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Iona Seymour: My Half-Marathon To Raise Money For Right To Life

by Iona Seymour (71!)

In an unguarded moment I said, in the hearing of my middle son, that I wished I could do a half marathon without feeling practically dead from mile 8 onwards. I mentioned that my best time for a half marathon stood at 2 hours 36 minutes and some odd seconds, and wouldn’t it be great if I could not only beat it but beat the 2 hours 30 minutes mark.

Middle Son is a qualified Personal Trainer (though he doesn’t make a living at it, just trains a few people at weekends). A half marathon is 13.1 miles.

“I could get you through a half marathon in 2 hours 30”, he said, and forthwith set up a training plan.

Having spent most of my life doing things my way and getting it wrong, I have belatedly realised that quite a successful way of tackling things is to find Someone Who Knows, and do what that Someone says. So I followed the training plan faithfully, even when I felt perhaps my son was forgetting his poor old mother’s advanced age (71). We were aiming at the Lake Vyrnwy half-marathon, which I have done twice before, on one of those occasions achieving that PB (personal best) of 2 hours 36 minutes.

“I’ll do it with you”, he said, “and pace you round”.

Not too sure about this. Is it good or bad? Good, in that he said he would carry my drink and anything else I wanted carried, and I wouldn’t need to be checking my watch to see if I was keeping the targeted speed. Bad, in that (after all his training, not to mention his journey from London to the wilds of mid-Wales, and back) if I didn’t beat my existing PB I would feel I’d let him down. By now, however, the roller-coaster had gathered speed and was dragging me helplessly along with it. We will be running at 7 mins per km, apparently (son thinks in kms, not miles). I have achieved this in training, and even slightly faster, but only over relatively short distances. 7 mins per km for 13.1 miles? Which is, what, about 21 kms? Can’t see it happening.

So, here it came, the day of the Half.

Weather was really good; not raining, not hot, bits of sunshine and bits of cloud, occasional breeze but no ferocious winds. Parking is in a field, and we are directed to park on a slope so sharp I can hardly open the car door. Toilet facilities are a bit minimal, and a lot of people are clambering up the slope of the field and disappearing behind convenient bushes. Lake Vyrnwy itself is long and narrow, with a road all round it, but not quite long enough for a half-mara, so we start from some way back. (It is actually a very pleasant place to run: trees all around it, plenty of shade. Some day I must go there and look at the surroundings instead of just running through them.)

The stretch of road leading to the start is marked out into anticipated times; the one at the back is labelled “2 hours or more”, so that is where we go, indeed Personal Trainer (PT) Son makes me go right to the back of this section. There is chip timing an electronic chip built into each runner’s race number  and a mat to run over, so we lose nothing by starting a long way back. Once over the mat, we are somewhat held back by congestion, but by the time we are crossing the bridge at the near end of the lake, there seem to be enough spaces to run into. Son tells me to slow down; apparently I am pushing it a bit too much; “save the speed for the last 5k”, he says.

I have the unusual experience of passing other runners, steadily, a few at a time. Even more weirdly, this experience continues throughout the race until almost the end, when a few sprightly youngsters who clearly haven’t been trying very hard up to now, manage to sprint past. All goes well; I am feeling a bit pushed but managing to keep up the pace. Son is being very encouraging, telling me how fast I am running each km, and saying I’m doing really well. Twice we have to move in to the side for an ambulance to go by; the second one is coming at speed with hooters and flashing lights, so I suppose some poor runner is in a bad way. There are drinking water stations every three miles, and I don’t have to slow down at all as my pacer collects the water, catches me up, and passes it to me.

By eight miles, my legs and feet are protesting. “How are you feeling?” says PT son. “Hurting”, I say. “Good, you should be”, he says. No sympathy there, then. He talks me through the remainder of the race. We are on course for a PB, have a good chance of beating the 2 hours 30, and we are going to speed up for the last 5k. (We ARE?) Legs are not merely hurting, they don’t feel much like legs at all, any more; more like thick wooden sticks which I am somehow managing to move forwards one after the other, at a speed which feels to me slow, but son says I am still maintaining the 7 mins per km.

Now he wants me to speed up. I think of arms, not legs (a runner’s trick; move arms faster, legs will keep pace with them). In any case, I really don’t want to think about my poor wooden-stick legs, nor indeed my feet which seem to be just hanging on somehow at the ends of the sticks, and speed up my breathing. We come to a downhill stretch; not steep, a pleasant and encouraging slope. “Stride out!”, my son says; to my surprise, I find I can. “Push – keep pushing” he says, and if only I had enough breath for talking I would say, “What do you think this is, childbirth?” (there are resemblances). “800 metres”, he says, just as the downslope turns into an upslope. “Don’t slow down!”

Plod, plod, plod, but somehow keeping up the speed. Feeling decidedly sick. “I can see the finish”, he says, and oh joy, so can I. A couple of people sprint past, annoyingly, and as we approach the mats someone announces that there are 57 seconds to go before the clock reaches 2 hours 30. So I have actually beaten the 2:30? Son steps back so I go over the mats first, then I am staggering along the funnel at the end, hanging onto the sides.

Hours later, I realise that the clock was going on gun time, not chip time, so I beat it by more than mere seconds. In fact, my official finish time was 2 hours 27 minutes.

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If you would like to follow Iona’s brilliant example, you can raise money for Right To Life via JustGiving.com, here.