‘No I bloody well can’t cook dinner, I just ran a half marathon!’
‘Mum, that was 3 days ago!’
I can see that one is going to wear thin really soon, but I’m milking it a while longer.
People don’t talk about this. It’s all about the lead up to the event, the training, the fuelling, the stretching. Nobody actually tells you that afterwards you will feel like you’ve been tied to the railway tracks and left there for several days while trains go backwards and forwards across your body. And the mental fog! It’s taken me 2 full days to trust myself to do anything that required some level of concentration or operate machinery (like the oven). But it’s uncannily like childbirth. You forget the anguish and the pain and can’t wait to do it again. After all, (but unlike having a baby) when the event is over you are at a bit of a loss as to what to do.
Let me tell you how it went down. I arrived in Thessaloniki on Friday with my eldest daughter Maria, who is sixteen. We get the bus from the airport and I guesstimate where to get off. Maria is not impressed that I don’t know exactly where we are, but the joy of Thessaloniki is that it’s very easy to navigate and we are at the apartment in a few minutes. The apartment is so nice I’ve done a mini post about it here – it’s highly recommended.
Maria has come with me to get me home after the half marathon as I am well aware of the effect running long distances has on my mental capacity. I may also need carrying. But we’ve arranged with a cousin who is studying here to meet up and Maria will stay with her tonight, no doubt after a night on the town.
I have to collect my race pack from the exhibition centre which is just further on from Thessaloniki’s iconic ‘white tower’. This ‘Lefkos Pirgos’ as its known in Greek is the finish line for tomorrow night. We stretch our legs along the seafront with my stomach in knots – this time tomorrow I will be running along here.
The collection of the race pack is very organized and I’m delighted to find they have given me a full pack with some extras in it. I’m also told that my bib can be used as a bus pass for the next week. If only I was staying that long!
We meet up with Paraskevi (our cousin) and her flat mate, Marina. I leave my precious daughter in their care and try to remove the memory of Paraskevi ,aged 3, falling backwards off my hospital bed and cracking her head when Maria was born. They will be fine.
And then I was free. Left to swing like a pendulum between anxiety and excitement. I have a rock and roll evening of cammomile tea and catch up TV. I wonder what Maria’s doing.
I get up at 7am and see a message from Maria to tell me she got home safe. She’s a good girl.
Sent at 5.30am.
A quick check on snapchat confirms that they had a quiet evening ,starting off with food in Ladadika (the food district of Thess.) and then on to the waterfront café/bars and finishing in not one, but 2 clubs. That’s good then, glad they showed her the cultural aspects of the city…
Now what to do? 11 whole hours stretch out before me.
I drink water
I set out my race clothes
I drink water
I change my running tshirt to a vest
I check my emails
I drink water
I change the vest back to the tshirt
I drink water
I paint my nails
Bad move as now I need to wee again…
The run starts at 18.45 and because I follow instructions I plan to set off at 17.00 to make sure I am at the start 30 minutes beforehand. It takes me all of 20 minutes to get to the bag drop off and back to the start line One hour and 30 minutes before the start. People are starting to gather now, jogging up and down, stretching. I check my messages to find 2 of the most beautiful messages from my girls. Their support, love and admiration is spilling out of FB messenger and can I get some chocolate from the duty free tomorrow (just kidding)
And I need the toilet.
As we are lining up waves of emotion flood over me. And it starts to rain. That’s nice, I think, because I really do love running in the rain. I look at the people all around me to seek out some other fatties. There are none. I feel sorry for all the people behind me because for sure they will be desperate to run past my plodding.
The rain starts coming down harder.
And we are off!
Remind myself to not start too quick.
As we set off along the seafront road with spectators either side I hear ‘Mum!’ And there is my lovely daughter shouting she loves me and she s proud of me
As the opening surge wears off there is a small older lady just in front of me. I decide to pace with her. Then feel ashamed.
Now its getting dark and its absolutely pissing down.
How far have I run? No idea. I didn’t wear my garmin and didn’t switch on my phone app. I was planning to use the KM markers along the way with my watch.
I can’t see any km markers. I can’t see a thing, I need windscreen wipers on my glasses. I take them off.
I am soaked. I am running though streams.
Here is a refreshment stop for water. I think this must be 5km as I’m sure that’s what I read in the instructions. I check my watch – that’s fast! Maybe that’s not right? And then the self doubt sets in – yes, that early on! Now I’m annoyed. I said that I just wanted to finish, but I really want to finish within 3 hours because that’s the cut off point. Most of the other 3000 plus people are ahead of me now. One of the stewards shouts ‘ it’s the taking part that counts’. I expect he thought that was encouraging.
On I go through the rivers of rain, thankfully its not really cold or windy. My trainers are totally water logged. Hope they will be alright.
I see the start of the 5k which starts at 21.15. Their route shares ours and they also fish at the white tower. And now I’m really confused as to what distance I have done. I haven’t seen a single distance marker, but then with my glasses on I can’t see at all and without them, well, I cant see at all. I plod on. There are people pretty much all along the roadside. ‘Bravo’ I hear a lady call out and I really appreciate that because she sounds like she means it. Further on I start to get lapped by the real runners. The course is 2 loops and they are on their second and final loop. That’s hard.
