Race: Newport City Half Marathon
Terrain: road, mostly flat
I was umming and ahhing about Newport for aaaages, and it was only when entries closed I realised, bummer, I really did want to do a half in my home city! I was a bit gutted, knowing I’d see my friends posts about it and have race envy.
But then – Yay! Gadget got injured!! Oops, I mean, gosh, I hope his back gets better soon, how unfortunate…very generous of him to give me his entry though! 😉
My first half marathon of the year, and only my third ever, I was probably a bit too casual about it, finding out just a few days before I’d be running it. Had I been doing the long runs, intentionally building up my mileage and then tapering? Nope. Did I have road shoes that I’d tested out on those (non existent) long runs beforehand, that didn’t give me horrendously painful blisters/bleeding feet? Nope. Had I bought a new sports bra, since mine had got too big to be useful (sorry boys) after losing a bit of weight from running? Nope. Had I tested out the gel I was going to use, prior to the race? ….again, a big fat nope. Basically, everything they tell you to do to prepare for a half, and not try out on race day, I did wrong! After all, I’d (barely) survived two, how hard could it be?!
Mentally, I was approaching it more as a “hey, let’s see what happens” run, to make myself do some mileage before the upcoming Cardiff world half.
So imagine my surprise when everything went exceedingly well, and I even managed to shave a shocking fifteen minutes off my time from my previous half in October! I think, post race analysis, because I was so relaxed, I could just soak up the atmosphere, and enjoy what I was doing and why I was doing it, thinking about my research into sexual violence, and that made me run better, run more focused, more relaxed, and lose the pressure I put on myself and the anxiety that sometimes comes when I have a big race.
It’s a good metaphor for life. If you’re freaking out, over-thinking something, putting pressure and whipping yourself to go faster, harder, better, all the time – you’ll burn yourself out. You’re unlikely to be enjoying the journey of life, and when you come to the end of a season you’ll think, thank goodness I (barely) survived.
But what if life should be more than that? Taking the attitudinal approach that says, hey, I’m here, this is what I’ve got and I’m going to give it my best shot, enjoy the journey, and remember what my purpose is and what I care about. Taking in all the moments that you miss when you’re too focused on the wrong things; living fully present in the moment, remembering why you’re here and what you’re doing, staying focused throughout.
The race itself was classically ‘Port. What I mean by that, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the city that’s lovingly known as chav central, is that, the race started with a motivational meander through Pill – where onlookers studied runners disapprovingly, dressed in pyjamas, whilst taking a drag on their smoke. Some looked like they were just getting home from the previous night’s antics. Runners held on their iPods tightly, and ran extra fast to leave the ‘hood. Then, running past the roundabout where last year cannabis plants were found growing in the city’s floral display, we made our way through to the nicer parts and on to Caerleon, a semi-famous ancient roman town with its own ancient amphitheatre. A guy got all up in my personal space, literally rubbing my arm and following me when I sped up, swearing and spitting, and as we passed the psychiatric hospital he whispered, “I used to live round here”.
I was pretty annoyed when we passed the bagpiper, because he was having a rest. Sorry buddy, did playing a couple of tunes tire you out, whilst we are 15kms into a half marathon and yearning for the finish line?! Made a mental note to request a refund, until I remembered I hadn’t paid.
I’d split the race up in my head as four Parkruns and a cooldown, and I was pumped when I got to that final parkrun! Especially when I passed a friend who runs for a rival club – he’s always previously been much faster than me – don’t tell him, but I was secretly guilty of feeling slightly smug as I passed him – I was all like, well done Scottish, you’ve got this, you’re running strong mate! Because that’s what runners do – we cheer each other on and we are so excited for everyone who’s out there, everyone who’s pushing themselves and reaching goals and giving it a go (even when we are inwardly slightly pleased to have “beaten” someone, we’d never admit that!).
Although slightly anticlimactic as the race setup meant there was no one there to cheer you in, crossing the finish line was a great feeling, especially realising that I’d somehow accidentally managed to smash my PB. Although it made me slightly worried about how hard I’ll have to work at Cardiff! I found a few friends who’d also just finished and we high-fived all round, celebrating our having just run 21,1kms while most people were still in bed.
Side note, in case you missed my earlier post and you’re wondering why the heck I’m blogging about races, #crazylady. I’m doing 30 races for 30 years, to raise awareness of sex trafficking and fundraise for an awesome anti-trafficking NGO, A21.
I did the math when I was making my way round the course. (It’s 2 hours of running, you get a lot of thinking time!) Rather than put myself out here like this, asking people to donate, having to write regular updates and plan my time and race calendar super carefully, I could have just made a private donation of what I’ll be spending this year in race related expenses. I wanted to – it would have been so much easier. The races I enter vary in cost from approximately £15 to £50. Then on top of that, there’s petrol, parking, running gear (which, admittedly, I’d be buying anyway!), etc. Say, as a conservative guess, I spend on average £30 per race. For 30 races, that’s £900. I could round it off, save throughout the year, and make a private donation to A21 of £1000. Remind me why I’m putting myself through this again?! Oh yeah, because it’s not just about the money (and I hope I’m able to triple that £1000 investment, – I’m covering all race costs myself). It’s also about highlighting the work that A21 does, in assisting and rehabilitating people who have been trafficked into the sex industry, often experiencing physical violence, threats, coercion and suffering physical and psychological health problems . It’s about telling people, hey, you may have thought slavery was abolished, and although it’s a good thing that most of us don’t want to live in a world where people are forced into prostitution, we cannot ignore that it still goes on, all the time, and it happens everywhere, it’s just been driven underground and is linked with dangerous criminal networks. I’m not doing this challenge to make myself seem noble, and I definitely don’t want anyone to feel like they need to donate to something that they don’t personally resonate with. But I do consider it an important life goal of mine to be vocal about this issue, to share narratives of those who have been trafficked, to show how you can be aware of the signs to spot potential cases of trafficking.
So yeah. It’d be a lot more convenient for me to make a private one off donation, and a lot less effort in justifying what I’m doing and why, of having to stretch my time even further, of training hard and disciplining myself, overcoming fear and challenges, writing countless blogs, feeling vulnerable as I wonder whether people even care about what I’m doing and why this is important enough to me to mark my 30th birthday. But I can’t let those fears and insecurities and apathy stop me, because it’s important that you know. It’s important that you hear the stories, that you take notice of the oppression, sexual and gender-based violence, forced prostitution, preying upon vulnerable people, important that you too take responsibility in putting an end to this injustice. Until every woman is free from forced prostitution.