Last Sunday I reached the halfway point of my Unfashionable Cancer Marathon journey when I ran the Great Birmingham Run. It was my first half marathon distance and I ran every step of the 13.1 miles. Here's how it went;
The week before race day I discovered a new ailment, Maranoia. I was terrified of getting ill or injuring myself before the big day and so virtually hibernated. I did risk attending my yoga class although I asked anyone with a cold to declare themselves and move to one side.
Apart from the obvious preparation; that six months of training I put in three times a week, there were other important factors that needed addressing. Top of the list what should I wear...? I checked out the new prints at my favourite fabric supplier Funki Fabrics and after much deliberation chose the Hip Hop design, colourful, loud and with that hint of pop fashion I love.
I also needed a running vest, it had to be green which is the colour of my chosen charity The Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing up 2 Kidney Cancer and it needed printing. The charity names went on the back and it wouldn't have been complete without my business monika on the front, MISSFIT! Thanks Unicorn Screen Print (who I hope to be working with again on a new project soon...)
My daughter sorted me out with some nice sparkly green gel nails which just left my hair but my maranoia was so bad (I was on lock down) I decided to wear a cap instead!
The morning of the race came around quickly and I was a bundle of nerves, it wasn't so much the run but getting there. I worried about traffic, parking, directions, getting in the right pen and the big one...needing a wee! Thankfully we don't live far from Birmingham so a short drive and we arrived with plenty of time, parked easily and got clear directions to the event. First stop was of course the portaloos and then we headed to the start point, my husband and youngest daughter came as support so I had no baggage to sort.
The start was near the finish line where both the half and full marathon runners ended, the latter of which were coming through thick and fast at this point. The atmosphere was already exciting as those running the marathon were cheered across the line.
It wasn't long before I was parted from my family and had to find my way down to the Green Wave start point (after I'd found another portaloo). I was relatively early so managed to get near the front. It was remarkably subdued as we waited, quite a bit of limbering up and Garmin checking but not much chatter.
The first two waves had their warm up and moved off and we were edged forward, unfortunately I'd chosen this moment to retie my laces and so dropped away from the front as people hurdled over me. When I spotted my husband and daughter waving I got so excited, all nerves disappeared as it was finally time to run. We had a short warm up which no one seemed to be paying any notice of before the countdown and we were away.
I can't describe how it felt to be running down past the Selfridge building and out towards Digbeth. Routes I tread regularly but usually with a trolley full of fabrics. The crowds at this point were amazing, loads of whistling, cheering, people calling out our names. As we headed out of the city towards the warehouses the crowds thinned and I really enjoyed passing through these familiar buildings whilst running in a huge pack, it was so strange.
I think there must have been points where I zoned out and was simply running, that happens to me often I literally forget where I've been and just wake up and realise I'm two miles down the road. When we headed into Cannon Hill Park I had a minor panic as I saw the sign for 8 miles and knew this was impossible. 'I've joined the marathon route!' This thought flashed into my head so I had to ask another runner who laughed and explained that the signs are mixed around the course.
I soon realised that the talk I'd heard about the course having had hills removed this year was untrue. There were most definitely, 100% hills. The one we climbed up between mile 7/8 was a beast of a hill but I never once stopped. Since I began training I've always kept on running, no matter what. I feel that some bad luck will befall me if I stop so even if it's baby steps I run. If I have to wait at a curbside I jog up and down. Let me tell you, by the time I got to the top of that hill I was seeing stars! I thought I'd need oxygen!
The other disappointment on the day was how congested it got. I was in the green wave and pretty soon began meeting runners from the white wave. It wasn't long before we were in amongst the slower marathon runners and a few of the orange wave. At times it was so congested I had to do baby steps so I didn't stop still. I found myself going up and down curbs a lot to avoid breaking pace.
I'll get my final moan out of the way, the bottles. Why oh why can't people bring their own water? I always run with water, mostly because having one kidney means I can't afford to dehydrate but also it's easy. I understand that elite runners shouldn't have to run with bottles but for everyone else is it such a hardship? I have never seen so much waste! Not only were there nearly full bottles of water rolling underfoot but also gel packets making the road sticky in places. There must be a better more sustainable solution...oh yeah, carry your own water! The clean up must have been phenomenal (and costly).
It was a huge relief to reach Bourneville and turn, the support from the crowds there was great too and we were heading downhill! By this time we were meeting more marathon runners and passing the last wave of half marathon runners on the opposite side of the road. I'd avoided high fiving anyone around the course after reading Alexandra Heminsley's Running like a girl where it resulting in her tripping up a curb and landing flat on her face in the London Marathon. Running back through Selly Oak I did managed to high five a pug though.
One of the bonuses of wearing something I'd made was the great promotion I was giving my business. So many people called out about my leggings and many runners complimented them too which made me smile. It gives new meaning to 'running a business'!
Mile twelve came as a complete surprise as I think I must have zoned out again. The Pershore Road had been more congested coming back and as I hadn't set my Strava app going I had no idea what my pace was but knew it was slower than usual. By this stage I was feeling tired and the temptation to have a little walk was it's strongest. I kept on though, my legs were fine I was just a bit weary. Having never tried energy gels I'd carried six jelly babies in my running belt. I'd had one at miles three, six and eight and with just over a mile to go had one more.
Turning the corner onto Bradford Street was a huge relief, I knew exactly how far was left now, I'm a regular at Barry's Fabrics so it was a short stroll back past the Bull Ring and up Moor Street. Well...unless you've just run the best part of 13 miles! Never before has 'that' hill seemed as steep! My last jelly baby needed to give me one hell of a sugar rush to climb this.
There was a complete mix of finishers making their way up the hill, many walked but more pushed on spurred by the fantastic crowds. By the time we turned onto Moor Street and could hear the announcements as runners passed the finish line I was feeling very emotional. I was reminded of my reasons for doing this run, the finish line was a big milestone for me.
Over the final few 100 yards now I searched the crowds for my family, I knew they'd be there somewhere. I spotted my husband first and tried to get across to him but was blocked by a marathon finisher waving a large glass of gin and tonic. Further on I heard my daughter calling and saw her just as I crossed the line at 2.08.21
My tears came as I slowed down, I'd done it. I didn't feel too bad either but the relief was huge and I was glad to get a big hug off my husband and daughter. I followed the line of runners collecting finisher bags and headed straight off back to the car. I did of course get my medal out and put it on but I wanted to go home.
Would I do it again? Half marathon probably but not a large event like Birmingham. It was an enjoyable day especially being able to run around my second home town but just too big, I prefer smaller races.
I'm very proud to be a Great Run Finisher though and as such have worn my medal all week, including shopping, yoga and writing group. Time to start training for the big one now 26.2 miles! First though, what to wear...? ;-)