I can hardly believe that the Tunbridge Wells 1/2 came around so quickly. I've been training so hard for my marathons that it just sort of sneaked up on me. Last year I ran my worst time ever for a 1/2 marathon there and I really didn't want to repeat that experience!
Before the start I was chatting to Mimi Anderson an amazing ultra runner whose progress I followed avidly when she completed a run from John O'Groats to Lands End gaining a Guinness World Record for the fastest time. As we chatted she marvelled at my own GWR for knitting whilst running the london marathon and it made me chuckle when she took a photo of me for her blog!
It was a glorious day; sunny and bright but not too hot and with no wind. Perfect running weather. I felt good at the start and settled into my pace well. I was aiming for an average of 9.5 minute miling which meant that on flat bits I had to run something beginning with a 9, on the downhills it was something beginning with an 8 so that on the uphills I could just dig in and plod up them.
I reached mile 6 in 57 minutes which was spot on with my pacing. Then came Spring Hill which is just a long slow upward drag for 1.5 miles. I probably must have lost a few more minutes there than I expected and didn't recover them because by the time I hit 10 miles my pace had slowed to 10 minute miling. How annoying. Then my mind started playing silly beggars with me and I failed to increase my pace so I decided to treat the last 3 miles as a marathon pace tester and not worry too much about it.
About that time I passed Tiger and Snoop Dog and Tiger shouted that they were just trotting around slowly. I grunted something about their 'trot' was my sprint and said we'd meet up at the finish.
I finished in 2:10:54 which again was slow but at least it was 2 minutes faster than last year. I did manage to sprint the last 100m as a woman came alongside me as if to overtake and I thought "no way lady" and just took off with a big smile on my face.
Now being a slower runner I am quite used to the crowd having dwindled at the finish and the 'celebrity' having disappeared so it was a lovely surprise to have a good crowd cheering me home and then as I crossed the finish line to be greeted by the warm and friendly smile of a nice young man whose face I recognised but couldn't put a name to straightaway.
He beamed at me and said "well done" and put the medal around my neck, then he said "no, really well done" and shook my hand. His warmth and generous praise made me feel so special that I completely forgot that actually I was quite cross to only have knocked 2 minutes off my time rather than the 4 minutes I'd planned.
I toddled off wondering who he was and just happened to turn round and on looking back I saw he was a double amputee, wearing racing blades - it was Richard Whitehead an amazing and inspirational athlete!
The most interesting thing about that encounter for me was that I simply didn't notice that he didn't have lower legs. All I saw was a warm and friendly face who was genuinely pleased at my own personal achievement.
On his website he says "My aim is to use London 2012 as platform to inspire people from all walks of life. This includes not only disabled athletes, but able-bodied ones too – anyone who may want to get out there and run. I am living proof, that with enough desire and determination, any obstacle can be overcome." He truly is a great ambassador for the sport and I hope he achieves great things at the Olympics, though sadly I believe he won't be allowed to take part in the marathon.
Why am I making so much of this encounter? Well, it's because I understand his frustration at being referred to as 'disabled' rather than as the athlete that he clearly is. He does not feel less able-bodied and he has proved time and time again what a tremendous athlete he is. In my own little world I am a 'fun runner' because I run marathons for charity. My frustration with this soubriquet, which is used to define anyone other than the speedier runners, is that it does not give any credit to the amount of training that we slower runners do and seems to denigrate our achievements. Do we not also complete the 26.2 miles of the marathon? Yes, we jolly well do. Rant over!
Thank you Richard, you will inspire me to achieve my goals this year.
I also saw the wonderful Johnny J who I chat to on the Runner's World forum and who gives me lots of advice. When I told him that I was disappointed with my time and really wanted a pb at Paddock Wood in 5 weeks he went home and wrote me a schedule that I could incorporate into my marathon plan. He also said that if he decided to run it that he will pace me for part of the way. Thanks JJ.