A Tale of one race… told over four years: The Village Bakery Half Marathon years 2015-2018

Race No. 1:

It is early February 2015, and I am in the form of my life. I don’t realise it though, as my Bastard Inner Chimp constantly tries to beat me down with his infuriating chants of ‘Nope. Must try harder!’ ‘Still not good enough, Rach!’

Just 4 months ago I achieved a marathon PB of 3:16, and I am now in training for the VLM 2015. I am convinced that my result from the Yorkshire Marathon was just a fluke. How can I possibly repeat it in just a few weeks’ time? I seriously doubt that I can. But fortunately for me, there have been no bumps in the road, and I am running like a cross between Forrest Gump and Seb Coe’s love child. Nothing can stop me – I am FLYING!

We turn up to the Village Bakery Half Marathon race car park at some nondescript industrial estate in Wrexham, and turn off the car engine. There are just a handful of other hatchback family saloons dotted around – most likely the race marshalls – because we are a good hour-and-a-half early for the race. This is not uncommon for us.

I have the usual pre-race anxiety without any justifiable reason: I have no injuries, no illnesses; and no recent life events have hampered my training, or caused me to deviate from my Fast Track to Fastness plan. I am on it, and I’m steamrollering ahead.

The gun goes off and I run like I’m being hunted by a pack of famished wild dogs. It’s a fast start, but I can handle it. I have no idea what the course is like, but I motor on anyway. Because why wouldn’t I? Run hard or go home… I choose to run hard, and – entirely unaware that Gav has dropped out with an injury at 4 miles – he whoops and cheers me across the finishing line in a time of 1:31. A spectacular new half marathon PB. SHIT! I didn’t even know I was capable of doing that! I think to myself, as I inhale half a loaf of Bara Brith (a Welsh fruit loaf for the non-Welsh / low-carb fans amongst us) within milliseconds of crossing the finishing line.

Job done. Happy days…

***

Race No. 2:

It is early February 2016, and just 3 weeks since I hauled my sorry arse over the scorching finishing line of the Dubai Marathon in a time of 3:34. Yes – it was hot. Very hot; Yes – my legs are still broken from my monumental efforts; and yes – I am perhaps clinically insane for even putting myself on the start line of this year’s Village Bakery Half marathon race.

We park up in the same industrial estate car park, but this time it feels vastly different. I know that I shouldn’t be here. My legs are shot. I gave them all of 1 days’ respite after the mammoth effort in Dubai, and I am now paying a price. So why have I turned up to today’s race? I don’t even know the answer, and I haven’t yet learned how to be honest with myself for my reasons.

The gun goes off, and I run. Just like last year, I set off fast, but this doesn’t feel like it did the year before. My legs aren’t bouncing along the country lanes, and the fast early pace is just too hard for me to maintain. I know that I can’t keep it up for long, but I belligerently try to, anyway. As the miles tick painfully by, I can feel my speed slowing down further and further, until eventually, I must stop running. I pull over a few times and want to cry. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? WHY AM I NOT RUNNING LIKE I WAS LAST YEAR? Writing these words now, I feel a level of stupidity that I am ashamed to share. This is how it feels when running turns into the very thing you never imagined possible – it is a big old shitty stick with which I am now beating myself. Why can’t you keep up, Rachel? Why are you so slow? What’s wrong with you?! My inner chimp has a field day, trampling over my still fragile sense of self-worth, whilst my inner peace is all but destroyed.

I crawl over the finishing line in 1:37 and I am heartbroken. I wish I’d never put myself on the start line, today. My legs didn’t want me to run, and perhaps I didn’t want me to race, today. Not if I was being honest with myself, but I am not. I raced anyway, because I couldn’t say STOP. ENOUGH.  I will pay a price for my misconceived ‘commitment’ which is – if we’re being ‘honest’ – just self-flagellation wrapped up in fancy packaging.

I go home, and I cry.

***

Race No. 3

It is early February 2017, and I am not sitting in the industrial estate car park in Wrexham, but I so desperately wish that I was. I am supposed to be there, watching the hi-visibility race marshalls setting up around us for a good hour-and-a-half before the race starts.

Instead, I am sobbing on Gav’s shoulder at the sea front in St. Anne’s, with tears plopping into my polystyrene take-out cup of hot chocolate, because I am unable to run. I CAN’T RUN. NOT EVEN 100 METRES. How did I get here? I wonder. Why has my body simply stopped being able to run? I ask myself. Where have I gone?

I feel lost. I think back to the previous two years’ juxtaposed Village Bakery half marathon race experiences as I hold on to Gav’s arm and we plod like slightly subdued pensioners back to the car.

Talk about a fall from grace – this feels spectacular. From flying… to pained, forced efforts… to this.

To nothing.

I am heartbroken.

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THIS IS NOT A PHOTO OF ME FROM ST. ANNES. IT IS SYMBOLIC OF MY BEING – how do I say this nicely – FUCKED.

