Despite how much I harp on about it, I haven’t always been a runner. But it is something I’ve flirted with in some shape or form since I was about 12 when I came seventh in my school’s annual cross-country race. It was clear from then that sprinting would never be my thing.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2015, when I signed myself up for my first half-marathon. I don’t think I had ever ran 5K up until that point (if I had, the last time was most definitely the aforementioned cross-country), and I was incredibly unfit. I suppose you could say it was an incredibly stupid idea. But with 9 months until race day, and a small sense of denial about how long 13.1 miles really is, I set about firstly to get my fitness levels up, and then secondly, to train to complete the damn thing.
Everyone talks about runner’s high, that overdose of endorphins that comes with running. I’ve experienced it plenty of times; when I achieved my 10K PB, during my 5K PB pre-race, when I first ran 8K on a dark spring evening, and after the half-marathon itself.
I love it, I thrive off it, and it’s one of the most rewarding feelings.
But no one talks about the other times. The time that you misjudge the curb, roll over on your ankle, and crack your iPhone screen. (From then on, I invested in a Garmin Forerunner and iPod shuffle – I’ve never looked back). Or the time you nearly get run over by a car. Sometimes we mention the catcalling episodes, but not often enough in my opinion. We don’t talk about the walkers who see you and continue to take up the entire width of the pavement (does it hurt to let go of each other’s hands for a couple of seconds?), so you have to run on the bicycle lane. We don’t talk about how difficult it can be to motivate yourself to leave the house, especially when you run solo. Or how to come back from a few terribly slow runs. The self-doubt levels go through the roof. I know because I experienced all of these things, and the self-doubt hit me the hardest.
During the training process, there were so many times I wanted to stop, give up or feign injury, and even more times than that when I tried to convince myself I wouldn’t be able to do it. I cursed myself for signing up for the damn thing, and I was envious of everyone who made it look easy.
But as I entered race day, I remembered the three things I’d read to help my mind from planting the seed of self-doubt:
- The human body can withstand more than we think
- Dig deep into the reserves
- Imagine your loved ones waiting for you at the finish line
I remember seeing a mammoth hill at the tenth mile of the race, cursing the race organisers underneath my breath. I don’t think I was the only one. I took a moment to catch my breath, dug as deep as I could and used all my energy to sprint up that hill as I imagined my loved ones at the top of it. My theory being if I tried to run as fast as I could up it then the pain would be over quicker. It worked.
I finished the race at a very respectable time and well within my goal target that day. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of my biggest achievements to date. I learnt a lot about my internal monologue, my drive to succeed, determination, and how glorious my body really is.
And to those non-runners who would comment, “A half-marathon? You’re not even doing a full one?” I’d sure as hell love to see you try.