Standing a few metres back from the start line of the Oxford Half Marathon, I thought back to the optimistic moment when I had applied. This moment had come four months ago and I had most definitely changed my mind since then. I looked around me at thousands of fit-looking people — I cer- tainly didn’t feel fit, I wasn’t prepared and I definitely wasn’t ‘in the zone’. In fact, to this day I’m not really sure what ‘the zone’ is. As the gun fired, I gritted my teeth and tried to look determined, but this attempt failed miserably and photos show a girl looking terrified and already completely exhausted as she jogs over the start line.
When I first entered the Oxford Half Marathon I had expected it to be a bit of a breeze. I’m not a particularly good runner, but I have always liked to think that this lack of ability is a choice and that I could run well if I actually wanted to. Unfortunately, as I learnt quite early on in training, I was mistaken and, actually, this running malarkey seemed to be quite a lot harder than I had anticipated. However, instead of training hard to combat this, to break through the wall that runners always seem to talk about, I opted for denial instead. When I stumbled home after a ‘five mile’ run feeling like I was about to die, I told myself that it wasn’t because I wasn’t training hard enough, rather it was because the route I had run was obviously far longer than Google Maps said. Looking back now, that was a fundamental error.
So back to race day, the Oxford event attracted over 6,000 runners, some so fast that they looked like they need to be careful not to break the speed limit when running on country roads. Many runners, myself included, were running for charity, which was an excellent motivation in the tougher parts of the race. I was running, or staggering, after about six miles, for Still the Hunger, a charity which provides incredible support for people with mental health difficulties. It was incredible to think of the amount of money being raised overall by people doing the race and I found myself feeling huge admiration for the people in front of me, behind me and all around me. Also, the route was lined from start to finish with supporters cheering on runners. This was really important because, whilst I had earphones in and couldn’t hear anything they were saying, I was far too proud to let anyone see me walking and so was forced to keep running (although probably at a pace slower than most people’s walking speed) the whole way. Admittedly I did have a brief existential crisis when the two hour pacemaker jogged past me.
However, for the most part, it was definitely the people around me rather than my own ability that carried me through the race.
I staggered over the finish line after two hours and three minutes (nearly an hour after the first placed runner finished) feeling like I was about to collapse and hugely relieved to finally sit down. Once I let my friends know I was finished I almost immediately got a phone call from a running enthusiast friend who had promised I was going to love the run and would want to do a full marathon next. “I’m right aren’t I?” she exclaimed down the phone, “You’ll definitely do a marathon now?” “No.” was my blunt and certain reply, “No I most certainly will not. Why on earth would anybody run a half marathon and then think that double the distance is a good idea?” This remained my opinion for the next few days as I hobbled around Oxford unable to ride a bike.
But, as the aches reduced they were replaced with a certain restlessness, a rather unsettling nagging sensation that just maybe I shouldn’t retire quite yet. I look back on the race today and whilst I remember that it was rather painful, there is a certain joy attached to it, a sense of achievement that suggests maybe the pain was worth it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I will be signing up for a marathon immediately af- ter finishing this article (although it probably wouldn’t be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done), but in the not too distant future, watch this space…