I’m a bit confused. I don’t know whether my current activities are helpful distraction or going to drive me to distraction, but hey ho. My half marathon preparation top tips are to continue, this time moving from the importance of the tapir to consideration of appropriate kit. You do genuinely need to do this, otherwise you will be picking stuff out of the laundry basket on race morning, and may have to resort to gusset sniffing to select the most acceptable option available to wear in public. No-one wants to be doing that on half-marathon day. Also, and more importantly here, this is a good displacement activity. It will divert you from having to think about all the aches and pains and mystery illnesses that are accumulating about your person during the taper.
Today, I thought I’d lay out my kit, and check I have everything in readiness for Sunday. This is an important part of preparation for any event I am told. If you look on the internet, loads of people do this. Problem is, most of them who document the process highlight the slipshod naivety with which I have apparently approached this task. To give you an idea just how I compare with more experienced runners, see if you can take a wild guess about which of these three snaps is my kit laid out in readiness, and which might belong to other runners?
I’m pretty sure you will have guessed correctly, and not only because of the give away Smiley Vest in the picture. Still, undaunted, I will talk you through some of my choices.
Socks. I had no idea before I started running just how much interest I would take in socks. I now have developed an almost obsessional interest in what to put on my feet. I have tried and rejected injinji ones (too bulky between the toes for me); short cut ones (I don’t like to have a draft up my ankles); too thin (blisters); too thick (blisters); not enough cushioning (feet feel like they will disintegrate). Forget the quest for the holy grail, the quest for socks is way more important and probably just as inconclusive in my book. I also find I am now prepared (albeit reluctantly) to fork out ridiculous sums of money in this search for the perfect foot covering.
I used to just buy socks at the supermarket checkout in Asda in packs of three, now I consider that an affront to my most important running asset, my feet. I decided I’d treat myself to fresh new socks for the half. My favourite ones up to now have always been some smart wool ones, but they are wearing out at the heel. I headed off therefore to my local running shop (hello) in search of a ‘same again’ purchase. I still feel self-conscious going in there, and am positive I always come across to the poor guys there as even odder than I am in real life. I can’t express myself, I get all tongue tied and awkward. I still feel like I am not worthy to be in the same space as ‘proper’ runners, and that they will naturally assume I have just popped in to ask for directions or about a lost animal of some sort. Maybe just a dog or cat, but just as likely a ferret from the look of me. Still, I need them, and they are always generous with their time and expertise, and I have always been happy with what I’ve bought there.
Last week though, disaster struck! I went in to make my ‘usual’ sock purchase, only to find I am apparently such a cheap skate in relation to replacement sock purchasing patterns, that the socks I so covet are no longer made. Various smart wool options were laid before me, and I agonised over the many choices. But, they failed. Nothing met my Goldilocks requirements. For me, those on offer had not enough cushioning and were in any case too short at the ankle. Not for me. It was good whilst it lasted, but this relationship with smartwool has now ended. They’ll be gutted I know, but I’ve moved on. Instead, after examining every single sock in the shop (yes, individually, not just pair by pair) I took up with some hilly socks. I was a bit dubious, and somewhat hurrumphing about the colour. Fluorescent pink AGAIN, really? I’m not five.
I don’t like changing kit – I’ve only got two identical running tops which I alternate for goodness sake, and only one pair of wearable leggings to complement my single Smiley vest. (I did have two, but gave the smaller one away to a more appropriately sized running club member). However, defying my inner resistance to kit change, I can report that I have come to love these socks. I took the precaution of doing one run in them pre event, in case the padding wasn’t enough, but they seem to be fine. Cushioning on the heel and ball of the foot, and lots of ventilation looking fabric elsewhere so hopefully won’t get too hot either. It feels unexpectedly decadent having new socks, like having freshly laundered sheets. I feel I have an extra spring in my step.
