Thursday, 14 October 2010

Thirteen Miles

Running? Moi? Get outta here. Running, as far as I've always been concerned, was something crazy people did - the kind of people who swim outdoors in winter and eat raw eggs. I wasn't one of those people. I've always hated running.

Yet, because I hated running so much, I always wanted to run a half marathon.

I like a challenge.

Look, I'm no athlete, but I believe there's nothing more exciting than discovering how far you can go under your own steam. I once raced up a Munro and then cried when my legs gave out just below the summit. I got to the top though, and when I did, I felt absolutely amazing. It's that feeling which is worth all the pain and the slog.

Then in May this year, I heard that the brilliant Muireann (aka Bangs and a Bun) had signed up for the London Royal Parks half marathon.
"That girl hates running even more than me," I thought. "Cripes, well if she can do this, I have no excuse."

So I signed up right there on the spot, and took a place with the charity Scope, who strive for people with disabilities to fulfill their potential. I like that idea a LOT. That's what life's about, no? Discovering one's potential?

I know that to some people thirteen miles is a cinch. Just like there are countless people who can cover several Munros in a single day. But to me, this was a personal challenge, and frankly, that's the best kind of challenge to undertake. Muireann's amazing efforts and training updates inspired me to work at this, and my Twitter followers egged me on and helped me raise £550 for Scope. I really don't think I would have made it without the incredible encouragement of the online community.

And so, after sixteen weeks of training, the day had arrived.
This is how it went.


I was standing in a crowd of thousands, donning my least attractive ensemble, and wondering what on earth I was doing there. Look at me, pretending to be a runner! Pffft. Yet I was excited, I couldn't deny it, and nervous energy was zinging through my whole body like electricity. Muireann stood next to me, tapping on her phone and showing me some of the supportive messages sent to the both of us via Twitter. I had to laugh. Good grief, people are awesome. I took a deep breathe, briefly wondered what I was in for, and put my earphones in. My goal time was two and a half hours. I had absolutely no idea if that was even realistic. I had never run thirteen miles before. Ever.

Then the crowd slowly began to move and we crossed the ever-looming start line. We were OFF!

Immediately I decided this was awesome. I loved it! The vibe! The energy! The crowds! I could keep this up. I was having fun!!!

(This feeling lasted for approximately 2 miles.)

Muireann quickly moved ahead, spurred on by her amazing running friend Charlie, as I got stuck into a steady rhythm of my own. As the masses passed through the park, a rather stocky photographer raced alongside us, trying to get the attention of one runner in particular. After a lot of running and yelling, he finally got his photo, then stopped and, hands on his knees, struggled to catch his breath. We runners couldn't help but chuckle. No sympathy from us, mate! We have a LONG way to go!

Racing in that rainbow river of people, we passed Big Ben just as it struck 10am on 10/10/2010. I grinned like a lunatic. I took a moment to absorb the fact that I was running in the middle of the road on Westminster Bridge. When would I ever be here again? I made sure to drink in the views on both sides. Oh London, you beautiful wench.

I felt on top of the world.

About 45 minutes in, racing along the Embankment, I felt a stitch coming on and realised I had increased my pace too much. Oops. I already had a pre-ordained tactic for avoiding a debilitating stich, which was to walk for 30-seconds or so to catch my breath. So I did just that.

However, at that precise moment, I found the world's jolliest girl jogging alongside me.
"Come on now, keep running!" she pipped.
Her encouraging smile was brighter than the surface of the sun. I couldn't help but admire her motivation. I smiled back. And wished she would go away.

All the water I drank, coupled with all the nerves meant I took the opportunity for a loo break. It was a pay toilet and there was a poor race attendent handing out 50p coins to each runner. Times like this I wish I was a bloke, and could join the vast numbers marking their territory all over the streets of London. I must have lost a few minutes queuing for the Ladies'. But then, the best thing about the loo stop was the chance to have sit down. (Yep. I said it.)

Back on the route, I felt truly alive, and excitedly waved to the people watching from Embankment bridge.

After mile four my ankles began to ache but I just stopped to rotate them a bit and carried on. I'd have to just ride out the discomfort - it was early in the race and I guessed - correctly - there would be more to come.

I kept up the pace and pushed on... I was feeling good my friend, feeling good. Naturally it was about this point that I was overtaken by a man in a tiger suit. The feeling I was being slightly mocked quickly made way for amusement. Hard not to giggle with so many ridiculous costumes in the fray - including two chaps carrying a giant fish.

I wasn't in a costume, but I did have vest with my name on it. Scope encouraged their runners to write their names on their tops so people could yell out to them as they ran by. I wasn't certain this would actually work, but decided if anything, it's probably helpful to wear a giant name tag, in case I went insane with exhaustion and got lost in a forest somewhere.

Then I heard it. A cry from the sidelines. "GO CLAIRE! YOU CAN DO IT!" I did a double take to discover perfect strangers were egging me on. THAT was brilliant.

