I had an epiphany yesterday whilst running Cookstown Half Marathon, if I can get past 3 mile I am home in a boat.
Lets briefly rewind.
I signed up to Cookstown Half Marathon after doing Lisburn Half, which if you look back at the race report here you can recap on my unhappiness. Although I had had a cracker of a first half marathon physically and mentally, there were various different parts of the organisation and execution of Lisburn that failed to meet the standards required in my book for equality and inclusion. So on signing up to CHM I did contact Eamonn, the main man in charge, to let him know how Lisburn could have improved and what mistakes not to make, but he was already very aware and reassured me that I would not feel like I did at Lisburn.
CMH from the outset marketed itself on inclusion. To me that meant that not only did the race welcome those with varying disabilities, such as assisted running teams and blind runners and guides, but to all runners, those who are elite runners to the forever back runners, like myself.
Of course I signed up to the race alongside Michael without even knowing anything about the route or Cookstown for that matter. Well the next day I came across the elevation chart and thought to myself…what was I thinking? It looked like hill after hill after hill. Luckily I like a good hill or 20!
Being fresh from surgery and recovery well under way 2 weeks afterwards, I had 3 weeks to get myself together. I headed out for a long run on the 8th July and those 10miles where the longest I ran until the day. I did have 3 10k races in the middle including Shore 10k, Sea 2 Sky and the Womens Mini Marathon which where not short of a few hills themselves, training with the club and also time spent wisely at the gym. So nerves where high when race day rolled around after a failed 10miler the previous week had knocked my confidence.
Team MAC, (L-R)Brendan, Wendy, me, Michael
The sun shone down on us at the start line. Finding our destination, getting parked and picking up our registration packs was no problem. With our race packs we picked up our lovely yellow technical t-shirts, free energy gel and a fab reusable bag. A woman can never have too many bags and all that!
As the runners came together at the start line I came across the same familiar faces from other races in the past few months. I love this about running, I spotted the lady I had spent most of the mini marathon chasing , the other members of neighbouring clubs who you always see and of course sharing the pre race nerves with new people also.
I won’t lie, I checked the watch just before we started and my bmp was clocking 174. I was in heart attack zone before I even started! I think the next for me was passing out on the spot. Shortly, we where off and flanked by all the runners I made my way out of the arena to face the 13.1 mile ahead.
The lovely 1k downhill start was overshadowed by the fact on the way back we had to make our way up that hill to the finish line. By the 1 mile mark we had embarked on the first of many, many hills. I have never known a main street to seem so long and hilly. I had the dreaded thoughts of wondering where I was going to find the miles, why was I even doing this and my usual “who’s bright idea was this” obviously another one of my great notions. The good thing was that the town was busy, plenty of support, a water stop with jelly beans (never too early in a race for jelly beans) and that kept me going. By 3 mile though my head turned on me. People talk about the wall in long races, for me it was the wall being bulldozed down. Exactly the same stage as last weeks mini marathon, I relaxed into the race and began to enjoy myself. Knowing you’ve only 10 mile to go is a lot nicer than thinking gosh I’ve 13 to go.
Tackling the first hill with a smile
At this point we had went into the countryside and the pressure of people watching was long gone. I had seen the race route before hand and knew there would be an overlap of the runners passing the front runners. By the time I reached the start of this the leaders had already been through, me at 5 mile, them at 7! Yet it was the most fantastic thing that could have happened in the race. I always thought the really fast people where so focused on their race that they wouldn’t even acknowledge someone else on the road. Well I was wrong. In normal Siobhan fashion I did shout encouragement and smile at them. However the positive support and encouragement that they gave me was overwhelming. There’s me, the most unnatural runner in the world, plodding along and the “super athletes” cheering me on. I swear it was such a boost.
I did hope to see some of my Murlough team mates at this point but as I turned off onto the road to loop around I seen the 1.45 pacer and knew I’d miss them. As I reached the half way mark I’d well and truly found myself and my pace. I knew I was homeward bound and my race plan was on point time wise.
What I think I loved about this race was that I was always within reach of someone. Lisburn was so lonely with ample empty roads with no support and no runners near me, yet I pretty much spent the second half of the race playing cat and mouse with Tony Barclay and his guide Karen. They made the toughest point of the race go by smoothly for me. A total gentleman and great runner who literally held my hand as we went through the 8 mile mark. “Never leave a man behind” he told me and encouraged me to pace him in front to keep momentum. As I entered into the final 3 mile I glanced down. I knew Michael would be near finished and again still hitting 10mile at the 2hour mark as planned. The “I can walk 5k in 45 mins” kicked in and knew I had to pick up the pace in the next 2 mile to deal with that final hill.
The legend that is Tony Barclay and his guide runner Karen
On the homeward bound stretch the heavens opened, it was like it had waited for me. I love running in the rain and did feel as if it meant to be, just in time to allow all the elite through bone dry and to cool down the runners still out there. Another water stop, positive support from the marshalls and the PSNI, beeps from runners in their cars and shouts from passers by. It was a fantastic atmosphere.
Still smiling at 11.5mile
The hill in mile 12 lay ahead of me. I remembered everything that Dermot Mathers had said at coaching on Thursday and kept the head up and focused on the top aiming to pass the girls in front of me, which I done. As I reached the final hill I dug deep (not with my feet but with the arms, thanks Dermot) and the hill breezed by allowing me the final straight sprint to the end. I seen the finish line and the timer and couldn’t believe it. Coming over the line I stopped my watch and there it was a 4 minute PB over Lisburn. I have no idea where it came from but it was there.
If the watch says it…It must be true
Michael and Brendan where there at the end waiting for me with a much needed hug and finally getting a glimpse of “that” medal. I swear if the girl had put it round my neck at that point, I’m sure I would have hit the floor. It was more of a plaque than a medal. But I’m not complaining, I earned it!
With plenty of sandwiches, water, bananas, complimentary protein milk, I cant fault the end, even all the railings where still up and unlike my last experience I finished the race feeling no less important than those who came first. Treated equally and feeling fully included right to the moment I was going home.
The post race glow
So to Eamonn and the team at CHM, what a job well done. No wonder your numbers have grown 3 fold in 1 year, next year I am sure you will need to order more medals as there is not one thing I can fault about the whole day. You even had the rain come on for me! I hope that you have raised a lot of much needed money for Tiny Life and once all the post race madness has ended that you all sit back and enjoy a nice gla0ss or two of whatever takes you fancy.
Also if you are available on the 13th August, Tony is hosting “Running Blind 5k/10k” at Stormont. A fabulous race where you run half and your partner runs half blindfolded being guided by eachother. All for a fantastic cause. Find Out More