How (not) to run a half marathon

On Sunday I ran my first half marathon. ‘Ran’ might be pushing it actually. I dragged my feet around a course for 2 hours and 17 minutes whilst intermittently cursing, crying and praying for an end.

Nevertheless, I feel like my recent endeavour allows me to speak with at least some authority on the matter. If I can’t tell you what to do I can certainly advise you what not to do.

Here’s what you need to know from a girl who really should have known better…

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Rest up

The night before the big run I had the extraordinarily good fortune to sleep next to His Royal Highness the King of Spain. Unfortunately HRH’s majestic 6’3 frame is allegedly “too big for my bed” and so I endure a disrupted nights sleep while he writhes around next to me as though in severe pain (he has no idea what’s coming).

When I eventually do drift off into some semblance of sleep, I dream about waking up late and missing the race… I’m not sure whether this is a nightmare or a fantasy, nevertheless it affects me so much that I wake suddenly and proceed to lie stock still and wide eyed while my mind reels re things that could go wrong.

Here are some things that could go wrong: I wake up late and miss the start, I get to the start and discover I’ve forgotten to put clothes on, I can’t find the start, my legs seize up, I cry, my iPod dies, I die… The list goes on. Eventually I dose off again, my mind numbed by its own inane chatter.

… Only to be abruptly awoken at the crack of dawn by the king having his own version of a panic dream: “THERE’S A CENTIPEDE CRAWLING IN MY EAR!” – a horrific encounter – but one which is less emotionally scarring than what we are about to endure, I’m sure.

Eat well

Having both agreed it is imperative we nourish our bodies prior to race day, visa vis complex carbohydrates, protein, minerals etc etc – all the good stuff… we both neglect to eat lunch then come home and eat an entire brownie in about thirty seconds flat. Good start.

My pre race day food plan goes as follows: a handful of old pistachios I found at the back of the cupboard, one questionable tangerine, two glasses of merlot, half a bowl of brown pasta (I am a health nut what can I say) – with lashings of cream cheese, half an entire tray of brownie and a scoop of Hagen daaz for good measure. If that’s not nourishing I don’t know what is.

The next morning I half heartedly consume 2 weetabix with a bit of granola thrown on top – you know – for variety. This is a poor effort in comparison to the king’s six weetabix but I am filled with shame after last night’s brownie extravaganza. How I am about to run 13.1 miles – hauling around my fat bronwie filled body – I do not know.

My dad has stocked us up with some intriguing looking energy gels which claim to enhance our performance. I’m all for my performance being enhanced so eagerly shove the tropical and orange flavours down my sports bra for later. At about mile 12 after much deliberation, I pull said gel from my cleavage, rip it open, take one gulp, nearly vomit, then decide I’ll just stick to water.

Get to the start on time

Our wave starts at 10. Loooooads of time. I said. I leisurely eat my weetabix and mooch about the house doing things that don’t need doing – like jumping up and down in front of a mirror to see what my boobs actually look like when I run (immense in every sense of the word).

HRH has forgotten his number so is frantically trying to create an exact replica via Microsoft word and my shit printer. Yeah good luck chaz. Meanwhile my dad is yelling at me up the stairs “YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE… YOU’RE ALREADY LATE.” Oh chill out dad we have like at least fifteen minutes.

After running back into the house several times to collect forgotten items we are now firmly in my car and en route. According to HRH “we’ve utterly fucked it” already. What he doesn’t realise is that, while we might be late by societal standards, by my time we are actually half an hour ahead of schedule… Although it would be embarrassing if we didn’t even manage to get to the starting line, so my foot is flat on the floor and we’re hurtling up the M5 at such speed that my shit little car is quaking with fear. HRH scours Google maps for the quickest routes. He seems tense. “All the fucking roads are closed because of the race… Go that way. NO THAT WAY. SLOW DOWN. I want to get there. But I don’t want to DIE getting there” etc etc. We have under an hour to get to the starting line and we’re not even half way there yet. Now even by my standards we’re cutting it pretty fine.

I’ve been chugging on my litre bottle of Evian like it’s going out of fashion – hydration is key remember folks (which is why those two glasses of wine were so essential last night). This might be a really inconvenient time to say I really really need a wee. But I do. So, we make an emergency dash to the service station, record time wees all round. Now we are like, really really, reeeeally cutting it fine.

We ditch my car on a yellow line at an unknown location, and leg it. Well actually, HRH legs it, I decide now is as good a time as any to start tucking into a chewy bar I found in my pocket, that weetabix really didn’t satisfy me. HRH turns to give me a look of sheer derision, then sprints off with the same enthusiasm I am offering my chocolate bar. I sort of lollop behind him like a labrador just wanting to be loved.

We don’t know where we are going so we are pointlessly running up and down the streets of Bristol in search of salvation (FYI Bristol is very hilly). THEY’RE RUNNERS, I say emphatically through a mouthful of peanutty chocolatey deliciousness. We follow the runners.

We get to the starting line with ample time to spare (3 minutes at the very least)… “We’re so far back” moans the king. It’s true. Looking around we’re with the fatties and the oldies. I feel like I’ve found my people. HRH doesn’t look convinced.

Stay calm

Why the king is worried I know not. He is a lean mean half marathon running machine. He was made for this. I on the other hand was made to remain horizontal whilst being drip fed lard for the duration of my existence … What am I doing here? This will be fuuuuun, I say over-enthusiastically – I’m not even fooling myself.

I watch all the svelte Lycra clad runners manoeuvre themselves into all kinds of uncouth and uncomfortable looking positions. Trotting up and down the pavement like lean prize-winning ponies. Meanwhile I’m still trying to pin my number across my tummy so that it doesn’t bunch up. Why does nobody talk about how difficult this is?

