How not to run a half marathon

Have you ever done anything before that was so ridiculous that you had to question how you got there? It was Monday again, and I was a bit more on the tired side than usual and had a couple of sore toes. Then the reason for this started to hit me…The previous day, I unexpectedly ran a half marathon race. And how I let this happen should be a word of warning to all parents.

As readers will know, I am a runner and I like to enter the odd event for fun now and then, albeit with mixed results. I am also married to runner and so it’s probably no surprise that taking part in sport is the norm in our family and our 3 children are very active. In fact, for some time, our middle child had repeatedly declared to anyone who would listen, that he wanted to run a half marathon. In fact, he wanted to run one as soon as he reached the required entry age of 17. Now as all parents know, there can be a big difference between what your child says they want to do and what they really think once the reality of the actual ‘doing’, sinks in. Which is why sometimes simply sleeping on it for a couple of days, months or even years is a parent’s saving grace. I cannot count the number of times this technique has worked to avoid unwise purchases, club memberships, hairstyles and piercings. At the very least, buying parents more time can help them make sure their offspring really understand what they are asking for or can give them the chance to come up with the least worst Plan B. With this in mind, we regularly reminded our son that a half marathon is just over 21km and is not exactly a skip in the park. However, he could not be deterred and after a bit of research, he announced that he was going to run his first half-marathon 2 days after his 17th birthday took place. On hearing this, his previously concerned father leapt at the opportunity to run alongside him and immediately began weighing up training plans. They had almost 6 months to train before the race took place, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, let’s just say that when you are a teenager, life often gets in the way of intentions and that includes training for a half marathon. In other words, our son spent the 6 months keeping himself very fit by playing and training for a number of sports and working out regularly at the gym. However, he didn’t devote much actual time to running and getting some needed kilometres under his belt. This didn’t improve even as time moved on and the day of the big event began to creep nearer. Our polite suggestions to him, that maybe he should go for the odd run and the occasional offers of joining him fell on deaf ears. As did his father’s opportune comments about the risk of injury of running such a distance untrained. Nothing could get our son to train. However, as determined as he was to avoid any specific training for the half marathon, he was just as dedicated to running it due to his supportive siblings. What else could cement his commitment other than by being given a clear vote of no confidence that he had any chance of finishing the race by his siblings. As parents, there wasn’t much else that we could do other than keep trying to convince him to do some training until finally, it was too late.

It was the week before the half marathon took place. My husband, by now in peak condition and raring to race, was enjoying some rest time. Meanwhile, my son, prepared himself by focusing his daily gym sessions on his upper body to ‘save his legs’. I, on the other hand, carried on with my usual weekday workouts as normal but had decided to go for my long run a bit later in the week. I may have even been inspired by the imminent half marathon because I ran slightly longer than usual, over 16km. I had the weekend ahead to rest, or so I thought…

But disaster struck less than 2 days before the half marathon took place, when my husband injured himself in his final easy run. Shocked to find that he could no longer run the half marathon with my son, I was faced with some very difficult questions. Do I let my son run his first half marathon – on his own – having had very little training? Or do I attempt to run the half marathon with him which I haven’t prepared for, physically or mentally, in less than 2 days? Will I even be able to run a half marathon when my legs are still knackered from my long run and the subsequent workouts I foolishly did in the days that followed?!! Do I actually have to run a half marathon on what is supposed to be one of my ‘rest’ days? Of course, I had no choice but to step up to the challenge.

With one day to go, my son and I sat down to prepare ourselves to face the Buckingham Half Marathon. I decided to do a quick assessment, starting with the positives. On the plus side, my son was extremely fit and had youth on his side. At 17, he could get away with a lot in terms of physical challenges. He was also very confident and determined to finish the half marathon, no matter what. As for me, I was also very fit and had been doing some long runs very recently. I was also an experienced half marathon runner, having clocked up 3 races previously. However, we did have our negatives. On the minus side, my son had never run longer than 16km before and had only done that once on a whim, many, many months ago. I was also not sure if he truly realised just how far 21km really is when you are running. Especially because he could effortlessly cycle over hundreds of kilometres. Come to think of it, his cycling mentality now explained why he was so crestfallen when I broke it to him that the 4 water stations on the Bucks Half course were not actually ‘feed stations’ and they did not serve coffee, either. Among my minuses, I was pretty tired from my recent workouts and my most recent half marathon took place over a year ago. And the memory of running the Milton Keynes Winter Half Marathon during a storm of biblical proportions, was still fresh in my mind. I was more than reluctant to repeat the pain.

