I have every ounce of awe and respect for people who run full marathons (or more). I ran the Brighton Half Marathon last week, and finding enough momentum to propel myself around the course was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever physically done. At some points, I’d be fizzing with energy and ready to go, and other times I hit a wall and wondered if I could even carry on going! It’s a rollercoaster of emotions – sometimes it feels amazing and other times it’s scary and painful. But the overwhelming feeling of joy, pride and adrenaline at the end makes it all worthwhile. Here’s a mile by mile account of the race, what I call the 13.1 stages of running a half marathon…
PRE RACE Anticipation
A mix of ’13.1 miles? EASY’ , ‘For goodness sake what have I signed myself up to this time’ and ‘are my knees covered? Because I may end up crawling around this course’
Mile One – Reluctance
A slight feeling in the back of your mind thinking ‘you know what? I’m pretty tired already. I could just slip off and maybe grab a pizza or something….’. After mile one, it’s kind of hard to envisage doing it twelve more times. Of course at this stage, you HAVE to carry on – you wouldn’t go for a one mile run normally, after all, and a mile really is nothing – but that voice in the back of your mind still chants PIZZA AND REST all the way to mile two.
Mile Two – Determination
But, once you’ve reached the second mile, you get a sudden spurt of determination. You can do this, of course you can, look how naturally you’re running, feel how liberating it is to be charging around this course with all the other competitors. You even envisage yourself suddenly sprouting wings on your trainers and winning the race. Or at least getting a medal and a free T shirt at the end.
Mile Three – Worried
You’re still determined, but a bit dubious once again. THERE’S STILL TEN MILES TO GO. That’s double digits still. But then you remind yourself that you’re a quarter of the way through, and you haven’t yet felt like you’re going to throw up or pass out.
Mile Four – Energy
First wall broken through, you pick your pace back up. That guy who keeps overtaking you? You start to sprint and run straight past him. He’ll overtake again in a minute, but in your energy phase, you’re quite literally getting ahead while you can.
Mile Five – Early achievement
Five miles is what I personally call a substantial run. A sense of achievement is felt as you run past the marker, and you realise that every sign that you pass, you’re putting a significant chunk of the running behind you. Depending on how much you’re trying to distract yourself from your agonising feet pain, you may even try to work out the percentage that each mile of a half marathon is.
Mile Six – Elation
Six miles is 10k, pretty much. You’re really racking up those miles. It’s not that bad you think to yourself, as you remember all the 10k+ training runs you did. Let’s pretend this is just another one of them.
Mile Seven – Relief – half over!
Can you do all of that over again? If you haven’t yet thrown up, stopped to lie down or fallen over then the answer is probably yes. Maybe you’ll even start singing Bon Jovi to yourself (Woaaaah, we’re halfway there)
Mile Eight – Sinking feeling
Maybe you feel the slightest twinge of pain in your feet. Or everything goes a bit blurry for a moment. Mile eight is where it starts to feel a bit too much. When your body realises that, despite being way past the halfway mark, this is a long race and there’s still a way to go.
Mile Nine – Getting a bit tired
And then it starts to get really painful. You’ve been jogging for so long that your legs feel like they’re being wrenched off. You feel a little bit like running onto the grassy bank beside you and having a nice kip, or at least walking for a bit. But you know if you do, you won’t start again. You need to keep running.
Mile Ten – Hunger/ need energy right this second
Luckily, most half marathons are aware of this phase and provide you with water, Lucozade and jelly babies. Not quite the roast I was craving, but I guess eating one of those with 3 miles left to run wouldn’t be very advisable. Needless to say, this is the stage where you may pour half a bottle of Lucozade down your throat and cram five jelly babies into your mouth. It gives you a short energy spurt. Or at least breaks up the running monotony a tad!
Mile Eleven – Near tears
You know that you’re so close but everything hurts. You feel like you’ve broken yourself. But, made it this far, you know you might as well go out with a bang. Even though you’re pretty sure this is inferno. Why did you sign up to this again?
Mile Twelve – Gritted teeth
Ok, just one more mile. You can do this. You remind yourself that your body can withstand a lot, it’s just your mind that you need to convince. You then try to convince your mind, with little progress. But once you reach the 12 mile mark you’re on the home straight, no matter how much pain you may be in. You might be able to pick out a landmark that you know is near the end. That’s not all that far away, is it?
Mile Thirteen – A tsunami of joy and liberation until you realise there’s still 0.1 of a mile
YOU’VE GOT TO MILE 13 AND YOU CAN SEE THE FINISH LINE. You know that now you’ll make it, even if you have to lie down and roll there. But you also know that there’s no way you’re going to do that now, because you can see how long it’s taken you so far, and you HAVE to make it before the next significant time marker. So you sprint. It’s one of the most difficult and torturous 0.1 of a mile you will ever travel.
Mile Thirteen.One – The shakes, no ability to move/ walk and actual tears
I burst into tears after crossing the Brighton half marathon line. It all feels very surreal, as if you’ve just been in a movie and have come back to earth. You’re shaking and maybe hyperventilating. But, as you move forward and collect your blanket, free food (always a winner), medal and t shirt, an unignorable sense of achievement and huge grin spreads across your face. Despite losing the ability to walk, you suddenly feel on top of the world. That’s why you did it.
Running a half marathon is full of ups and downs, and unless you’re a seasoned runner is incredibly challenging. But all the pain, the bleeding feet, the tears and the ache for days after are more than worth it when you cross your finish line. When you can say, with a huge grin on your face, I ran that.
For more race tips, check out how to conquer a military style obstacle course race.