I almost didn’t go to the Watford Half Marathon on Sunday. Had I not arranged a lift with friends I’m sure I would have stayed at home, alone. During the car journey anxiety flooded my body with adrenaline - making me appear chatty and fidgety to the extent that a concerned friend observed that I seemed a bit “hyper” - but inside I felt drained and overwhelmed. When we arrived at the park I took myself away from the QPH group and counted down the minutes until the race started, when I knew that the surge of anxious energy would be released and I could just run. During those precious 21.1km I would be freed from having to think about my stresses. I could just run.
You might think that this is a surprising opening paragraph for a race report. And the fact that I finished the race in 2nd place probably adds to that sense of surprise. But mental illness does not respect fitness and speed; physiological talent and capability do not provide protection from the clutches of depression, anxiety or trauma. I smiled as I stood on the podium, not because of the achievement of finishing in 2nd place, but because running had helped me return to myself.
That’s what running, and the running community, bring to my life. Running helps me connect with other people, and connect with myself. The “peelers” men probably have no idea how much it meant to me that they unconditionally accepted me into their group for the race (aka the Peelers Pain Train) - but having people to run with and chat to along the way helped me more than they know. The little things make a big difference when you feel like you’re losing yourself. Though fyi chaps, that was much faster than 4min/km pace - you’ll have to advertise better next time!
And this is the magic of the running community. It is about so much more than just the running. Those rolling hills and “water features” (new for this year!) gave me so much more than a silver medal and a fitness boost. They gave me oasis moments of peace and calm, and a sense of belonging. I am sure many others feel the same, no matter whether they are battling with me for the podium places or running at the back of the field.
Of course, I did enjoy working my way through the field, boosted by the marshals’ shouts that I was fourth, third, then second lady. Once I had overtaken Helen from Watford Joggers (a familiar, friendly rival) to move into 2nd place, I worked hard up the next hill to open up a gap, and ran my fastest km split off the top of the hill to consolidate the place - navigating that fine line between breaking my fellow competitors and breaking myself. With 5km to go I knew I would be okay, though by that stage I was reflecting that Alphaflys are no longer fit for purpose once waterlogged. “Just a parkrun to go”, I told myself.
Seeing Ali Matheson cheering for me along the finishing straight - after finishing in a magnificent 4th place himself with a massive PB - was fantastic, and I always enjoy the aftermath of a race: supporting other QPH runners, queuing for tea and snacks, chatting to other runners about the race/the course/the weather (we were very lucky on Sunday!) are all parts of the day that I value just as much as the running itself.
Congratulations to all 35 Hoopsters who ran in Watford, and thank you to those who came along to cheer and support us.
I won the silver medal for finishing 2nd, and I’m delighted and grateful for that, but what I took away from the day as a whole was a renewed sense of self, friendship and belonging - and that really is far more valuable than any medal or prize.