Sitting here with my Finishers T-shirt on, I have been wondering how I would go about detailing the ins and outs of my first half marathon. Of course it came with the usual pre race tears, even tears at the start line. I obviously had the overwhelming feeling of invincibility which has remained right throughout the day and a great nights sleep after it all. However the one thing that sticks with me the most is the fact that it was a very, very lonely race.
Lisburn Half Marathon was an evening race. I am used to morning races so I had to be sure I fuelled right for the race and didn’t over or under eat. Every mouth full of pasta was a challenge to swallow as butterflies consumed my tummy and even my thoughts. It got to the point that I was struggling to swallow water. I just wanted the race to be over. I had spent weeks worrying about it, strategy, what could go wrong and then of course there were the long runs which differed on performance with good and bad runs.
It was a very humid evening and as much as I tried to be strong and joke pre race, I was broken inside. I knew I could do it, but the task ahead was daunting. I had managed to just about hold it together for the start, which we nearly missed as couldn’t hear announcements.
*At this point I took a break from writing this piece to write a complaint to the race organisers*
I am not one to complain, however the pre race build up was over shadowed by the announcement 48hrs prior to the event about the use of headphones being prohibited which sparked outrage on social media. However by the time the race was underway a whole new host of issues arose and I had to let the organisers know how I was let down and treated as a back runner.
I set off way too fast at the start but I was pulled by the crowd and I was comfortable enough. Running with Caitriona for the first 3 mile was a pleasure and made the start of the race go in quickly. I am pretty sure my rendition of Taylor Swifts Shake it Off was the turning point when Caitriona decided I should run on and give her head peace. Note to self…don’t sing when other people are about, its how you lose friends. So I pretty much spent the next 10 mile all alone.
I recall the 4 mile mark and thinking to myself, sweet God Almighty I’ve another 9 mile to go. However hats off to the locals and their kids who came out to offer support, run with me and also let me high five them for a bit of encouragement. Without them I would never had made it. I had no idea where I was for most of the race, asking on route whereabouts in the country I actually was.
At 6mile I was horrified by comments by the Marshals. Two young lads as I turned the corner saying this must be the end of them, look at her and they then laughed. There was no one else around me and I looked at myself. OK not the ideal half marathon runner but one striving to be. However I am human and can hear. I was seething. Luckily I was confident in my ability and pushed out when I could have very easily bowed out and called it a day.
My first 10k came in under the planned time and I was feeling strong but I was very aware that around me there was no one. In front about 50m was a man in back and a girl in front of him who never really left my sight. Behind me I seen no one. I kept hoping Caitriona would come out of no where as at the half way point I began to feel exceptionally lonely. I knew I was hitting half way so only the same to go again, I also knew that at that point the lady winner of the half would be finishing her race. I wondered about everyone else I knew doing the race and how they where getting on. Was Michaels knees holding up, had Tara and Thomas fallen out on route and where they on track for their sub 2 hours, how was the Murlough crew doing?
The biggest thoughts that consumed my head throughout the race were those of the mathematical kind. My maths is poor at the best of times but I spent most of the race working out my Kilometres into Miles and vice versa. How far had I come and how far to go. Monitoring my fuelling and working out when next to drink. What pace I had to keep to make my aim time and essentially how long my wee legs kept moving.
Mile 10 was the killer for me. I walked like I was on a walk with my mother in law, I glided like there was just air below me and I am pretty sure I was walking faster than I was able to run. Again I had forgotten to remove Coldplays “The Scientist” from my playlist and I was nearly reduced to tears once again as the song reminds me of my Granda. I thought typical that when I was struggling most, he would pop into my head to keep me going. I was nearly for lifting my phone out and calling Selena for company but I was feeling mentally stronger than I had assumed I would and pushed through.
At Mile 11 I was sure there was a water station. There HAD been a water station but at this stage there was just a tap in the ground and 2 men told me I could drink from it as there where no cups. So last water stop, half marathon, participants had been on course for over 2 hours and we were being treated like second class citizens being told to drink straight from a public tap which would involve stopping as they didn’t have enough cups. Scandalous. Also at that point I seen the events media partner Cool FM, entertainment bus doing a 3 point turn to go home, did I not pay the same amount of money as those in front of me to experience the same level of service throughout the race? Apparently not. This has really sat with me and overshadowed my whole experience.
I stood for 7 hours on Saturday at the Mourne Way Marathon being a marshall and I cheered on and presented medals to each and every participant at the end of the event. I was impressed by those who came first however the respect I had for those at the end of the pack was everything I had. As they were relentless in the pursuit for race glory and they deserved more cheering and congratulating than anyone else. They earned the same experience as everyone else.
I picked up pace after 11 mile and began to feel that the end was in sight. I spotted the Toys R US store in the distance and knew the last mile started around that direction. As I turned onto the main road I caught up with the woman I’d been chasing the whole race. I powered on past her and as I approached the hill at the final km, I seen a familiar outline of Michael standing on the brow of the hill. I was never so glad to see him. Although I had made him promise that he wouldn’t come back for me, I had been so lonely the whole race and I was dying to speak to him. As I picked up pace into the final km, I chatted and found out about the way his race went, he filled me in on Tara and Thomas making a sub 2 hour and let me know what lay ahead in the final 500m.My last 2km where 2 of my fastest kms.
As we turned the corner there was the remaining Murlough crowd waiting for me and Caitriona to take on the final stretch of the race. I recall just shouting, “I am actually going to do this.” Michael left me at 250m to go and I found the power in my legs to push and came through the barriers up to the finish line where Michael had taken a short cut to meet me at the line.
That beep was an unbelievable sound to hear and I fell into his arms. Yet again I was shocked that there was no marshalls there to greet me, to show me the way to getting medals or water. I looked around and everyone was clearing up and few supporters waiting on their friends to finish. If I didn’t have Michael there I wouldn’t have known where to go to get my medal or hand my chip back. I was empty, totally emotionless. Feeling that I was an inconvenience to them as they wanted to get home. Lacked the expected feeling of achievement and invincibility which I had imagined.
A few minutes later Caitriona turned the corner and the Murlough crew ran with her to the line. I was so proud of her. I know that I twisted her arm to part take in the race, I knew how hard it was on her mentally and physically and the tears that rolled down her face afterwards where tears of accomplishment in the face of a very lonely struggle. I was just so glad that she had realised the extent of her ability that I had seen and pushed right through to the end.
I guess on reflection and reading back my outlook on the race, I should be in foul form and pissed off with they way the race organisers managed the event. Yet in amongst the bad management, I ran 13.1 mile.
I didn’t give up, I never felt like giving up either. I felt mentally strong (probably why the upsets along the course didn’t deter me from finishing) I was still moving and boy did I nearly murder that strawberry milkshake afterwards. I feel elated and glad I have written to the organisers to voice my thoughts. Hopefully they have something worth saying to me in reply to it.
But for now… I am Siobhan Grant…half marathoner.