My first half marathon

The half marathon was on Saturday morning, so I had booked the last couple of hours off work on the Friday so that we could head down before the peak hour traffic and get to Busselton before packet pickup closed. I travelled down by train to Kwinana where Jeremy was waiting. He’d organised his day so that all his appointments and meetings were south of the river, and his last appointment was in Cockburn, just down the road.

I met Jeremy in the carpark at the train station. While I was getting in the car Jeremy realised that he had completely forgotten that the auto-switch off mechanism for the car lights only engages if you open the driver’s door. Which he hadn’t needed to do. Flat battery. We got a jump start from some kindly gents who had been nattering in the train station car park, and headed south.

We arrived in Busselton around 6pm, and headed straight for packet pickup. I had already known that the Busselton Half Marathon didn’t have finishers medals, but I hadn’t expected a freebie race belt with “Busselton Jets Running Club” on it in the race number packet. We were quite chuffed, not least because when we saw them we both immediately realised that we’d forgotten to pack cable ties to attach our race numbers to our Fuel Belts, so we wouldn’t have to raid the car first aid kit for the safety pins.

We then headed to West Busselton to our friend Cathy’s house. She has been kind enough to put us up many a time for rally events and stupid endurance races and rides that happen around Busselton, so we said that we were taking her out to dinner in return. We were thinking along the lines of paella at Samovar on Queen Street in Busselton, but she was thinking more along the lines of fish and chips or a kebab. She was right about the kebab – fabulous.

We got home to West Busselton and headed to bed not long after, pretty much immediately falling asleep. Jeremy and I both woke up with the alarm the next morning and quietly got ourselves ready. We’d both gone for long sleeve shirts so that we didn’t have to worry about sun cream on our arms. I’d gone for straight High 5 Zero in my Fuel Belt bottles while Jeremy had some High 5 4:1 mixture. Focused on the concept of ‘never do anything new or wear anything new on race day’ – despite the race belts – I had a quiet moment while I tried to remember which pair of socks I had used to run in before, because I seemed to have brought about 4 pairs for a two night stay.

We both ate breakfast and Cathy got up and took us into town to drop us off at the start. At the start there was a large public toilet with a slight queue out the door of the female side, all entrants having their last nervous wees. I moved up the queue while Jeremy did some stretching before we both headed to the start line for the race briefing.

I saw Lauren at the start. She has completed a few 70.3s and this year’s aim is to complete the Ironman in Busselton this December, so she was running the half marathon and completing the Busselton Jetty Swim the next day as a training session. We wished each other good luck and soon it was time to set off.

We all headed off, a collective ‘Bleep’ of Garmin watches as we all pressed Start. About 8 seconds in I realised that I’d forgotten to set pace alerts to keep me on schedule for a particular finish time. I was hoping for 2 hours 30 minutes; but I was more focused on finishing the distance than finishing within a particular time.

I should stop here and explain that I’m a librarian, so like all librarians if faced with a situation or a concept that I need to wrap my brain around, I make the assumption that not only has someone probably been in this boat before, chances are they’ve written a book about it. So while I was thinking about the concept of running a half marathon or a full marathon, I thought I should read a book on it. I was intending on reading this book on the train, so I didn’t actually have the courage to buy a physical book, and had instead scrolled through the options in the Kobo eReader store, finding The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer.

The book is based on a University of Northern Iowa ‘marathon class’. It was a combined class between the Physical Education School and the Psychology School that the lecturers ran a few times over a decade. All but one of the class’s 200 students over the years had completed a full marathon at the end of the class. It looked interesting, and I suspected that the psychology side of things might be helpful if I were to go on to run more than a 5K.

One of the first things the authors advised you to do when you decide that you are going to run your first ever marathon (or half marathon in my case) was to not put any pressure on yourself by declaring an expected finish time – just aim to finish. To paraphrase the book; “you don’t want to complete 42.2km but consider yourself to have failed”. I took that concept to heart, so while my expectations – judging by past training runs and average pace – were to finish in 2 hours 30 minutes, I really wanted just to finish.

Because I hadn’t set the pace alerts on my watch I mentally worked out what my average pace was likely to be if I were running for a time of 2 hours 30 minutes and decided to check my watch at the end of every kilometre to try and roughly keep to that pace. I’d set my watch to auto-lap every 1km so I knew it would bleep at the end of the kilometre and flash my average pace, so I wasn’t entirely concerned about not having alerts. Oddly enough I actually quite liked it, because while pace alerts are quite handy sometimes, there are some runs where you just don’t want to see the words “Behind Pace” flashing at you. I’m still not good a running to a particular pace and sticking with it – I’ve only properly managed it twice and both runs were alongside my husband and only 5k. Chances were on my first half marathon I would drop my pace at some point; possibly even for a good reason, and I didn’t want the stern bleeping of my Garmin to become dispiriting.

