At the time of writing this I have just over a week until I find myself standing amongst a large crowd of vest-wearing strangers at Swansea Bay Half Marathon’s starting line.
Am I ready? Let’s put it this way. Remember when you were in school and had a major assignment to do over the long summer holidays, only to look at it the night before going back? That’s me in terms of my preparation.
I swear I had every intention of being better prepared than a NASA mission to Mars – I’ve still got charts and training schedules on my wall – but things just didn’t take off for me.
As previously mentioned in this blog, my body just couldn’t handle running more than once a week so I have only managed ticking over mode these past three months. As a result I will approach Sunday, 11 June, like I did Christmas aged 13 – when I asked for a date with Olivia Newton-John – that’s to say more in fantastical hope than expectation!
Desperate for any nugget of advice to help me cross the finish line before it gets dark I decided to speak to an expert.
By day Helen-Marie Davies is a 47-year-old mother of three and primary school head teacher. She is also a phenomenal athlete who has represented her country and completed the London Marathon in a time I’d fail to beat on a bike! The most amazing thing about Helen is she only took up running properly 10 years ago.
She said: “I had always done a little bit of running here and there but then I moved to Blackpill and was on the doorstep of Swansea Harriers athletics club. I thought I’d give it a go and joined.
“At first I wasn’t very good but I loved it. Then I started to win a few little races and got the bug – the endorphins started kicking in! I’ve never looked back.
“I’ve represented Wales, over different distances, in Welsh masters around 12 times and my personal best for the London Marathon 3 hours 4 minutes.”
Whether you are a natural or not doesn’t matter – the key is to give running a go.
Helen said: “We’re all so busy with work and families and life, the biggest thing is finding the time to suit and giving it a go. To get out and clear your head. There are obviously fitness benefits but for your own well-being it’s brilliant.
“It’s more than that, it’s the social side as well when you get into a good running group or group of friends who you meet up with regularly.
“There’s loads of different clubs. From beginners – couch to 5k – around, which you should find on Facebook parkruns are another good avenue. They are free and not a race – just running for fun and getting fitter each week with a coffee and cake after.”
Turning to tips for yours truly she shattered my plan of bingeing on pizza the night before.
She said: “Don’t overeat the night before. Eat regular meals during the day rather than a massive meal in the evening. People think you can have a massive bowl of pasta but if you do, you will struggle the next day.
“And don’t eat anything that you haven’t eaten before on race day morning. You should practice what you’re going to eat as part of your training.
“I tend to have a porridge and a banana an hour and a half before the race.”
Helen then asked me if I used gel? After I pointed to my bare head she explained she meant the energy gel which a lot of serious athletes reach for during races.
She said: “They should have them on the course – if you do feel a bit flagging take one they have on offer.
“If you are going to take a gel during the run try them out before hand – you don’t want to be running to the loo halfway around realising the gel doesn’t agree with you.
“I don’t do gel – I do flapjacks – as I can’t stomach them.”
It is also important to take on water during the run.
She said: “Have your biggest drink (she didn’t mean alcohol unfortunately) maybe two hours before the race and then just sip water throughout the race. Don’t go glugging a whole bottle when you come to a water stop otherwise you may have a stitch.
“Little and often and just drink to thirst – if you’re thirsty drink if not don’t worry about it.”
In terms of tactics – to be honest mine is get around in under two and a half hours – she said: “What I will say is don’t go off too fast otherwise you will suffer. It will be really painful at the end. If anything, go off a little bit slower because you can always pick it up near the end.
“If you go off too fast you are not going to enjoy the whole experience. It’s better to go off slower – don’t get caught up with the pace of all the people around you – and try and enjoy it.
“And smile – apparently it helps!”
I admitted to being addicted to looking at my fit watch on my training runs but Helen advised I put it to one side.
She said: “You can’t really suggest a pace as everyone is different. Pace really is down to the individual with no hard and fast rue around age and fitness.
“I wouldn’t be glued to my fit watch – I would literally just go and enjoy it. Whatever time you do you have run a half marathon. It doesn’t matter of it’s an hour and a half or three and a half hours – you have run a half marathon. Just be content with that.
“It’s a challenge, Its 13.2 miles. It’s massive. So does it really matter how fast you do it?
“It’s the money that you’re raising and the experience.”
Amen to that. I will be thinking about our amazing team in Morriston Hospital’s Cardiac Unit who I have chosen to raise money for as a thank you for the times they have saved my father’s life.
I know times are tough but if you do have a fiver to spare please sponsor me on my fundraising page here.
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