Fighting the Fear at Storm the Fort

I often find myself getting nervous before races, even courses I’ve run before, including at distances as short as 5km and 10km. However, you can imagine my surprise (and annoyance) when the week before my Storm the Fort endurance festival half marathon I started getting MEGA NERVES.

I put the nerves down to feeling under the weather. The recent ‘health dip’ had affected my strength and stamina so I knew it was likely to have a knock-on effect on the run. Gaz even pre-warned one of the organisers that I might have to drop out, enquiring if it was possible to defer to the next year. However, as the weekend got closer and whatever had been bothering me cleared up, the nerves were actually getting worse. I talked myself into — and out of — dropping out several times a day.

On the day before the half, I went and ran a PB-busting parkrun, clocking up a time of 25:04 (and then berated myself for not dropping the four seconds to get in under 25 minutes, and THEN berated myself again for thinking like that when it wasn’t that long ago I was running 30 minute 5ks and telling people I’d never ever be able to do a 5k in 25 minutes!) I ran from parkrun to my Saturday Taekwon-do lesson, clocking up a total distance of nearly 10 miles. THE DAY BEFORE A HALF MARATHON. I think I was trying to give myself another reason to fail? If I was too fatigued from my Saturday run I couldn’t possible do the half.

By Saturday evening, my stomach was in knots. I was scared it was going to be too hard, I was scared I would be too tired, I was scared I’d get lost, and mostly I was scared I’d fail and make an idiot of myself. I couldn’t focus on anything and Gaz thought he’d pissed me off because I wasn’t talking to him, I was so wrapped up in nerves. I set out my kit, but fully intended to wake up at 5am, change my mind and go back to sleep. And then I played myself…

I have a bit of a competitive streak. Although I keep it in check most of the time, I know that it sits in the background. I reckon it’s why I sprint finish all races. Anyway, I knew that if I posted online making my worries and woes public, telling people that I wanted to drop out, that it would compel me to compete: to force me to be “better” than the person I could or would be if I dropped out. And it worked. I woke at 5am after an utterly dreadful nights sleep and went straight into race prep mode. First battle: won!

It was freakin’ cold on Sunday morning. 1 degree as we got in the car, still dark out, and no warmer when we arrived in Clun (a little town in South Shropshire) just under an hour later. The first frost of the year was lying low on the grass, and I shivered my way into Race HQ to register and collect my number. Shortly after arriving I spotted another runner from Broseley Joggers, my local club, and we chatted a little about the course and how hard it was supposed to be, and he reassured me that it was probably not as difficult as May the Fourth, the Star Wars themed trail half marathon I have completed every year for the past few years. Gaz then, having had a nose at the entry papers, pointed out that I was one of only 3 women doing the half so no matter how I finished, as long as I DID finish, I was guaranteed a ‘win’. This cheered me up no end (see, I told you I was competitive).

I’d just like to specifically mention at this point that Gaz had woken up with me at 5am, done all the driving, and stood around in 1 degree weather for the entire duration of my half without a single word of complaint. And he does this for every race or event when he’s not working. I fucking love my husband. Anyway…

We were briefed, and directed outside for the race to start. The half marathon runners were starting at the same time as people participating in the short and long course duathlon, with approximately 40 people milling around waiting to go. I had assumed that at least half of these would do the half marathon, but it later turned out that there were only about 12 of us, and I couldn’t even keep up with them as I was easily overtaken by everyone before the first corner.

As I caught up to a woman just in front of me, I laughed and said how demotivating it was being overtaken by everyone right at the start. I then proceeded to overtake her, and then spent the next half an hour worrying that she might have thought I was mocking her (when I was talking about people leaving ME for dust!) Oh, anxiety.

After a sneaky divert into a field for a wee (despite no queues for the first time ever pre-race, and fitting in 3 pees?!) I started to make ground on another female runner ahead of me. Of course, it was not to be, as the course then diverted sending all short course duathlon participants in the opposite direction, whereupon everyone I could see went the short way. I continued to run, not seeing another soul (marshals aside) for anywhere between 6-8 miles. I wondered at one point (not knowing the runner count then) if I was running alone!

Despite being alone for the vast majority of the run (and when I did see people they were coming back the opposite way, already way ahead of me) I really enjoyed the course, and was massively spurred on by several of the marshals who were just incredible despite it being so cold out. I was dead last for the entire run beyond the divert point, but at no point was I made to feel like I was inconveniencing anybody out there, and they all cheered and pushed me on.

I finally finished in 02:26:15 (well over half an hour faster than my last May the Fourth time) to find out that, because the 3rd woman on the list hadn’t run, I had automatically come in second. Woo, my first “podium” finish (deserved or otherwise!)

I really enjoyed the course, and didn’t find it as hard as it had been made out to be (by my internal dialogue and other runners). I would definitely run it again, although maybe without the 10 mile warm-up the day before, next time.

Lead photo of Clun Bridge by A. R. Yeo

Jem Turner hello@strongmum.com +44(0)7521056376

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