They handily are marked ‘L’ and ‘R’, so if you get confused about navigation on a long run say, (as long as you’d put them on the correct feet first thing on waking), you could simply stop, remove your shoes, and voila! You will now be reminded of which way is left and which way is right! Genius! They also claim day and night visibility. I probably still wouldn’t use them instead of a head torch for illumination purposes on a night run say, but good to know. The colour certainly does have a glow like sunrise from quite a distance. I think they might actually be radioactive, but if it makes me run faster that’s fine. Socks? Sorted.
The really unexpected challenge for me today was around ‘where to fix the race number’? I’ll be honest, it never occurred to me this would be an issue, but it is. Roger will be a great comfort to me en route, but by taking him round, my number will be totally obscured if I attach it to my Smiley Faces vest. (I draw the line at attaching over my ‘Smiley Paces’ logo and bust, that would take unbecoming to a whole new level) The only option seems to be to put the number directly on him instead. This is what I have done. Now of course, I’m really panicking, because I know you aren’t supposed to transfer your number. If you do, you can be disqualified in perpetuity, so never run at an organised event again (so, silver cloud then), but I feel I have little choice. We have discussed it, and we are in it together, so it will be fine.
I’ve dug out my lucky pants (no, I don’t feel a need to post a picture of those, but Marks and Spencer’s basically – does anyone else stock knickers?) and I’ve invested in a new sports bra for the occasion. So basically sorted in the runderwear department.
The thing that I’m now stressing about is pacing it. A secret source (thank you Smiley Elder Super Geek) has supplied me with an interactive spreadsheet. I can use this to enter my estimated (or aspirational/ or realistically expected) finish time, and it throws up by magic the time in which I need to complete each mile (taking into account gradient) in order to finish on target. It is genius, and quite fun to play with. It even tells me when I need to take on nutrition. Problem is, I don’t really want to run with a laptop, and anyway, I don’t know if my battery would last for the length of time it will take for me to get round. I considered a clipboard and print out, but given how hard it was to stash my fudgy wudgy’s that was never going to work.
I do have a TomTom, but can’t work out how to programme it for cumulative miles (though nice people at the running shop showed me how to set the ‘lap’ feature to one mile to give me an idea of how I’m doing as each mile passes). It has been suggested I just write all these figures on my arm. This is a great idea. Others have used similar, more committed strategies. I’m wondering if I have got time to sort out a personalised tattoo before Sunday? On the other hand, if I just want to complete rather than compete, maybe I can just listen to my body (but not too closely, it will whinge quite a lot) and lope around as the mood takes me.
The other thing I’ve been doing, is finding out (ready or not) that people I know who are not actually running, may be spectating. They will even look out for me! This is both encouraging and terrifying. It will be really nice to see friends and supporters on the way round – assuming I can see anyone through the veil of sweat and tears pouring from my face – but they are asking awkward questions, like what time I expect to be at certain points. I have no idea at all if I will even make it to certain points, let alone what time. The excel spreadsheet has been great for providing some guestimates of ETA, but whether or not it is complete fiction I don’t know. On the plus side, there is a brewing sense of occasion. People will be there to soak up the atmosphere, the crowds will not be hostile (the people of Sheffield fed and watered the masses at the waterless marathon of two years ago for goodness sake), the atmosphere will be fab. They may draw the line at physically carrying me round, but maybe, just maybe, the buzz will emotionally and psychologically get me over the finish line – or even more importantly perhaps, over the start!
So, for the record, my knee does still hurt, but increasingly I really do want to do this, however slowly, I’m out to complete not compete. Anyway, the slower I am, the more hours on the course, the better value for money it all will be. Those speed merchants potentially miss out on all the fun, whizzing by, the crowds a blur, and all done and dusted whilst the likes of me are still wondering how extreme the hill ahead will be. I also did have one small and unexpected confidence boost. I saw on a Facebook page somewhere a non-Sheffielder asking if anyone knew if the Sheffield Half had any hills. Oh dear. That runner is really going to be in for a shock. Irrespective of whether or not the hills defeat me, at least they wont come as a surprise! Anyway, I can be super courageous when the need arises. Only a couple of days ago I removed a spider the size of a Shetland pony from my bath. I know. I can do anything if I really set my mind to it, anything at all…