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Wednesday 9 April 2014

Warwick Half Marathon: Don't Panic!

Don't Panic

I’m about 6 miles into the race and my breathing is too fast. I’m not tired, my legs are fine, but my breathing is too shallow, too rapid. This isn’t good. Right, concentrate on something else. Count how many red shirts you can see in front of you, how many 8s you can see in race numbers. Anything to take your mind off your too-rapid breathing.

If I had to stop because I can’t catch my breath would anyone help me? Would they tell a marshal? Or would I sit here in this country lane on my own? Don’t think about that. Don’t stop. Count something, think of something else.

The panic subsides, calmed by the metronomic sound of my feet on the road. Where did that come from? Is it worry about pace? About this being the run I’m basing my marathon time goal on? Wearing my new club vest for the first time – not wanting to let anyone down? Worrying that these first 5 miles aren’t feeling comfortable at all ... and remembering my last half marathon and how bloody tough that had been ….

Parking Well For Less ...

Information on race day parking hadn’t been very clear although it had suggested side streets. Not wishing to come back and find my car had been egged by an annoyed Warwick resident, I’d parked at the local Sainsbury’s – relying on the Sunday opening hours and hoping their traffic warden had decided on a nice weekend lie-in today. It was a bit cheeky, but they seem to be all about the Sports Relief at the moment so couldn’t complain too hard about a cheeky runner using the car park while the store was closed. Plus it was free parking. I wholeheartedly agreed with Living Well For Less. Well Parking For Less anyway.

With my race number pinned to my vest and my coffee money clutched firmly in one sweaty little hand, I decided that it was time to go in search of caffeine and portaloos. Although for the sake of keeping delicate areas and scalding liquid separate, preferably not at the same time. Heading for the great big stands at the racecourse, I was stopped by a helpful marshal who asked me whether I was running today. I looked down at myself, at my nice bright race number and my running kit. Just to check I’d remembered to put them on. I looked at the marshal. Looked at the hordes of runners around me.

“No I’m wearing Lycra to blend in” ... Was what I should have said. Instead, I smiled, confirmed I was a runner and followed her directions to the race track, the start and the coffee vans.

The Unbreakable Race Laws ...

Coffee before a race is the 1st unbreakable law ... as is the 2nd, the portaloo visit. I’d have liked to have had the option to have a coffee first, but as my tummy rumbled, my walk towards the race village became quicker and quicker. What started as an amble became a bit of a sprint. I take my race warm-ups where the opportunities present themselves. And not having stained running shorts is a definite incentive to get a bit of speedwork out of the way.

3rd unbreakable race law. There shalt always be a queue at the portaloos. And some woman who is blatantly not running the race in the queue in front of you. Mutter, grumble. I decided there needed to be a separate portaloo, in the middle of a field, away from runner portaloos. And away from runners worrying about the 2 Poo Rule. People not racing had to go to THAT portaloo. It would be in their best interests as it would probably smell a bit less ‘fragrant’ as there wouldn’t be any nervous runners using it first, it would keep them out of my way AND stop them being in front of me in the queue and subject to my dark stares and muttering.

Tummy settled, caffeine procured, I went to look for the baggage storage ... but found the queue first. Oh. MASSIVE. Never mind, I’m only parked a mile away. Running to the car counts as warming up right?

It sounded like such a good plan but trying to run while holding a massive kit bag which kept swinging around and wrapping around my legs wasn’t a good idea. Also people were running the other way to the start. Not good.

I got to the car, threw the bag in, had a quick traffic warden count (none) and ran back to the race course. The loudspeakers were blaring and people were starting to line up behind the inflatable Start arch.

Cut that a bit finer than I’d meant to. At least my frenzied dash counted as a warm up. Well. A sprint up. However, it seemed very quiet in this pen. There were about 30 of us and that was it. Turned to the bloke next to me. Where’s everyone else? He gestured back at a pen where EVERYONE else was penned up like cattle – a wall of human flesh. “This is the sub 1:30 pen” He said. Ah. Whoops. I looked at the cage of people. There was no space for anyone to squeeze in there. I looked at the chap. We shrugged and made a silent pact to stay at the back of the 1:30 pen.

I was in black, green and gold today - wearing my Northbrook AC club vest for the very first time in a race. I was hoping they were my lucky colours. As I waited in the pen, I spotted another unmistakable vest with the green and black and gold sunburst. I wandered over to introduce myself to Andrew. We wished each other luck and continued pacing the pen.

