21 Oct 2018

A tale of two halves

After I finished bossed smashed annihilated the Cardiff Half at the beginning of October, I banged on quite a bit about how I’d knocked 17 minutes off my half marathon PB, and how I’d bludgeoned with a metaphorical hammer a whole 42 minutes off my first ever half marathon time, almost two years ago to the day. 2:48 to 2:06.

I could continue to bang on about how far I’ve come in those two years, but I won’t. TL;DR: I’ve come far and done fucking well. Fin.

This tale isn’t about those two halves. This is about the Cardiff Half, and the half marathon I was meant to do in March this year: the Brentwood Half. Spoiler: I didn't do it.

My main running plan for 2018 involved two races, those two half marathons. The first, in March, was my ‘home race’. I’m from Brentwood. The second was my big race, my ‘A’ race as they say. The Cardiff Half is a popular, flat, fast, atmospheric, capital city, celebrity-filled, elite-packed, BBC One Wales-broadcasted half marathon that I wanted to boss. It was going to feel like the London Marathon all over again. I was going to train hard and smash Cardiff in under 2:15, after PBing at Brentwood in under 2:30. Brentwood was my practise and Cardiff was my name-in-neon-lights. 

The best laid plans, etc. 

Up until the beginning of March, any moments of ‘not running’ were down to me. I didn’t want to, I was busy, it wasn’t in the plan. My choice, my control. I’d built up a solid block of confidence within me that grew and grew over three years and I was good at sticking to a plan. I was rarely sick and never injured. An overachiever through and through…

until I fell during a club run two weeks before the Brentwood Half and split my knee open, rendering me sofa-bound post-A&E and not able to walk, let alone run, with a brewing infection that would eventually turn my knee pussy and painful and pretty poorly.

The first thing I did? Catastrophise and beat myself up. It was my fault, what an idiot. I should have been more careful. I probably won’t be able to run again, and I deserve that. If only I’d been looking down, if only I’d picked my feet up. I’ve fucked up Brentwood and Cardiff too, probably. I can’t recover from this. I’ll have a smashed up knee forever. You get the picture. 

I hate not being able to do something. I’d never wanted to run more than when I couldn’t run. I cried a lot and had too many conversations with the hole in my knee than I wish to admit. It turned out that the Brentwood Half was cancelled anyway because of that snow that hung around like your neighbour who only came around three hours ago to drop off a parcel, but that didn’t matter. I wouldn't have been able to do it anyway. And now I was going into Cardiff blind, it’d be my only race of the year, and a fucking big one. 

It didn’t help that Ryan was training for the Brighton Marathon at the time so spent every waking moment either running or eating pasta or in the shower scrubbing layers of salty sweat off, so when we came back from a 20 mile race that made up his last long training run, I put my own trainers on. I dragged Ryan out for a ‘cool down run' *look to camera* and ran a mile around the park. I had no idea if I could do it, I had no idea how my knee would act, but it felt incredible. My lungs burned and my legs were heavy, but my whole body buzzed with contentment after those 10 minutes. 

And so began building my fitness back up, but little did I realise just how much that injury would affect my confidence. I was terrified. I ran slowly and with my eyes fixed on my feet. I wouldn’t run in the rain or the wind. I wouldn’t run around roads where cars could distract or startle me, and make me trip. I couldn’t take any risks. I was terrified of losing control of my body and mind again. I realised how much running changed my life, and saved it too, and any risk of that being taken away from me again made me feel sick. Did I rely too much on running? Maybe. But I didn’t have time to think about that, I had to concentrate on keeping one foot in front of the other, in every sense.

By the end of the summer, my fitness was back and I felt ok running. Not where I wanted to be, but more confident nonetheless. I started my training plan for Cardiff at the beginning of September and stuck to it. I just needed to get to two weeks before Cardiff unscathed. I needed to get further in training than I did for Brentwood.

I decided not to tell anyone my new goals for Cardiff. I didn’t want to tempt fate, and I needed this to be my race. It was the first time I wasn't running for charity and I worried I’d feel bad about that, but I didn’t. I do work for a charity, after all. But even so… I was doing something for me. “Look after #1,” my best pal taught me. You’re allowed to do things for yourself. This was my race, and even as I hit the start line, I drank everything in, not wanting to take photos, videos, or text anyone. This was my time, just for me.

The first inkling I had that Cardiff was going to go well was when I did the Regent’s Park 10k a month before. I had a race plan (go easy for the first half, ramp it up for the second) and I felt completely in control. My legs behaved, I focused completely on my breathing, and I didn’t get distracted by anyone around me. I felt amazing when I finished. I got a great time, but that didn’t matter. I just wanted to feel good by the end.

By the time it came to two weeks before Cardiff, I was scared. This was the moment where it all went wrong for Brentwood. Off I headed for a 10 mile long run and… it was horrendous. It was a complete run/walk. I couldn’t breathe. Everything was heavy. I started to beat myself up again and ended up back home nearly in tears. I’d fucked it… granted, I’d just got back from a week in Barcelona for my birthday where sangria had replaced my blood and running did not exist, but I didn’t care. I had no excuses. I’d fucked it.

But what I’d learnt since March, in the efforts of building my fitness and confidence back up again, was that it can happen. I can do it. And that all it can take is some concentration. Mindfulness, if you will. I needed to feel in control above everything else. So the following week I drank lots of water, stretched, and became best friends with my breathing. I focused on it, I paid attention to it. And when it came to running 11.5 miles the next weekend, I absolutely nailed it. My pacing was on point more than ever before, I was settled, I controlled my breathing before anything else, I paid attention to how my body was moving and gave that respect, and I behaved. I chilled the fuck out, basically, and listened to ABBA too. I’ve listened to ABBA during every run since.

When it came to being on that start line in Cardiff, I knew I had it in me. Not just a good time, but confidence, respect, and control. I had it in me to just do me, with no pressure. It was going to happen because I told myself it would. I’d worked for this. Yes, I was nervous as fuck. I had a panic before Ryan left me for his pen that I hadn’t drunk enough water that morning. But that’s normal and I told myself that. I didn’t let the anxiety run away with me (lol). 

I loved running that race. I took in every moment. I appreciated where I was, what I was doing, and how I was doing it. I smiled, I took things in stages, and I focused. I breathed. I flexed my feet. And I smashed that race, beating my ideal time of 2:15 by nine minutes. It just so happens that 9 is my lucky number.

I thought I had confidence and control before I had that accident back in March. I thought I had that nailed, I had it in the bag. But I didn’t. I had determination and goals and fire in me then, but running controlled me rather than me controlling running. I learnt how to truly be in control by respecting myself in those seven months. I respected my recovery, my holey knee, and the keloid scar that’s blossomed from it. I respected my legs and how they move, and how they need to be looked after. I respected my lungs and what they needed for a good run. I respected time. I respected space. And I respected my brain. I was kind to it, even when it bitched about me. 

I thought I’d obviously fucked up Cardiff when I fell, but no one decides that but me. I decide. 

Sometimes you can’t control things. But you can control how you deal with them. And I bossed that before bossing any time and distance with Cardiff. Here’s to remembering that in 2019.

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