After weeks of injuring myself, and encountering various setbacks which drew doubts over whether I would be up for the 13.1 miles, I can honestly say that last Sunday was one incredible day.
Finishing not just this race, but the whole week felt just a tiny bit climactic; billed as a smaller version of what to expect in May, where the full marathon will succeed final exams, I got a glimpse of just how completion may feel when the first year ends later this spring.
This event was very important in terms of the long run (pardon the pun). I had been training since the beginning of the year, admittedly with varying degrees of success, but had no first-hand experience at what running in an organised event would entail. Prior to Silverstone, the closest thing to a real running ‘event’ would have to be the CGSB cross-country each autumn, where each year I was unmistakably useless. Running had never been my forte. Even during the Sunday league days at the now defunct Rainham Eagles, I’d manage about 10 minutes before a return to the subs bench with lungs that had little intention of well, breathing.
So why at the start of the year did I decide to train for a marathon?
It’s not strictly for the running or aiming for record times per se, rather, it’s a form of exercise which almost perfectly complements academic endeavours. The two are very similar.
If we think about it properly, success in both cannot be achieved with shortcuts. Nor is success a short term matter. Ideally, you don’t cram for an exam the night before, and you certainly don’t run 100 miles the night before a marathon to prepare. Instead, to be able to complete both, it’s a matter of making small improvements on a regular basis, which will eventually guide you towards achieving the long term goal. With this in mind, ever since the beginning of the year I have had the incentive to work towards these goals.
Another major positive of entering these events was the opportunity to raise money for charity. Since registering with Rainbow Trust, I have been genuinely stunned by the generosity of everyone around me. Together we raised £316, breaking both of my targets twice. I really am so happy this aspect was so successful, because in our efforts to improve and work hard, we’ve also had a very positive impact on those less fortunate. Words cannot do my gratitude justice.
So, what of the actual day then? Well, we pick up right where we left off: the night before.
My bag was packed, my number pinned to my Rainbow Trust vest, and my timing chip was wired to the left New Balance crep. I had thrown in all of my ankle and knee supports just in case mid-race everything were to comically fail one-by-one.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t an easy night’s sleep. After the ‘All-Dayer IV’ I had just cleared my work for the week and could finally think about the event- I was really excited.
The morning of the race, well, you know how on the morning after a night out you can feel the excess poison sitting in your stomach? That was basically the feeling, except I was a sitting tank of pasta. I had made enough to feed an entire village the night before, and unsurprisingly was still digesting it all. Nevertheless, we continued the pre-race fuelling with some strategically saved protein Weetabix, and plenty of water. I had a quick freeze in the shower to shock my senses into competence before my dad arrived, and then off we drove to Silverstone, one of the most historical F1 circuits in the world, and today the host to over 10,000 runners.
It wasn’t a picturesque spring day, rather, and almost as expected, it was absolutely stairrodding it down.
After shovelling in two bananas, and taping up a tight calf (with hot pink kinesiology tape no less), my dad and I embarked towards the support-series paddock and quite literally soaked in the pre-race buzz.
Thousands upon thousands of runners and their families posed for photos, and took on their pre-race fluids ahead of the 12pm start. The PA speaker system began playing some tunes to motivate everyone. They started taking requests, but to my immense disappointment they aired my Tweet to play Love Machine by Morning Musume.
Before long, it was time to gather at the two designated entrance gates: one for runners expecting to finish under 2 hours, and the other for those expecting to go over 2 hours. Knowing my true goal was to simply finish, I wisely opted for the latter.
The wait on the starting grid was long, chillingly long. I had stripped down to my race attire and had done my stretches prior to entering the track, but the 45 minute wait meant I quickly cooled down. It was a solid period of jigging around, until I realised I seriously needed the toilet.
“All this waiting and I think I need the loo!” One runner behind me said.
“I’ve already been three times” I replied, as if I was some sort of veteran at relieving my overactive bladder.
