Luke Bartlett: Team spirit got me to run
Pizza, sweets and lots of energy drinks. It sounds like the kind of diet I maintained steadily throughout high school and University. A diet that should have been abandoned long ago. Not the diet of someone about to run their first half marathon.
But just one week out and it was all too easy to stuff my face with takeaways and drink more energy drinks than any human should.
In fact, since starting my training, my consumption of these sweet cans has dramatically increased. I’m a two-a-day man now. I know, I know. I’m going to keel over and have a heart attack soon. But their convenience wasn’t something that could be overlooked.
The Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon has hit its 10-year anniversary. Starting in Wolverhampton’s Broad Street, myself and the other 1,500-odd of those who entered ran 13.1 miles of canal path to that beautiful finish line in Birmingham’s Brindley Place. Painful, gritty, plain hard work but there was the hope that I would at least enjoy the route.
I don’t know much about running. Obviously one foot goes in front of the other and at a faster pace than walking. But getting technical about XX-minute-miles, heart rate levels, or the fact your £500 fitness monitor watch estimates you have burnt more than your daily calorie intake is all lost on me.
Back in December the decision was made: I was going to give this whole running thing a serious crack so an investment was made into some decent running shoes. A heads up for anyone else in this position – when researching where to spend your hard-earned cash, you can lose a whole lot of time, and I mean a WHOLE lot of time procrastinating over footwear. I think It was more than a week before I even settled on a colour of shoe. As if a particular shade of blue or orange would somehow prove the most pivotal part of the run.
But doing your research can be good. There are some really helpful shoe reviews on YouTube. Entire channels dedicated to reviewing running shoes. One channel, TheGingerRunner, boasts more than 470 videos, all dedicated to running. More than 150 of these were running gear reviews. So you can see how this could complicate matters too.
And when I did settle on a pair of running shoe, they weren’t cheap. But if you’re seriously considering putting hours of training in and then running in an event, you’re going to want the best protection and comfort for your feet. I learnt this the hard way after spending three weeks in some old battered pair of trainers. With almost no support for the soles, let’s just say my feet took a trip to blister city and it wasn’t nice.
You soon get a taste for running though. The wireless headphones, running tights – yes tights! — the new shoes and fluorescent tops. I certainly looked the part, but it’s easy to forget the vital next step. To run Forrest run!
You have to put in some serious foot-to-road time if you ever think you’re going to survive it. Starting out on a short route – which I later discovered to be two miles – I’d convinced myself I was running five miles every time. That every run I battled through ‘must have been five miles’.
In reality this wasn’t a bad way of getting me started. I felt better, and sure enough, talking myself into eventually running about seven miles comfortably pre-event. This was despite consistently indulging in copious amounts of junk food.
The day before the half marathon I found myself doubling my regular calorie intake with all the delicious goodies you can imagine. It was my inner fat boy’s dream and nothing, not even a guilty conscience, could spoil it.
A 700-calorie breakfast of all the good stuff — Greek yoghurt, muesli, bananas and honey – all-too-eagerly followed by a greasy, calorie heavy McDonald’s. The milkshake alone was a 600-calorie cup of heaven. There was a box of Pop-Tarts somewhere in there, and maybe an Easter egg too.
But first-time runners, be warned, the appetite soon disappears when you realise on the morning of the event you have to actually endure the 13-mile course. The knees felt tight, the chest felt tighter. It was crunch time.
But, it turns out there was no need to worry. On the run, there was this strange atmosphere, an unforgettable one that will see you through to the bitter end and if you’re lucky enough, make a champion out of you. I was in the zone, focused on myself, absolutely determined to single-handedly take this run by storm hoping that at no point it would catch me out. Along the way there is camaraderie with fellow runners and it’s these momentary friendships that really help you run the distance.
There was the elderly gentleman who looked in way better shape than myself, who at mile four, decided he’d give me a ‘keep going mate’.
When overtaking him at mile 10 we exchanged a respectful nod. And then those leaning from canal boats shouting: ‘Go on lad!’ at mile 12, or even those standing out by the finish line since the race began, in the heat, applauding strangers like they were family. The staff, the crowd, the runners, everyone rallied round.
I lost track of the amount of times I broke out into a smile on that run.
And that was the beauty of the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon. Not the medal, or the bragging rights, but instead the open-armed ‘let’s get each other through it’ attitude of the participants and crowds. The community spirit was not something I had been used to in fitness previously, just the ego-fuelled competitive gym weight rooms across the country. So it has been an absolute pleasure to take part in the 10-year anniversary run, and I’m sorry legs, but it’s already got me thinking about training for my next event.