Yesterday I ran the Bristol Half Marathon, after a few weeks of niggling, persisting injuries and frustration at being unable to run for any length of time.
Because I'd been having some problems with shin splints, I've spent the last couple of weeks working on my legs in the gym, with the idea of strengthening up the rest of the supporting muscles. I think it paid off - during the couple of runs I managed last week (the first after about two weeks of no running at all), I felt really strong and felt like I had a good, easy technique down. This may have had some kind of psychological connection to the amount of reading and general thinking about running I'd been doing while I couldn't actually get out to do it.
On the day, I ran with my brother (who doesn't run really very much) and neither of us had any specific time goals in mind; we just wanted to finish the race without keeling over! Joe lives in Bristol, so we just walked down to the start line from his apartment with his keys and a tenner tucked into the belt of my shorts. I realise this next sentence might sound incredibly pretentious, but: I got a weird kind of satisfaction that we ran the race with minimal baggage, surrounded by a crowd of people with heart rate monitors, water belts and Kinesio tape... I know all of this stuff has its place, it was just nice that we ran like it was any other Sunday run that I'd do at home (although a lot flatter!).
When we run together, my brother and I both run slightly faster than we would do alone - probably a slight brotherly rivalry, I guess - so we really tried to restrain ourselves pace-wise for the first few miles. Obviously, with it being a fairly large race, we spent a bit of time turning up the heat to get past slower runners by hopping up and down pavements etc., but generally we tried to conserve as much as possible. We got to the halfway split with a time on the big LED clock of just on one hour, so in pretty much the only race-tactics move of the day, we figured we should get a shimmy on for the second half. The majority of the course was pretty flat, so we didn't have to consider pacing on inclines, which helped.
When we got to the last three miles or so, Joe (who'd been struggling with his own calf injury recently), really started to flag and need a bit more encouragement to keep going. I stuck with him and the race switched from us laughing and joking along the way to a steady stream of 'come on mate, not far now' and 'you've got this'; it got to the point at the finish line where I felt like although we crossed the line together, he'd run a much harder race. We crossed the line at just over two hours, cementing our big rookie mistake that had started at the halfway point - because of the number of runners, we'd crossed the start line about ten minutes after the clocks had started, making our actual time 1:51:20.
I'm dead happy with this. A couple of people have asked whether I think I could have run it faster without running it with Joe (I was feeling good and strong right to the end), but the answer is that I don't know - although the last part of the race was definitely slower because of his injury, I might not have paced myself as quickly for the first part had he not been there. I'm glad to have finished my first competitive race in a respectable time (I think); I'm also glad that I feel pretty much ok today, apart from some tightness around my ankles - I might have mentioned this before, but I've definitely noticed that running in the Fivefingers, I don't really get any leg trouble from my knees upwards any more.
Now, it's onwards and upwards. I've entered for a shorter, off-road race at the end of this month and will be entering for at least more half marathons in the coming months, while I carry on running further than that around home - this is for enjoyment, rather than competition, after all :)