Sometimes we are reminded of just how far we’ve come. Last weekend I was shown that my running addiction has given me abilities and opportunities that I had never even imagined. I have a whole group of new friends I share an interest with. I have actually earned a little respect for my limited athleticism and, I can run more than a few hundred metres without collapsing in a heap. Well that’s underplaying the whole running thing. I’m quite comfortable with the thought of doing a marathon at short notice. So what highlighted this to me at the weekend? A half marathon that I was asked to pace for, and a friend who achieved something that a few years ago I would have found unimaginable, but have now surpassed many times.
Let’s start with my friend. She is not a runner and I met her through work before I ever ran. Every year she does the shine walking marathon overnight through London and, the first time she did it while I knew her I was in awe. How could anyone I know possibly cover 26 miles in one go? Of course in just a few short years I now know a whole slew of people who run marathons, I didn’t see that coming. In fact I have run 14 myself and, even though I was impressed and pleased for her in achieving what she did over the weekend there was a snidey little part of me that thought, ’10 hours, you could have made a bloody effort’. I’m really sorry but I have a completely different view on what is capable of being done nowadays. The flip side to that is that I spend many many hours training.
OK after my confession of being a bit of a smug shit really, let us move onto the more uplifting element of the weekend. About 2 years ago I ran my 3rd half marathon. My first was at Blenheim Palace, and that was a kind of gateway race. It started my addiction. My second was the first Run Reigate Half, and a week later I decided on the spur of the moment that I would run Barns Green with my new running club and a whole gang of friends. Reigate saw me get a time of 2:02 or thereabouts and I was convinced that I would be able to break the 2 hour mark at BG. I ran, I encountered hills, I struggled and, I got a time of approximately 2:15. I was disappointed but I had given it my all and it was hard. It was hot on the day and if you don’t know the course it’s fair to say that there are some mean hills to overcome, particularly in the last half. I remembered one of them as being soul destroying, turning a corner and coming face to face with what looked like a vertical cliff face. It was steep, but not quite that steep. It was that hill which broke me and, I never quite recovered from it for the rest of the race.
This year, about 2 months back I was asked if I would be a pacer for the Barns Green Half. I had always promised myself that I would go back and do myself proud so I was more than happy to say yes. I was given the time of 2 hours to pace and didn’t bat an eyelid. I have run Halfs in under 1:50 since I first ran BG and am sure I am even quicker than that now. Two hours seemed like an easy call. To be honest I had a ball for most of the way. When I started I soon collected a little posse around me of people aiming for a 2hr run. It was friendly and we chatted, I explained that on the flatish and downhill parts I was making up time because I knew we would loose some going up hill. Still we passed the halfway point at exactly 1 hour and I was only a minor bit disappointed as I had wanted to bank a bit more time, you see the second half is much tougher than the first. As we carried on I kept my pace going and kept checking to see if my little gang was still there but as we carried on up the hills they gradually fell away. That was hard. If I had been pacing them I would have eased off and encouraged, cajoled and otherwise dragged them round in the quickest time I could get out of them but that was not my job. My job was to finish in exactly 2 hours, so I
pushed the pace and kept going glancing back occasionally. I finished in 2:00:07 which was not bad.
The thing that really made me think about how far I have come was the way that I dealt with the second part of the course. I had always excused my bad performance from 2 years ago by saying I was tired from Reigate the week before. Well the Sunday before BG this year I ran 17 miles at an average pace of 8:24 mins a mile. The second half 2 years ago was marked by pain and a fair amount of walking up hills, this year I found myself running backwards up hills looking out for and calling encouragement to others. It wasn’t till I finished that once again I realised just how much difference between the 2 races there was. From struggling to reach the end to bouncing round the course in a time that was 15 minutes quicker and from my point of view was slow. It’s a cliche but it doesn’t stop it being true. I’ve come a long way, and I haven’t finished yet.