We pace steadily, confidently toward the starting line. I am unnervingly calm. Blissfully unaware that a dark storm is brewing about 5 miles ahead…

Pace yourself

I read somewhere that if you don’t feel like you’re going too slowly at the beginning – you’re probably going too fast. Apparently the king did not get this memo.

HRH cannot bare to be behind anybody remotely fatter or older than him for SHAME, which is tricky because these are my people. And so we sort of speed up and around anybody that might cause him humiliation or dent his ego in any way. I try to do is subtlety so as not to hurt their feelings, but then my own are crushed when Darth Vader, Princess Laya and Luke Skywalker all mosey past me having a chat. I never did like Star Wars. We stick at my tortoises pace for a while, or rather, I linger behind like a petulant child until HRH can simply bare it no longer then insists we speed up again.

We get to mile one and I think, oh this is fantastic, this is great! I can actually do this. All I have to do is another 12 of these – listen to some nice music, take in the lovely scenery. What a great way to spend a day. One two one two. Breath in and out. Easy. This is easy. I’ve got this.

We arrive at mile five and I’m still smiling, high-fiving onlookers, and feeling as though Mike Posner actually wrote that song cooler than me specifically FOR ME. I’m feeling fine, absolutely fine – I feel so free, so liberat…. Oh hang on wait. What. What what? WE STILL HAVE 8 MILES TO GO. 8 MILES TO GO ARE YOU KIDDING ME? We aren’t even half way. What is life? Suddenly I am in hell.

My inner monologue is going something like this:

Fuck I’m in hell. This is hell. This actually must be what hell feels like. 8 more miles of hell.

… Yes but it will be over soon, and you’re not in hell you’re fine. Its only pain, just run through it. It’s literally an hour more of your life. It’s only 8 miles. Think how you’ll feel after.

Yes but what about how I feel NOW?! I’m so hot and my legs hurt and I’m tired oh and also I am ACTUALLY IN HELL.

Meanwhile the King is grinning like a psychopath – in order to demonstrate to onlookers that he is in fact much fitter than me and is actually finding this all very amusing. In fact if he wasn’t such a bloody nice person he could probably wrap this up in about 20 minutes, then bench press a bag of bricks before swimming the channel and cycling across the continent.

Make a playlist.

I did not. I lazily just decided to put my giant brick of an iPod on shuffle and hope for the best. At best it was ABBA Gold, at worst it was a Radio 4 podcast on the the Arab Spring. Not exactly the most uplifting of choices. And I honestly just don’t feel like being thankful for the music right now okay ABBA.

I stumble upon Coldplay and decide that Chris Martin’s wailing is pretty in-keeping with my current mood. I feel like when he wrote The Scientist he too must have been running his first ever half marathon. Nobody said it was easy, but no one ever said it would be this hard. Fuck it – I’m going back to the start.

By the time we get to mile 11 I want nothing to do with Chris Martin or ABBA or ANY OF THEM. They don’t know my feelings. They’re just wailing down my ears and giving me a headache. Besides I’m feeling so sorry for myself by this point that I just want to hear all the nice things the volunteers are saying about me from the sidelines. Seriously – if you ever want an ego boost just look sad as you run past a race marshall and you’ll never get so many compliments yelled at you – “YOU’RE AMAZING” they say “YOU’RE DOING SO WELL”, “YOU’RE SO CLOSE NOW.” It’s so lovely – 15000 people running and they’re cheering every single one with equal enthusiasm.

Support others the way you wish to be supported

The route loops back on itself – so we can watch all the runners behind us making their way up the hill, whilst we are gliding back down it. One man at the very back has been overtaken by the bus. HRH finds this hilarious. My heart breaks for him. He is strewn to the pavement, sweating and staring up at the sky – like half marathon roadkill – left to be scraped up by the loser bus. God life is tough. I send him a telepathic message of solidarity and support – I feel his pain, I really do. Now my inner monologue goes something like this: Must not be scraped up by bus…. Must not be scraped up by bus.

The king has been showering me with encouragement – in return I have been shouting obscenities at him through gritted teeth. He’s being so nice I just want to trip him over so he falls on his big grinning face. He’s finding this easy, he could be way ahead with Darth and Luke. But the bastard says he’s staying with me for moral support. “JUST GO” I keep wailing, melodramatically. But he doesn’t. At mile 7 he says something vaguely reassuring about us being half way – to which I respond OH JUST FUCK OFF CHARLIE. Charming aren’t I?

“We’re doing so well” he says at mile 10, a lovely woman in pink turns around to agree – “we really are” she nods. She looks utterly in pain too. Misery loves company – I take great pleasure in knowing everyone else is in pain too. We are in collective agony – and it feels good.

Don’t be a baby

There is something about running a 13 mile race that makes me resort to the most basic of childhood instincts. Oh no, here come the crocodile tears. At mile 12 I begin sobbing loudly – in order to make it known that I am in great distress and discomfort. It’s not getting me the attention I desire so I linger behind the King like a child whose parent has refused to buy them a Mr Whippy.

I unexpectedly gain a burst of energy upon seeing the finish and sprint indignantly to get there. I just want this to be over as quickly as possible. We cross like champions… Champions who then proceed to crumble onto the pavement and weep like hysterical lunatics. HRH sort of scoops me up and carries me through the streets. I am so happy he is here. Wanker.

My parents, sister and brother in law are all waiting for us when we finish. They all look suitably impressed – as they should – I just ran my first half baby! Then I start sobbing at which point they all look suitably embarrassed for me and stand around awkwardly not really knowing what to do.

Lastly – Enjoy yourself!

Look at me I’m clearly LOVING IT

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