On Sunday 8th May 2022, I undertook my first ever half marathon in Leeds. I’d been running for 15 months prior to this but hadn’t run any further than 16K before signing up to run the Leeds Half Marathon.
When people asked me why I’d decided to run 13.1 miles / 21.1K, I’d answer: Why not? It’s a challenge and one I’d like to see if I could complete.
Training For A Half Marathon
The atmosphere at the Leeds Half Marathon was electric and definitely made me feel part of something bigger than just me running 13.1 miles.
Running alone you can forget that there are sometimes thousands of other runners doing the exact same thing as you, putting in the minutes, meters and miles to get themselves fit enough to partake in a half marathon. I started training on October 25 2021 which looking back now was 27 weeks (or 7 months) out from my half marathon, so I still don’t know why I ended up being on week 4 of HM training on the NRC app when I completed it, rather than being on time for it I’ll never know! But all the training paid off because I managed to get round in sub 4 hours!
I did have a few technical issues with the Nike Run App where when I loaded a guided run, there was no coach and therefore no guided run, which really didn’t help my training, especially when I was doing speed runs! I eventually got it fixed and got my coaches back which I was extremely grateful for because I find I really benefit from having a coach in my ear, willing me along and guiding me around the run.
I also enjoy being told how amazing I am and how much of a rockstar I am for completing yet another run! Positivity works people! Like I said earlier, the atmosphere of the Leeds HM was something else and not like anything I’d competed in previously. I’d done the Harrogate Harriers 10K in July 2021 and genuinely thought I wouldn’t be able to complete it within the cut off time of 1 and a half hours. But I did, in 1:31:16.
So it just goes to show that sometimes we’re capable of more than we believe and the only limits we place on ourselves come from a place of negativity not welcome during training.
9 Miles In...
It was around this time that I started to ‘hit the wall’ - this is very common and is experienced by many runners during half/full marathons – it’s the stage in the race where you’ve depleted your stored glycogen and all the feelings of negativity and fatigue that usually accompany it. Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in our livers and muscles for energy. It is the easiest and most readily available fuel source to burn when exercising, so the body prefers it.
When you run low on glycogen even your brain wants to shut down activity as a preservation method, which may come lead to the negative thinking associated with ‘hitting the wall’.
I like to think I fuelled up correctly both before and during the run. I had porridge with a banana in the morning which kept me fuelled up for the whole race.
I only started to feel ‘hungry’ towards the end. I had some sugar free gummy bears with me, in case I needed them, but I felt like I didn’t, which I think was the best way to feel! I had two energy drinks, one at mile 8 and another at mile 11. The first was mixed with water which made it easier to drink, at mile 11 they’d used up all the water bottles so were just handing out the gel packets, which led to me getting my hands covered in sticky gel! Not the best situation to be in when you’ve just thrown away your last water bottle!
Thankfully a couple of other runners were beside me and the girl poured some water on my hands so I could get clean. Fellow runners are the best!
Thinking back on it now, I probably could’ve used more hydration to get me though the last few miles because I was seriously fading, thinking I was fine but I found I was walking a lot more than I was running.
Finding this out afterwards was good and bad – good because I’ll know how to fuel better for the Great North Run and bad because if I’d realised whilst I was out on the course, I could’ve and probably should’ve had more hydration gels/water to get me through. When I saw the mile 9 banner, I said ‘only 4 miles to go’ which was true, but boy did they feel like the longest 4 miles of my entire running life!
At that point it really felt like I was running the first 8 miles all over again! It definitely reminded me that I need to work on my endurance going forward, to break down that barrier and switch my thinking around. But for my first one, I’m still really proud of pushing through and completing it.
The Final Push
During the last few miles (10-12) everyone who was out supporting kept saying ‘only a couple of miles to go now’ for literally the last 3 miles! When I was finally coming up to the home straight and heard some runners tell me AGAIN how close I was, I said ‘I’ve been hearing that for the last 2 miles, I don’t believe anyone anymore!’ and they replied ‘no, no it’s really here..’ and it was! The only time I really pushed was on the final 400m as I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I could finally stop.
I always aim to have a strong finish whenever I run, even during parkruns, so it wasn’t anything new to me to do this, I even overtook a couple of other runners which boosted my morale too! So did seeing my parents at the finish line! Not going to lie, I got a bit emotional...
Accomplishing a feat like running 13.1 miles isn’t something that everyone can do, so I feel slightly special and proud that I can complete a distance such as a half marathon.
It definitely gives me confidence going forward that with correct training I’ll be able to hopefully get a sub three hour half marathon time for the Great North Run in September. I felt really good at the end of the race, I was tired and sore sure, but I still felt fairly fresh – according to my Mum who’d seen some other runners come in, I LOOKED fresh too, as the other runners looked really burnt out and knackered! Kind of how I expected to be to be honest! I guess I have Coach Bennett (& the other Nike Running coaches) to thank for that, as he was always telling me to take it easy, look after my breathing and form during all the training runs I’ve done in build up to the half marathon.
Looking back on my first half marathon, I’m happy to have completed it and come in just over 3 hours. I genuinely thought I’d be right near the back and be followed to the finish by the road sweeper!
I had thoughts like this before I took part in the Harrogate Harriers 10K – my mind was constantly telling me that I’d fail and wouldn’t make it round within the cut off time. Half the battle I’ve found, when running, is the one you have with your mind. There’s a saying that goes “Believe you can and you’re halfway there” and this totally resonates with me as a runner because your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
Your mind will always give up before your legs ever will, so it’s just as important to work on mental resilience during training as it is the physical. This is definitely something for me to work on going forward. This is where positive self-talk comes in, the way you talk to yourself during a run can make a massive difference. The ability to overcome these obstacles will stand you in good stead going forwards, you’ll be better able to handle whatever challenges come up during training and races. Breaking down barriers and overcoming distances that I previously believed I couldn’t do put me in a great frame of mind for my next training session.
Speed runs are a good example of this – they’re much needed to ensure I can build resistance, endurance and help me train the different gears I have inside – all of which help me out during longer runs and enable me to run faster when I need to.
The physical act of upping my paces from 5-10K to mile or celebration isn’t something I’m really good at, but knowing how good they are in terms of training for the half marathon, reasures me mentally that I’ll get through it. The spectators at the Leeds Half Marathon really helped spur me on and it was so lovely to see support all the way round, even when the string of runners I was in was very strung out and the water stations were beginning to pack up!
It was so lovely to see so many people out and about supporting the runners, it made me feel a little bit special. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am so glad I decided to push myself and see what I was capable of. Now I’ve done one half marathon I know I can another – entering other races with shorter distances will seem easy in comparison! Roll on September! Sarah xoxo