I have been fortunate enough to run not just one but two IAAF Half Marathon World Championships events in March 2016 and most recently in March 2018. The first one was in Cardiff, Wales, UK where I found out I was running this event about ten days beforehand. I remember at the time I was going through a difficult period, not just my personal life but also running. I left my previous running club (the blue side) located in my home town of Stevenage, UK and was an independent runner. I had no club. I decided to train alone and go it alone. Well, that lasted about six weeks because I am the type of person who needs support, advice and motivation from other runners. Doing it alone on the cycle tracks of Stevenage was not going to cut it. Eventually I moved to the other club in Stevenage (the red side) two days before the London Marathon (in April 2016) and that’s where I made my debut for them. I have to admit, I had a lot of ups and downs with my running in March/April that year.
Anyway, getting a bit side tracked, while all this was going on, I was at the starting line outside Cardiff Castle, a couple of rows behind the elite runners. There was Britain’s Mo Farah and the current world champion Geoffrey Kamworor (who went on to win the race for the second time) and many others all in front of me. It was a bit surreal. Then national anthems were playing, crowds were cheering, huge television screen to see what the local broadcaster, the BBC were showing live and before I knew it, with a lunchtime start of 14:30, we were off. Hopes of winning the race were dashed after thirty seconds when the elite runners were already at the other end of the road. For me, this race wasn’t my best. I ran a good three miles before my laces on my trainers came undone (so lost time there), needed a very quick toilet break at mile six, then the rain came in and really lashed it down near mile ten (which happened to be about a five minute walk to my hotel so was very tempted at the time to head inside and quit the race) and then I remember zig zagging towards Cardiff Castle and doing a sprint finish.
I crossed that line like a soaked pig who has been chucked overboard from a pirate ship (that was the best way to describe it!). I finished with a time of 01-40-25. Not very impressive for me as I was used to finishing a few minutes faster than that and was trying to get under the ninety minute mark (which I am still trying to do) and I just went back to the hotel feeling gutted. For me, this didn’t feel like a World Championship race, it felt like a reality check that I needed to get my running stuff sorted, find a club and get coached again to fitness!
Fast forward to 2018 and once again, found out I was in this event a few weeks beforehand. This time it wasn’t the other end of the motorway from London but this time a flight to Valencia on the east coast of Spain was needed. This time round I was on my way back to fitness (after a year of gaining a lot of weight due to stress, injury and just drinking all the time). However since December, as well as being with my club, Stevenage Striders and training with them (when I can due to my location/work etc), I also caught the eye of coach Craig Halsey from KineoRun (and a former team mate of mine from the blue side of Stevenage) who took me under his wings. To be honest, Craig and KineoRun caught my eye as well as I noticed other runners who are guided by him were (and still are) improving their race results, fitness etc. After a meeting, it was decided I was going to be coached by Craig and see what happens. The main aims at the time was weight loss, getting my running mojo back and in some ways, get me back on track mentality.
Before this meeting, I did two half marathons in Hertfordshire in November and got the times of around 1h55 but I jogged around those courses with great difficulty. I was overweight. I was drinking heavily at the time. I be going home from work or other places and not just drinking one can of beer but several (as long as it didn’t clash with my work). I was eating junk food all the time. I only just over an achilles and thigh injury problem. I was a complete mess and a totally different person before I did that race in Cardiff back in 2016. Early in 2017 I did the Riga Marathon and finished in 05-33-33! What the hell! I ran the first 14 miles with ease but not racing but then my hamstring went! I had to speed walk the last twelve miles and managed to finish the race before the cut of time! Again, I was a mess!
Fast forward, training with Craig has been good and coached me well. He has got me focused and when I was traveling in San Francisco and up near the North Pole in the middle of winter with twenty-four hour darkness, I took my running gear with me and went on training runs. Training on Ocean beach in Cali at sunrise is something I will never forget. I even did a Parkrun over there and managed to get my fastest time in about eighteen months. Progress was quick. However I was still drinking, not as much and after the trip to the North Pole I decided to kick it in, for health, for fitness. Don’t get me wrong, I probably have a pint if I can get through my next marathon with ease later this year and yes, I do miss the taste, but at the moment, I am so focused I don’t miss the stuff!
Fast forward even more and after a few months training etc, I was on the starting line next to ‘that Star Wars helmet looking building’ in the spring heat of Valencia. I had made it again to the World Championships. This was a late afternoon start (17:30) which meant I had to potter about all day (ugh and had to watch what I eat etc) and I can remember my mouth/throat being dry before the start as I already drank all my bottled water. So for the first 5km, I was dry but tried not to think about it and get on with the race. After the Chariots of Fire theme song being played, we were off. Again, right behind the elite runners and again, my hopes for winning this event was gone after thirty seconds. However this was going to be a fast tempo training run as far as me, Craig and everyone who knew me back home and in Latvia (my second country to which I have many connections with) was concerned. I ran down that bridge after the start at a fast pace (like everyone else) and that pushed me to keep the same pace for a while once the course got flatter.
The race felt like it only lasted five-ten minutes before it was over. The course was that fast and it seemed to be over with a blink of an eye. Was that really 13.1 miles (21km)? All I remember was the crowds, drinking quite a bit of water and the last two miles where I picked up the speed! By god, the last 1000 meters, I haven’t ran that fast in years! The last 100 meters, I saw that finish line, surrounded by water and I went for it. I put everything into the back of my mind and stayed focus. I was like a cheetah! My legs were so wide apart when I was sprinting. Where the hell did this energy come from?
Then I did it, I crossed the line, cameras shoved into my face for photos, a bloody television company quickly coming up to me for a few quotes (whilst I was still trying to get my breathe!) and then whilst walking away from the finishing area, that’s when the emotion came out. A couple of tears of happiness. I don’t think it was because of the occasion but it’s about what has happened since December. The journey, being pushed, clearing my head and getting focused, being positive, conditioning my body, working hard for the rewards. It seemed to nearly all came in place whilst I thought about everything as the sun was setting behind me. I had targets as well so did Craig. My target was at least to get a sub 1h40 but it didn’t happen as I finished in 01-40-56. Slower than my Cardiff time but this was so much more rewarding and also, this was my fastest half-marathon time since running in the Welsh capital. So it is progress. It’s a working project. I knew I wasn’t going to get a personal best here, I would have needed to knock off another ten minutes but soon, I am hoping to do this. It’s going to be hard work. Apart from the time, I think I was pleased with the average pace of 7:35 per mile. That was more rewarding.
Will I be running in the next World Championships in 2019? Who knows. All depends on my destiny, the work effort I put in to keep fit and healthy and keep the running mojo going. If I do, I really hope to be back. It’s not everyday you get to run in a World Championships and I did it twice! Taking away a lot of memories, the experience of being here (and at Cardiff) and would like to say now to my coach Craig for getting me back in the game, to my coach and teammates at Stevenage Striders for their support as well as family and friends back home and to my support base in Riga, Latvia. You all know who you are! Now for that marathon in May!
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