Aintree Half

My first half back could have gone better, to say the least.

The problems started pretty much as soon as I arrived at the racecourse and discovered that there was no queue for the women’s toilets because apparently the vast majority of the entrants were men (378 men and 101 women according to the results page). While I have no particular objection to men (most of them anyway) they tend to be on the faster side. The second warning sign was that Rob, who had unoptimistically entered a predicted time of 1:59 had ended up in the slowest wave, with me. This was an even faster “last wave” than the Barcelona Half. All I could think about was how I was the only slow person there and how I would be a laughing stock running the entire last lap alone. I looked around to see if I could spot anyone who looked like they would move at my kind of pace – anyone a bit larger, a bit older, anyone with a large arrow floating over their head saying “here be snails”… I saw no one. Except a man dressed as a jockey riding an inflatable horse, which was quite frankly the last thing I needed. I think I had already gone off the idea of the race by the time I passed the start line.

That said, the first lap went absolutely fine. I had plenty of space at the back and stuck to my planned pace of around 7:20 per km pretty well (some bits were slower because of the wind but I made up for them on the non windy bits). Each lap is 5k and takes you past the stables, into the centre of the race track, all the way round the inside tarmac path, out of the race track and along a road (this is the easiest bit) then up a horrible gravelly road with a headwind until you are back where you started.

I can’t remember this being taken – assume it was the first lap as I am smiling!

Unfortunately the second lap was entirely different. The fastest runners had started lapping me midway through the first lap and were now coming through in an ever increasing volume, and as lack of luck would have it, the 10k race was just starting off. It felt like every single runner in the 10k overtook me. It was neverending. They were coming from all directions, all sides and at all paces. I stopped being able to tell which lap and which race the overtakers were in. I just kept thinking “surely they will stop any second”. But they didn’t, it just went on and on. I felt like I was in everyone’s way and was about to get crushed to death by a pile of frantic club runners and that it would be my own fault for being an obstruction in the first place. This was so different from the feeling I get ambling through a quiet park by the water, looking for birds, listening to music and enjoying the peace and quiet. I just wanted to be somewhere else.

By the end of the second lap I’d lost the will to live and the third lap wasn’t any better. By now I was feeling sick and dizzy and the only place I wanted to run to was my bed. I am not sure if I was having the beginnings of a panic attack (I have never had one before but it seemed similar to how others describe them). I don’t know when I started walking but it was round about the point when I decided I was going to call it a day at the end of the third lap after ten miles. I knew that all the 10k runners of a similar pace and the runners a lap ahead of me would be finishing and that I would have to keep going past the finish, not with a 2.5k running lap to go as I normally would in a lapped race, but with 5k of walk/running left with no one to hide amongst. The thought was about as appealing as coriander ice cream.

As I did a very slow jog to the finish line, my plan was to remove my timing chip so as not to cheat and pretend I’d finished the race so as not to draw attention to myself. But before I got a chance a friendly spectator, obviously seeing my glum face and lack of velocity, tried to encourage me by telling me I was nearly there. I replied that I wasn’t because actually I had another lap left but instead of just taking that for an answer this lovely lady actually seemed genuinely sorry for my plight and listened whilst I sobbed about the stream of overtaking runners and the humiliating lonely lap that I couldn’t face. She asked if there was anyone with me and I said that Rob would be at the finish having lapped me a considerable length of time ago. “Right” she said, and ran off to the finish line (much faster than I could have). If anyone knows who this person was please put me in touch so I can thank her properly.

As I came up to the finish it seemed I was expected by all the marshals etc who were now clearly not going to let me drop out without a fight and poor old Rob who now had no real choice but to do the last lap with me. I was quite glad when he said that he couldn’t run at my pace (it is too slow for his long legs) because I couldn’t really run at my pace either and was quite happy to walk with occasional outbreaks of jogging just to get the distance done, claim the medal and the Tequila of Shame and then go home. Thanks to Rob and the encouragement of the marshals I actually enjoyed this lap far more than the two that had preceded it.

It was at this point that a bird shat on me, which just about summed up the day I was having. We think it was a blackbird.

Finally it was all over and I took my medal and flapjack and ran to the toilet to wash off the bird poo and throw up repeatedly.

I expected my first half back to be more of an exercise in “getting used to races again” than a serious attempt on the PB but I didn’t expect it to go wrong quite so dramatically. I don’t even know how long I could have held my target pace for or whether I should have revised it downwards because my mind gave out long before my body did! What I did learn is that I never want to do a lapped half marathon again. It is one thing to be at the back but quite another to be at the back and simultaneously amongst all the people who are much faster than you. The experience of passing the finish line when you really want to be finished but still have a lap (or two laps) to go is one of the most painful you can ever experience. I have also learned that all the slower runners seem to have fucked off somewhere due to the pandemic (I have noted this in other races too, and so have other friends who have been surprised to find themselves near the back of races where they would normally feature in the top half). If you are a slow runner and you have been slacking off lately please bloody come back so I don’t have to experience this again).

Fortunately I have three more races this week (one 5k and two 10ks) so I don’t have time to dwell on this utter disaster and my next half is Herts Half on June 6th where I hope to be slow because it is too hot and the course is massively hilly as opposed to being slow because of inability to cope with normal life.

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