On Saturday 13th of June Sarah McInnes took part in the Harborough Half Marathon 2015. These are her personal thoughts on what it was like, how it felt at the time and afterwards…
On Saturday 13th June, against my better judgement, limit of ability and the frantic advice of my peers, I ran my first half marathon. It was a day of extremes, from the grown men in speechless pain to the cheering tribes at the finish line, all set against a backdrop of default ‘British Weather’. It was my best Saturday in Harborough for some time.
Perhaps a week ago, I asked my friend Frances if she’d be good enough to open the Carnival of Running. Fran made cakes on television a while back. She opens a lot of things these days. An agreement to open the races became a decision to run the half-marathon. In a childhood-level fit of competitiveness (and with zip-zero training), I found myself entering also to race my infectiously energetic friend.
There’s a phenomenon before something big happens when time slows, and you realise that you could walk away now and things could be different. This ‘Moment’ is characterised by a steady rush of better-thought-out alternative options, disbelief that the rapidly-approaching events made it past your internal Common Sense Committee, eyes usually glued to the middle distance. It’s there before the decision to buy Jägerbombs on a work night (any night), the impulse to cut your own hair, or wear Crocs outside of your home. And so it was last Saturday morning. Crowding through the hoards, I saw several souls tussle with this turmoil as a sea of gym-fit superstars in unrealistic amounts of lycra began to jump and squat in the slanting rain to Survivor classic, ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Some had come in plastic bin liners for reasons probably related to not getting hypothermia before an uncommonly tricky race. What was I doing here? I didn’t have a bin liner. I didn’t have a clue. My training plan had consisted entirely of pasta lunches and rest. I had no pouch to store the many calories I get through daily. There were sweets clipped into the back of my hair.
Fran said her bit with happy enthusiasm and, cheers and ‘Survivor’ still loud in our ears, we scrambled into a race.
This wasn’t too bad! I thought as we approached Welland Park (approximately mile 1 of a thirteen mile race). The hill to Great Bowden reset expectations somewhat. It felt like trying to run up a wall, in a storm, with limbs full of stones. It did something very real to my calf muscles. Passing runners yelled sage advice and full instructions of how to breathe. I’m serious. You forget how to breathe out there. My burning ankles buckled and shook in protest at this latest plot twist to their regular slothful Saturday… as a marshal whooped that there were only ten miles left.
It was wet. It was cold. Space-time continuum bypasses Thorpe Langton; there’s no way that stretch took anything less than a week. It’s an odd scenario to force your body to do something that hurts, and that can be expected to hurt it for several further hours. Why are they doing this? I thought. Why doesn’t a ONE of my fellow wind-battered, red-faced, visibly-agonised folk just stop? The rain rained indifferently, people trudged relentlessly, and I knew. They were (to paraphrase Ms Radcliffe) running because they were runners, and they were runners because they run. The man with the breathing instructions, the woman too tired to grip a cup of water; anyone who mysteriously found breath enough to propel one another up that obscene last hill. They too didn’t know they would make it, clearly, it often felt like they would not, and they did it anyway – these were my people!
I know it must have been bad at times. I know because any attempt to use my legs in the most basic sense sends pain zigzagging along my tendons, making me revise all future plans to one of lying very still. But finishing on a high, the parting gift of an hour+ of endorphins, means you remember the whole event that way. Legitimate high points? -Definitely. The swell of adrenaline at the start means, despite screaming muscles and existential levels of concern and doubt, you will nonetheless experience some of the most consuming laughs of your life over things that in any other scenario, are genuinely not that funny. ‘I went out last night’. ‘I can’t feel my legs’. ‘Your lips are really blue’. ‘It’s 13 kilometres, yeah?…’
Then there’s the surprising extent to which you’ll perform for a crowd, regardless of the stage in the race or indeed, actual ability. That’s how you end up dashing off in the first mile, that collective thirty seconds of adulation; ‘Eye of the Tiger’ written for you. Sure, I had a stitch the next half hour, at the very least, but clapping people! It happens less and less in adult life, and lends itself pretty well to irony (slow clap. Clapping emoji). It’s human nature, then, to step things up when you hear genuine applause. After this, you can’t trust yourself to pace or place yourself in a more suitable position in the group, to slow without stopping. So, you just carry on. Your mind works overtime to convince your body that everything’s fine, developing increasingly peculiar systems of measurement: ‘Eight miles left? Eight miles. Less than halfway left… TEN MINUTES LEFT, maybe. Ten more minutes, a couple more times. -And I imagine you’ve broken a few records…’.
All who took part have my deepest thanks and respect. The runners, enacting the mass delusion that there was nothing dramatically horrible happening to their hamstrings. The happy, downpour-dodging crowds en route and at the finish. Perhaps most of all, I’m grateful to the excellent folk who volunteered as marshals. It was a chilly day to stand still for hours in the keen clinging rain, but you wouldn’t know it from those heroes. They had nothing but smiles, sports drinks and rallying calls as we flung leaden limbs over several ‘One last hill!’s. If racers got a medal, these few deserve a trophy. Quite literally laughing at the woeful conditions, they made the event run smoothly, playing their part like superstars.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to get involved with future Race Harborough events. However long it takes you, the thrill of completing a race outlives the effort and struggle of it by a league. Loping up the stairs (sideways) afterwards, as I will be doing for some weeks now, I was proud of my aching limbs, joints the size of planets and devotedly trashed trainers.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat / bin liner.