It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish…or is it?

Starting and finishing in Hyde Park, the half marathon I completed this October is rightly considered to be one of the most beautiful running routes in London. However, nothing worth doing ever comes easy, and this is the story of my run in the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon.

In English I was always told that the key to every story is to think about the beginning, the middle, and the end. When it came to signing up for the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon however, going through my thoughts was not “the beginning” or “the middle”, but only just “the end”. The first two of this writer’s holy trinity completely escaped me, and as I confirmed my place online I had an immediate flash-forward to the triumph of crossing the finish with throngs of people cheering me on, several banners with my name on it, and perhaps a TV crew or two scrambling to get a piece of the action. Sure, the thought of training had crossed my mind briefly, but only in the form of a montage which consisted of downing raw eggs, running up some steps, lifting weights, and all against an adrenaline-pumping 80’s soundtrack – indeed movies had taught me it only took about three minutes to transform a hopeless vegetable into a triumphant hero.

The Beginning

Run Times (not including the gym)

It was a month later I realised life was not like the Rocky Movies I-VI in any way: running up steps? Not easy (it felt like I was wading through melted Camembert). Raw eggs? Don’t even try it (trust, trust me). Blaring 80’s music soundtrack? So cheesy I’m pretty sure that’s why I struggled up those steps…I trained from April to October and have to say that those sessions were particularly similar to what Nixon went through with the Frost interviews: the first were fine, not too challenging but nonetheless you’re enjoying yourself and feel like you’ve got it in the bag. In the next set, the pace quickens, the distance covered is larger, pain starts to creep into the exercise, and self-doubt gradually begins to appear. Finally, you’re being pressed so hard you feel the wheels might come off, you’re being asked way too much of yourself and you wonder why you ever agreed to do the damn thing in the first place.

N.B. If you’re looking at the training times above, you may notice that in between run 8 and run 9 there is a gap of over two months. This was due to an injury in June and also some time away in Asia, but the interesting thing is that the first run I did coming back from that break was the quickest I would do by a long way, even including the shorter runs – I always wondered when my quickest run would come, but had no idea it would come after two months off. Perhaps less is more…

The Middle

Race day came and did I feel prepared? I had placed myself in a secure bubble of denial by now about how difficult it could be. People do whole marathons all the time, surely half the distance would be completely manageable: I’d been on my runs, it wasn’t as if I had been eating kebabs nightly, and sport was a regular part of my week – would a two hour jog be so taxing? The answer was yes, yes, and yes. And yes once more. The excitement, the buzz of 12,000 people running with you, and the cheering crowds (not forgetting my parents who managed to find me not once, but impressively twice during the race) were an experience I shall never forget, and I got through the first six miles buoyed by the support without much trouble. During miles 7-8 chest pains started to come through, and 9-10 my legs began to give. It was at this point I realised how much running these types of races were as much a mental challenge as a physical one: at the last couple of miles to this half-marathon fellow runners were dropping like flies – one can so easily decide to stop for a minute or so since “everyone else is doing it”. However, I knew two things would result if I stopped: one, the build-up of lactic acid in my muscles over 10 miles would make it incredibly difficult to start running again. More importantly though, I knew that the imperative question to be asked when I finished was “but did you run the whole way?” If the answer was in the negative, then with the disappointed faces which followed I might as well have not embarked on the run at all. Sure, there isn’t a rule about running all the way, but the accomplishment of just going the distance, no matter how tortuous, will leave you with a supreme sense of satisfaction. It was no easy task to keep on going – running on the hard streets of London means that the impact of each stride is three to four times a runner’s body weight, transferred from ankles to knees to hips (all of which I would pay for in the three weeks after the event).

The End

In the last mile I felt like Sisyphus, the king in Greek mythology who was punished by being made to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down, and to repeat this for eternity. And that is what mile 13 was to me: an eternity. Mile 1, and the distance slips by like a TV ad; by the time you reach mile 13 and it seems like the Lord of the Rings films back to back. However, as the great man Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going”. All I can say is that it was a mighty relief to reach the finishing line, and whilst the TV crews and banners weren’t there, I can truly say that it was most definitely worth it.

The Honey Thunderer was running for The Cure Parkinson’s Trust (www.cureparkinsons.org.uk)

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