“As long as you’ve done one or two 10 mile runs you’ll be fine. Half-marathon running is all about endurance, not speed.”
My friend and I looked nervously at each other while the women in front of us gleefully explained the thorough extent of her training regime.
“Oh, I’ve done loads of these events. They’re easy!”
Let me take a backward step (although it’s hard, my calves still ache) and explain the situation. Sometime in October last year one of my housemates suggested that, as a ‘fun’ activity, we all sign up to the Bath-Half Marathon. The race was on the 1st of March: we would have plenty of time to train and get fit; in fact, we might even enjoy the process! Ah, my past self, how I rue your optimism!
As a full-back who prides himself on making overlapping (or the more sensuously titled ‘under-lapping’) runs, I saw this as a great opportunity to improve my football fitness. The training would be an excellent way of upgrading my ‘engine’ from a tinny 500cc to a full on Rolls Royce V8. I could become the Cesar Azpilicueta of intramural football (minus the unpronounceable name).
Training started well: I battled through a bleak December; I was undeterred by a dreary January. I combined repetitive road-running with cross-country jaunts to keep things fresh. I even bought myself new running shoes (although that was mainly to sate my desire for some new kit). But then, like an enraged Medusa, February reared its ugly head.
Ah February, truly the cruellest month? To be frank the weather got even more shit and I got bored of running. It was my fault really: I brought the repetitiveness upon myself, running the same routes and listening to the same music. As my inspiration dwindled, so did my fitness. Fortunately football was my saving grace. Somewhat ironically (given I had started to run to improve my fitness for football) a spree of 11 a-side and 5 a-side game provided a reinvigoration of sorts. But had I left it too late?
The 1st of March: the big day. After a Saturday spent carb-loading (I recommend seafood tagliatelle for major gains) and watching the rugby, my housemates and I awoke at 6am on the Sunday ready to run the race of our lives. Without any serious distance runs under my belt (the max I had managed in my disinterested state was a paltry 7 miles) I was a nervous wreck: my hands were shaking, my knees uncontrollably bouncing; I felt like an England player about to step up for a World Cup penalty.
Upon reaching Bath we headed to the ‘Racer’s Arena’. I was anticipating a kind of gladiatorial-coliseum; a walled field of death where runners would be fighting each other for spots closest to the start line. In fact, on entering, we were greeted by a damp squib of a pitch around the back of Bath Rugby’s ground. The stench of Deep Heat was omnipresent. Then it rained. Then it hailed. We were certainly starting in inauspicious circumstances.
As we made our way to the start line, however, things began to look up. Taking my place, I began to realise the enormity of the event: there were 13,000 people around me, all standing shoulder to shoulder, all about to run this race together. It seemed everyone was running for one charity cause or another: some wore fake boobs, others simple vests; I even spied a man wearing a papier-mâché Rhino suit. Jean Baudrillard famously described watching a marathon as witnessing the “slow mechanical annihilation of death” in action, but to my mind, this race was a celebration of life.
As the countdown began over the tannoy and the big screens fired into life, I was swept up by a strangely emotional feeling: for the first time ever, I felt like a professional sportsman. As we were about to set off, my friend turned to me to offer a final piece of sage wisdom: “C’mon mate, it’s not like a football match, you can’t miss a tackle or an open goal. All you’ve got to do is run!” Buoyed by this final confidence booster, we stormed off.
Running alongside my mate, we monitored our pace using the Nike Running app, which give mile by mile updates and meant we kept on time for our target finish of 1 hour 45 minutes. The race started slowly; we spent most of our time trying to weave and dodge past other runners. However, it eventually thinned out and we were able to press on. At 9 miles, and still feeling relatively fresh, we upped the pace, and with the last mile to go I really put my foot down, finally crossing the finish line in 1 hour 41 minutes. I salute anybody that takes on a marathon proper; the endurance you must require is phenomenal, the last thought in my mind on finishing was running another 13 miles!
So if you’re looking for an alternative way to spend your 90 minutes, try smashing out a half-marathon. I would recommend doing a bit of training first though!