Running Commentary: Tough but fun? Not half

Running Commentary: Tough but fun? Not half

October 6, 2014
Team Ealing at the Ealing Half Marathon

Andy Mahony caught the running bug a couple of years ago. He works with the council’s public health team. In Running Commentary, he shares his favourite running routes and parks, as well as tips he has picked up while being overtaken by a speeding Santa and nipped at by geese. And then there are all the other weird and wonderful things he encounters along the way.

After months of training, the day of the long-awaited Ealing Half Marathon finally arrived on Sunday, 28 September. My big moment was here.

Lammas Park was already teeming with people when I arrived shortly after 8am. The sky was a near clear blue, the sun was already shining and it was warm – a little too warm, as we would all soon discover.

There was a tremendous atmosphere and sense of community, with thousands of runners wearing the t-shirts and running vests of their chosen charity, and nearly all adorned with poignant yellow ribbons.

Kindness, goodwill and empathy

‘A sense of community’ can be a hackneyed phrase, but in Lammas Park that Sunday morning with more than 6,000 people from near and far, there was a genuine, palpable sense  of kindness, goodwill and empathy.  There was clearly a lot more to this half marathon than 13.1 miles.

And, so, as 9am drew ever closer and the warm-up exercises were completed, we all headed to our respective starting pens and pacer groups. Each pen has a pace runner with a clear sign showing the time they will complete the race in. The idea is to pick the pace runner most suited to your ability and try to stick with them throughout the race. This should prevent you running too quickly early on in the race and tiring yourself out too soon: A common problem, I’m reliably informed.

A few miles into the race I was very pleased I’d followed a proper training plan, eaten healthily and stayed off the booze. It was all paying off. As I passed the six, seven and eight mile markers my breathing was fine, the legs were doing a good job of holding me up and moving me forward, and my energy levels were holding out well.

Spurred on by the crowds

The crowds of spectators lining the route did a fantastic job of spurring us on, with shouts of encouragement, offers of sweets to help those depleted sugar levels, and some hearty clapping as we all filed past. I remember thinking that their hands will be sorer than my feet if they keep that clapping up for the entire race.

As we headed down Woodfield Road towards Pitshanger Lane, one front garden had a stereo beating out The Eye of the Tiger. Never let it be said that a bit of 80s American rock won’t put a smile on your face a few miles in to a half marathon. It will, and we must thank Survivor and the people of Woodfield Road for it.

A little after 10.20am (and an hour and 20 minutes of continuous running) my pace group hit the nine-mile mark as we approached the Bunny Park in Hanwell. By now it was getting hot – very hot, as evidenced by the buckets of sweat that seemed to be pouring out of runners all around me.  Water stations are a welcome sight at such times and grabbing a bottle from a volunteer by the Bunny Park gave some small relief. But, with four miles to go, I was finally starting to feel the strain.

Give up or go on?

It’s at this point that a bit of self-analysis and psychology came into play. I asked myself how I felt on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being unable to go on a moment more, and one being as good as new. I decided I was no more than a six, and this was a reasonable place to be when just over three-quarters of the way round a half marathon. And so, with a renewed sense of perspective, a bottle of water and some steely determination I soldiered on towards Argyle Road. The pace runner was starting to edge ahead a little, but I was not overly concerned because the gap was not too great.

Turning left off Argyle Road, I ran past a pub and resisted the urge to nip in for a swift half; it was then along Gordon Road and the Uxbridge Road before winding down the side streets of Northfields and back towards Lammas Park.

There is no denying the last mile and a half was tough. At times it felt that little more than sheer determination was propelling me forward. I saw many runners slow down to a walk, but I was determined to keep running for the entire race. And I did so, crossing the finish line in two hours and 34 seconds. My target time had been two hours or less, but given that many runners said the heat made it the toughest year yet, I’m still quite pleased with my time.

The aftermath…

A bite to eat, some much needed water and a few stretching exercises started the recovery process. Fortunately, the muscles were not too sore in the following days and the few aches and pains, which are to be expected, were a small price to pay for such a fantastic experience and a great sense of achievement.

Sadly, a few days after the race I learned that one participant had passed away. I decided to go for a gentle half-hour jog around Northfields. This didn’t only help with the old leg muscles but was a good way to reflect on the event itself. With world mental health day approaching on the 10 October I was reminded that physical activity can also improve your mental wellbeing and help you to better cope when times are tough. Connecting with those around you is also great for good mental health, as is giving to others and setting yourself a few realistic challenges.

I think that is why events like the Ealing Half Marathon are about so much more than the race itself.  They help you reflect on your experiences, appreciate what matters to you and see yourself as part of a wider community. My ‘Team Ealing’ colleagues and I have so far raised more than £3,000 for Cancer Research UK. Many of the runners raised money for the Alzheimer’s Society and countless other charities and good causes were supported too.

Whilst I will definitely sign up for other running events (I’m now toying with the idea of a full marathon) it’s the ‘The Ealing Half’ that will be the highlight of my running calendar.

This is the third year it has been superbly organised and managed. Long may it continue; and a big thank you to all the hundreds of volunteers who made it possible.