I should have felt some trepidation about the Half Marathon as I slid out of bed at 6.45am, but it didn't really feel like it was happening. It didn't even feel like it was happening as I stood at the start line for the "celebrity" photo (though I had little idea who most of the others were and I know that feeling was mutual). Most of the celebs were pretty fit and taking it seriously, but not all the line-up were doing the run. A man said to me, "Are you actually running?" with just the right amount of incredulity to give me the ego boost I required. All right, I might be a bit shorter and squatter than some of the runners, but it wasn't that unbelievable that I was giving it a go. Actually it was quite unbelievable. I still didn't believe it was happening. I had a headache and was tired and maybe I should have stayed in bed.
I was aiming just to get round. I didn't think I would be challenging my personal best of 1 hr 55 mins. I didn't think I'd even get close to the 2 hrs 16 minutes I managed two years ago. I can't quite believe I was ever capable of running a mile in under nine minutes, let alone 13 of them in a row. It was going to be more like 12 minute miles today (if I was lucky). My wife was trying to gee me up beforehand by calling me "champ" and "big guy". It wasn't really working for me, but I appreciated the effort.
I didn't start from the front, as I didn't want to be influenced by the pace of the people who were going to do this whole thing in 75 minutes, but it was a long way back to the "yellow" start where I was meant to be. I was allowed to wait in a funnel near the start to join the race where I saw fit. I got bored waiting for the slow people after twenty minutes and joined runners who were aiming to get the whole thing done in two hours. And though I didn't feel like I was going very fast I did the first mile in about ten and a half minutes and some ridiculous part of my brain thought that maybe I could aim for something closer to two hours after all. But by mile two I felt exhausted and was seriously thinking that my chances of finishing at all were very slight. I also really needed a wee. Some people had taken the opportunity to go in the park after about a mile, which I thought showed very poor control. But alas the next three or four miles were all through the streets of central London and there was nowhere to go. Finally I spotted a few red-faced men running out of a small park on the Embankment and following their lead I did a wee there. It made all the difference and I found the going a bit easier.
When I ran the Marathon in 2004 I did the whole thing without going to the toilet (and in fact didn't wee for several hours afterwards, despite feeling like I needed to all the way through), but I am older now, as my slow pace made abundantly aware and actually needed another wee at about mile 11. When you need two wees in a night you know you're old. Two wees during a half Marathon, unless you're reallly slow at running or in a diving suit, means you're ancient.
I was mainly enjoying it though. The sun was shining and the crowds were shouting my name. Not because they recognised me in most cases, but because it was written on my shirt. I realised that I always picked up my pace when people were shouting my name. Even when I am running I am still performing. I had to pretend to the crowd that I was fine. It was of course relentless and just as predicted I did five miles in an hour and get to ten miles at the two hour mark. I had run the first half of the London Marathon quicker than I had run these ten miles, but it turned out that I ran the second half of the London Marathon twenty minutes faster than I ran this Half Marathon. And I flagged for a while after the ten mile mark, before getting a third wind.
I was just thinking that I hadn't seen many collapsed or distressed runners this time round when at about mile 12 I passed a guy surrounded by medics who sounded like he was being sick, but who then made such animal howls of pain that it sent a chill through me. Whilst these events have a carnival atmosphere one shouldn't forget that it's a feat of some endurance and there are always a few casualties - usually just people who've collapsed or exhausted themselves or twisted an ankle. I was hoping that the fact that he was making so much noise might mean that this guy was going to be OK, but it was very worrying. As I ran up to the finishing line, three teams of medics with stretchers ran past in the other direction. I don't think they could all have been heading to this guy.
I made it in one piece (and two pisses) in the personal worst time of 2 hours 37 minutes and 41 seconds. I was slightly perturbed by my physical decline, but I had been feeling ill and hadn't trained enough and after mile 2 I would never have thought I'd have done this at all.
My wife and Vivian from Scope were there to greet me. The whole Scope support team had done sterling work at keeping my spirits up. Most of the way round I had felt like this would be my last long run, but a big part of me wants to try again, after a decent amount of training, to prove that I am not quite washed up yet. If my fellow "celebrities" could see me now they would have been sneering at my poor time. But luckily most of them had finished an hour ago and were already at home having a cup of tea.
I was glad that I'd done it and even more pleased that I'd run all the way (not when I was weeing). And though I was tired and my legs were stiff I really want to get out and do a long run next weekend. I may be old, but there's still a little run left in me.
It was really hard. If you think that was worth a pound (or more) of your money then head here to sponsor me
The first episode of series 4 of RHLSTP where I chat with Shappi Khorsandi is now available to buy on video from gofasterstripe. As before it's £3.50 per podcast or £15 for the whole series (seven podcasts + the video of my warm up to the Stephen Fry show). You are the commissioning editors of this show, so if you want more it would be terrific if you could purchase at least one episode. Or tell your friends about it at the very least. The free audio podcast versions will be up on iTunes and the British Comedy Guide on Monday (hopefully). And if you can make it along to a recording that would be fabulous too. My guests this Monday are Miranda Hart and Miles Jupp. You can buy tickets here or on the door.