From 1:39 to DNF…? When the half-marathon doesn’t go quite to plan…

It’s 5pm, it’s 22 degrees outside and I’m on my sofa in my pyjamas. To say today didn’t go to plan is the understatement of the century. My first half-marathon of my five race ambition for MS-UK, and it all very nearly ended in the worst way possible.

It was a 6am start this morning and after force feeding myself some oats and coffee (I hate eating this early), I headed to the Overground to Hackney. It was a glorious morning, even at 6am. A balmy 12 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. For the casual weekender, brilliant weather. For someone about to run 13.1 miles, hideous weather.

The Overground was packed, which meant the queue to get out the other side was even worse. But eventually we shuffled out and made it to the park where the tunes were already pumping, sweat was slowly dripping down my back and 20,000 runners were preparing to run 13.1 miles.

I queued for the bag drop then queued for the toilets then had to sprint over to the start pens. I found the two 1:45 pacers. My plan was to hang out with them and if I felt ok, put the hammer down towards the end. The temperature was edging closer to 20 degrees already and I knew it wasn’t PB territory, so I thought if I sat with the 1:45 guys, it would be all good.

And it was. For about 4 miles. Then on mile 5 there was a water station. They are always tricky to manoeuvre, especially surrounded by thousands of runners. I think Hackney Half has 20,000 entrants each year, so you can imagine the chaos at these water stops. I successfully retrieved some water – I needed it desperately; the heat was really starting to get to me.

Before I knew it, I had lost my two pacers and saw them hurtling off into the distance. I didn’t really want to sprint to catch up with them, as I knew I’d struggle to hang on afterwards and so from then on it was me versus the heat.

As the mercury was rising, I could feel myself getting slower and slower. I just couldn’t hold a pace that on most days would feel very comfortable. By mile 8, I had slowed right down and it was hurting. It really shouldn’t have been though, I was barely running.

Then it became a mental game. Once I had reasoned with myself that a good time was out of the window, it just became a matter of finishing. I have never felt so close to giving up in a run before. I have never given up before but today I came close.

The struggle was real. It was even more real when we practically ran past my front door, and all I could think was “just stop now and go home, it’s so close!” As the miles slowly ticked by, more and more people were taken casualty by the heat.

Runners were collapsing left, right and centre. St Johns Ambulance were on every corner, nursing unconscious runners at the side of the road. At points, members of the public were the paramedics, as it seemed like there were just not enough St Johns Ambulance staff to go around.

I was willing myself on, but all I thought was that I couldn’t get to that point. The point of being passed out on the floor. It was the first time in a race I actually contemplated what would happen if I got that bad; no one was with me and my emergency contact was over 250 miles away.

At the water stations, I was pouring water on me, only for it to evaporate it what felt like a matter of minutes. My head was pounding, and I felt sick. And I thought, this is it. This is where I DNF.

This was my 9th half marathon and I have to say, they do not get any easier. I’d had a decent (not great but ok) training block but I think the combination of a heavier than usual period in the week leading up, the scorching temperatures, the very real stress of fundraising for Luna and probably even Covid, all resulted in feeling so incredibly drained and a (really) bad day at the office.

I had to keep reminding myself why I was doing this. And that’s the reason why I didn’t DNF. I kept thinking of Mrs B and the millions of people who live with MS everyday whose bodies wouldn’t allow them to run a mile, let alone 13.1. I couldn’t just give up. I had to keep going, as hard as it was.

Even Eliud Kipchoge has bad races (ok, fine, he’s had one in his life) and that’s all I could think about. Just remember why and who you’re doing this for and dig deep. Yorkshire grit.

I know many people think I’ve done enough of these races now that 13.1 miles really isn’t a test anymore. But trust me, it always is. When I ran my best time of 1:39 back in 2019 it was so hard. But today was just as hard. As Eliud said after his crushing defeat at the London Marathon; “Marathon is life and life is full of challenges.”

Coming up to the final mile was hard; the crowds were brilliant though. I’ve never had so many people shouting my name before, willing me to keep going. However, there were plenty of people in a much worse state than I was; wheelchairs, ambulances and paramedics everywhere and runners who had lost control of their whole bodies, swerving all over the road and into the barriers. I can honestly say, I’ve never been part of a run like it.

I couldn’t even muster a sprint finish, but after 1hr 53 minutes , I actually crossed the finish line. Did I cry? Of course. Did I have the jelly legs that everyone else around me had? Most definitely. Did I aimlessly wander around the festival village in disbelief as to what I’d done? Absolutely.

Was it the best time I’ve ever ran for a half marathon? Definitely not, but it was probably one of the hardest fought. It was probably the first time where I genuinely was so close to stepping off the course and saying “I’m done”. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t give up. I’m doing these races for MS-UK and if I gave up at the first one, I’d feel so disappointed, even though it really was one of the toughest things I’ve done. But it shows, we can do hard things when we put our minds to it.

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me so far. The thought of which genuinely kept me going today. If the story of my terrible day out doesn’t urge you to sponsor me now, then I really don’t know what will 😂. But genuinely, thank you to everyone.

Now it’s time to recover before we do it all again in 3 weeks time…yes, I’m a psycho, I know.

Link to sponsorship page 🙏🏼

Proof I did finish it 😅

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