I raced past Buckingham Palace, grinning like a maniac and wondering if all of this was really happening.

As time went on the pain in my ankles subsided and moved upwards, to my shins and calf muscles. I stopped, did some stretches and gave them a massage. Come on legs!! Let's work together on this!

It was a while later, as the route took us back through Hyde Park, that I saw one of the most incredible sights. There were people handing out Percy Pigs. I grabbed up a handful and spent the next 10 minutes hoping like hell nobody I knew would recognise me as I gorged on candy like a starving pack animal. My entire being was buzzing with joy (and a pre-emptive sugar high).

Oh Percy Pigs. You glorious sugary gelatinous swines of joy.

A little later, still on a Percy Pig high, I looked around at the crowds, the supporters, the sun sparkling on the Serpentine, and my whole being burst with happiness. (And sugar). I ran past the Scope tent and they all whooped and yelled and cheered my name. "COME ON CLAIRE!" I grinned and waved my arms in the air. YES!! I felt SUPERFANTASTIC! I saw some little children holding out their hands and without a second thought I high fived them all. YEAH! Then, noting their expressions of uncertainty, it dawned on me that perhaps they weren't high-fiving just anyone - that more likely, their mother was just behind me. Realising I may have just high-fived some stranger's kids, I sprinted off at top speed. I overtook swarms of people in an instant. Apparently mortification is an excellent untapped source of energy.

A little while later a kid with a giant foam hand was definitely high-fiving everyone. I knew it was safe. I high-fived that kid with GUSTO.

As the route twisted and turned through Hyde Park, I began to slow. By the ninth mile my right leg started to give up. Running on it really hurt - enough to slow me down significantly. I stopped, stretched a bit, ran on, but was capable of nothing more than a limping stride. I struggled to run ("Sod the pain!") but after each short burst was limping again - I imagined I looked a bit like a wounded animal. Although, there were quite a few wounded animals around me. A lot of people hurting. And at this point I was passing a few people being treated by ambulance staff, including a couple of unconcious runners being given oxygen.

I was still standing - I can do this!

My original plan had been to stick with the pre-established pace I'd trained for - which could keep me running for long periods quite happily - and then speed up and sprint the last mile or two. What I had not anticipated was how much pain my joints would be in. As I stumbled down a tree-lined path past the mile 11 marker, the Royal Albert memorial looming up ahead, I knew my original plan would be thwarted. I was in no position to sprint. Disappointment set in, and I tried once again to go faster, but continued to be slowed by the pain in my leg. I gritted my teeth, and set into a quick-limping hobble, pushing on towards the finish.

I cursed my leg. My stupid leg. Oh leg, why have you forsaken me?!

Suddenly up ahead, the finish line loomed. The crowds of supporters were dense on both sides, and everyone was cheering each runner down their final path to glory. This was it! This was what I came here for! All this work! All this time! One way or another I was going to make it!

I guess I had something of a Cool Runnings moment. Because out of nowhere, I sprinted. Grimacing, I raced my way towards the finish, and I made it, in 2hrs 44mins 14 secs. My whole body hurt, yet crossing the line felt amazing.

(And then I felt like I was going to throw up, and I had to have a sit down).


So. Am I going to go out an run a marathon now?
No. And you can all stop bloody asking. I hate running.

But I might do another half marathon. I'd like to see if I can better my time.... as I say, I do like a challenge....

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Idris Elba, Lend Me Your Ear

Dear Mr Elba.

Out of all the classy broads you must come across in your day to day life of absolute coolness, I'm sure you remember Muireann? Your Valentine's Day phone date? She of saucy voice and fabulous hair, of dry wit and sparkling sass? Oh, well I guess you haven't seen her hair, but do stick with me here, Mr Elba, because here is your chance!

Bangsy (as she is known to me, but you can call her "Honeybun") is running a half marathon tomorrow. Impressive, no? That's thirteen miles you understand. THIRTEEN MILES. Almost 22kms!

*pauses for effect*

I realise you run half marathons in your sleep, and you eat criminals for breakfast and all, but this is kind of a big deal for most of us. AND to top it all off, Bangsy inspired ME to run it as well. Thirteen miles. Big deal. Like I said.

Because of Bangsy, I've now raised over £500 for the charity Scope, and on a more personal note, have discovered that running more than a mile will not, as I have always maintained, equal instant death. It's all very exciting, and I owe it all to our gal.

So I ask you, Mr Elba, if you're around Hyde Park could you come down and cheer on Bangsy? (I'm sure she wouldn't turn down a quick sports massage either, but I appreciate you're a busy man.) This is where she'll be. And, tragically, if that's not a possibility and you have some Cool Undercover Business to attend to, then maybe you could at least send a motivational tweet to @BangsandaBun?
(That's "Honeybun" to you).