Birmingham Half - my First ever Half Marathon Race
by Les Edwards
So, here we are, at the ripe old age of 66, a few local 10k races plus maybe six to eight Parkruns behind me over the four years that I’ve been running, entering my first half marathon!
Running was only ever meant to be a way of keeping fit for me. I didn’t realise how important the social side of it would become, and neither did I realise how infectious and consuming (in a good way) running would become. I guess I’ve always been naturally competitive and find it difficult to resist the temptation of a challenge!
The group I run with were all training for 'Longer distance' races, so when someone suggested entering the Birmingham half marathon I think pretty much everyone wanted to take part... so it seemed natural for me also to say "Yes".
There had been many moments of apprehension and dread since the day I clicked on the entry page and pressed the 'Enter Race' button.
The training had gone as well as I could have expected - we generally listened to Richard's advice, but there was also a lot of light hearted banter within the group! We pounded the streets (and the never ending hills) of Ludlow and surrounding countryside, and luckily I managed to stay injury free. I was running four times a week and covering 100+ miles a month, completely new territory for me.
The day of the race started at 6.30am with 14 of us (plus Donna who unfortunately was unable to run because of injury but still came to support us all) meeting to catch the mini bus, organised through the generosity of Ludlow College. This was great as it meant there no race day stresses of navigating to the event or finding a parking space when we arrived. There was a nervous tension on the journey, people not their usual chirpy selves, but I guess this was normal. We arrived at about 8.15am, parked up, took a 'Before' photo when while we all looked our best, then made the 20 minute walk to the event village. The 'wave' start time was 9.40am for most of us, so it gave us plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere, get coffee and food and then relax.
The time literally flew by, suddenly it was 9.15 and time to warm up and make our way to the start line. We were in the 'white wave' and as we tried to get as near to the front as we could, I began to realise what an enormous event it was - 13,000 runners queued up ready to start! I was buzzing with a mixture of excitement and nerves now and just wanted to get running.
At 9.40 exactly our wave was set loose. I lined up with Richard and Andy and was desperately trying to remember the plan, yes I had a plan! I had only covered 13.1 miles twice while training, both times on a flat (ish) route (Fishmore/Stanton Lacy/ Bromfield). The Birmingham elevation was around 680 feet, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. My training run time was 2hs 10 min on a relatively flat route, so I decided not to put pressure on myself by predicting some unachievable time and ending up disappointed. I told everyone that I’d be happy with a time of 2hr 15 min, which meant a pace of around 10 minute miles. I had an overwhelming nagging in my head “Was I ready for this? Have I done enough training?”. Anyway, it was too late now... we were underway!
The atmosphere was electric, there were hundreds of people out on the streets cheering, clapping and shouting encouragement, even from their bedroom windows. Andy had soon gone ahead, so Richard and I tried to run at a 'comfortable pace' rather than getting drawn into starting too quickly. Around the course there was all sorts of music playing from heavy rock to brass bands. The placards that people held up were amazing , like “Touch this if you want more power” / “You’re running better than the government run the country”/ “Free beer ahead”.
Anyway, back to the plan... another thought was to use the experience of the pace runners (when I said earlier that I was naturally competitive, well I didn’t tell anyone but I hoped to get a time closer to 2hrs). So when I spotted the red flag of the 2 hr pacer about 100 metres in front of me at the start, he was the one I was keeping my eye on. I caught and went past him at about 12km and heard him talking to another runner, telling them that he was about 2 minutes ahead of his pace time - so I knew things were good at that point, and my split times were all around 9 minute miles. The pacer runs with a large backpack containing all sorts of things including a big red '2hr' flag and a mobile disco! Therefore I started to worry when the disco came past me at about 16km - had I gone too fast, was I about to 'crash and burn'. Luckily, the answer was 'no'! All the hills of Ludlow and the training miles started to pay dividends, and before I knew it I’d left him behind again and the ”400 metres to go” sign appeared.... then ”200 metres to go”.... and then the very welcome finish line. I stopped my watch at 1hr 56min, (pace 8min 54sec)! Was I pleased with that? You bet!!!
When we all caught up at the end, everyone had exceeded what they hoped to do, there was a lot of patting each other on the back and it seemed the right time to take the “After" photo. Everyone was buzzing and there were lots of proud happy faces. Everyone was back to their chirpy selves on the journey back, full of stories and plotting the next race!
Published: 16th May 2022