March has come around quickly and a whole lot of things have happened in the lead up, not least that I’ve decided to split my March Challenge into two parts and running two half marathons on back to back weekends at opposite ends of the country.
It was a glorious day in Eastbourne when I walked and jogged along the seafront to the start of the race. I came past the mile markers and more and more runners walked along the pavement.
Preparation for this race had hardly been ideal. I had lost my running mojo after the trail race in Falmer, was stretched very thinly at work which manifested itself in me increasingly reacting to certain foods and feeling like I’m being constantly strangled. So instead of my usual 5 runs, I struggled with 4, some sessions I never made it to. Add to that the worry about my brother who had collapsed alongside the road when out running (turns out he has a wheat allergy that only manifests itself when exercising). The final blow came when a week before the half marathon, I received news that my godfather had died of cancer.
Walking to the race, I enjoyed the sun on my face, but also noticed that the wind was blowing quite strongly. I thought about clothing choice, but after warming up in blustery conditions, I figured I’d made the right choice: short sleeved base layer, arm warmers, shorts, and gloves for emergencies. For the race, I had made a plan: Go out steady over the uphill section and then pick it up on the flat part. I was aiming for 45 min for 6 miles. And then see what the rest would bring.
Warming up, I saw plenty of familiar faces from ParkRun, triathlon or from just being out running. Then the gun went and the race was on. I set off in what I thought was a comfortable pace. The first mile is reasonably flat, but then you hit the Pier and it starts climbing from there. The wind was blowing mercilessly and I tried to hide behind people for shelter, while maintaining my form and my cadence. There was music and plenty of spectators along the course, first a piper then the Pentacle Drummers. It lifted your mind away from the wind and the ever increasing incline until nearly half way up Beachy Head, we were greeted by a street organ. By then we were climbing on hand and feet. The turning point came and immediately we started plunging back down the street. It was interesting to watch how some people were using gravity to just hurl down, I kept it controlled. It was a long way to the finish and still the wind was blowing.
Finally, we hit the seafront and I knew I had a 4 mile stretch with the wind on my back. The Pier at mile 6 flew past in just over 45 min. Spot on. I pushed a bit more maintaining form, letting all the spectators sink in, the Youth Brass Band, runners I knew. But my head was empty. At no point was there a thought how hard this was or how far I still had to go. I didn’t have to sing ‘Maria’ to myself or start tapping out a rhythm. I just was.
Through 10 miles in 73 min. I was pleased. Push for home and maybe, just maybe… And then I hit the headwind again. I tried to stay tall to run, but the wind nearly smacked me into the houses and walls. Interestingly, I kept passing people. I was comparatively flying. Then I saw a friend ahead of me. She usually comprehensively beats me and she’s one tough cookie. I knew when I went past, it was game on. There was no room for hesitation. Pedal to the metal was the only choice. I kept pushing on, fighting the wind, focussing forward, focussing on the next person to catch.
Hitting the seafront again the headwind went up another notch. You could just see people shrinking in the wind to make themselves small. I heard my friend Sarah shout my name, felt a guy trying to come past from behind. But by then we were on my territory, the last 800m. A short sprint to the line and I had finished. My watch showed 1.37. I was happy with that, but couldn’t help but think just how much that wind had taken out of me over the last 3 miles.
Looking back now, it was a tough race. But I felt actually really good. Strong. Holding my technique together well. For most of the race, I had run in my comfort bubble, which I reckon sits somewhere just under 4.30. This is promising for part 2 of the March Challenge: the Balloch to Clydebank half marathon next weekend. I’ll give that a good crack.
When I unpacked my kit at home and took the black ribbon off my vest, I got emotional again, just like in the morning when I had pinned it on. My godfather loved the sea. His ashes will be scattered at sea. He was a forceful and challenging character, so the run and the weather just perfectly reflected that. He can now rest in peace.
When I checked the results later it turned out I was 9th female, 4th female vet, 133rd out of 1366 runners. Quite chuffed really.