If you've followed my blog over the last few weeks and months then you'll know I found training for Royal Parks Half Marathon tough. I'd set out with the goal of smashing my PB, but ended up finding training more challenging that I imagined possible, and more demoralising than I care to think about. Running was stressing me out, it was not longer serving its purpose as my way to deal with life's challenges and instead was creating them. I was beyond frustrating.
Gradually I worked myself round to the idea that I should accept this race as something that would be an amazing, and probably once in a lifetime experience - I needed to make this one count, and feeling miserable about an arbitrary goal wasn't going to help that. So I was feeling better, I was getting excited, which is just as well because the night before the race I managed to have a full on (non-running related) panic attack. Sweats, shakes, vomit, the works. It was real, it hurt and it was in no way the best way to prepare to the race. Yet some how I not only made it to the start line, but I made it around the race and I finished in a pretty respectable time (2:07:36).
Oh, and along the way it rekindled my love of running.
Royal Parks Half is absolutely beautiful. Starting and ending in Hyde Park under a canopy of trees as the leaves gradually change from green to red is magical. I'm not really an autumn person (I'm not too keen on the dark), but as I stood there inhaling the cold air and breathing out the stresses of the evening before, focused on my goal and trying to forget what was on my mind, I started to appreciate the atmosphere. When you feel vulnerable there's something comforting about being surrounded yet anonymous, invigorated by the cold air and aware that every day is temporary and in a constant state of change.
Setting off, through closed streets lined with people, passed iconic sights in one of the greatest cities on the planet it's hard not to feel special. It's hard not to let go of whatever's bothering you and soak up that amazing atmosphere.
Back in the park all the paths were lined with supporters - including Mike and his parents who popped up at various points, waving manically, very aware that I needed all the support I could get as I got my head down and pushed around the course, plugged in to a podcast and letting myself feel free.
It was one of those days where the little climbs the park offers felt hard and rewarding, especially when I ran past the Unicef UK cheer squad! Even when training got tough knowing that I was running for an amazing cause kept me going, and it was amazing to be so well supported on the day. To everyone who turned out it meant the world, and it was so lovely to meet you all afterwards! Plus thanks for the Jaffa Cakes!
I don't think I've ever run a race and not seen paramedics in action, but Royal Parks Half was the first time I've seen the Air Ambulance in attendance. It was a jolt, and not the only one. Between miles 10 and 11 a man was being resuscitated. I later learnt his name was Will and he had very sadly died. Running is an amazing sport, and it brings a lot to people's lives, but it isn't always safe. Watching someone dying because of a sport you love really puts you on the spot. Another reminder that our state is temporary.
Running on thoughts flooded my mind but I pressed forward, past my friend Steph and her boyfriend who'd stopped to deal with some foot issues, snaking round so the final mile was in reach. Just as things were feeling brutal I crossed paths with Hannah, an old friend from my days in student politics. Just tapping her on the shoulder and waving like crazy was enough of a boost to get me through the the last 800 meters. Pushing forward, waving at Mike who was taking photos and across the line.
Where I promptly burst in the tears.
This is a bit of a thing. At my first half in Birmingham I burst in to tears in the last mile and needed a cuddle from a Red Cross Medic at the end. This time round I desperately looked round for someone, anyone who might give me a hug. Who might relive some of the emotions that were pouring out of me as a result of this run. This very cathartic run. Sadly there was no one free, but there was a medal. A memento to remind me of what this race meant. That is was more than sub-two, that it reminded me of the release running could be. That running could be my escape when life was too much, and could remind me of what I want my life to be about when I need that.