If you want to sponsor me, you still can; we might even reach £4,000. The page stays open until December. Many, many thanks to all those who have donated thus far, all of whom are listed below with the exception of the following who have sent cheques and cash directly to me: Andrea, Wayne, Mick and Clare, Judith Serota, David and Hilary Gould, Tessa and John Widerman, Tish Lomax, Rick and Jill, Pat Lungley, and My Lady of the Fruit and Veg Stall: Linda Moore. Oh, and thanks to Dominic, Bridie, Alice and Joe who I am officially 'outing' as the most recent Anonymous donation. Also, thanks to Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens for donating the proceeds of recordings sold at their January concert which itself was dedicated to Tessa.
Here's my race 'blog':I arrive at 10.45 for a 13.00 start. The Royal Mail has let me and many others down so my race-pack – electronic tag, race number, etc – is stuck in a sorting office somewhere. Once I’ve re-registered I have two hours to kill in the already strong sunshine. I read The Observer, hydrate, eat a banana.
“It’s a strange time to start a half marathon,” the man who sells me a smoothie says. By 12.30 the place is heaving with spandex and lycra, runners frantically availing themselves of free Lucozade drinks, slapping on sun tan lotion, all looking horribly fit. There are stretching exercises being done that I wouldn’t attempt without medical aid close by. Matt and Julia arrive and we reassure each other it will be fine. But it is hot; 22.4 degrees hot. Matt's and my running numbers are anagrams of each other.
Linz, my sister, finally arrives after a horrendous journey and I’m able to give my bag and camera to her to mind. We arrange to meet at the finish line.
The start is staggered so you choose the point closest to where you aim to finish. I hour 45 minutes is what I’m hoping for, so I stand slightly behind that reasoning that overtaking is better psychologically then being overtaken. The sun beats down and there’s a pretty rank smell of embrocation, sweat and sun tan lotion. The hooter that starts the race sounds, but it takes a while for the queue to move, a slow walk at first and then a stodgy shuffle. I set my watch as I pass under the start sign and keep my eye on my feet. The first mile is a straight run up a gentle incline. Don’t go off too fast is the idea, but there’s little chance of that.
The 1st mile. Too many people and too slow a pace. Spectators line the route but I’m locked into my music. Mad World by Tears for Fears gives me a nostalgic eighties buzz. I spot Julia, but she doesn’t spot me. “Hi Julia!” She only has eyes for Matt; they’re getting married next year. Aaaah...
2nd mile: Into the shade for the first time. Relief. But it’s uphill still and the pace is slow. The first water station: helpers are ranged along tables holding out paper cups of water. You grab one, take a mouthful, then throw it away. ‘Keep hydrated’ is the mantra.
3rd mile: I’m 30 seconds slower than I should be. And the mile markers aren't accurate. My watch – a GPS unit – tells me my exact speed and distance and, at 3 miles, we’ve all run 3.1 miles. I decide to push a bit.
4th mile: The thick snake of runners weaves in and out of trees. I feel ok. A long way to go, though. I continue to overtake and I’m struck by how many people have already stopped, some even in the first mile. Others are taking a breather, but no real casualties. Yet.
5th mile: My cousin, Andy, commented the other day that most people use the downslope to recover; he just increases his speed. It seems to have worked for me. I’ve managed to catch up with myself and ’m back on course for 1 hour 44.
6th mile: we’re approaching the point where we joined the loop and nearly halfway there. I wonder if I should tell my fellow runners when we reach the half-way point – 6.6. miles – but decide they’ve probably got their own strategies for coping. There are more people lining the course now, clapping and cheering.
7th mile: Over halfway. I’ve been running an hour. I distract myself with the variety of running styles: whippet-thin women with a Paula Radcliffe roll; stocky guys with ‘Ken’ on their back; couples running for good causes; packs of feral bankers advertising their companies, perhaps seeking redemption. I know little about running, only stuff I’ve picked up from others, but changing my stride length helps. “Keep your shape,” I hear dimly from somewhere in my addled brain, and try to affect style. No-one notices.
8th mile: This is the toughest bit so far: a straight, flat run with no sense of shade, no cooling trees or undergrowth. I learn later that this is where they play Polo. It feels like the Sahara. I run on the grass to give my feet some relief from the tarmac and also to overtake. I seem to be locked in on a kid wearing a number 7 shirt. It helps keep me moving forwards to have him as a marker.
9th mile: The open run gives way mercifully to trees, but it’s uphill, an incline greater than any we’ve thus far encountered. Some people walk it, but for me that would be a mistake. Sometimes, on my three-mile run around my neighbourhood, I’ll take a break, blaming jet-lag or something equally spurious, and all that happens is that it makes you have another break later. I run up the hill passing many as I go. And I start to feel nauseous. Can you run after throwing up, I wonder?
10th mile: Feeling fine now, though the sense of a headache hovers. The music’s doing the trick, a playlist of Indie Rock, though really I should have asked DJ Laura to do me a playlist. An anthemic track comes on (Stay positive" by The Hold Steady) and I wonder if I can get the rest of the runners to join in. Probably not.
11th mile: I’ll do this. I’m sure. But, hang on a minute. Have I got the maths right? It’s at this point that mental arithmetic becomes a real challenge and I suddenly decide that, doing eight-minute miles as I am, I will cross the finish line at one hour fifty. Oh no! I’ve messed up. I do the maths again. And again. And then discover that I’m still on track for one hour forty-five.
12th mile: Into what feels like the last section and a guy is being tended by ambulance people. Right in front of me a woman seems to be doing an impression of a sea creature, a slow motion underwater wobble, then she goes, falling. I try to catch her, lean over her, ask her if she’s ok and whistle to the ambulance people. Someone’s there pretty quickly and I set off again. It’s still uphill. How can this be?
13th mile: the long run down the slope to the Castle up ahead. I switch off the music so I can hear the crowd and use the incline to stretch out my legs. My supporters are somewhere and, a quarter mile from home, there they are. I flash past. One hour, forty four minutes and thirty one seconds. But it’s also 13.2 miles, not 13.1. Take off my Good Samaritan act on mile 12 and that extra point1 of a mile and I’ll settle for 1 hour forty-four. Oh, and I was 572nd out of 5,000 with an official time of one hour forty-four minutes and thirty seconds.
I meet my support group – Linz (my sister), Laura – (Tessa’s daughter), Kate (Laura’s friend and mine – she came on holidays with Tessa, Laura and myself), Justin (Laura’s housemate), Jeanie and Harry (friends, originally my mum’s neighbours). I embrace them all, trying not to sweat over them too much. Matt is behind me somewhere and later we hook up. He seems to have enjoyed it. Next year? Hmm. I’ll have to think about that.
No injuries, but the strange thing is that I didn't feel like a beer, even later that evening. Now that is a worrying symptom...
(If you want to follow the course and my specific run, then post this link into your browser and it will show you the exact route on Google Earth: activity_14513393.kml)
Many thanks to Matt for getting me into this in the first place and thanks to everyone for the support.