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Sunday 7th March 2004

I did my second Half Marathon today, this time at Silverstone. We were actually running round the Grand Prix track. How cool is that? I had promised that I would do the entire thing making a "Vroom Vroom" sound and screeching round corners, but I didn't even do it once in the end. The non-perverted Tony was there again with his vaseline (I used it this time, having forgotten my own... or should that be "forgotten". No, it shouldn't. I get no pleasure from using vaseline that has just been used by another man to coat his own testicles and anyone who says I do is lying), and my boat race chum, Emma "Frodo" Kennedy accompanied us, with her pal Lil. Tony was aiming for a time of around 1 hour forty, I wanted to beat my PB of 1 hour 58.30 and the girls were just hoping to finish as this was going to be by far the furthest they had ever run. They only started running in January. I have immense respect for their bollocks. Even though they are imaginary bollocks, they are still so big that I think they might need to coat them in Vaseline. But I don't want to help them do that. Applying Vaseline to women's imaginary testicles holds no prurient interest to me whatsoever.
As there were 9000 people running in the race and our projected times varied so much, we all had to start at different places (the better your projected time, the closer you can go to the starting line). This meant I started the race alone.
One of the main concerns of long distance running is toilet-management. This is slightly complicated by the fact that when you are running it is obviously important to keep hydrated and also that the prospect of running over 13 miles is slightly nerve inducing. I tried to ensure that I had toiletted before the start and that I had drunk enough liquid to stop me collapsing, but not so much that I was desperate for bladder release.
I think I got this about right today, but dozens of men seemed to have got it horribly wrong and as we rounded the first corner they were already lining up against the wall at the side weeing freely in full view (there was little other option, apart from possibly weeing yourself). How could they have got it so badly wrong? Everyone passing by found the spectacle quite amusing, though I had been more worried about what might happen if I needed to poo during the race. Would people be so understanding if I just went off to the side, turned my back to the wall and had a dump; perhaps merrily waving at them as they went by?
Probably not.
After about mile six I did think that I maybe needed a wee, but I wasn't prepared to risk giving up the 30 seconds or so that this might add on to my time. So I ran through it. And I think it was just psychological because I didn't go to the loo until about an hour after the race anyway.
The race went surprisingly well. I had been worried that I haven't been doing much running training in the last month. Of course I have probably done more exercise than at any other time in my life, getting prepared for the boat race, but I feared that my legs might not be up to the long distance. As it happened I found it reasonably easy. I was quite keen to keep my pace at under 9 minutes a mile, but wasn't sure how much under I could go. The first couple of miles both took 8.30, but the third was nearer to 9. Would it keep on slipping upwards or could I beat that previous time, which came out at just over 9 minute miles? On the positive side there were no enormous hills on this course, which had been something that must have slowed me down last time.
There wasn't much to look at at Silverstone and not many runners had come in fancy dress. I saw two separate people wearing the 118 shirts, but on their own and without moustaches they looked possibly even sadder than they would have done had they been together. Maybe they had started out together, but if so they ended up about 45 minutes apart.
It was slightly galling to hear over the tannoy as I had just passed the 7 mile point that the race had already been won, but I was happy with my progress: I was well under a 9 minute mile pace and my legs felt fine and I'd settled into a regular pace. I felt fit enough to put in the occasional burst and the rest of my running was steady. I was waiting for pain and tiredness to kick in, but it didn't happen to any significant degree and my breathing remained regular and controlled. It actually felt pretty bloody good.
I was still aiming to set a pace that I might be able to keep up at the Marathon, and I wanted to end the race feeling like I had more fuel in the tank, so I didn't start pushing it. It was sobering to realise, as I passed the 10 mile mark, that were this the Marathon I would still have over 16 miles to run. Given that the furthest I have ever run in one go is 13.1 miles this made me feel slightly sick. But for the first time for ages it didn't seem beyond the realms of possibility. Even during the last mile I felt I had a lot more in me, though I can only imagine the pain and the mental torture of doing the whole thing again.
I picked up my pace only a little to try and beat some short middle-aged women who were somehow in front of me. I got passed most of them, but was still beaten by at least one lady, who I would guess was in her sixties. The good thing about a race with 9000 people in it, though, is that although you were able to look ahead and see literally thousands of people doing better than you, you could look back and see thousands of people you were better than. Ultimately it is a race against yourself though.
By my watch I crossed the finishing line in 1:55.08, taking about three and a half minutes off my previous best. I was very pleased with this, though it might have been nice to be under 1:55. When I stopped I felt a little bit shaky and my limbs soon stiffened up, but I felt more confident about the big race than I have ever done. There's still a part of me hoping I can do it in under four hours, but my half time does not leave much room for inevitable second half tiredness. Could I keep up a nine minute mile pace for the last 13 miles or will I be down on my knees crawling over the line in agony?
Tony constantly reminds me that it is two races: the first 20 miles and the last six. My real aim has to be to finish the thing.
We were given a medal to mark our achievement, my second medal in as many weeks. Luckily the Half Marathon people don't choose to put "Winner" and "Loser" on their medals or there would be 8999 disappointed people. I was slightly aggrieved that I was not presented with my medal by a 5 times gold medal winning Olympic athelete, but maybe I've been spoiled recently.
Tony had beaten his personal best and the girls hobbled in just after the two and a half hour mark, their imaginary testicles dragging behind them on the ground. Thank God I had imagined putting Vaseline on them. We had all achieved something remarkable in our own standard, Em and Lil probably more than any of us. This race is hard. You have to be as mental as Emma to try and do it in such a short period of time.
We headed back to the car, with aching limbs, limping and complaining of blisters. As we drove away we saw the other runners, similarly crippled, painfully making their way to their cars and their homes. Why had we all put ourselves through this insane challenge? I think we all felt much better internally, even if our outsides were battered. I helped myself to get round by thinking this was the last half Marathon that I will ever have to do. I wonder if that will be the truth. Or am I hooked on the adrenalinee, the insanity and the medals.
I have no more races until the big day and face the unpleasant prospect of at least three big, long runs on my own. I plan to do 15 miles next weekend, 18 the following and then 20 in three weeks time. I am not looking forward to these. March will be a tough month and I imagine that the race itself will be a lot more fun. I will close by reminding you that you can sponsor me for this insane quest at the link above. The totaliser is filling up nicely, but it isn't full up yet, so even if you can only spare a quid or two, then please do sponsor me. And thanks to all of those of you who have helped push things along so nicely. I think of you when I am running and imagine your disappointed faces if I fail. So you're all part of this, though admittedly a slightly enviable lazy part that gets to sit at home and watch TV and eat pizza whilst I destroy my body pounding out there on the roads of this cruel city.

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