It didn’t matter how often I went that morning, I must have drunken so much. In total, I think I counted ten different occasions when I needed the toilet that day.
But hey, enough about my bladder! The race was finally starting. Slowly my group shuffled towards the start-line, before we eventually hit the timing sensor, and our races had begun.
Mindful not to get caught up in the opening adrenaline, I eased into a very light jog, with my head held high to ensure I could sufficiently take in enough oxygen and not block its pathway. I was keen not to overdo anything, not to give my body a shock when it had only just begun its first mile. It turns out I must have been remarkably gentle, as I think I was overtaken by just about every single runner in the opening few miles. People were absolutely racing past. It was like I was going backwards; it was baffling to see so many people launch themselves out of the starting blocks.
The most amusing aspect of the start however was when I arrived at the first corner. On the starting grid there were signs clearly instructing runners not to relieve themselves directly onto the circuit, yet when I glanced over at the walls I saw at least forty geezers all lined up against the wall letting 45 minutes of waiting at the start-line out.
With all of this starting drama, it was very easy to assume I was doing something wrong. People were flying past, and once I got to the first mile marker, I realised the true length of what was ahead of me. One mile took ages. Yet people continued to race on.
This is where I learnt another aspect of the mental challenge behind long-distance running. It’s your own race. It would have been so easy to give into the competitive mindset; to want to match the pace of those around me and ensure #97 Ellis Warren, the great Junior Subaru OG racer wouldn’t be overtaken on the famed tarmac of Silverstone. No, the reality is you are sharing the track, and those around you won’t be around long enough to warrant racing them. The only race you are in is with yourself.
It would have been so easy to speed up at the start, yet I had no experience of what I was letting myself in for. Perhaps the others did, or they didn’t. Regardless of which, “fools” I thought. It would be different by the end of the race.
It was this patience in the endless early miles which then merited what was easily the best miles I think I have ever managed to complete. In previous long runs, it has occurred to me that the first few miles are always dreadful. They’re difficult to find a comfortable pace, and if you go too quick then either your breath will go, or you’ll be stabbed by some lethal stitch. From the fourth mile however, I began hitting the sweet spot. Henceforth, from the fourth mile the pace gradually increased, and the effort required to do so decreased. I was finding a real comfortable spot where the mind was focused, the legs were moving like clockwork, and the breathing was completely automatic, and most importantly still light.
It was during the golden miles of 4-7 that I undid my doubts from the start, and began hoovering up those that had to resort to walking. People were visibly slowing down, but I could only feel myself getting faster. I was really beginning to enjoy myself. The sun was drying away the rain, the circuit twisting around all sorts of famous corners where volunteers would be cheering, and most importantly, it became a case of simply enjoying the run, rather than counting the miles.
I was beginning to think how glad I was that I could run this event.
Once we ventured beyond the seventh mile, we were then into unknown territory. Prior to my knee injury, I had only managed to complete a maximum of seven miles in my training. Therefore, any distance I go at this point can be considered an achievement.
It then became noticeable that my body was not accustomed to this extra distance. My breathing gradually became heavier, a sign that I was taking on stress as we entered the business end of the race. I kept myself going with Lucozade, and by running through puddles as my feet were properly overheating. It was actually incredibly refreshing, probably not for those getting splashed around me though- again, you’re running your own race.
The last miles of the course actually involved two hills, which certainly involved a lot of form changes and speed management to climb them. I particularly felt for the bloke in a wheelchair having to wheel himself up the steep incline, until we got to the drop where he then wizzed past all of us like a go-kart.
The familiar mental aspect of not giving up was thus particularly prominent as the miles became longer once more. I remember mistaking mile 9 for mile 10, and realising I still had an entire four miles remaining. It took a lot of consistency, as I discovered that any sudden changes to my running style would quickly reveal the strain on my muscles. It was the common notion- just keep moving forward. I kept up the pace, when it was becoming clear that this stage was the most damaging; I saw ambulances treating exhausted runners, and a few clutching their hamstrings as they limped towards the finish.
