparents, especially seeing as the nation is just getting fatter!

I told myself, I just want to complete the race.  I don’t care about my time or position, I just want to prove to myself that I can complete it, without stopping (not that there’s anything wrong with stopping). The gun fired and off we went. Having lived in Cardiff for 3 years, I was completely distracted by what I was seeing. Memories came flooding into my head of the fun I had whist living there. I ran past the houses of where my friends lived and it felt like they were still there.  I ran past the streets I used to walk down daily, past the shops I used to visit, past the clubs I used to go into.  Before I knew it, I was at the 9th mile mark!

9th!! How has this happened? I had barely broken into a sweat because I started at such a good/slow pace.  I was so distracted by the dance music in my ears and the familiar sights that I had managed to get to the 9th mile.  I knew I was able to get to 10, but did I have anything left in me after that?  It was a little daunting seeing as I had never ran that far before! The 11th mile was in my sight and I suddenly had a rush of adrenaline whizz around my body.  I felt good, I felt strong and I felt determined.

After speeding up into a very fast run, I had bombed past the 12th mile and I knew there was not much more left to run.  The 13th mile was in my sight and I felt great, my energy levels increased even more when I was over taking the people who had started to walk, I felt like I was winning a race!  The finishing line was in front of me and of course, I had to sprint finish – and that is exactly what I did.  I overtook pretty much everyone that was in front of me.

With a great big smile on my face, I did it! I had completed my first half marathon! My gosh what a great feeling.  I stopped for a moment and thought about what had just happened.  The sounds of loud cheers and clapping from the crowd the entire way round was thrilling and I felt great! Feelings of accomplishment, achievement and determination filled me, and off I went to get my free banana and goody bag (which was full of more food, water, a T-shirt and MEDAL).

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I had so much fun throughout that race that I couldn’t believe how different it was to training.  I watched people of all shapes and sizes push themselves, I saw thousands of people of all ages from the crowd cheer on strangers as they ran past saying “come on you can do it, well done you’re nearly there” – which is just so nice!  I even saw this one guy in front of me coming up to the 12th mile, he had spotted the two girls who had stopped running and were walking; instead of running past them, he gently put his hand on their back, smiled at them and said “don’t give up, you’re nearly there, you can do this” – to which they both started to run again.

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My finishing time was 2 hours and 17 minutes.  I don’t care whether that’s good or bad because my goal was to finish.  I loved it so much that I can’t wait to do it all over again.  My next challenge is to work on my PB and see if I can get a quicker time.  What is your goal for 2016?

My personal tips for running a half marathon:

  1. Good music – There’s nothing better than running to the beat of music. I ran to dance, trance and drum and base; pretty much danced and sang my way around.
  2. Plan your route – It’s often daunting to have no idea where to run.  If you are not part of a running group then I would suggest to get into your car and drive various loops of different distances for you to remember.  I had a set 3 mile, 6 mile and 10 mile route and was able to add on or take off some distance accordingly and this often helped to make the runs a little different each time.
  3. Be prepared – Make sure you have the right things you need: marathon trainers, hat, sun glasses, sweat band, water bottle, half a banana, energy gel – they are all needed.  Research all aspects.
  4. Encourage yourself – Tell yourself why you are putting yourself through all this hard work: in memory of a friend or family member, for charity, for fun, for yourself, for a sense of achievement.
  5. Form – Run strong, use those arms, drive those legs forward, head up, engage your core.
  6. Look after yourself – As long as you have plenty of time to train, I’d say you need to listen to what your body is telling you.  If your knee hurts, don’t push yourself and run on it.  If you’re feeling tired, don’t force yourself.  I found that having a few days off made me run harder the next time I went out and ended up going further or running faster.  I also made sure I stretched well!
  7. Pick a scenic route – I really enjoyed looking around during my run; Penarth harbour is beautiful and so was the view coming from Penarth to the lovely Cardiff Bay.  Choose somewhere where you’ve never been before or somewhere with iconic attractions!
  8. Do it with someone – See if anyone you know would like to join in with you.  It’s great to have support on the way round a run and know that someone is experiencing the same thing as you. At the beginning of my training my mum came out with me, sometimes we didn’t even do the same route but it was nice to leave the house together in our gear! She got a little poorly and was unable to continue running and did not take part on the day (apart from cheering).  She’s okay now though, so hopefully she’d like to do it all over again this year!
  9. Enjoy it – I regrettably did not enjoy training, I think I even cried with anger a few times. But race day was fantastic and I will remember that feeling when I begin to train again. Trick yourself and tell your brain and body that it’s fun! If not, enjoy getting fitter, – I certainly enjoyed having new extra strong legs.  I also enjoyed having a new hobby and something to keep me super busy every single week!

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© 2016 Naomi Laws. All rights reserved.

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