Sunday, September 03, 2006

Glasgow, the Hard Way

I am forty years old, have not consumed alcohol for over six hundred days, and this morning, completed the Glasgow Half Marathon (Just over 13 miles, or 21 km) in 1:51:52, within a hair's breadth of my target time 1:50:00. In so doing, I have raised over £300 for the Prince's Trust, and also exerted myself physically more than ever before in my entire life, having previously only run 12.2 km outdoors and 16 km indoors. I am very proud, but in considerable pain!

The photo to the left is me on Glasgow Green, at around 12 noon today, a few minutes after finishing. I am still full of endorphins there, as you can see.

It all began at 06:45 when my alarm formalised my body's decision that it was time to get up. The day immediately felt somewhere between an exam and a holiday: now at such close quarters to the event that only the details were visible, thankfully occluding the scope of whole enterprise. Shower, porridge, orange juice, coffee and kit on and I was ready to go by about 07:20. Despite the fairly heavy drizzle, I had decided to go light and not risk taking a rucksack and fleece without having anywhere to park it at Queen Street station. The full inventory ran: Upper-arm pouch containing mobile phone, Visa card, bus pass, and folding money, and back pocket containing folded space blanket and hands-free headset for mobile. That was it - no keys, glasses, or fleece. It was a bit dreich outside though, so I donned a bin liner to keep me dry on the way to the station.

An inauspicious start saw me drenching my breathable trainers in a puddle and finding there were no buses from our local stop that would get me to the station in time. A quick warm-up jog to the next route ensured I arrived in good time. At Haymarket station there were a handful of runners, all nerves and fingers-and-thumbs, queueing for the ticket machine. I was glad to see that bin-liner chic was the order of the day.

No reading matter was required for the journey, as the wonder phone incorporates an MP3 player, today hosting a BBC Radio 4 afternoon play which kept my mind off things nicely, by the time we pulled into Glasgow Queen Street, the train was carrying a good quorum of runners. The incipient drizzle reached had followed me to Glasgow, so I hung back in the station, stretching and sipping water until 09:45, when impatience got the better of me, and I headed out to the start at George Square.

The runners were divided into three muster groups, depending, I think, on our declared finish time on applying to run. I was in the middle group, and found a spot roughly, I thought, in the middle of it. I had that no-turning-back feeling that astronauts might have when the capsule door is shut, and was relishing heading off. Or so I though: I must have been giving off waves of anxiety, because a really chatty and likeable guy next to me offered some infectiously hyped-up encouragement, and I was relieved to hear that this was his first half marathon as well. The wheelchair competitors went first, a few minutes before ten, and then on the hour, the group before us went to a raucous send off and the Stones' Start Me Up over the PA. A couple of minutes later, we were off, and as I passed the start line, kicked off the digital stopwatch on my wrist. On a podium to our right, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, some other dignitaries, and rather wonderfully, Sir James Savile, OBE, waved us off.

It was as expected at first; a packed field with much darting for position. Ahead of me the Scottish Sikhs, wearing colourful turbans and holding the Saltire aloft made a visible pack marker to pace myself against. Heading towards the Clyde, we soon found ourselves among motorway viaducts and soon passed the 1 km marker. Only 20 more to go. Then, the 1 mile marker. only 12 more to go. But I wasn't feeling good. Unlike previous races, I was being overtaken constantly. This made me worry and try to overtake more myself, and I knew I was going too fast but couldn't slacken off. My ankles and shins were giving me a lot of pain, and I was concerned I couldn't put up with it for the best part of another two hours. I immediately rued not having done more of my training outdoors, where I'd have acclimatised to the percussive effect of tarmac compared to treadmills. Hang on - more of my training outdoors? In fact, I'd stayed in the gym for all my training. Dummy. I was paying the price now.

Checking my stopwatch, I was killing each kilo in a little over five minutes, so the speed was good. But as well as the sore legs, my breathing wasn't settling down. I kept falling into ragged, just-started-swimming-in-cold-water breaths which were working against my running cadence. I kept trying to impose long deep yoga breaths but they wouldn't stick. How on earth was I going to cover the course?

After about four or five miles, we turned into parkland, which was a little hillier. I'm actually better on hills than flats, and fewer people were overtaking me. I finally realised I'd settled into a sustainable cadence, accompanied by deep frequent nasal breathing that I could keep up. My mood began to lighten at last.

The spectator encouragement hadn't been that stirring up until now, but it seemed the further we went, the more people were prepared to help us along. As we passed through Pollok, I found that families walking in the park were stopping to clap us along, and my smiles of appreciation were beginning to be reciprocated. This brightened my mood considerably, as did passing the 7 mile mark, over half way, when my stopwatch read about 55 minutes. That was the feedback, I needed - I was well on target for my revised goal of 2:00, and might even get near my original objective of 01:50.

I took advantage of the frequent water stations, overcoming my innate austerity and discarding half-drunk bottles when I knew I'd had my fill for the time being. Considering how much water I'd taken on board, and what a wet cold day it was, I was relieved not to have to stop and relieve myself like many of the other men running. This meant I never stopped running and left the spell unbroken all the way round.

At 10 miles, I knew I was going beyond my previous longest run, but felt buoyed by some banter around me that I'd even managed to join in with, about the last three miles being easy. I knew they'd be tough though, and really suck to the bottom of my fuel tank. This wasn't helped by the absence of an 11 mile marker - until I'd realised it wasn't there or I'd missed it, the eleventh mile seemed to be taking an eternity. The last couple of miles were agonising: we entered the parkland where we would be finishing and took a circumlocutious route around it. It was just like those false summits that hill walkers and mountaineers are seduced by. Checking my stopwatch, I realised that there was a slim chance I'd manage it in 01:50, and gave it all I had. I was by now emitting involuntary moans of pain every time I let my breathing rhythm slip, and I felt oddly disconnected from the cheering crowd lining the final run past the 13 mile mark, as I was nearing exhaustion and they were all there to see other individuals finish, anyway.

One hour, fifty-one minutes, and fifty-two seconds after I had crossed the start line at George Square, I went over the finish at Glasgow Green, wheezing "I've done it, I've done it". I'd expected what followed to be anticlimactic, and sure enough we were herded a bit perfunctorily though the surrender of our timing chips, and the collection of out goody bags of medals, t-shirts and promotional freebies. I phoned Helen, took a picture of myself, and after negociating some unhelpful signage which necessitated actually crossing the running field (!) to get out of the park, walked, head held high, back to Queen Street station, where the paper, a mocha, and a train home awaited me. I do pity the lady sitting next to me, as I smelt like a dosser.

On returning home, Helen expressed the same sentiment, and while showering I noticed how dreafully chafed my thighs and underarms had become. I advised her to vacate the room while I applied the germolene unless she wanted to learn some new compound expletives. I surprised even myself with my inventiveness.

I have learned a few lessons today:
  • You can travel light to these things
  • Grease your moving parts, even if they didn't need it in training
  • Train outdoors. You bloody idiot!
  • I want to do more half marathons
  • I may not belong to Glasgow, but for a couple of hours today, Glasgow belonged to me. It's a great city, with a heart like Belfast's and the scale like Vancouver's.

1 comment:

Greg McElhatton said...

Wow--that's an amazing finishing time, Dave. Very nicely done!