Hazel Jane

What I learnt during my first half marathon

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Last Sunday I ran my first official half marathon.

Cue lots of cheers and sighs of relief as I really thought I couldn’t. But perseverance can get you far people – train your mind to keep going through pain and discomfort and you can do anything. Including running one mile up a steep hill and mastering the act of eating jelly babies and running at the same time. (as slowly and with as little mouth opening as possible, FYI).

Anyway, your first race is always going to be difficult and completely out of your comfort zone. You spend so long running on your own, with no one cheering you on on the sidelines, that it kind of throws you and it’s just a really strange experience. (Even stranger and more embarrassing when there’s a line of twenty firemen watching your wobbling bottom run past.) So I thought, to any of my lovely readers who are hoping to run their first official race this year, here are the things you should expect:

It’ll be a good five/ten minutes or more before you actually start running properly.
Usually thousands of people take part in races, and you’re all starting together. Even in a marathon when they separate you in to time groups you’ll still have hundreds of people in front of you. So expect a bit of a shuffle at the start, and maybe take a few minutes off your end time – it’s only fair, right?

Some races will have pace people.
At my half marathon there were people running with times on their backs and balloons around their waist. I just thought ‘well, that’s a fun costume’, but they’re actually there for you to know which pace you’re going at. For instance, if you run past a ‘pace marker’ with 1.45 on their backs, you know you’ll do it in less time! (I didn’t see anyone less than 2 hr 30 on mine, not even in the distance…)

There will be lots of drink stations.
So you don’t necessarily have to take a bottle of water and weigh yourself down. Just expect to get water all over yourself… And here’s a tip – take the water from the little kid volunteers, they always look happy that you’ve chosen their cup.

There’s a chance you might cry.
It’s an emotional time, leave me alone!

More people will be walking than you think.
I was under the assumption that I would be surrounded by people running the whole way. I mean, there were tons of people who were, and were finishing within an hour (crazy), but there are a few crowds that do walk sometimes and that’s totally okay. There’s no shame in needing a break. I took many…

If your route has easy ways of skipping a few miles…it’s extremely tempting.
The half way mark came across those who were on the last mile of the race for my half marathon, and at that point I was more than ready to simply skip the rest and pretend I was finished in one hour 20 mins…Thankfully your pride and your desire to finish the damn thing will override the impulse.

You’ll learn to embrace the crowds.
It’s weird having crowds when you’re not used to them. And let’s be honest here, at first it feels quite embarrassing having people shout at you and tell you to keep going when all you want to do is stop at the pier and buy a large bag of chips (totally didn’t think about doing that…). But soon you embrace it and start to shout ‘thanks’ and smile back rather than hang your head and not look at them directly. They’re positive people who only want the best for you – show that you appreciate it!

No matter how much you ache, even if your legs are cramping – when you see the finish line you’ll run as fast as you can
Maybe it’s your mum shouting your name and spurring you on, maybe it’s the banana, chocolate and medal promised at the end, maybe it could be a big dose of adrenaline, or it could just be the fact you’ve had enough and want to collapse on the grass – whatever it is, you will run. And you will run fast.

Despite the pain you’ll probably feel, the pride will override everything.
You’ve just run X amount of miles – pat yourself on the back! You’re a hero.

I won’t lie and say that the experience was smooth sailing. Within mile one I had tripped over a loose lace and my shins were hurting an unusual amount, then I had to run up the steepest hill ever in existence (slight exaggeration, but why put that on the route?!), and it wasn’t until mile 4 and my first handful of jelly babies that I got my stride. Even then by mile 9 I had had enough and jogged very, very slowly.

But you know what? I feel proud of what I have achieved. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat – I’d just double knot my shoes and take even more jelly babies from passersby.

Have you run a race before? What things would you tell a first marathon runner to expect? Keep me posted!

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