Race Date: Sunday 21st October 2018
Report by: Julia Waldron
Thought it would be nice to have a race report from a newbie, but I’ll start with an introduction to how I got here if you’ll indulge me. This time last October I was well and truly ‘on the couch’, and had been slobbing there for about fourteen years since my daughter was born. Before that I was a keen exerciser, I loved running and doing physical challenges, and even ran the old Sheffield half route back in 2002. Back to October though, I was low; suffering from pretty severe anxiety and depression and at the start of a counselling programme to help with binge eating disorder, my way of coping with stress and feeling bad….which inevitably made me feel worse.
I saw an advert on Facebook that jumped out at me for ‘RED (Run every day) January for MIND. This initiative encourages people to support their own mental health by doing something active every day, as well as raising important funds for the charity. I was still a long way away from putting one foot in front of the other, but on a whim I signed up, not really knowing if I’d do it or not. Around the same time I was sent some info from one of my friends about a new Couch to 5K course that was starting in Heeley, so I signed up for that too.
Signing up is one thing, wommaning up is another….. On the 1st January, having signed up to RED, my hangover fuelled newsfeed was full of people feeling ‘super annoyingly’ positive that they’d done their first run. They all looked pretty chuffed with themselves too, so feeling inspired….and a bit guilty, I waited for cover of darkness, dusted off my 15 year old trainers, and took off into the FREEZING January night. I ran half a mile and was absolutely wasted……but a tiny bit chuffed with myself…and so it went on every day in January putting one foot in front of the other with a good walk or a run. Fast forward two weeks and it was time for my first Couch to 5K session, which I dragged my fellow couch loving partner Al Dalton along to because frankly I was petrified.
This is where I truly believe my running journey began. Led by the legendary James Norton and Zoe Dickinson, I learnt to run properly and safely. I was encouraged and supported. I was treated as an equal amongst people I saw as the elite. I met a whole network of wonderful running friends, and many things in my life started to change. My anxiety and depression lifted, I got stronger, my partner loved his running as much as I did and proved to be pretty good at it, and that changed our family mindset. I was high on the buzz of it, and Al convinced me at the end of February that we should sign up for the Chesterfield Half Marathon that he’d seen advertised, as by October we should be ready. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I went for it and that was that.
One thing about being giddy and excited about running, is it is very easy to hurt yourself. My just up from the couch bod was pushing myself every week for Parkrun PBs, entering 5 and 7K races, upping my miles, pushing myself hard at the follow on 5-10K course …..which of course resulted in an injury in May of this year (just after I had joined the Striders). I’d done something to my big tendon in my leg (technical term) which took me out of ‘proper running’ for about a month. More importantly it really knocked my confidence and the old self doubt started creeping in. I was scared to go on longer runs or to really push as I kept feeling pain in my hips and down my legs. The half marathon was beginning to look like too big a feat, and pretty much every runner I told I was considering it said …….don’t do it to avoid further injury…….but my little heart still wanted to. With two weeks to go I emailed the amazing Kim Baxter, who had helped me during my injury, and asked her if she thought it would be stupid to give it a try, given the furthest I’d run up to this point was 10k. Her advice was measured and contained a few warnings about not pushing too hard, but she also gave me the green light to ‘go for it’, as long as I didn’t try to train too hard before or after, as she warned that is often how injuries can happen. She has been in touch a few times with her golden nuggets of advice right up until the start line……where we’ll jump to now, so thanks for bearing with me to this bit.
Al and I set off nice and early on this beautiful sunny but fresh morning. We had time for a pre run coffee and I felt really positive and not even nervous. I’d deliberately not told many people I was doing it in case I bottled it, or worse still I couldn’t do it, but after talking to Kim I knew that even if I had to walk I would get to the end. In my mind, I would be happy if I finished under 3 hours, but my main target was…to finish.
After our coffee we headed to the beautifully sunny Queens Park, where we met fellow Striders and Couch to 5K friends Anna Waterworth, Lucy Cowell and Carol Speight. All of these runners have been an inspiration to me for different reasons, so it felt fitting that we were all doing this together. We did the obligatory pre race photos and dropped our bags off, and it was soon time to head to the start. I lost Al on my pre run wee shenanigans but I knew that he was fine and ready. I took myself to the back of the starting pack (just like my park run style), so I could pace myself for my own run (for me this wasn’t a race).
