Overcoming the COVID blues: My half marathon journey

Today we have another guest Author. Massive thanks to Al for this one

It’s a glorious November day. My watch has just ticked over the 17 km mark, 4.1 km to go. I can see my race competitor (my wife, Louisa) in front of me, and I am hitting the wall – hard. 

The idea to run our first half marathon came to us a year before. Having celebrated our 1st anniversary by climbing (loose term) Helvellyn in the Lake District, we sat in a café thinking of ways to celebrate our 2nd. As neither of us had run much beyond 10 km at the time, we settled on the Tatton Half Marathon as a feasible challenge.

Roll forward a few months and…well, we all know what happened! Events were being postponed or cancelled, we could no longer run with clubs and, just for good measure, I developed gluteal tendinopathy in early April and had to take a break from running. Not only were we locked down, with a chance of the race being cancelled, I was unable to train. How was I going to maintain motivation to train for and complete my first half marathon?

The key for me was to break it down into smaller goals: get my motivation back; get help with the injury; and build up my endurance.   

I enlisted the help of Tri n Run coach, Vicky McKinnon. We set about developing my strength and technique to avoid injuries and built my endurance back up. Doing my exercises and working to the plan that Vicky and I had put in place gave me a sense of achievement, and with that the motivation returned. Before long I was back running, still with a lot of work to do, but with a definite sense of purpose. 

The next question was “What if the race gets cancelled?”. Knowing that this was completely out of my control, I decided that whatever happened on November 8th, I would run a half marathon. Alas, with just days to go, it was cancelled. Still determined to complete it and not let the training go to waste, race prep went ahead. Vicky and I discussed strategy the weekend before, and I settled into my pre-race routine fully armed with everything I needed to get the most out of the experience. 

The morning of the ‘race’ was fairly relaxed. Whilst we missed being surrounded by the buzz of an official event, it was nice to not have to queue for any last-minute loo breaks! I cheered Louisa on as she set off. I was to start 15 minutes later on the same route, so that we would finish around the same time. Just as I was about to leave, the cat, clearly thinking I looked nervous, released a (live) good luck charm into the kitchen. I lost a further 5 minutes chasing, catching and releasing his ‘gift’ before I set off; not the most conventional warm-up, but effective nonetheless. 

Cat gifts forgotten, I headed out and, finding a rhythm, set about my target pace. Listening to my body and making sure I didn’t go out of the gate too fast, the first 17 km passed rather enjoyably,  taking in a loop of Tatton and then heading out into the country lanes. However, with 4 km to go I began to struggle. I was hovering around the super-ambitious target we’d set of 1hr 45; with a hard push it was achievable, but it wasn’t going to be easy. 

Desperately wanting to hit that target, I ploughed on through the pain. My final kilometre took me through the park. Instead of the customary cheering crowds, only confused bystanders were there to witness me sprinting towards an invisible finish line. But it paid off – I broke 1hr 45 with 11 seconds to spare. I was elated; not only had all the training, effort and motivation allowed me to complete the distance, but I had beaten my target time. Shortly after, Louisa crossed the ‘finish line’ and much high fiving, selfies and congratulations ensued.  

The experience of running a half marathon solo and preparing during lockdown taught me that you don’t need a race to be motivated. Setting smaller goals, planning and determination will create the motivation you need to achieve your bigger goals. Accountability is also important: telling family and friends I was going to do it, (and not wanting to let coach down!) played a big part. The experience has made me even more excited to run a marathon next year. Whether the event goes ahead or not, on 30th May 2021 I AM running a marathon! 

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