Severn Bridge Half Marathon was a big deal for me. The anniversary of my first half marathon, completing Severn Bridge last year was when in my mind I became a “real” runner. Despite having completed several since that first, and many more races besides, I had, once again, a nervous knot in my belly for this race.
I didn’t have the ideal pre-race preparation. The intensity of the week’s mileage had taken its toll on my poor legs, which were feeling a little tired and unloved. The night before the race, I decided that curry and beer were the perfect pre-race nutrition, much to the bemusement of other runners, who assured me they’d be running downwind, and asked if this was the kind of expert nutrition that got Team GB so many golds at Rio.
In all honesty, I think it was yet another attempt at self-sabotage. If I’m feeling nervous or pressured about anything, I have this weird destructive philosophy that if I don’t try, then I can’t be disappointed that I didn’t reach my goals. And unfortunately, that plays out so often in my running in lack of pre-race preparation or actively making choices that I know will hurt me the next day (like reaching for one more beer and staying up late to watch the Bourne Ultimatum).
As I found myself at the starting line of the Severn Bridge half, nursing a bad mood and a hangover (I’m such a lightweight!), I tried to keep my head in check. I reminded myself that whatever happened out there today, I’ve had the best year running and I’ve come a long way in that time, physically and mentally. Feeling slightly queasy, I picked up more with each step, and wondered if perhaps running was the best cure for a hangover.
The route of the half had to be changed this year at the eleventh hour due to road closures and circumstances beyond the control of the organisers. They worked tirelessly in the background to ensure we had an alternative to run, planning routes, placating locals, and moving heaven and earth to keep the event happening.
This year, we started further back, with more motorway and bridge to run (value for money!). The course went across the bridge, along the Old Severn passage (with not an insignificant undulation in it!) back again and over the bridge, through Thornwell to cut down into a loop round Mathern, before returning up the same way via “the dark mile”, which felt much darker climbing our way back up it! A glorious stretch down the link road led into a quick duck under the underpass, with the same home run finale into the wonderfully supportive and fun atmosphere of the event village.
I crossed the line in 2.03.18 – 20 minutes to the second faster than the time of 2.23.18 at my first half last year. I couldn’t have planned for that! Although definitely not a PB, I gave myself a mental pat on the back and vowed never to have curry and beer the night before a race. Well, at least not curry. Beer, maybe!
What I love so much about this race is the home field advantage. Organised by Rogue Runs, with fellow Harriers and friends instrumental to hosting the event, there were so many familiar faces on the course. I proudly wore my Chepstow Harriers top, and felt the support of so many cheering me on.
As I ran the Severn Bridge Half, I reflected on the past year. I’d gone from being a new runner, feeling very insecure about my fitness and body shape, not really knowing what the future held and feeling frustrated with the season I was in, to feeling such accomplishment that I’d now been running for over a year, I was raising awareness for a cause I care about, and was also finally completing my Masters. I’d wanted to do postgraduate study for years, and it was the day after the half marathon last year that I bit the bullet and applied, promptly forgetting all about it. I was quite shocked when I received my acceptance email a fortnight later, informing me I started the following week!
I wonder what a year in the life of a sex trafficking victim looks like. A21 provides safe houses and longer term transition homes which assist with those who have been recovered from sex trafficking to rehabilitate, and many will stay for several months as they rebuild their lives, health, psychological wellbeing, and find a safe place to move forward. That year is one of recovery and rediscovering freedom whilst in a safe and supportive environment.
I’m running these 30 challenge races to raise money for the charity A21, who combat sex trafficking through their four-fold strategy of prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership. To be doing this running challenge alongside studying and working has definitely been a stretch, but it’s made perfect sense that while I am conducting academic research into sex trafficking, I’m also doing something practical to hopefully make a difference by running these challenge races and then writing about them. It’s not fluffy kittens or cute puppies and it has definitely been a stretch on my time, finance, and emotions, but I am so glad to be doing it. Thank you so much to all those who have supported me so far in my journey, whether through donations, encouragement, or reading the blog. I really appreciate every single one of you!
PS. In case you’re wondering about the title of the blog, this was the first of two half marathons in two days! The second instalment is on its way 😉
PPS. In case you’ve missed any, here’s a list of my races so far that make up my 30 races for 30 years challenge:
A21 Muskathlon Half Marathon, Bulgaria/Greece (Race 9 – blog to follow)
Man Vs Horse, Powys (Race 10 – blog to follow)
Severn Bridge Half Marathon, Monmouthshire (Race 14)
South Wales Trails Half Marathon, Rhondda Cynon Taf (Race 15 – blog to follow)
Forest of Dean Autumn Half Marathon (Race 18 – blog to follow)
Mendip Muddle (Race 19 – blog to follow)
Nightingale Nightmare (Race 20 – blog to follow)