I was keeping hydrated with a Lucozade, but as mile 12 eventually came around, I realised I didn’t want my finish-line photo to depict me gutting some energy drink, so I thought best to discard it (I mean looking back at some of my facial expressions they’re bad enough!)
Unfortunately, I made such a hash of throwing it away that I cannot help but laugh thinking about it.
We’re heading towards the start/finish line, somewhere beyond the hills of the Becketts complex, and I divert myself from the centre of the incredibly wide track to safely discard my bottle to the side. I take one huge underarm swing, and amidst my exhaustion only let go on the follow-through, meaning I launched this half full bottle of Lucozade right into the air. It practically went up into space and came down a meteorite. The thing dropped like a bomb. Chaos ensured. People shouting “heads!” behind me, an old man was locked onto the trajectory of my ICBM Lucozade, yet just narrowly missed the destructive terror from the falling warhead. I immediately attempted to boot the bottle off the circuit, but completely missed my kick and almost fell into a heap of cramp. I had done enough damage, shouted “apologies!”, and continued running towards the finish. Drama right to the end.
It was then on the final mile that I remembered the miraculous figures my running logbook held prior to this event. It may sound a bit Hollywood, but before this event I had completed 86.9 miles since the start of the year. So when I embarked on my final pursuit to the finish, I was embarking on my 100th mile of the year. It was amazing, after all the trials and tribulations, every single one of them felt like an achievement. Two bad injuries kept me out for weeks, with the most recent even threatening to compromise my chances of starting this event. Yet, my patella strap worked to perfection, and the insoles in my trainers supported the impact with no pain at all going into my body.
There were no injuries, but my muscles were clearly reaching their limit. Without prior knowledge of what the distance would feel like, I believe I had managed to get the absolute maximum my body could offer over 13.1 miles. Once the finish line became visible, I attempted to summon what I had left for a sprint, yet it was no good. Anything beyond my muscles’ capacity to keep moving at its current pace would strain something, and on the run to the finish my throat began seizing up. After weeks of injury, and limited training, I had finished the half-marathon in 2 hours 10 minutes and 40 seconds.
I had proved to myself that even with setbacks, every goal is achievable. They are meant to be, because you cannot achieve anything without setbacks, and you cannot be successful without the risk of failure.
Crossing that finish line was very satisfying. I had worked hard for my presentation and essay during the week, and trained hard to run this event at the weekend. The same plan is in place for the end of May, where I aim to work harder for exams, and train smarter for the full marathon. This week was proof that the hard work is having very real effects. The amazing medal and shirt from this event are also physical reminders that I’m keeping in my room to motivate me to keep going. You cannot see your success of long term goals in the short term, yet this week will serve as reminder.
Following the end of the event, I recollected my belongings, met with my dad, and we stopped off at a service station on the way back for a Burger King so we can replace those lost calories. I allow myself one fast food meal per term, and this was clearly the best time to use that allowance. The double bacon cheeseburger I had was like it had been prepared from heaven’s grill itself, yet the most amusing aspect was bumping into fellow runners afterwards. We all proudly donned our finishers’ T-shirts and medals, yet all walked like we had no function left in our legs. We’d make eye contact, and just laugh. There was that mutual understating, but a general relief and sense of achievement. We were all on a massive high. Everything just felt so rewarding.
Once I got back to my flat in London, I unpacked my bag, placed my tired shoes out to dry, went to the toilet once again, and then allowed myself to fall onto my bed in one long satisfied exhale. I knew I had just experienced one memorable day, where everything managed to go right, where all of the hard work and preparation had paid off. The following day I would be back to work on my next essay, and two days after that I would be back running again. Just for this evening though, I could relax knowing it was all worth it, and that together with all those that supported me, we raised a great amount of money for Rainbow Trust.
Not long after, I went to sleep with a big smile.
It had been an amazing day.