What I learned from from my first half marathon

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I am ashamed to say that I actually wasn’t able to watch the inaugural Stirling Marathon in 2017. I was back at home studying for a particularly nasty journalism law exam, and missed out on all the excitement of seeing the event come to Stirling for the very first time. However, thanks to the power of social media, I was able to see photos and clips online of the race as it was happening.

I was inspired. A little voice in my head told me that if these runners could do it, why couldn’t I?

When it was announced that part of this year’s event would be Stirling’s first half marathon, I knew this was my chance. It seemed pretty apt that Stirling’s first half marathon would be my first half marathon too.

The date was just a couple of weeks after my final dissertation deadline, so I saw it as an ideal way to celebrate completing my degree and ending my time in Stirling. What better way of saying goodbye to a place that had been my home for four years than by running through its glorious scenery?

Now that the race is over and my legs have (almost) recovered, here’s what I learned from completing my first ever half marathon.

Preparation is key

This wouldn’t be my first running event – I completed the Strathcarron 10K on campus back in October – but this would be the biggest challenge I had set myself to date. I knew that without appropriate training I would, quite simply, crash and burn. I made myself a training plan, aiming to get out running two or three times a week while gradually building up my mileage.

This wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds – unseasonable snowstorms and a three-week-long cold did hinder my training a little. But by the time I got to the day of the race, I could comfortably run nine miles, and I knew I would be able to push myself to do the rest. I wasn’t so bothered about my time – I was just wanting to get from A to B, which for someone as unsporty as myself would still be an achievement.

After spending the week before resting up, keeping hydrated, and eating as much pasta as I could feasibly manage, I was ready for race day.

Organise your transport to the race

After all of that training, it would have been heart-breaking to miss the race. So it makes me feel sick to think that I almost did.

Do bear in mind that at big events such as this there may be road closures and no public transport, so getting to the start line can be trickier than you think.

After calling every taxi company in Stirling, I found one that was willing to take me to the start line – or as close as it could get with the road closures. But on Sunday morning it didn’t seem like such good luck as the clock ticked closer to the start of the race time and my taxi was nowhere to be seen.

Made it to the start line. Just. Credit: Craig Wright

By the time the taxi arrived, twenty minutes late, I was stressed. I managed to get to the start line just as the warm-up was beginning, but I really could have done without the last-minute panic.

Learn from my mistake, and make sure you have the means to get to the start line in plenty of time. You don’t want your race to be over before it has even begun!

Feel the burn – and push through it

I knew that this was going to be a tough challenge, but it didn’t feel like that at the beginning of the route. The other runners, the cheering crowds, and the blasting music meant that you were swept along for the first few miles, and you were able to take in the atmosphere and just enjoy it.

Keeping everyone on track were the Duracell Bunny pacers, complete with fluffy pink ears. They were stationed along the streams of runners, and kept everybody motivated and on track. I stuck to the 2 hours 15 minutes ones like glue for most of the race to keep myself on pace.

One good thing about the beautiful Stirlingshire route (apart from the stunning backdrop) was that there weren’t any hills – my running archnemesis. I was able to keep a pretty consistent speed on the route out of Stirling, along the Hillfoots, and then back again.

It was around mile ten that my legs really started to hurt, as I pushed myself further than I had ever gone before. Coincidentally, this was also when the refreshing drizzle turned into a light downpour.

But I knew I only had a few more miles to go and then it would all be over. It was actually this thought that gave me a final burst of speed, blasting through the packed streets of Stirling and towards the finish line. I crossed the line two hours and 13 minutes after I started, and I was thrilled.

Enjoy the little moments

The crowds cheering and giving out handfuls of Haribo to tired runners. People holding signs supporting loved ones, or sometimes just everyone. Meeting another Amy with a pink race number in the queue for the portaloos. Crossing the finish line and immediately spotting Sam Heughan surrounded by fans asking for selfies. Putting on the medal that I’d earned for running further than I’d even run before. Seeing the marathon and half marathon winners on the podium getting presented with their hard-won medals.

It was the little things that made the day so amazing. I ran 13.1 miles, but it wasn’t just about the race.

Will I be back next year? I now have it on camera saying I’d be keen for the full marathon (thanks Craig), but I think I’d be up for that challenge. I’ll have to wait and see whether I’ll return to the town of my alma mater and run the streets of Stirling again.

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