Last Sunday, I was supposed to be running my first half marathon in Blackpool. But then Covid-19 happened. The event was put back to September, and various options were offered to those who had signed up. The new date happened to be on the same day as this year’s Preston 10K, and I didn’t want to miss that; for that reason, and the fact that I was already partway through my training program, I elected to run the half marathon virtually, doing it in my own time and submitting the result to the event organisers at a later date. (The Preston 10K, incidentally, was later put back itself.) And given how I had already laid out my training program to lead up to the original date, why not do it on that particular day?
In the weeks leading up to the run, I was pleased at how I was able to get into running nine or ten miles at the weekends. For this first attempt, my target was simply to finish in less than two hours, so I would be safe with an average pace of nine minutes per mile. On my long runs, however, I found I could comfortably maintain 8:40 per mile, so that became my hoped-for pace for the big run. Unfortunately, while I can generally rely on running to make me feel good, the training runs could sometimes be stressful experiences due to the two-metre social distancing rules. We’ve been having a long spell of good weather in England this month to coincide with the lockdown, and I would often find lots of other pedestrians making the most of their permitted period of daily exercise, whom I would keep having to dodge in whatever space was available. So when planning where to go for the half marathon, I chose a nice, open route where social distancing could be maintained easily, and also decided to go early in the morning when there would be fewer people around.
When the big day arrived, the weather was perfect: mostly bright with scattered cloud cover, mild but not chilly, and only a little wind. At 7:30am, having allowed time for my early breakfast to go down, I got my gear on, started both my app and my running playlist, and I was off. The plan was to run about 4.5 miles in one direction, turn around and come back, then do a loop around the block to make up the last four miles or so. It was hard to resist going too fast to begin with, and it took me a few miles to settle into my intended pace. As usually happens, it also took some time to properly warm up and get the endorphins circulating. By the five-mile mark, I was at my optimum and feeling like I could keep running forever. It hardly mattered that I was running alone; in fact, in the sunshine, surrounded by trees and with hardly anyone else about, it was all very pleasant.
At ten miles, the feeling of invincibility had faded. I felt increasingly conscious of the fact that my leg muscles were tired and my fuel gauge was getting low. Telling myself that there was only a few more miles to do, I kept going. I was focussed, concentrating on forward movement, fighting against the force of resistance creeping into my mind. I’d now been running for longer than I’d ever done before; in the state I was in, I could barely remember a time before I started running. In place of the cheering spectators that would have been present at the actual event, having my favourite songs to listen to certainly helped to keep pushing me.
Then the app reported that I had run thirteen miles. Just a little more…and then came the words, “Workout Complete.” Victory! (And with an average pace of exactly 8:40 per mile!) With that, I took a selfie and walked unsteadily home for some fruit and Lucozade.
When my long training runs had been going so well, I had felt very confident and wondered just how far I could push myself in the long term. I was sure I’d try a full marathon at some point in the future, but would that be enough? Ultimately, you can’t know where you’re comfortable drawing the line until you’ve reached the next milestone and found out how it feels. At the moment that I completed this half marathon, I was exhausted and couldn’t imagine doing a full one – but then, I probably couldn’t imagine doing a half marathon after my first 10K. I certainly intend to run more half marathons, and I’ll see how those make me feel. For now, I’ll be happy to go back to more casual running, working on my 5K and 10K PBs for whenever the events start up again.