When I was in school, I hated P.E. (along with Mathematics, it was my least favourite subject). So you can be forgiven for wondering why I would sign up for an endurance running event of 13 miles, covering some very steep terrain in a circuit following the original town boundaries. I had one motivation for this and it’s ridiculously shallow; I wanted the big shiny participation medal you get if you finish. So, I entered soon after the 2013 half-marathon, fully intending to do the thing properly. I would start training in January 2014, as recommended by the organisers. I kitted myself out with suitable running gear, sports bra, trainers etc. Well, the utterly atrocious weather that winter put paid to my training before it had begun. I’m not kidding, rain, hail and gale force winds battered the whole of Britain for weeks and caused cliff-falls and sections of train-track to collapse; it wasn’t an appealing prospect to go running in it. The race route goes up Harley Shute (very long steep hill) and onto Queensway (this is a road race, so the motorway was closed to traffic), in the middle of which is the five-mile point and a clock. I was surprised to discover my time was just over an hour. I began to hope that my estimated finish time of 3 and half hours, which I had calculated based on apparent walking speed during the walk to Rye (it being the same distance of 13 miles), minus lunch breaks etc, might be erroneous. I ran occasionally, mostly getting tired out quickly but once finding the rhythm of it and doing quite well. I came to the conclusion that my poor running skills might be due to technique and not fitness; after all I was walking the route with no problem, faster than some of the runners.
(Or go to http://www.raceroutes.co.uk/route/156/196/hastings-half-marathon for an excellent map of route with interactive elevation display)
Around the halfway point, up on the Ridge, the weather changed. The sun disappeared and a light rain began, followed by a sprinkling of hail. My fingers swelled, numb with cold, stiff in their movement. I distracted myself with the excellent running playlist my fiancé had put on my phone and kept going. Occasionally, I would pass groups of scouts holding out cups of water, or members of the public holding out sweets and orange slices. I was grateful for all but none more so than in the last mile, where I think if the peel was edible I would have swallowed a quarter of an orange whole. At the ten mile clock, I noted my time was 2 hours 16 minutes. I pumped my fists in the air, celebrating, only three miles left. I sent a text my fiancé to start heading to the finish line to meet me. A second lot of rain and hail began, worse than before. I bore through it, turning onto All Saints Street, where I spotted my mum. I was pleased to see her cheering me on, got pumped up and started running again, which I had been doing periodically, forgetting each time that I lacked any real ability.
The final three miles of the race are totally flat, familiar territory to me and should have been relatively easy. However, a combination of dwindling energy resources and a brutal assault of hail so thick I had to shield my face reduced my speed to an almost-crawl. I could barely force my frozen limbs to keep going, even when the finish line came into view. Marshalls and spectators called encouragingly that I had only meters to go but exhaustion convinced me running was not in my best interests despite this support from strangers. I may well have walked over the finish line if I hadn’t spotted the clock, reading just a few minutes less than three hours. Suddenly, I’d be damned if I finished over three hours, so I dredged up one final burst of energy and crossed the line running.
I stopped, bent over, gasped for breath. A small person wrapped itself around my waist, shouting ‘Mum, you won!’ I hugged my lovely, well-meaning (if somewhat mistaken) daughter and staggered over to my fiancé. He helped me sit until I’d recovered enough to go collect my finisher’s medal, the big, shiny lump of brass I’d worked so hard for. Afterwards, I discovered my biggest issues were not the sore feet and legs I’d expected (they didn’t even hurt) but the violent shivers that continued well after I’d peeled the sodden clothing from my frozen skin and the stomach cramps and persistent nausea that refused to dissipate until I finally managed to eat something later (at which point I ate a massive bacon sandwich and bag of Doritos and none of it touched the sides.)
So, I finished 3257th out of 3428, beating the bottom 5% of runners (171 people) with my time of 2 hours, 58 minutes. Everyone says this is a perfectly respectable time, especially in view of the fact that I walked most of it and didn’t train. Oddly, I find myself unsatisfied, not with the time but the amount of actually running I did. So, the day after the Half-marathon, I signed up for a five-mile road race that’s in May. I have started training, (e.g. I’ve been jogging twice) so maybe this time I can run more of the course instead of walking it.