So after a summer of irregular training, last minute upsets and two emergency training plans, the morning of Sunday 15th September 2013 finally arrived. It was in the middle of a very busy weekend involving various family members staying with us, and a trip up to London for a family get-together of around 35 of my husband’s family. Getting to bed at 2am on race morning is not ideal, but I told myself I never sleep well before a race anyway.
When the alarm went off, adrenaline kicked in straightaway. I shot out of bed, and tiptoed down to the kitchen for my traditional pre-race porridge. This was followed by a hastily remembered beetroot shot for stamina, a banana for energy, and a cup of tea to wash this strange mixture down. Feeling slightly queasy I sidestepped the early rising visiting children and finished getting ready.
My kind husband had offered to drop me off at the start, and I was surprised to see him in full cycling gear, loading his bike into the car. Turns out he was planning on being a mobile cheerleader-cum-photographer. This is good news, because he’s very good at both of these roles. (I think he may have set a new world record at the London Marathon, when he and the children managed to see me running 6 times!)
As we arrived I walked down to the start area and immediately joined the portaloo queue. I was hoping to meet up with a lady I’d chatted with on an internet runner’s forum, so as I queued I was scanning the other runners to see if I could see any one who looked like they were looking for someone as well. She’d texted me what she was wearing so I approached someone matching her description with fingers crossed, and nervously asked “Dee?!” Thankfully it was her, so we queued together, chatting and trying to hide our nerves. Sorting out our bags, Dee pulled out her bottle of Lucozade and somehow managed to squeeze it open and shower a man standing to the side of us. Fortunately he saw the funny side and declared he’d rather it was champagne she was spraying him with after he’d won the race.
We skulked off at this point before Dee sprayed anyone less forgiving and made our way to the start. At Chippenham it’s a bit of a narrow route onto the road for the start, but we squeezed through and made our way to the back. We were both hoping for a time of around 2:15 (having both had disrupted training over the last few weeks). I had been thinking of pacing at around 10:30 and then speeding up towards the end if my legs would let me, however Dee confidently said “so, around 10 minute miles then, yes?” and I gulped and squeeked “okay – but I reserve the right to slow down if I need to!” We were still chatting as an air horn shattered the Sunday morning peace, and then a very loud firework made us jump again. I hastily set my Garmin to finding some satellites and Dee sorted her phone out as we started shuffling toward the start line. Chippenham is a relatively small race, compared with our neighbouring races at Bath, Bristol and Swindon, so two minutes later we were running over the line and our race had begun.
The first mile took us up Chippenham High Street where we saw Mr B&T for the first time with his bike (and camera). We carried on out of town and then turned onto a small country lane. There were plenty of people out clapping, but not as many as previous years. Maybe the threatened wind and rain had kept everyone indoors, despite the fact that the weather was actually perfect for running – dry and cool.
By the first water station at mile 3 we were running well, had both got into the pace and were chatting as we ran. I always talk when I’m nervous, so poor Dee got quite an ear bashing! I won’t mention the fact that she barged me into the hedge at one point as I’m sure it was accidental and not at all just to shut me up.
By the second water station at mile 6 we were glad to think we were close to the half way mark as to be honest we were both starting to find it hard going. At mile 7 Dee confessed that this was the point her mind started playing games with her, and I knew exactly what she meant. My legs were feeling tired, and my lack of sleep meant my head was fatigued as well. By mile 8 I was telling both of us we were nearly two thirds of the way, so were effectively on the home straight. I might have mentioned the nasty hill at mile 12 at this point once or twice, only because I had bad memories of having to walk up it one previous year. I think I had Dee worried about it, as she kept mentioning it. At mile 9 we saw Mr B&T again and he took another attractive photo of us. My legs were really feeling tired now, and I remember telling Dee I’d forgotten quite how long a half marathon really was.
Our pace had slowed but we were still on target for a 2:15 finish. Both of us had stopped chattering by now as we had no spare breath. Dee’s phone app was telling her she’d completed each mile nearly half a mile before we got there, and my Garmin was ‘beeping’ for the next mile when the marker was only just in sight, so it was amazing we were believing anything these pieces of technology were telling us. I think we were both suffering by this point (I know I was), but neither of us wanted to be the one to say “I need to slow down!” I was thinking, through gritted teeth, that I had no idea how I was still pushing on at this point when Dee said she’d have slowed down miles before if she were running on her own. I think it’s known as peer pressure, in the nicest possible way. Apart from the low points at Brightom Marathon this year’s marathon, these were the hardest miles I’ve ever run in any race.
After mile 10 the course is very slightly uphill, the sort of incline you only notice when running. Dee did ask if this was ‘the hill’ and I wasn’t sure if it was kinder to warn her that ‘that hill’ was steeper than this, or to leave her in blissful ignorance until we got there. As it was I didn’t have the breath to grunt anymore than “not yet!” Bang on 12 miles we hit the short downhill which was followed by the mile 12 hill. To be honest, it’s not that bad, but it felt like a mountain to tired, undertrained legs.
As Dee gasped that we must be nearly at the top, I was happy to tell her it was just found the corner, and then downhill all the way to the finish. As we staggered down the hill back into Chippenham I joked that I felt like I had blinkers on, as I could only focus straight ahead. We turned into the residential streets that lead to the back way into the sports field and right on cue we passed a house playing the Chariots of Fire music. Staggering onto the grass we could see the finish line ahead, just as my roving cheerleader and photographer popped up again. I half expected Dee to pull away in a sprint finish, something I’ve never managed to do, but we stayed running at the same pace and crossed the line together, absolutely rung out, finished, nothing more to give.
I remember standing, gasping, zombie-like as my husband snapped another photo – sometimes I wish he wasn’t quite so keen. I shuffled towards my medal, t-shirt, banana and goody bag, and met up with Dee again. The clock had said 2:15 as we crossed the line, but my Garmin was saying 2:13, so we’d actually beaten our target, and had both beaten our previous PBs. I said good bye and thank you to Dee and we staggered off home.
So we did it, undertrained and sleep deprived. Official time had me in at 2:13 :35, and Dee at 2:13:34. Not sure where she sneaked that extra second from as I’m sure we crossed both lines together, but I don’t mind as I have a shiny new PB and I’m very happy. It was great to run with Dee, to run at the same pace, to both be pushing ourselves equally hard and to be suffering together towards the end. The DOMS I had for the next 3 days were worse than for a marathon, but it was worth it.
Right – what’s next?!