***

Race No. 4

It is early February 2018, and we have just parked up at the nondescript industrial estate car park in Wrexham. We are by no means the first car in the car park this time, but we still have a good hour-and-a-half to watch the Boy Scouts direct a now steady stream of mainly dark coloured family saloons into orderly rows.

Of course, I have the usual pre-race anxiety, but this time, it is with justifiable reason. I think back to the memory of my sorry self weeping at the seaside exactly a year ago to the day, when I was simply unable to run for 100 metres. I remember so vividly how that felt, and the memory still hurts me now. It has taken me the best part of a year to get myself into the position where I can even dare to put myself on the start line again. I’ve been nowhere near my 2015 self for such a long time, that I can’t imagine how it feels to bounce along the country lanes as I once did – on this course, on this day, just a few years ago.

But I am here, now. I am back, and I can run again. THANK GOD, I CAN RUN AGAIN! I play this mantra on repeat, over, and over in my mind when my Bastard Chimp threatens to interject with his usual shitty little jibes. I AM HERE, AND I CAN RUN. That is all I need to keep reminding myself as we step away from our Kia heated seats and into the Baltic Welsh air for our 2-mile warm-up.

Gav has been training hard over the past 6 months. He deserves to do well, today. We are both mid-marathon training, and I am willing him to emerge victorious. In years gone by, I have taken more than my fair share of the racing glory: now – I say hopefully – it is his turn.

The field of runners is much larger than it was just a few years ago. Word seems to have spread that this is a relatively fast course, and the start is packed with club runners all gunning for PBs. But I am not chasing a PB today – not by a long way. I am not my 2015 self who bounced along these same country lanes, and went on to beat that time again just 3 months later in Edinburgh. I wonder if I will ever be her again.

But thankfully, I am also worlds away from the sad, sorrowful figure who was moping around St Anne’s seafront with globules of tear-induced snot dripping into a lukewarm Cadbury’s hot chocolate, because she had pushed herself to the point where she was simply unable to run.

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IT’S GOOD TO BE BACK!

It is difficult for me to align the two extremes, and I honestly don’t know where to place myself, today. As my ego struggles to accept that I am not my 2015 running self, so my inner peace remains intact, safe in the knowledge that I am thankfully not my 2016 self-flagellating version, either. My legs have come to trust me again, and they have healed sufficiently to run – and to still run well.

I set off deliberately controlled – or at least I feel to be controlling my pace. I don’t want to burn my legs up within the first few miles, only to repeat the tortuous experience from 2 years ago. So, I try to bring a small amount of intelligence to the proceedings, which is most unlike me.

My pace is good, and it feels controlled. THANK GOD I AM HERE. I AM HERE, AND I CAN RUN! At mile 10, I begin to feel the tightening in my hamstrings increasing – they are now burning and it feels like clamps are being steadily ratcheted causing me to have less movement with every step. My pace slows, and I am simply unable to keep my 7:10 average min/miling.

I wonder where Gav is. I hope he’s having a good race, today.

Mile 11.5 and I pull over briefly for a drink, a word with myself, and to work out what’s happening with my legs. They are protesting again. It’s happening again! Gav runs up beside me. ‘Let’s do the last mile and a half together,’ he says, looking infinitely fresher than I feel.

We run the next mile side-by-side, and I smile knowing that he is running well, today. I also momentarily hate him, because he doesn’t have my broken legs, and he has springs in his shoes (literally, he does: some Nike 4% things costing nearly as much as a 4-year old Corsa.)

He does the right thing and in the last half mile, he motors on ahead – I can’t stay with him, but I’m OK with that.

I cross the line and stop my watch: the time on my Suunto says 1:35 and some seconds. I am perhaps 30 seconds behind my Gav.

I collect my fancy medal, a bottle of water and a packet of Welsh cakes, and we walk slowly over to a clear patch of tarmac where we can debrief. And before my Bastard Chimp can interject with his taunting jibes of ‘yeah – you’re still shit, Rach…’ and so on, and so forth, I tell him in no uncertain terms to FUCK OFF. Because:

  1. I can run again!
  2. I have been able to put myself on the starting line again;
  3. I have beaten my time from the dreadful 2016 Village Bakery Half Marathon experience;
  4. I have beaten my best half marathon time from 2017 (I struggled in the Amsterdam heat to a 1:38 finish);
  5. I am 11th F35
  6. Gav has had a good race;
  7. I CAN RUN AGAIN!
  8. I CAN BLOODY RUN AGAIN!!!

I inhale 2 Welsh cakes as we sit and watch the other runners throwing themselves over the finishing line, and chat in branded clumps about PBs and sore feet. And I think to myself, ‘Don’t even start with me, Chimp. I am here… and I can run.’

 

 

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It’s Blind Date! …with a static bike.

Wednesday 8th Feb

 It’s an early start this morning. I’m up with the larks to go see Magician Dave (Physio) for some more spells and contortions as he tries his best to un-make this holy mess I’ve made of my Peg Leg.

