There are two moments that I say my running started; the first time I dragged my arse off the sofa and went out for a run and the Oxford Half in 2015. While it is hard to imagine a time when I wasn’t running and blogging, I never actually wrote about my first half marathon as I wasn’t blogging about running back then.
Being back at the start line of the Oxford Half for the first time since that day felt very nostalgic. The memory of who I was back in 2015 lingered on the start line like a ghost of times gone by. I couldn’t help but reminisce. I had only started running a few months before. It all began with a one kilometre run that lit that spark of a new beginning with in me, it wasn’t until I’d finished that race that it really engulfed me and became an intrinsic part of who I am. I remember the thoughts dramatically darting through my head on the start line; what a stupid idea this is, f**k everyone around me is fitter than me and that I really really need another wee. I knew that I was so unprepared for the task ahead and as I crossed the start line the only emotion I had was dread. This time around I had a similar sense of dread.
Following the Moscow Marathon I had been suffering from inflamed tendons in both my feet which led to me hobbling around the rest of my holiday in Russia. With it still lingering on I felt my chances of a PB was out of the window. I had spent the entire week since I got back from Russia icing and resting with only two runs done in the two week period between Moscow and Oxford. The first was a painful 3 miler at a hard pace and the second was a slow 10k at marathon pace three days before the race. I knew that if that run was painful or that I hurt the following day then I would pull out of Oxford Half. When I woke up the next day I wrote my name on my race bib, I was going to run it.
The plan was simple and before I started I already presumed was also idiotic; run the first few miles at PB pace and wait until my body inevitably gave way and then just hobble it in. I’d buddied up with a friend who was aiming for a similar time so we started together and I said I’d peel myself off if/when the wheels fell off. It felt like it was just a waiting game until the pain set in.
The shadows of how I felt three years ago were everywhere. There were times during the race that it almost felt like a tangible person, like I could reach out and touch the old me. I can vividly picture myself running, remember the thoughts that swirled through the collected sweat and the burdens I was still struggling under. I tell him what I have now, that out of strife comes such wonderful things. I tell him about new friends, new love and the adventures I have been on and those still to come. I hope he sees the happiness in my eyes.
For the first few miles I kept feeling phantom pains twinned with the dread of having to pull out of my first race. But the pain never truly came, the fear I had been entangled with for the past few weeks simply faded in the cool autumn sunshine. We quickly fell into a fast rhythm and while I worried that it might be too fast for me I was really enjoying having someone to run alongside.
About two thirds of the way through Harriet thought that at our current pace we were on to finish under 1 hour and 50 minutes. With all the doubt and pain in the lead up I was truly surprised that I was capable of that. My previous personal best was 1:54 so to go way below that sent a thrill through my body down into my tired legs. My main aim for the year was to PB in all race distances and with no other half marathons booked in I knew it was now or never.
As we ran into the final few miles Harriet felt she had more in the tank so I urged her on, and as she disappeared off into the distance I couldn’t help but feel my pace starting to slow. When I realised that I could be literally running out of time I was in the Oxford University Parks, a narrow foot-pathed section that required you to dart around other runners and avoid trees to overtake, 2 miles from the end.
As I rounded the final corner I glanced at my watch, just like Moscow I was on the final stretch and cutting it far too fine. The disappointment from missing Moscow’s sub 4hr 30 time by seconds fuelled my tired legs and as I kicked up a gear I began to shout “not again” over and over. I must have seemed like a mad man but in that moment I needed everything I could to drive myself forward.
I crossed the finish line with a time 1 hour, 49 minutes and 20 seconds; small margins in my favour this time.
I turned back as soon as I got across the line and imagined my past self, head down walking it in, almost an hour behind me now, completely crippled with pain. Plainly put, without that race, at that time, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It is one of the few times I have cried at the end of a race as I thanked my former self for taking that leap of faith and starting me on this ridiculous and amazing adventure.