I had decided on my pacing beforehand and knew exactly what time I should be running each mile. It keeps things easier in my mind this way and it breaks the race into bite sized (or should that be footstep sized?) chunks. However, despite this, it felt as though the entire race pack had streamed past me by mile 3. I was trying to keep my pace consistent and if I kept to my target speed then I should be re-overtaking them before the end. But it’s always a bit worrying. Is my Garmin showing the wrong pace? Have my legs forgotten how to run? Surely I should be in front of that 22 stone man dressed as a chicken?

Maybe Warwick just has some excellent and unlikely-looking runners. Or they’ve shipped some elites in to confuse me and mess up my pacing. Unlikely. Just focus Sarah. But what if they know something I don’t? Like there’s a narrow section coming up and they’re all getting ready. I’m going to get stuck at the back of the pack with the old lady wearing trainers and a tutu and the double-act that decided doing a half marathon in a cow costume was the height of entertainment. Shut up brain.

Find a Good Friend with a Shouty Voice ...

As I ran the first section, I focused on how nice it was to run with so many other people. We might have been focusing on our own races, our own runs and not chatting, but it was nice to run shoulder to shoulder with them. We ran a part of the section that we’d covered in the 12 miles of Christmas and then we were onto a street I recognised from my walks to the pool with Lozza and then there was the lady herself! Waving and cheering! So lovely to see a friend! Especially one with a loud shouty voice who was cheering me on!!

I ran shoulder to shoulder with Northbrook Andrew for the next few miles, I’d see the sunburst vest out of the corner of my eye, lose him on the downhills and pick him up again on the uphills. Like a very slow game of Stalk Your Clubmate.

There were little knots of supporters all around the route and plenty of car drivers irate at having roads closed and being stuck for half an hour while the mass of humanity, dressed in lycra and with our numbers safety-pinned on passed them by. Serves you right, Mr Grumpy Driver, for being up so early without having a good reason like ‘going for a run’ ...

On a nice flat section, we passed the Saxon Mill pub which was one we’d stopped at during the ‘12 Miles of Christmas’ and I made a mental note to nip in again. Not 2 miles into a half marathon though. Besides it was only quarter past 9. They probably wouldn’t be able to serve me anyway ...

Chasing the Satsuma ...

We were spreading out into our pace groups and people became more familiar around me. There’s always a part in a race where you unconsciously choose a run buddy – the point when they go from competitor to run buddy. Well ... until the last half mile anyway …

I ended up running with a man in an orange Hampton Magma Harriers top. I’d run a lovely long Sunday morning run with his club once and had been impressed with the group leader’s knowledge of the area. It had been mainly on footpaths and trails and was a perfect Sunday morning run. He was also a good person for me to keep pace with as the vest was so bright – I couldn’t lose sight of it! He was moving in my peripheral vision like a person-shaped Satsuma.

He was pushing it on the downhills and would fly off in front of me, but I’d pick him up again on the uphills. I was trying to keep my pace as consistent and metronomic as possible but without tiring myself out on the uphills. Problem was it ALL felt like uphills. Kept telling myself “metronome, metronome, just keep it steady and even.”

Mountainous Warwickshire ….

I knew that the route was mainly uphill until mile 8 but it was a LOT hillier than I’d expected. I’m sure Warwickshire hadn’t been this mountainous last time I’d looked. I was expecting sherpas and mountain goats any minute. A lot of the route was rural and most of it was in the lanes, but there were plenty of supporters. People who had given up their Sunday mornings, their lie-ins and leisurely breakfasts and cups of coffee to cheer on these crazy runners. Thank you. It was very much appreciated. Even if I looked wild-eyed, sweaty and a little bit insane, I was appreciative on the inside. Despite the gurn.

Coming up to the top of one of the hills, I passed a runner walking. He had had a word with the marshal and had removed his t-shirt with his number on and was holding it, walking on. His head down. Patted his shoulder and gave him a sympathetic smile as I passed. I haven’t DNF’d yet. But I will one day. I’ll hope for a smile then from a fellow runner.

The hills seemed endless. I know this course had been described as ‘undulating’, which is a polite way of saying “bloody hilly” but they seemed never ending. My pace was all over the place and it was difficult to find a steady rhythm as I was always having to readjust for the gradient. I checked my Garmin and was concerned to see I’d clocked a really slow mile. I had a moment of rising panic and looked for something to take my attention off of the numbers.

Bleeding Nipples … not mine!

Right. Distractions, distractions. Ah ... red t-shirts. The race organisers had given away free red t-shirts to everyone running today and some of the more optimistic – and probably less experienced runners – were wearing them to run in today. Having experienced the 1-2-3 of horrors that running in cotton t-shirts can bring I can seriously recommend that you don’t run in these.

In case you’re not aware, the 1-2-3 of horrors goes like this.

