This year’s Exeter Half couldn’t have been more different to last year. Except, yknow, half the route being underwater and therefore switched to a 3x out-and-back along a canal path. Whilst this meant it was almost entirely flat, the repetition (and being lapped twice by the leading runners) made the course a bit demoralising!
We also had a bit of a kerfuffle at the start. We got there 20 minutes before the race began, and decided to pop to the loos. The loos were directly across the river from the start/finish – but the problem was that the nearest bridge was a good few hundred metres away, and when we got to the loos at the race headquarters (the public loos that the event used last year were shut), there was a long queue for just 1 ladies’ cubicle. Typically, the men didn’t have to queue at all! We ended up having to make a dash for the start line after the quickest loo stop of my life, which meant adding half a mile or so onto our run before the event even begun! This would have been a perfect warmup, but due to having about 2 minutes to get to the start line, we ended up practically sprinting it. I think my brain then decided I was running a 5k, as I somehow clocked a sub-10-minute first mile. My usual mistake!
But moaning aside, we were extremely lucky this year. Whilst the rest of the week has been constant rain, wind and storms, today was PERFECT running weather. Cold (frosty and icy in the shade for the first lap!), bright sunshine, and just a slight breeze. The route looked beautiful! Last year it was grey and wet for the whole day, and the puddles were awful. I had also never run more than 12 miles prior to the event, which meant I was a lot less prepared than this time round!
The volunteers made my day. They all made me SO HAPPY! They smiled, clapped, and cheered every single runner along. I even got some encouragement from the faster runners as they passed me on the last lap, which really helped! There were a couple of girls at the far end (the turning point) that were absolutely brilliant. Even though I was struggling by the last turn, they made me laugh out loud more than once! So THANK YOU, you wonderful people. It’s definitely the volunteers that make a race, and the ones at Exeter are the most awesome bunch that I’ve seen yet!
Whilst the first lap was pretty good, I was extremely close to pulling out at the end of the second one. I’ve genuinely never considered pulling out of a race so seriously before. I had started to take walking breaks, as my hamstring and glute decided to start cramping. Ironically, I’ve never had pain in those areas during training, and the usually niggly areas were fine! But going through the start/finish area, there were so many people clapping and smiling and urging us to continue that I ended up heading back out on the last lap without really thinking about it. Which was good, as my parents had long since disappeared off into the distance, and I was starting to find it pretty hard! It was brill towards the turn around point though, as they both gave me a huge hug as they passed me. Just what I needed at that point! Running alone is tough enough on a good day, but when you start to struggle it can be very easy to slip into a darker state of mind. The atmosphere, runners and volunteers really helped me to avoid that, which made SUCH a difference.
On the last stretch, I got to about 11 miles and had started to run/walk between little landmarks (lamp posts, mile markers, bins, marks on the ground …) I really wanted to keep running all the way to the finish, given I was already into double digits, but my legs were beginning to feel heavy and tight (which was really frustrating, given that I ran a hilly 13.5 miles last Sunday with no issues. Pffft!) It didn’t help that the start/finish area was full of people, whilst the far end was deserted!
But there was a woman on the route who I had been constantly swapping places with for the last lap or so, as we had both started to take walking breaks. She came up behind me at around 11.5 miles and started to chat – and wow, what a boost! We made a deal with each other to keep going and not take another walking break, and we actually did it! We ran the last mile and a half at a sub-11-minute pace (honestly, pretty good by that point) and didn’t walk once. She really kept me going – I mean, once you’re accountable to someone, you can’t let them down! If I hadn’t been so sweaty and disgusting by the end, I would have actually hugged her. What a lovely, lovely woman. Whoever you are, THANK YOU – and a virtual high five for speeding up even more for the last .2! I’ll definitely be returning the favour in future events. It’s amazing what a difference a smile or a few words can make when a run gets tough.
Moments like that remind me just what a fantastic community our sport has. Runners really seem to stick together, and help each other along. I even had people urging me on and offering encouragement when I passed them – I can’t see that happening in many other sports! It’s like a big, crazy family. I love it.
So I made it! 13.24 miles (hey, it was 13.25 last year – we’ll get to a half marathon eventually!) in 2:24:30, making it a PB by 4 minutes – to the second! And whilst there were no creme eggs this year, the medal is awesome. Stars, dude! STARS!
Overall, it was a fantastic day. I’ll definitely be back again next year – and I suggest you sign up, too! We might even get to run the original route next time ..