A few years ago, I took it upon myself to start running. This seemed a bit bonkers at the time; I’m not unfit but I’m not young either, and it took a year (including time off for a sprained ankle) to comfortably run 5k. Fast forward to January this year when our local NCT Committee started to talk about fundraising to train Breastfeeding Peer Supporters. We need about £5000 to train a group of 12 women to support local mothers, and when someone suggested running Reading Half Marathon in March, for some reason I thought it seemed like a good idea.
I lost no time in booking my place, otherwise I would certainly have changed my mind. I don’t really enjoy running, I just do it so that I can eat cake. Luckily my son is now in school, and my work is quite flexible, so I was able to fit most of the training into the working week. I looked at various training plans but since I don’t understand words like “fartlek” I just decided to increase my mileage week by week. This turned out to be moderately successful, and three weeks before the race, I ran ten miles on Saturday morning, and actually enjoyed the whole thing (as well as the enormous lunch I ate afterwards).
A few days later, I enjoyed another 5 miles, but then the twinges started in my left leg. I now know I had torn my plantaris – the muscle running down the side of my leg and joining to my foot. This is likely to be because I increased my mileage too rapidly. At the time, I took the decision to stop running, and swim regularly until race day, and accept that I would probably walk some of it.
On the day of the race, I met up with some friends who were there to give support; they went off to wait at the bottom of the first big hill, and I joined the queue for the start. As a slow runner, I was starting near the back, and it took about half an hour for me even to reach the start line. I managed to pace myself well at the beginning, and was so distracted by the crowds and the costumes and all the charity t-shirts around me, that I barely noticed the first couple of miles. Then I came to the hill, and my friends waved and offered me jelly babies (which I refused; I hate jelly babies). Having run up the hill twice already in training, I knew exactly what to expect, and proudly powered up it. By the top I was very glad to know the first drink station was soon approaching.
I continued steadily on through the university, down Kendrick Road, and into town where my boyfriend and son were waiting to cheer me through at 6.5 miles. They then cut across while I ran round Forbury Gardens, and waved again at 7.5 miles. As I ran away from them, I started to feel despondent: I was only half way, and running all that again felt like such a big ask. And then it turned out that there was another huge hill connecting Oxford Road and Tilehurst Road, which came as a horrible shock. The only thing that got me up that hill was knowing I had another friend who had come all the way from Milton Keynes just to cheer me on, waiting at the top of it.
After that it was run-walk all the rest of the way; my head lost the battle before my legs did. Even though I knew there was going to be some walking, I was still disappointed by it. Yesterday I booked my place in next year’s Half, and there are two things I will do differently: train more gradually, and arrange for targeted support from mile 8 onwards. Like a new mother breastfeeding her baby, I know now that the more support I have, the more likely I am to have a positive experience and a satisfying end to my journey.