  1. Cotton doesn’t wick sweat away like synthetic fabrics so you sweat ... and it stays there.
  2. The t-shirt gets wet with sweat ... and cold.
  3. The t-shirt now being wet, cold and heavy with sweat starts to chafe as you run ...
...and as it’s a new T-shirt you didn’t know this and can’t take it off mid-race or dash home early like in a training run.

Plenty of chaps have waved goodbye to their man-nipples as optimistically they’ve donned a new cotton t-shirt for a race and have then had their underarms, nipples and necks sandpapered by an unforgiving fabric. Ouch. At least the shirts were bright red so the bleeding couldn’t be seen. Who likes their man-nipples anyway? At least us girls have an extra layer between us and the shirts but it’s still crazy to wear new kit in a race without testing it first.

Distracted by trying to catch up to people in red tops, I realised that mile 8 had passed and the course gradient was mainly downhill now until the end. It’s amazing what difference this can make to your outlook knowing that you’re practically on the home straight (well ... sort of) and you can roll most of the way to the finish line from here. My legs gained a new lease of life just as a lovely mile of almost all downhill running came. I didn’t know how long this downhill was going to last so I didn’t want to tire my legs out too much if I was about to hit a vertical wall of uphill but I enjoyed it! The lanes here were lined with spectators here too and the cheering gave my feet Hermes wings and I clocked my one of my fastest miles in a half marathon ever at 6:23 min/miles.

Despite passing close to it at the start I didn’t see Warwick Castle at all except at around the 10 mile point where a view over the hedges and fields towards Warwick showed towers rising into the sky. It looked quite close and knowing that there were only 3 miles to go was a further turbo boost.

Don't Choose Your Music at Midnight ...

I’d had a busy day before this race and I’d been up until midnight putting together the perfect marathon playlist which I decided to trial today. I had combined, what had seemed at midnight, the perfect selection of songs to keep me running, to keep me entertained and to fire me towards that PB I wanted so much. However, as the sounds of Motorhead blended (not particularly seamlessly) into Aqua which turned into ELO, it became clear why creating playlists at midnight is never a good idea.

However, as the music jumped from genre to genre like some sort of manic ADHD flea, the uncertainty kept my mind off of the panic. And the running. Keep going, the faster you finish, the faster you can turn off this increasingly bizarre playlist.

At Least This is Easier Than Club Night ...

Ahead of me in the distance, I could see two girls. One was wearing a charity top and one much further away with a club vest on. Ok. You two can be my next distractions. Catch the girls! I tried to persuade my legs that I didn’t have far to go. They weren’t convinced although I told them the quicker they ran, the sooner I could sit down.

It seemed to work. I caught up one of the girls and sprinted past to try and break the 30-yard rule. Apparently once you get 30 yards in front of someone in a race it breaks the mental contact they have with you as a competitor. Apparently it’s the point they stop chasing you.

A slight uphill ... really? Not now. Not this close to the end! I rounded the corner and was confronted by a straight road, rolling downill. Perfect. My Garmin was showing just over a third of a mile to go. I urged my legs onwards, overtaking the next girl who chased for a while before dropping back. C’mon legs ... can’t quit now! Close! So close!

I could see the finish arch – bright red, the route lined with spectators. Push! One last push!! Even then, going all out, there was one thought floating in my mind. “It may be mile 13 of a half marathon, you can’t breathe, your legs are about to drop off, but it still doesn’t hurt as much as one of Coach John’s training sessions ...” With that ringing in my mind, I crossed the timing mat, under the finish arch to receive a medal ... and a new best time for a half marathon.


11th woman / 670

… and my favourite part … a negative split.


  1. That is an amazing run Sarah and a great post, you are some speedy runner and I'm Ioving the club vest!

    1. Thanks Paul! I have to admit I was actually swayed towards the club by the prettiness of the club vest … isn't that an awful thing to admit!! :)

  2. WOW. That is some time! And yes 'undulating' always, always means f-off hilly!

    1. Thank you!! :) I should have learned should't I? It's like when run coaches say things like 'recovery jog' and what they actually mean is 'run'!! Grrrr!! :)

  3. How awesome! That is some speedyness right there. Well done!

    1. Thanks Sarah!! Was really pleased with the time!! The last bit downhill REALLY helped!! :)

  4. Orange Satsuma !!!!!! ha, I'm still gutted that you did me again on the regency. Really quite enjoyed those 2 battles, never seen these as a race before the whm.

    1. Great to hear from you!! Don't worry … I'll see you again at 2 Castles!! But they've been PBs for us both so our friendly battles are obviously working!! :)