We realised that the only way we were going to get through the Bucks Half would be to adopt a fun run strategy. That is, instead of racing we would sit back, take it easy and focus on enjoying the race. We would also completely disregard the time it took to run our 21kms of ‘fun’. Our Half Marathon aim would simply be to finish it together without any injuries. The plan seemed not only sensible but doable because we could take a break to stop and stretch whenever we wanted to. No pressure, no problem. With the fun run plan in mind, we joined the starting line of the Bucks Half the next morning.

As we waited to start the race amidst a crowd of 300 excited runners, we learned that it was the inaugural launch of the first ever Buckingham Half Marathon. While I wondered if this meant that we would be running the course as half marathon guinea pigs, we surged forward at the whistle start. At least my son and I would be familiar with some of the roads on the circular course route as we had cycled on the very same tarmac before. However, we were also well aware that the ‘undulating’ described course would likely be extremely hilly and there may not be much time spent running on flat ground.

However, the first 5km of the Bucks Half flew by very quickly as we spent our time chatting and catching up on the week while we ran. We even managed the hills expertly, recovering from each with just as much spring in our steps. As we passed the neon mile markers, I glanced at my watch and saw that we were running at a speedy pace. But we both felt great and were actually enjoying it.

In fact, we liked running the next 5km just as much as the last and after a couple of sips of water at the drink station, we were as good as new. Our legs were still strong and we carried on chatting, sharing funny stories and having fun. Although many of the scenic country lanes were isolated with the only spectators being farm animals, every now and then we would turn a corner and find a handful of eager spectators with offers of sweets and drinks. We also began to play a game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ with my husband, who frequently popped up when we least expected it, en route. He was by far, the most enthusiastic cheerleader of all spectators, shouting advice to us like a veteran pro on the inaugural course.

Another drink station later, and I could see that we were beginning to tire as we approached the neon 16km. My son now entered the danger zone of the unknown as he passed his running milestone. There was no telling what his legs were going to do. We carried on running and tried to keep to a steady pace and I noticed that the conversation started to get a little bit one-sided. I suggested that we take a break to stop and stretch. Admittedly, I also wanted to remove a painful rock from my shoe that I had picked up several kms ago. But my son’s legs were by then starting to cramp up. He feared that if we stopped, his legs may give up entirely. So we carried on sluggishly trying to shift ourselves forward again.

Just in the nick of time, we spotted my husband again as we came to the bottom of another mammoth hill. By now he was cheering wildly to everyone who passed by with shouts of ‘Not much farther!’ and ‘Looking good!!’. Another runner asked me, ‘Is he talking to me?!’ but I replied, ‘No, that’s just my crazy husband’. And as we started to slowly climb the hill we were spurred on by his words of ‘You’re almost there! One more hill after this!’.

Unfortunately, there were a further 5 more hills. As we ran on, I could not get more than monosyllabic answers out of my son and I realised then, that he had literally run out of ‘fun’. I spent the remaining kms giving a running commentary of the course to my son like a self-appointed motivational coach. I used my last reserves of energy to try and sound enthusiastic while guiding him with ‘OK, another hill coming up. We can do this!! OK, let’s just aim for that tree and take it easy…’ But I realised that my inspiring words weren’t what was driving my son forward. With gritted teeth and the end not quite in sight, my son revealed why he had no intention of stopping. Sibling rivalry trumps all when it comes to motivation and he was savouring the moment when he could tell his brother that he had run the Bucks Half. We kept going and at km21, we sprinted the final metres to the finish, crossing together and completely delirious with relief. We had made it together, finally, and in one piece.

We relaxed and refuelled while commiserating with fellow tired competitors whose wide smiles matched ours. After some time, I remembered to check my watch and saw that we had clocked a very respectable 1.52. But the real bragging rights were saved for home and for siblings who had dared to doubt. I stood back and enjoyed listening to my son replay the ups and downs of the Bucks Half while I tried to put my feet up. I hoped that my son had learned an important lesson about the importance of training for endurance events. However, I am not so sure…

The very day, before the stiffness in his legs had set in, he suggested that we do the next half marathon on a flatter course so that we could really get the time down. My only response to him could be to wonder if there might also be some merit in doing some training for it. As for me, I have learned the hard way that supporting your children only gets more challenging as they get older because their ambitions reach even greater heights. Which means that when it comes to teenagers, be prepared. There really are no limits to what you may be required to do.

And now, at last, the recipe and what could be better after a long run than a smoothie to recover. Why not try one of these?

Smoothie2

Bucks Half

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