Four years ago I lined up at the starting line of what I was sure would be my best half-marathon to date. I had carbo-loaded the night before, had water with me and the experience of completing two of these before, one of them on the same course. Armed with a goal and my Garmin, I set out to crush that run.
About 10km in my stomach started to turn. Nothing to be concerned about, I’d drink some water, hit a gel if I kept feeling weak and handle it – running is mostly mental anyways and my split times were on track. Paul was pacing me, as he ran his first marathon so I when I started to feel really off around 15km he pep-talked the heck out of me. As we waved goodbye at 19km I told him I would be there at the finish line to celebrate his first marathon and he told me to just keep pushing through, I was almost at the end.
But I didn’t make it.
As I turned to face the end of the run my body was screaming at me. I tried to tune out the noise in my head and focus on the cheers surrounding me as spectators shouted encouragements: “You’re almost there!” “The finish line is nearly in sight!” “Just keep going!” “You got this!!!”
I tried so hard to listen to them. I was silently yelling at my legs, telling them I could sit down soon and celebrate a new PR – heck if I pushed it a little bit harder I could break cross the finish line in under two hours and meet my goal. With just 500 meters to go, despite all of my negotiating to keep pushing one heavy foot in front of the other, my body shut me out and took over.
The next thing I knew, I was veering from the middle of the road towards the fence along the side. “Okay”, I thought, “just don’t sit down”. The second that thought flittered across my mind, I crumbled into the fence leaned over and started to vomit. I blacked out for a minute and was only sitting up because a volunteer sat behind me and held me steady (her poor shoes). I could barely talk and even after sitting for 20 minutes, when the paramedics arrived my resting heart rate was a casual 180 beats per minute. As I was being wheeled across the course on a stretcher, into an ambulance I was terrified.
Ultimately, it was determined I was severely dehydrated. The rest of that day was agony. Running had betrayed me in a way that I never even imagined was possible. In a way that was excruciating. And I completely gave up on it for a while.
My relationship with running hasn’t been the same since.
After a few months of going cold turkey, I slowly started to run again, and even faced that same course the following year for a slow and steady 5km run. I had a friend with me who helped me pass the very spot where everything changed for me and running, and while I was proud to face it, for years after that race I remained terrified to push anything distance further than 10km.
Earlier this year I started playing around with the idea that maybe that could change. Maybe, I could prove to myself that I can take on 21.1km again and what a better year to do it than the year I turned 30?
So I started to join Paul on long runs – not entirely convinced that I’d sign up for another half-marathon but curious to see if I could do it. Each Sunday, as we set out on our runs I would expect that week’s distance to be the one to show me that I can’t actually do it. And each Sunday I kept remarking how great the run was, how strong I felt and how much I enjoyed it.
But I was still unsure (wouldn’t you be?). Finally, after a beautiful 18km run I thought, “okay, I think I really can do this”.
So, on October 22nd I pinned on my bib number as I had so many times before, but left my Garmin at home. Today the only goal was to settle into a pace and enjoy a long run on a perfect day.
I started the race with an amazing group of friends who were running either the full or half-marathon. I had told them not to worry about me, I was going to find my pace and stick with it and I did, losing them about 5km in.
At first, it was a little lonely, but I did something I hadn’t done before – I decided to catch up with my mum. She had come to my first half-marathon and was beaming like the sun when I found her, medal draped around my neck and in awe that I had actually done it. My last race fell in the middle of her cancer battle, and I’m certain the weight of that diagnosis, and a confluence of other forces ultimately became too much. I wasn’t paying attention to the messages my body was sending me, so it decided to make itself heard, loud and clear – I needed a break.
Now, I’m not entirely sure where I land on the notion of an afterlife, but whenever I felt myself getting into my own head I would just pick up a conversation with her. It helped me stay focused and remember why I was there. When that was too distracting I made up a mantra – because I know the course so well as I was approaching the parts I know I struggle with, I would repeat my mantra over, and over, and over until I felt my legs lighten and the fog of doubt dissipate. Those two things got me through tough mental moments, through a side cramp and through thinking I had lost two toenails (I kept them 🙌🏻 but they still do not look great😬).
But even still, as I approached 19km – the point where I had split off from Paul and where my race began to unravel just four years ago – I was full of nerves.
Then a familiar face popped out onto the course – a friend of mine, and fellow runner, was cheering louder than anything you’ve heard, snapping photos and covering me in confetti. She knew this was a bit feat for me and I was so incredibly overwhelmed and touched I almost burst into tears … until I remembered I needed to stay hydrated! That little burst of celebration from her and the group she runs with reminded me that I was strong. My legs were strong. My core was strong. My lungs felt good. I could do this.
So I decided to run on the same side where I collapsed before – I wanted to run past the ghost of that Belinda. And I did. Just 400 meters from the finish line I ran past someone being put on a stretcher and had a vivid flashback that completely caught me off guard (told you running is mental). But I pushed past it and was met with an unintended personal best time.
It took me four years to cross that finish line, but I finally made it #hustleforhappiness
In short: after collapsing and ending up in the hospital at 200m from the finish line of a half-marathon three years ago I didn’t think I’d ever attempt the distance again. But this year I proved myself wrong and on the most perfect of autumn days, I finally got to wear that 21.1km medal again (with a PB to boot) feeling stronger than ever before – next stop: sub-2:00!