Unexpected Endings…. My Canberra Half by Catherine Chatterton

Before I start this, I will own up to the fact that this story doesn’t contain any great feats of heroism or overcoming insurmountable odds. It’s merely a lesson that I learnt a couple of weeks ago during my first half marathon.

In terms of where I fit in the whole sporting classification (if there even is such a thing!) I would class myself as triathlete who can also run. But mainly I’m a triathlete. I came to triathlons and running a bit later on in life when I turned 40. I have been a swimmer all my life and then a bit before my 40th birthday disaster struck – I put my neck out so was unable to turn my head to breathe in the pool. Horror!

Six weeks on, still no better and seriously missing the exercise endorphins I finally gave up, pulled a pair of ancient runners on and set out to go for a walk (not my first choice but desperate times, desperate measures!). Out on my walk I became inspired by some of the runners springing past me and decided if they could run I could probably run a bit. So I walked a bit, ran a bit and so on. I finished the 7km loop exhausted (my legs had enjoyed a lifetime of being dragged up and down a pool not actually having to do anything!). And in that moment, right there, a love of running was realised, that even survived the following 2 days when I could barely walk up the stairs I was so sore!

And so I carried on running even when my neck finally succumbed to the ministrations of my chiropractor and I was able to get back into the pool. I limped my way through the Mothers Day Classic 8km and then City to Surf. I was so enjoying this new sporting venture that it occurred to me that I might break out further and take up another new sport for my 40th Birthday. I could already swim quite well, I seemed to be surviving and even enjoying a bit of running – how hard could it be to ride a bike?

Then I could do a triathlon! My long suffering husband bought me a road bike for my 40th (an act of generosity he may now regret!) and that was that – I was a triathlete. And I’ve done OK for myself and more importantly, I love it. But the bit that I love the most and get the most satisfaction out of is the running.

So, one Sunday morning in April this year, on a bright, sunny, perfect running day in Canberra I found myself lining up nervously at the start line to undertake my first proper half (I’ve run a half as part of a triathlon but never raced one properly as a stand alone event). To add further escalation to my nervousness I’d managed to score myself an elite start courtesy of a good day out at City to Surf last year and a fact that had escaped me until I opened my race pack that afternoon during a chaotic visit to Questecon with the kids. Hardly a first world problem (I hear you!) but not really being a seasoned racer I felt like a complete fraud and more then slightly intimidated.

Anyway, as is so often the case with these events, the starters pistol fired and all of that was forgotten. The sun was out, the supporters were cheering, Canberra sparkled in the sun and all was good. For anyone who runs, or in fact, does any kind of sport, you will know that some days you just feel good. Your feet feel light, your lungs feel inexhaustible and the joy of the simple act of running (or whatever you are doing) fills your soul. It’s something that you quite often can’t predict until you actually start the race – I’ve had races that I have felt fantastic in the lead up, been all set for a great race and then, bang – felt appalling on the actual race day. Anyway, on this day, the day of the Canberra Half, I had one of those wonderful days.

The first half of the race flew by. I felt good and was pleasantly surprised to find myself sitting in 3rd at the halfway point and still in view of 2nd place. Not somewhere I thought I’d be to be honest and as I was running a faster pace then I’d anticipated I was a bit concerned that maybe I’d overcooked it and would pay for this later on. However, I reasoned that I felt strong and as long as I concentrated on my form and rhythm and didn’t panic it might turn out better then I thought. Plus, I think, as much as I love my Garmin, sometimes it can limit what you are prepared to try and we can lose the ability to listen what our body is telling us to do be it slower or faster. So I decided to listen to what my body was telling me and just go with it.

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The race continued on and I was enjoying myself. The Canberra sun continued shining and there really is something a bit special about running with hundreds of other people all united in the same goal: finishing the race. If you’ve never had a go at a fun run or similar I would urge you to try it: the atmosphere, the supporters, the other athletes – all make it quite a different experience from pounding the pavement on your own.

The 3/4 mark came and went, I’d moved up into 2nd and was still feeling good – I knew barring disaster I would smash my goal of coming in under 90 minutes. The pivotal moment of that race came at about 18.5km. I was still in 2nd but had closed the gap and it suddenly occurred to me that I was actually in with a shot of winning this thing. This was both exciting and terrifying all at the same time. It’s a different prospect running out front – you become the hunted. Anyway, I figured if you never try you never know so I made my move. Just under 3km to go and I was in the lead. Those last 3km hurt but it’s amazing what the sight of the finishing line can do to diminish perceived pain. I crossed the line and got the excitement of running through the winners tape. What a feeling! Elation, excitement and total disbelief all at once. That was my Canberra Half.

I like to try and take away at least one learning from any race that I do and when I looked back in the days following the Canberra Half, when the whole thing had sunk in a bit more, admittedly there where a few things I could/should have done differently. But my main take out was this: whatever and however you feel in the lead up to a race try and keep an open mind as to how you might end up feeling on the day (this can be better or worse then you had anticipated!). And, based on that, be prepared to listen to what your body is telling you and readjust your plan accordingly. Had I stuck to the pace I had planned pre-race I wouldn’t have enjoyed the outcome I did in Canberra. It’s something I’ll bear in mind for future races – some may be better, some may be worse and some may be spot on but sometimes your body knows better then your Garmin!

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