Mud, rain, more mud and cider

(reposted from Paul Binning’s original blog post here) – Many of these blog posts will, I’m sure, be full of useful tips, fantastic experiences and great motivational ideas. They may well tell you how to best prepare for race days in the hours beforehand, what to eat, how much sleep to get – that sort of thing. Well, this isn’t quite one of those, but hopefully will be enjoyable if nothing else. I should caveat elements of this post come with the “Don’t try this at home” warning!

Having had a busy few months I’ve been unable to enter any of the main races people have been off doing and I’ve watched races come and go, and people produce great runs, personal bests and more as the sun has (generally) shone. Two curry nights have now come and gone where I’ve had to turn up medal-less and feeling a bit of a fraud as I hadn’t earned my Keema Naan on that particular evening.

So, it was with a certain level of excitement when I signed up for the Celtic Trail Half Marathon at Margam Park on Saturday. My first half of the year, the first of three, planned to build up towards what will hopefully – injuries permitting – be a 1:40-something personal-best-smasher in Cardiff on October 1st.

That was months ago. In the meantime, I forgot the date slightly when signing up for a work social trip to Chepstow Races Ladies Evening. That was Friday night and it wasn’t just a few races and home, early to bed. Oh no…this was a 2pm coach to get there. Home at midnight after a Rod Stewart tribute act had performed (I know!).

Ah well, with the run the next day I thought I’d just go easy on the drinking, mix up the cider with the soft drinks and be fresh enough come the Saturday morning. Wouldn’t I?

Well, no. The sun was out, beating hot and there was prosecco on the bus. With some classy camping champagne flutes. By the time we arrived in Chepstow I’d had three glasses. We arrived before the gates had even opened and then there were nearly three hours until the first race so the natural thing to do was sit in the sun with a few pints. And, of course, the traditional carb-loading pre-race evening was replaced by a jumbo sausage and chips as that was pretty much all there was. And a donut (that’s how they spelled it!) for a late-night treat.

So a fairly significant number of pints later, with greasy, fatty food sitting in my stomach, I got back on the bus – had an obligatory final glass of Prosecco of the evening, and got to bed around 12:30 – seven hours until the alarm was due to wake me up.

To ensure I don’t get a ticking off, I should add that it’s not big and it’s not clever and I advise you not to try it!

When the alarm did eventually go off, I felt surprisingly fresh. Lying there for a few moments to gather my thoughts, I actually felt OK so a ripple of positivity went through me. A beautiful evening the night before, what a lovely day it will be to run the hills and climbs of Margam Park.

The rest, as they, say, was history.

The wettest, darkest, most miserable day we’ve had in months was awaiting. It was truly horrible. We gathered around the start, huddled under trees to try and stay dry and retain a slight bit of warmth before the start. That failed and a ten-minute delay (as one of the Marshall’s Jeeps had slid down a bank) didn’t help either.

There’s a lot of talk about race envy. I’ve had plenty this year as race days have arrived. Saturday was definitely not one of those days. In fact, quite the opposite. I think I would have given up and gone home if others hadn’t been there – and that’s one of the benefits of being part of this great club.

Once the race started – as it often does – things got better. Once you’re running and getting warmed up, it felt OK and the beastly climbs of the first four miles became the main focus of the mind.

However, as we climbed, visibility became dreadful and then got worse. Running this race in July there had been the prospect of being able to look across the 20 miles or so towards Swansea Bay at the top and perhaps even stop for some pictures. 20 metres was more like it. For much of the higher part of the route I could only see one person in front of me, even though I wasn’t that far behind others. I had to hope he/she was going the right way or Mountain Rescue would have had an extra call to make.

It was slippery, muddy and boggy. I must have run an extra half-mile darting diagonally sideways across the paths to avoid the worst of the puddles, but that only worked to a certain extent.

Downhill sections were bordering on dangerous, with muddy puddles of the type Peppa Pig would have loved, hiding the stones and rocks which – if you landed on them wrongly – could have sent you tumbling down the hill. You literally couldn’t slow down at certain points without risking injury.

At the end, pre-race plans to grab a bacon bap and watch the others come in were abandoned due to the sandy mud covering every inch below the waist and the rain which continued to sheet down and seemed to be getting colder once the running had stopped. It was thoroughly miserable and after a brutal race we all just wanted to get home as quickly as possible.

So bearing all that in mind, I had a rubbish day, yeah?

Well, no. Because I still did a half marathon. In a none-too-shabby time considering my unadvisable preparation and a toilet stop halfway around. I did the full race in a minute or so over two hours (I’ll have to practice weeing on the move!!)  and my half-marathon time – given the course was 13.5 miles – was just five minutes off my previous PB!

So, what worked? The cider? The late night? The mud and the rain?

Who knows – but what I do know is that despite everything I have just written, I came away with a very satisfied feeling of contentment, proud of myself for the race I had run, delighted with the time and what that means for my preparation for Severn Bridge and Cardiff. The medal was superb – certainly one of my favourites – and ultimately it was all worthwhile and, nearly, enjoyable.

And I was delighted for the others too – the few who finished in front of me in amazing times, and those who I’m sorry I couldn’t see finish behind who give their all to every race – because being part of the club means you are always looking out for the results of others too, almost stalking – tracking their times and progress over time. It’s the first proper race I’ve genuinely felt part of a group for – I’ve historically been a solo runner – and it was great to share a lift, gather and chat over a cup of tea at the start and find out the times and positions of others at the end.

And ultimately I gave a huge sigh relief – sorry Tim and Vicky – but I felt unbelievably relieved that I wasn’t doing the marathon!!

The ultimate message is, I guess, even if you’re not ‘feeling it’ on a race day, don’t give up. Go out and try your best – your training will help you through and you may just surprise yourself!

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