Written by Catherine Tomkins… dancer to half-marathoner!
We are all proud of you Catherine!
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I really did it! I’ve run my very first half marathon! If you’d told me a year ago that I would be running – let alone running a HALF MARATHON, I would have keeled over with laughter.
Now I’m 2 weeks post-half marathon, and the only things left to make me realise it wasn’t a dream are the slow healing blisters and the medal hanging on my mirror.
It started in the Easter hols last year. I arrived home from university feeling rather podgy, having been sitting around revising for months on end, shovelling chocolate into my face – which IS brain food…honest!
And so, I was dragged along to ‘Head Torches’ running group with my mum….WELL… just one lap of Talkin Tarn (2.4-ish km) was enough to kill me off completely, I couldn’t even get around the whole thing. But, reluctantly, I kept at it, and a couple of weeks later (of running twice weekly) this turned into completing full 2 laps around the tarn – a great achievement for a non-runner such as myself – I even have the certificate to prove it!
Then, out of the blue, a bunch of my friends signed up for the Robin Hood half marathon in September…well I suppose I had to sign up too…I’d been running a bit anyway? But after weeks of intermittent training, I started to feel a twinge, and then more, in my hip and after visiting an osteopath I was advised to withdraw a week prior to the race. I still went along and supported everyone involved. The atmosphere was incredible and the whole place was buzzing – not to mention it was an absolutely beautiful day. I watched as they ran over the start line, and as collected their medals after the finish – the look of pure joy and utter disbelief on each face as they met us at the end was enough for me – I was signing up for another one, I wasn’t getting out of it that easily!
I arrived at Uni the following day, and my housemate and I began running, primarily to keep us sane – nothing big…3km here and there, and maybe even 5km on the days where we really felt like pushing ourselves!At the back of my head, I had the drive in me from the half marathon I’d witnessed and she’d always wanted to complete one. So, on one late library stint of revision after Christmas, when we couldn’t think of anything else to do to procrastinate, we signed up for the Liverpool Half in March. We are in our third year, and it was midway between exam periods. If there was a time to do it, it was now.
We began by making a rough plan and increasing our running to three times a week: one short, one long, and one that had a few hill sprints. The plan fluctuated from week to week, sometimes we did it…and sometimes we ran diddly squat!
Then about three weeks prior to the big day, we went out for a shorter jog in the nippy evening air, came back, and sank deep into the cheap student sofas. And I think this was the moment it became a bit more real for me. We stayed up ’til 10pm composing the stories for our JustGiving pages for each of our charities, and began the fundraising journey. Mine was Parkinson’s disease, chosen for my Granny – a great, great sportswoman, who battled for years with the chronic disease, and throughout her life was an extremely determined lady and kept very active. My friend and running partner chose Alzheimer’s disease – again a very prevalent and debilitating disease. Both of us coincidently chose our dissertations covering these diseases too (if you fancy donating – here’s the link: Catherine’s fund-raising page).
Those last weeks flew by and it was the Sunday before the race (DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUNNN!!!). We were meant to be running a 10mile version of the route, but due to our dissertation demands it was pushed back to Monday…and then to Tuesday. That 10 mile run was one of the hardest I have ever done. Not only was it a mental challenge to keep pushing, but my hip began to twinge again 4 miles before the end, and I begrudgingly finished by powerwalking the last part. This did NOT bode well for Sunday. We went home, rested, ate chocolate and ice-cream; drank water and waited for the big day.
Saturday night, pre-race evening, and all our clothes were laid out on our beds, along with a bottle of trusty Lucozade sport. We ate a carb-loaded meal (or two..hehe..) as pesto pasta is a student staple and favourite! And we watched the film Run Fat Boy Run. If you ever need some motivation and a bit of a giggle – this is definitely the thing to watch. Then we ‘hit the sack’ so to speak, at around 10pm.
6am Race Day, and reluctantly, up we got: as the clocks had moved forward, it was really 5am (damn this daylight-saving time lark!). We nibbled at as much breakfast as our nervous stomachs could take, got dressed, and headed down to the Liver buildings.
We arrived at the start line: what a place to start!!! Every time I take a stroll down to the Liverpool docks, I always marvel at the beauty of the magnificent buildings that line the waterfront! We warmed up and stretched in the morning sunshine, and undertook our pre-run ritual (toilet dash!). Then mum and the fan club arrived – comprising a springer spaniel and two seasoned rowers – and they stood at the start, with cameras at the ready.
