The big day finally arrives. It’s eighteen months later than expected. And I’d like to say that I am eighteen months more prepared for it. But the truth is my planning for Sheffield Half Marathon has been interrupted – by injury, which slows down my progress – and long overdue visitors, who force me out of a healthy eating and training regime. Still at least I’ve got my boys to encourage me…
And nothing is going to stop me taking part. It’s a battle of hope over adversity. A feeling of finally drawing a line under difficult pandemic times and making a fresh start. The only problem is that today’s start is rather too early for my liking. I need to be up and eating my carbs by the crack of dawn so that my stomach is settled and my blood-sugar balanced for the 9am kick off. Still half asleep, I sort out my race essentials. Running kit already laid out. Water bottle filled. I just need to pack some power punching jelly babies for the half-way mark. So where are they? I’m sure they were in the ‘Forbidden Sweets’ cupboard… And yes, they were. But judging by the empty packet lying beside the discarded Oreos wrappers and half-eaten crisps, it seems that Grunting Teen has already consumed all hope of boosting my energy mid-race.
Leaving the house, I resist the urge to slam the door loudly and wake up my sleeping fan club. After all my efforts – no cheer leaders on the course for me today! The Nearly-Beloved did offer half-heartedly to give me a lift into town but Grunting Teen just shrugged his shoulders and informed me he’d ‘be having a lie-in, innit?’
But who needs such lacklustre supporters when the rest of Sheffield has congregated in Tudor Square to produce an early morning festive spirit? There’s a real buzz in the city centre and a party atmosphere in the queues for the portaloos. And even though I’ve come on my own, I soon buddy up with fellow runners as we join local radio and their full-on fitness guru for a rousing group warm-up.
Then it’s ‘5-4-3-2-1’ and we’re off.
First, it’s a stumbling mass jog into the unseasonal sunshine lighting up Charter Row. But then the lines thin out and I overtake four burly men in pink tutus. They’re running at the speed of the slowest – a show of solidarity, not weakness. They give me a generous thumbs-up as I gazelle past them, caught up in the excitement of the occasion.
I power along Eccy Road feeling like an elite athlete as spectators applaud enthusiastically. Who needs family there when the crowds are so appreciative? It takes a while to realise their clapping is aimed, not at me, but at the agile Tyrannosaurus Rex, three superheroes, two Peppa Pigs and a Buzz Lightyear in front. Still, I soon overtake the fancily dressed, panting my way up Ringinglow road. Thank goodness for an inspiring folk band at the traffic lights and chalked motivational messages on the tarmac. For this is a Sheffield half-marathon and the first part of the race is relentlessly uphill.
As I stagger past the Norfolk Arms, the sensible folk, enjoying the sunshine with a pint, raise their glasses in my direction. It’s oh so tempting to go over and join them. But I head left along Sheephill Road and am rewarded for my endeavours with amazing views over my Outdoor City.
And then it’s downhill. I ignore the drink stations with their energy gels, tempted instead by the small boy holding out a plateful of those coveted jelly babies. I smile at him and nod gratefully to his mother. Little does she know that one day her precious child will turn into a grunting teen…
Fuelled up by my sugar hit and the cheering café goers I fly back down Eccy Road, heading towards the home straight. But it’s here I come undone. So near and yet so far. The sun beats down on my head, my muscles start to seize up. It feels like I’m wading through porridge. My urge is to slow down and walk the last bit. But then… I hear a shout – ‘Come on mum! You can do it!’
I catch sight of two familiar faces. The unexpected support group lifts my spirits and I put on a final surge. And whilst I may not have broken any records, it’s amazing what you can achieve with a bit of encouragement.