As I come up to the next refreshment stop I ask where I am ‘7.5km’ What? Isotonic drink? Yes. Its in a plastic cup. Shit. I grab a bottle of water and empty half the contents then refill it with the isotonic drink. While I’m running. I should be in ‘It’s a knockout’. I look at the time. Its taken me just under an hour to run 7.5k. I’m gutted, panicking, confused. Can I still make it under 3 hours? I’m so discouraged by this and I can’t think to do the maths. The rain has stopped. Small mercies. Im just coming along to the new Marina and the waterfront. This is where most of the people spectating are. And where Maria is. I can’t let her down. Can’t let her see me walking.
So I pick up my sodden feet and stomp it out because I realize that I am my ‘why’, but they are my ‘how’. When I get to her I untie my soaking jacket from my waist and hand it to her. Apparently I didn’t speak. But I sprinted off. For 10 metres at least. And she uploaded a photo of my departing backside to facebook. Just to reassure everyone I was still alive.
I alternate a bit of power walking with running. I have reached the 11k mark and I put on my running app. I can’t bear not to know what I am running. I curse myself for not having done it from the start. Another runner puts her hand on my shoulder as she jogs beside. I don’t think I acknowledged her and I feel bad about that. Because I was grateful for that touch of solidarity.
This is the second lap now. As I pass one of the stewards he radios ahead ‘662 last one through’. I laugh out loud. It had occurred to me that I may be last. I don’t care. I’m doing this. I try to spot the runner in front who had been kind and keep pace behind her. Im still walk/running. Still trying to work out if I will make it. The drinks stand again with the ‘taking part’ steward. They clap and encourage. I’m grateful and I acknowledge them with a defiant air punch. I’ve lost sight of my friend. Up from behind comes a guy in a fluorescent vest. He’s powerwalking. There is a woman too. She runs past me to catch him, then walks. I run to overtake her, then walk, then she does the same and this goes on. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this game of tag. He is my marker and she is pushing me on. And then we are at the 5k start again. And they share the same finish line with us. OMG then its only 5k to go! Evvagelia, my tag buddy, flags and seems to lose the will. I know she’s called Evvagelia because someone just called out to her from the roadside and encouraged her. I don’t want her to give up. Partly because she’s keeping me going but mostly because I just don’t want her to give up. I put my hand on her shoulder as I am passing. Come on, I tell her, 5 more. We can do this. And we go on like this. She is struggling, like me. But I have realized now that finishing within 3 hours is well within my grasp. She runs past past me then walks. I run past her, come on, I tell her. 4km to go. Come on, 2.5 km left. Runners who have already finished and are heading home encourage us on. I’m going to cry again. Don’t lose it now, you’ve still got to run that last 2km.
And I did. And as I pass Maria again her shouts ignite a turbo blast in me somewhere. I take one last look behind me to check on Evvagelia. She is still hanging in there. And then I have Karens voice in my head, ‘do a sprint finish’. So I did. The crowd went wild, cameras flashed – the 5km runners were just coming over the finish line. I was channeled into the edge and seconds before the finish line some ignorant a*&%6 walked right in front of me.
Its on video – my triumphant finsh. I look like I am running from a heist and will run through anything that gets in my way. Including people. (watch it here – its hilarious) But I’ve done it in 2 hours, 47 minutes and some seconds. (Cheers inside)
And from here it’s a blur really. I get my medal, sob into Marias arms, look for a blanket and a banana of which there are none. I don’t need either, but I have just completed a half marathon and I want to look the part.
I can just about get it together to do few stretches and we have a nice walk back to the apartment. Maria buys me a big hot chocolate (perfect 4:1 carb to protein recovery drink apparently) And its all ok.
Until I get in the shower.
Ouch. How is it even possible to get chaffage there?
And sleep. Or not. You could be forgiven for thinking that continuous running for nearly 3 hours is conducive to having a good nights sleep. It’s not.
Now I’m safely home. Just about recovered from the aches and tight muscles. And cooking dinner again. Plenty of time to reflect on the experience. Did I enjoy it? Would I do it again?
Yes and no, and yes. The feeling of achievement at the end is a rush. The running conditions were horrendous for the first hour and not being able to see was disorientating. I regret not having my own GPS on so that I knew my own pace and distance, but I regret that this bothered me so much. The problem was that I had entered an event where the uncertainty and pressure of having a time limit was more in my mind than just getting out there and enjoying it. I’m frustrated that I didn’t run the whole distance and power walked in places. That’s stupid, I know, but there you have it. I could have done better, pushed harder. I think.
I absolutely would do it again! In fact I can’t wait. The next event for me will be here in Rhodes on April 17th, the ‘Roads to Rhodes Marathon’. Unfortunately they don’t have a half marathon, only a full one…
(I think I may have borrowed a couple of a couple of meme’s from ‘Run. Selfie. Repeat’. Which also another fabulous and funny running blog.)