I turn up at the Miracle Centre and his polite – if slightly officious – receptionist makes me a bowl of Flat White. I’m not sure whether I’m in a physio’s waiting room or Starbucks, but I’d be happy with either right now.

‘How is it?’ he asks in his unmistakably Irish twang, and I begin to wade through the ridiculous tale of my having undone precisely ALL of the patching together he’d achieved before my ill-conceived attempt at the Dewsbury Bidet 10k.

He is patient, understanding, and kind. He doesn’t stand before me with condescending tones of ‘Well, that was fucking clever wasn’t it, Rachel?’ or repeated, disapproving sighs. He knows me well enough now to be confident that either of those responses may insight me to drive straight home and go out for a bastard rage-fuelled run (yes, he also knows that I am THAT stupid.)

He pulls and pushes my limbs as I move this way and that.

‘Can you push your RIGHT hand towards the LEFT corner of the room’

‘And your LEFT hand down the INSIDE of your RIGHT thigh.’

‘Good. And your RIGHT hand down to the floor to touch your RIGHT foot.’

 Suddenly, I’m in an expensive game of Twister. Or the Hokey Cokey.

I’m given my orders:

  • a prescription of rehab exercises (I hang on to his instructions as though I’m hearing the words of God himself);
  • I can do ‘other’ non-impact training, he generously confirms; Oh, and
  • No running.
  • NO RUNNING.

Those words, ‘NO’ and ‘RUNNING’ hit me and I grapple with myself for being utterly ridiculous. ‘Let’s see how it is in a few days – a week,’ he says (I realise, I’ve had longer holidays). By then, he reassures me, I MAY be able to reintroduce some very short, steady runs. But my head still spins with unanswered questions:

WHEN will I be back running? I want a time, and a date. Possibly even a place. He can give me nothing.

Will I lose my fitness? Will I lose all that I’ve trained for over the past six years just because of one silly treadmill run too far?

What will I do instead? What other training shall I do to a) stay sane and b) stay fit? I hate most classes; I fall off bikes (although admittedly not indoor ones – yet); and I can’t STAND swimming (I get cold and want to wee in the pool.)

What about all the races I’m booked to do on the run up to London? Write them off?

What about the marathon? The VLM 2017

What about the marathon?  Yes – the VLM 2017

And finally, what about the marathon? I see the hashtag #VLM2017 flash in front of my eyes. I so desperately want to be on that start line in April, the question spins around my head and eclipses all others.

 It’s suddenly like being in a bad episode of Blind Date from 1996. I begrudgingly revisit Contestant Number 1 – the static gym bike. He isn’t too bad, I guess. Maybe we could get along? It seems I’m left with no option but to go on a second date.

That lunch time, myself and the Static Gym Bike go to the First Dates restaurant. We have a pleasant chat; we have a few things in common. ‘The food is nice,’ I tell myself, whilst being fully aware that anything with the word NICE attached to it is thoroughly shit.

I look over at the other table. There is another woman on a date with the Treadmill. She doesn’t love running like I do – I can tell. She isn’t even interested in it. But she’s on a date with it, and I’m not. I’m stuck in the corner with Dull Arse Static Bike for company.

The clock ticks by. Offensive, red pixelated seconds and minutes pass away in front of me, and I turn the volume up on my Warren headphones (*There’s Something About Mary reference for the uncultured.) ‘Yazz & the Plastic Population: The Only Way is Up’ suddenly blares out into my ears. Oh, for fuck’s sake! I shout silently to myself as I work up to face my second endurance set – another hard effort 8 minutes.

The dinner date between Non-Runner and Treadmill has ended. She’s flounced off, not even giving it a backward glance, whilst the belt still spins slowly, as though it wasn’t ready to be left on its own just yet. Another day, I’d have dumped Static Bike and the endless ‘intervals’ in a heartbeat, and hopped aboard my beloved Treadmill. I’d say, ‘Listen, Tredders. I know we’ve had a few fallouts recently, and it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and you know that – well, I’m VERY FOND of you. I love running on pavements infinitely more, but in here, you are my true love. Can we not just patch things up and make it work?’

 But today, I’m on a date with Static Bike, and there’s no escape.

I come to the end of my session. I’ve split it up into purposeful, manageable chunks. I’ve worked hard – I’ve sweated (more than I would on the treadmill, to be honest) and I feel a sense of achievement that I’ve at least stuck it out.

I drift over to the mats and then focus on the Words of God rehab exercises I’ve been sent to fit into any given opportunity. I try my best to remember how I should be doing them. Am I supposed to breathe IN here, or OUT? Is my leg supposed to be at THIS angle, or THAT? I don’t honestly know, but I do them anyway.

I look at the clock and see it’s time for me to head back to my desk. Dave (work mate Dave, not Physio Dave) will be wondering where I am. And just as I’m about to head out of the gym, Static Bike shouts over, ‘So, shall we do this again sometime, then?’

 ‘Yeah.’ I say, miserably – eyeing up the Treadmill with watery eyes. ‘Yes, lets.’

 ‘I’ll call you…’

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