I took part in the mass participation race at the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff this past weekend. Guess what? I got a pb. By around 10 seconds. I should be celebrating! No. It was an awful race, a real test of my mettle, and the suffering didn’t end with the finish line.
The first issue was that the race start was 2pm. I decided to get up early, and go for a loosening easy run and scope out the start/finish area. On my way, I encountered the Kenyan women’s team out for their morning jog, all dressed in immaculate matching black Nike tracksuits and looking gorgeous. I’m not a big person. But next to these tiny, graceful, elite women I looked like an actual lumbering hippopotamus.
The weather forecast for the day was not promising: heavy rain and wind was coming our way, due to hit almost as soon as we were set to start. I decided to run in arm sleeves and compression socks, and gloves, and had plenty of old clothes and a poncho for the starting pen. I managed to warm up before the worst of the rain came, then into the pen in the drizzle. The pens were based on expected finishing time, which works so long as runners are honest about their ability. I was a bit bemused to find myself standing next to two women in the 1:30 pen, who were discussing their hopes to break 2 hours! Why do it? It was a crowded start anyway, and they were only going to get in the way of other runners, and possibly get jostled. When the gun finally went off, it was quite chaotic. I learned subsequently that the eventual winner, Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, fell at the start and had to weave his way through the mass runners to make it back to the front of the race. I saw a woman in an England vest crying with blood on her knees, obviously having taken a fall at the start.
Weaving through the chaos, I managed to find a decent rhythm at around 1:30 pace. At this point, while it was windy, the ran wasn’t too bad. The first 5k passed in just over 21 minutes, and I felt ok, not great, but ok. We ran through the exposed harbour area and were lucky with the weather, as the wind stayed at bay and it wasn’t raining at all at that point. I was still feeling just about ok, not amazing but I was running solidly.
I had just passed the 8 mile marker when things started to go wrong. Suddenly, spectators scattered for cover. The wind gusted so hard that a few runners actually lost their footing and were blown sideways. The rain came down in buckets, blown directly into us like waves off the sea. Within seconds we were all soaked through and running into gusts of wind that made progress extremely difficult. I lost around 10 seconds per kilometer at this point, and started to get cold. For the rest of the race, it continued to rain heavily, with the wind gusting sporadically. At mile 12, a stiff hill was probably not what any of us wanted to see. I finished in just over 1:33 – not a spectacular time, but probably a decent achievement considering the truly unpleasant conditions.
It wasn’t over for me. I got cold quickly, despite having plenty of layers in my bag. Shivering, I tried to head back to the apartment we had rented. At this point I started getting stomach cramps, and I knew I was in trouble. I took some Buscopan and immodium, but it was probably too late. Back at the apartment, I ran a hot bath, but had to alternate between the bath and the toilet, as colitis took hold and blood was pouring out of me. I had vomited up the tablets I had taken, along with my recovery drink, and I knew that I was badly dehydrated. The cramps were extremely painful, and all I could do was curl up next to the toilet and hope for the best. For the next five hours, that’s pretty much all I could manage. Finally, the cramps subsided enough for me to start to sip some water, and I began to rehydrate a bit. By the next day I could eat again, but there was still quite a bit of blood in my stools. My theory is that I got so cold, my body directed the bloodflow to my extremities and my bowel and colon were starved of blood, leading to ischmic colitis. I’ve always been prone to GI issues after running, but usually a combination of buscopan and anti spasmodic drugs keep them at bay. This time nothing was going to help and I had to ride out the pain and discomfort.
It took a lot out of me, and while I’m running again (I have a big mileage week this week , culminating in my last long run before London), I’m not feeling particularly strong. But I think if I can do my runs on tired legs and just get them done, it will be great training stimulus, and after this week I start tapering anyway. So lets just get them done!