Why I Thought My First Ever Half Marathon Would Be My Last Ever Race (And Why It Wasn’t!)
This post is about my first ever half marathon in Larne in 2011 and how it almost turned out to be my last.
The lead up to that race involved some pretty difficult times for my family.
As you probably already know by now my dad died in March 2011 after a year long battle of cancer. I’d just recently taken up running as a way to try to get to terms with his illness and to do something about my own unhealthy lifestyle.
Running to stop thinking.
I had started to run more often in the weeks leading up to his death to escape the thoughts that’d plague me about his inevitable passing.
His health deteriorated massively around the start of January 2011 when the cancer had spread to his brain. The doctors at the hospital had given him a course of steroids to try to prolong his life for a couple of months.
Whilst this might’ve sounded like a good idea at the time it made him extremely confused and the we spent his last month with someone we didn’t know.
It was really fucking terrifying. I spent many nights in the house alone with him not knowing how to communicate as he was talking to shit that wasn’t there and yelling at invisible people.
It seemed very cruel to prolong suffering that long.
Numbness and losing interest in running.
I became numb for almost a year after his death on 5th March 2011.
You tend to think you’ve dealt with the grief for months after it but it’s insidious and catches up with you. I was forced to feel it and live through it all that night in Barcelona in 2011 when my mind broke spectacularly.
The day after he died I continued on with my training and ran 14 miles for the first time in my life.
I didn’t care about my running at the time. It should have been a great moment but even breathing felt like a defeat.
I started down a long dangerous path of dieting on Ben and Jerry’s, Smirnoff Apple vodka and Zopiclone to help me sleep at night.
I ran as I had to. It was now part of my routine. There was no other option. I didn’t want to slide further into my mire.
Besides I didn’t know what I enjoyed anymore.
I didn’t want to feel or address anything.
I spent most of March 2011 playing NHL 11 on my Playstation trying to become as absorbed in my career with the Pittsburgh Penguins as I possibly could become.
Any escape was a good escape.
The Larne Half Marathon took place 2 weeks to the day after he died. I wasn’t gonna show up as I didn’t feel ready for it mentally.
All I wanted to do was sit indoors and mope with ice cream. By then I was taking both Temazepam and Zopiclone to sleep at night.
My thought cycles and lifestyle were becoming worryingly bleak.
What was the point in trying to be healthy when life could end like this anyway through a combination of genetics and bad life choices in earlier life?
What was the point in anything?
Running the Larne Half Marathon 2011
I really wasn’t doing my dad or myself a service by thinking in this way. I had to complete the race. It’s all I could do at the time.
Larne was my first ever race and the day was gloriously sunny.
At the time I had no idea how to pace myself for a half marathon so I tried to stick to a 10:18 min/mile pace.
I forgot to set my watch at the right point, stalled on the start line and then threw a litre bottle of water across the field nearly hitting a man on the head.
Not the best of starts.
Subconsciously I maybe wanted someone to repeatedly punch me in the the face so I could feel less numb.
The first 6 miles were OK but then we met a big hill. This took the wind out of my sails. I had to stop for the first time in the race and then made it to the brow where it was largely downhill.
From there until the 11th mile I was flying and all was as well as it could have been.
Then just short of the 12 mile mark the wheels came off and I had to walk the rest of the course. It felt humiliating having to crawl for so long, especially since I’d trained well for it.
I guess I didn’t factor in the hill into my training.
It’s difficult to grasp how much of a failure you can seem to be within yourself.
When you internalise negative thoughts in races your mind only spirals downwards.
Other people fade into the background. Your own thoughts and past failures rise to the fore and are more real than anything else you can perceive externally.
It’s a lonely fucking place to be and every step forward feels futile.
I finished the race in 2:17 vowing never to run again for as long as I lived. I could do without the stress and the embarrassment in my life.
I didn’t run a half marathon again until the Great Scottish Run which was a much more positive experience.
What’s the point in this post?
Well I’m just trying to say that even if you do feel like giving up with running, you can entertain the thought and not actually go through with it.
I knew that Larne was gonna be my last ever race.
Yet it wasn’t.
I gave up on half marathons for 5 months and since then I’ve ran 16 more and they only become easier and more enjoyable the longer you train for the distance.
There’s always hope around the corner if you keep your head up and weather the storm. There’s nothing wrong with succumbing to negativity now and again as long as you keep getting back up.
Success involves getting to know yourself and your weaknesses as well as possible, that way you’ll know how to overcome them in the best possible way.