The energy was electric and at 9am the “pistol” went and we were swept along with the crowd. As we headed through the docks and up towards the Anglican cathedral, I soon realised I was running at a pace too quick for me, and so began to slow. By the end of the first mile, the dreaded hill approached and I took the executive decision to walk up the hill and save my energy for the rest of the race. This definitely made a difference as I managed to keep going after that, all the way to the end of Sefton park. This was when I began to falter, BUT… firstly, I turned a corner and BAM!! I was hit with a massive, sarcastic sign, and cheers and shouts from two of my amazing flat mates that showed up to cheer us along. Side note: never, ever underestimate how important you are as a supporter – the boost you give to that person AND any other stranger you clap and cheer around that course is second to none. If anyone is wondering the sign read (bear in mind it was written by students): Keep running – You paid for this! And it deserved a hefty giggle.
Then secondly, without me realising, a group of pacers had crept up behind me and slowly began to overtake. That really knocked me as I had been determined to stay ahead of them. But in a thick Liverpudlian accent, one pacer looked over his shoulder as he passed: “Come on love!” he said, “Let’s go” and off I went again.
It wasn’t until the end of the second park – Otterspool park, where it opened out onto the long, 4-mile promenade, leading back along the Mersey to the Liver buildings, that I lost the pacers to the dispersed crowd ahead. This was the toughest part for me. Not only mentally, but my old enemy came back to haunt me and my hip began to hurt. Thinking of my Granny, that amazing woman, and all those other people I was running for, I gritted my teeth and kicked on. To quote a fellow Head-Torcher: It was only in my head, I had to keep going.
I forced myself to notice my surroundings more to distract me, and I spotted a group of runners ahead. Dressed in 80s shell-suits, big wigs, and handlebar moustaches, I eavesdropped their conversation: “…Seriously, it’s as if they’ve planned the route to deliberately avoid alcohol….” and off they ran – weird? About a mile later, we came across a pub, and sure enough, there they were, downing a couple of pints before heading back onto the course. The cheek of it! 😉
Weaving through the boat yards, and old warehouses, with the sea breeze stinging my face, I started to see more and more people slow to a walk. Some were being helped along by ‘Race Angels’. If you haven’t heard of this term before, it’s a group of runners that shuttle back and forth along the last 2 miles(ish), talking and running with people at their pace, reigniting their motivation. What a great idea!
I began to realise I was nearing the finish, as more and more people were appearing around and about. I don’t think it had dawned on me prior to the race, especially as I was running without music, just how quiet a long race is. And so as the hustle and bustle got louder, I kept my steady pace.
Then I turned a corner, and there, standing on a bench, beside the Liverpool banana-lambs, was my very own fan club, shouting and cheering and waving me on. And I cried (how embarrassing). I never thought that I would feel so relieved to see them, and so overwhelmed that I was so close to finishing a half marathon. I picked up the pace and pushed around the corner, and over the finish line.
Oh. My. God. I’d done it.
Medal in one hand, banana in the other…been there, done that…and I got a T shirt!!
Hobbling out of the crowd, I found my friend, who, being a much better runner than I, sped ahead after the ‘Hill of doom’. We hugged each other in disbelief. And then our fan club appeared! Mum, being the best P.E. teacher, opened her bag and presented us with oranges at the end of the race. By this, I mean an orange label on a large bottle of prosecco! Winner winner chicken dinner!
And now, at the end of this blogpost, I want to say a few ‘thank yous’:
- Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this craaaazyy idea that came out of a lack of sleep, and procrastination before exams.
- Thank you to the people that have donated to this amazing cause. It still hasn’t quite sunk in, but I’ve doubled my fundraising target, reaching over £400!!!!! Let’s hope that one day, we can find a way to prevent and eventually cure this awful, chronic disease!
- Another thank you goes to the Head Torches. If our lovely leader, Sarah, hadn’t set this group up, and if I’d never done that first lap of Talkin Tarn with Mum and Laura, this would never have happened.
- And finally a huge thank you to everyone who supported me that day: Mum, Tom, Chunk, Emily, Feyi and Max (woof, woof) – not to forget my amazing running buddy Ro! (WE DID IT!)
Thanks guys xx