I think about a year ago I signed up for the World Championships in Half Marathon. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and given the time that I had to prepare I even felt that it was realistic for me to expect to be able to run under 1:30. About 4 months after that I dropped running and promptly forgot about ever signing up for the race. I remembered about it just 9 days before the race. I could see that there was a ton of people getting rid of their race numbers online and that the only real option was to just race. Although I did swing back and forth an awful lot on that decision (the fact that I wrote it on Facebook that I was racing meant that there was no chickening out) I am really glad I did end up running. Even though I haven’t been able to walk properly for a couple of days now I am pleased I stuck to my decision. Why? Well for a couple of reasons but I will get to that later.
I won’t bore you with too many details about what happened before we actually started. Suffice it to say that 30,000 people squeezed into a street makes for some interesting logistics when it comes to things like warming up, toilets (some used them, some didn’t), hydration etc. The fast guys, the ones that run 21 km at a pace faster than I can run 2 km at, started 12 minutes before me. It took 4 minutes before we even started walking towards the start, so I can’t imagine what it was like for the 20-25,000 people behind me.
I was fixed on a plan. Pacing is extremely important in running, get it wrong and you may end up walking or worst case scenario not even finishing. I figured five minutes per kilometer would be an attainable goal and not leave me injured. So accordingly my starting group was also the 1:45 finish time group. Although straight off the start everyone else in the group ran just a little faster than me. But I kept telling myself to stick to the plan. I had been told (many years ago) to run these kinds of races like a horse with blinders on. Shut everyone else out and focus on what is ‘your’ race. So for the first 5 km’s or so I ran beautiful 5min km’s, the whole time slowly being passed by people, but still confident in my pacing and my plan. It was at the 5 km mark that I noticed that my gps watch and the km markers were exactly agreeing and that I was actually about 30seconds off my mark. So I started to pick it up a bit and get back on schedule. As I hit the 9km mark, had gotten the lost time back and hadn’t started to notice any serious pain anywhere I decided to change the plan. Something Kenneth Carlsen had written me, about the motor (mine) being good, had gotten me to thinking about the fact that regardless of whether I ran fast or slow my legs were going to suffer the next couple of days, but physically, aerobically, I could run faster than I was. So I changed the plan and started to pick up the pace. Now, we aren’t talking anything crazy here, just around 15 seconds faster per km, but it certainly felt like it. My ego was in heaven, now it was me doing the passing. I often have some kind of sprint left in my legs at the end of any race, regardless of how hard I feel like I have pushed myself. But with this many people on the road your top speed was limited so I decided that I would put my ‘kick’ in at the 19km mark with just over 2km to go. Again I felt godlike as more people fell behind me. Well at least I did until, looking down Frederiksberg Allé, I did a quick mental calculation as to how far I thought it was to the finish line and figured that under 2km was a bit unrealistic so I check my watch. The ’19km kick’ came at the 18km sign and I was going to have to stretch it another kilometer longer than I had thought (there was going to be no talk of slowing down again). My legs held out, I didn’t cramp (close, but no cigar) and I crossed with a time of 1:42:04.
Why was I glad I ran though? To begin with, the experience of partaking in such a huge event. Streets lined with people cheering at the mad mass of runners jogging by. It was amazing, and I was kicking myself that I didn’t have a camera to record any of it. We were handed out emergency blankets at the end of the race as the thousands of runners that had just streamed across the line moved onwards towards hydration, snacks and clean clothes. The sight and sound of those people, covered in plastic foil, for as far as I could see was not something I will forget in a hurry.
After we had gotten blankets, water, and an apple, a woman came up to me and asked ‘would you like a beer?’ I couldn’t believe my ears! I thought this was just something that happened at Single Speed events (and Cyclocross World Championships). Handing out free beers after such a grueling ordeal. Well that was until I got a closer look at it…