I began the rituals of getting the watch and music ready to go. The night before the run, I had put together a really detailed play list of songs that would inspire me on the way round…..I was gutted when I got my headphones out to realise the connector had got bent and it was going to be a music free zone. Determined not to get negative I rolled my eyes, had a little smile and a couple of minutes later we were off!
It’s a weird event in that the 5 mile fun run starts at the same time as the half, and the half runners are told to ‘keep right’ and the 5 milers left from the start. The route splits off after about a mile or so of leaving the park, which was when I realised that most of the runners I’d set off in a cosy pack with were only doing the 5 mile. From this point, I was on my own, near the back, but feeling fine.
After the split, the route heads into Chesterfield town centre, which looked lovely in the sun, and there was a bit of support, but I could have done without the cobbled streets so early on. After heading round the town in a higgledy piggledy route the road heads out onto the bypass towards the M1. I had heard that this was the grimmest part of the route, and it wasn’t ideal having speeding cars on the other side of the road and the fumes they bring, but I quite enjoyed this part. It was super sunny and more than ever before I was fully immersed in thinking about my pace and form whilst steadily making slow progress up the never ending slight gradient. I passed loads of people at this point who had perhaps set off to quickly and were now walking….or maybe they walked because they thought this was a HILL! I’d done Blackstock road in the previous weeks Strider training so this was by no means taxing.
I could see two Striders tops ahead and recognised Jo Graham (who I’d chatted to at the start) and Carol Speight. I caught up with Jo right at the top of the incline and we started running together down into Hasland and chatting and getting to know each other. This was probably the nicest part of the race, not only because I had company but the scenery in the distance was beautiful too. I felt strong and Jo assured me that I was doing great and that I was definitely going to finish in a good time. We had fantastic support in Hasland, perhaps the best on the route and I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this and had now run further than at any other point this year.
All was going swimmingly until we got back into Chesterfield town at around mile 9. I think running with Jo had bolstered me to run faster than I should have and I started to feel myself flagging. I couldn’t keep this pace consistent for another 4 miles, and I didn’t want to hold Jo back, so I encouraged her to go on and I’d catch her at the finish. From this point things were a little tougher. I ran very slowly back out of Chesterfield and out on the second shorter loop of the route. This section is two way, and faster runners were coming towards me as I plodded along. Some great speedy runners took the time to applaud, high five and encourage me which felt great. I saw Al coming towards me and I could tell he was giving it all he’d got and was finding it tough, but knew he was in great time to get his much desired sub two hour half….not bad for a first one! This was my favourite High 5 by far!
The route then turned off right into a housing estate where lots of residents had come out to sit in the sun and cheer us on. This was the hardest part of the route for me as we approached mile 11, which was pretty much a hill. Supporters were shouting that this was the last one, so I decided to walk it and save my energy for the finish. What goes up, must come down and we headed back down the hill onto the Brampton Road. Before I knew it, I was in the final mile and heading back into Queens Park. Here I was joined by a friendly St John’s ambulance guy on his push bike (perhaps I looked near collapse), who kept me laughing and motivated on the route round to the finish. As I turned the finish corner I was overwhelmed to see my kids, who I didn’t know were coming to cheer me on. I had to stop for a hug and managed to hold in a little sob, and was suitably spurred on for the last part of the run.
Jo had warned me that there was a cruel twist at the end, in that it’s a double lap finish. You see the finish line, but you have to pass it and do another loop with spectator support (nowhere to hide) before you’ve officially finished. I was well and truly goosed by this point but I was determined to finish well. On my finisher photos at Sheffield 10K I looked like a walking slug, so I powered through that finish and got a lovely shout out from the race commentator. Lets hope this is reflected in the pics!
And that was it. I’d done it. I’d run a bloody half marathon, and I have the medal to prove it. It certainly won’t be my last. Big shout outs to everyone who helped me get here, but especially Al, Kim and Anna for really believing in me for this one. Huge thanks to the Striders for supporting the Couch to 5k course and new runners on the Heeley training nights. My official chip time was 2:37:15.
First male across the line was Gary Gregory in 1:14:58. First female was new Strider Nicola Holland in 1:26:26. Well done Nicola and welcome to the club! First male Strider over the line was Jonathan Cooper in 1:23:46. Other Striders results were taken from the results pages with a bit of scrabbling round for the new Striders who clearly hadn’t joined when they registered like me. The rest of the results can be found here.
Julia quite rightly being chuffed with her first half marathon medal