If someone had told me 4 months ago that I would ever be running a half marathon, I would probably have taken it as a joke. 21k or 13.1 miles just seemed like an impossible distance to me to run in one distance. Yet here I am, few days after the Oxford Half on 7th Oct, with sore legs but a great feeling of accomplishment.
How did I get into it?
I started as a total amateur runner around 2 years ago, when I stopped doing my other sports (ballet and rhythmic gymnastics) and was looking for something to keep me fit. I was never good at sports that required a lot of stamina, and so in the beginning, running for more than 10 minutes was already dreadful. But the great thing about running is that one can train up really quickly – even after 2 to 3 runs it is possible to see the progress.
As our JCR’s Charities Rep, I publicized the Half Marathon as a fundraising opportunity with RAG, but it was only after a friend of mine asked me whether I would be willing to run it that I seriously considered doing it myself. I decided to commit myself mainly out of two reasons: First, I see it as a great personal challenge, especially because I think much of it is just about overcoming mental barriers. The point of time also seemed to be ideal: I had the whole summer after my exams to train for it. Plus, by running with RAG we also support their 4 great charities through fundraising and donations, which is even another external incentive to do it.
I actually found training to be relatively straightforward: Typically, one does 2 to 3 shorter runs (varies from 2 to 4 miles) per week, adding one long run that increases week by week by around one mile. Of course, I was not able to always follow the plan rigorously, as things like an internship and some travels got into the way. But roughly sticking to it, I was able to go up until 12k after 6 weeks of training – and finally 19k two weeks before the half.
There were hardships of course, for example did I often not make the distance that I wanted to on a given day (because of lack of motivation, or boredom or whatever). In these situations, it was really helpful that I had friends who were also running the half, because we could hold each other accountable. Finally reaching a milestone and the satisfaction that one gains from it definitely made the whole journey worthwhile!
Before the Oxford Half, we had “Fresher’s Week” - which unfortunately means that basically everyone gets sick as well. Just like last year, I caught myself a cold in the first few days, and for a while I was concerned that I would not make the 21k at all. On the day itself, I still had a running nose (isn’t that ironic) - but luckily all the sickness symptoms were “above the neck” - which is the inofficial runner’s rule for running with a cold.
The morning was freezing, but I nonetheless decided to go without jacket, as it would have been annoying to carry it around after the initial few miles. It took a while for our starting pen to get to the starting line, but then we were finally able to set off: 12.000 runners were in Oxford that day, from all levels: There were professional athletes (the fastest one completeted the half in just 1:08h!!), many amateur runners like me and also some people who completed the 21k by walking.
Having trained mostly on a treadmill or in empty fields and forests, it was a completely different feeling to run amongst all these people, and even with audience cheering along the roads. They gave us water and jelly babies along the route, and highfives for energy boost! Overall it was a pretty exciting experience, and crossing that finishing line was a really good feeling :)
Ready, Set, Go!
If you are thinking about running longer distances, whether it be 10k, a half or a full marathon, I highly recommend you go for it! Find yourself a friend or two to do it with you, it makes the whole experience definitely more fun and enjoyable. I have certainly benefitted from this experience, not only in physical fitness but also in a certain sense in personal growth. It has shown me how willpower, persistence and (training routines) can go a very long way – even to reaching a goal that once seemed impossible.