Running any race is a special experience but for me, there’s something so wonderful about a half marathon.
It’s the crowds cheering, children handing out sweets, dogs barking, banners, cheers and camaraderie of both runners and spectators alike.
I find it such an immersing experience, and try to soak in as much as possible – the sounds of footsteps, the fancy dress costumes, looking for familiar faces in the crowd.
And to top it off, Bristol Half Marathon snakes around the curves of my city, filled with my landmarks and roads I know oh-so-well.
There’s nothing like sprinting towards that finish line to make me feel like an even bigger part of Bristol, to make me feel so proud of the place I call home.
And that’s why for years I’ve been bugging my boyfriend, James, about running it with me. I’ve been so keen for him to experience it too.
It was such an exciting moment when he finally agreed to take part!
We went out on training runs three times a week, slowly built up our distance to 7.5 miles and then… life happened.
My darling dog crept to the end of his life and weekends were taken up with long journeys to my family home to pack in as much love and happiness for him as possible.
My wonderful Mum had a few operations and we anxiously awaited test results, thankfully they came back fine after a few weeks.
When we felt mentally able to tackle a run, we were physically unable to due to both contracting horrible colds that went on and on and on, right until race day.
So while I managed to crack out a 10-miler one evening, James remained with 7.5 miles as his highest ever ran distance – not a comforting prospect as he approached the start line.
Bristol Half Marathon 2014
We ended up in the second wave, so had to be at the start line for 10am – allowing us lots of time to relax and panic before the race began!
I was still battling the evil cold, so drank my bodyweight in lemon and ginger tea before we had to leave in order to get as much hydration in as possible.
Breakfast for me was 1.5 raw bites, for James it was toast, eggs and bacon. Next year, I’ll boost my breakfast because I was hungry by mile 5 of the race, despite carb loading to the max the evening before.
It was so exciting to get dressed together and nervously make our way down to the starting pen. We deliberately left it as late as possible, as the start is only a 10 min walk from our flat (we wanted to avoid any portaloo needs!).
We stood in the start pen, took a selfie (obvs..), before warming up our legs and then it was time to go!
We’d both decided to go out slow and hopefully save our legs in order to hit the sub-2 hour mark.
Mile 1: 8:48, Mile 2: 8:46, Mile 3 8;58, Mile 4 9:02, Mile 5 9:00
We were so chuffed with the splits, in our recent training runs we’d been hitting around 9:30s so this was huge news!
At mile 5 I started to feel a little hungry but kept up the pace for James, who was looking strong.
Mile 6 9:12, Mile 7 8:53, Mile 8 9:09, Mile 9 9:24, Mile 10 9:37
As we reached mile 8, James turned to me and said “well this is new territory” and I took a big gulp, I hated seeing him going through the race without the training.
We started to slow at mile 9 as we hit some hills and at mile 10 I could see James was struggling. His face was pale and he said he was finding it tough.
I told him “This is mile 10, this is when you hit the wall. It’s hard, it’s always hard, everyone is finding it tough. You can do it, just keep going, dig deep.”
We’d both loaded up iPods full of music to scream us through when the going got tough so I asked if he wanted to put his on to help him.
“No, I want to listen to your voice,” he replied and my heart cracked a little bit.
Mile 11 10:45, Mile 12 10:32, Mile 13 9:56, 0.12 0:56
At mile 11, we walked up a hill and then on some flat, the pain was really starting to bite and there was still a way to go.
After a quick calculation in my head, I told James the time so far and how far we had left. He said: “If we run two 9 minute miles we’ll be sub 2″ and we decided to try.
Alas, those hills and very tired legs meant it was not to be. We walked again at mile 12 and in mile 13, when James told me “don’t let me stop now, okay?”.
The sun had been hot for all the race (I was throwing bottles of water over us throughout) and we were really starting to flag but managed to run again just in time to speed past our cheering parents.
I knew we weren’t going to make sub-2, so I told James the priority was just finishing, however he wanted to do it.
Suddenly, peeking through at crowds – the finish line! We ran as fast as our tired legs would let us, and sailed over the finish step in step.
We gratefully picked up our medals, t-shirts, goody bag and water, water, water before bumping into James’ Dad as we made our way to meet our parents.
So relieved I couldn’t keep my eyes open…!
It was then time for our parents to meet for the first time, which went super well. My Mum said to James: “When Claire finished her first half, she said she’d never do it again.. would you?”
And he replied: “Yes!” which again, made my heart crack a little again and a few tears spring up!
I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful boyfriend who is my partner in every sense, when I run my next half I want him there and running it by my side.
Having someone else to focus on was great because it didn’t let any self-doubts creep into my mind, I was just concentrating on getting us through as best as I could.
I’m also of the opinion that once you’ve done a half, your body is much happier doing that distance again. I certainly didn’t find this race easy but every time I do a half (this was number 4) I get more into a groove.
After the race, we went home and James took off his shoes. Holy blisters! His big toe on one foot was literally horrific, poor man for running on it for so long.
We think he ran awkwardly to stop the pain on that toe because his heel has been injured for the past two weeks, it seems to be healing fine with lots of RICE though.
Our final times came through and I chuckled to see that we had exactly the same one to the second: 2:02:58
I’m pretty pleased with our time, all things considered, and think James did so well to get it despite his training history – the last five miles of that race were unknowns for him.
We’re already planning to do it next year, with proper training of course. Now, the focus is on healing up, getting back to full strength and maybe a few shorter races too!
* Have you ran a race in your home town or city?
* When is your next race?