The race course took you down the oceanside path west of Busselton for a bit over 5km, where you turned around, headed back east only to do it all over again before you hit the finish funnel. An hour after we started the 10km run and 5km run and walk were started, they used the same paths as we did, but they had a turnaround flag at our 2.5km point and our 5km point, with our turnaround flag just a bit further down the path. The paths weren’t closed to the general public so you would come across the odd woman running with a jogging stroller or a couple on bicycles riding into town. Everyone was extremely friendly to the large mass of people that had taken over their shared path and were happy to smile and cheer us on. It was very civilised and once we had thinned out some everyone was careful to keep left on the path so that oncoming traffic could get through easily and we could be overtaken if required.

I’d estimate that I was coming up to or just past the 4km mark heading out to the turnaround point for the first time when a slightly officious man on a bicycle barrelled quite quickly towards us on the right hand side of the path. He was wearing a high-vis vest that didn’t fit quite well, and while he wasn’t actually technically bellowing “Keep Left! Keep Left!”, I’d classify it as a loud request. It seemed a bit of a ridiculous request, as we were clearly all keeping left and trying to make sure we were out of his way. I wondered whether he was exasperated with the crowds of people or whether he was just in a hurry.  Then I saw the two guys running behind him. He was the lead cyclist for the half marathon.

The front runners were absolutely flying. I’ve been lead cyclist at Claisebrook Cove parkrun before, and the first finisher tends to come in around 16m30s or so, and that’s the speed these guys were running at, but this was going to be for 21.1km. It was impressive. By the time I’d got to the end of my first 10.55km loop, the winner of the half marathon had already finished – 68 minutes.  I’d been overtaken by him in the last kilometre of my first loop. He was running so well and so smoothly, with the most enormous grin on his face. It seemed to take ages for the next runner to come in after him.

When I started my second loop I was quite pleased to see that I wasn’t the last runner. I caught up with a woman and we ran together, chatting for about 4km. It was lovely, and looking back at my split times I expect I might have been able to increase my pace by about 10-15seconds a kilometre, but I so thoroughly enjoyed the discussion that we had that I think that it was completely worth it. Once I got round the turnaround I sped up a bit because I wanted to stop at the toilets at the Dolphin Road boat ramp. I’d stopped there on the first loop heading to the turnaround because I’d realised about 2km in that a final nervous wee wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad idea. When I got there I was surprised by Cathy and her lovely Rottweiler, Misia. I gave Misia a scratch behind the ear and ran with her up to the pathway and left her and Cathy for my final stretch.

I knew that I had more than enough in reserve for my last 5km. I’d been having my gels at the turnaround points and I hadn’t been stopping the way I had done on my last training run; I was having them while moving. I hadn’t needed to use my Dextro Energy tablets, but I decided to eat some anyway because they were in my pocket. About 3km out on the last loop I had picked up an unopened gel that someone had dropped at some point, and around 500 metres later came across a couple, the female of which was clearly hitting the wall. I gave her the gel that I’d found and about 2 kilometres later came across another woman who had been suffering cramping in her calf. I gave her the last of my Dextro tablets and kept moving on. I’d picked up my pace the closer I got to the finish, and about a kilometre out I kind of gasped as I realised that I was about to complete my goal. The gasp completely threw my breathing so I gave myself a swift talking to and pointed out to myself if I wasn’t careful that I wouldn’t have completed it if I was stopped, hyperventilating by the roadside.

I picked my speed up further and headed into the finish funnel, making sure to pick off and overtake more runners as I made my way in. I mustered all that I could and bolted home, finishing in two hours, twenty six minutes and twenty five seconds. On time. Not last. Happy.

I’m going to do it again you know.

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4 thoughts on “My first half marathon

  1. That's fantastic – you know what? My first 1/2 finish time was 2:26:56! Now the odds are getting scary LOL!

    Well done! So when's the next one? Joining me for the Darlington Half? 😉

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  2. Jeremy and I have tentatively agreed on doing the City to Surf Half Marathon and the Fremantle Half Marathon for this year.

    No Darlington, perhaps next year – it's quite hilly I believe, and we're flatlanders so the City to Surf training is going to be quite a shock. I think we'll be heading to Kings Park very early morning before work for a few weeks ahead of the race.

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