Read on for the answer to my next challenge, as well as a race report where I score my ultimate personal best!
Monday – runcommute
Today was absolutely freezing. Nonetheless, I was going to aim for 7:15 min/mile pace but felt comfortable at 6:40ish. This run as a commute, the bus I would have caught set off at the same time I did, so naturally I wondered if I could beat it home again! Running at a fast but comfortable pace, as I arrived at the stop I would get off, I looked back with a grin as I saw I’d beaten it!
My focus had been to get back before 4pm so my wife could go out for her run. We had a Simpsons moment when we both arrived home at the same time, both rushing to be the first!
Wednesday – runcommute
On a high from catching Mewtwo the day before, I played Pokemon throughout this jog. With a race this weekend, I kept the distance low at just 10 miles. Though I was tempted to alternate miles at half marathon pace, stuck to the easy jog plan. However, I included strides just to remind my legs of race pace.
To make it more fun, switched my watch display to clock and didn’t check my pace at all, no matter how tempting it was every time it beeped! Checking data afterwards, the mile splits came in pretty even at about 7:15 min/mile pace; particularly the last three miles where there was only a second difference between them.
As I neared my house, some kid was riding his bike without holding the handlebars. I picked up the pace to show him what “cool” really looked like. When he saw I was beating him, he quickly held the handlebars and sped off! I’ve proved my point.
Friday – 5k
I have a tapering routine where I jog 4, 3 and 2 miles with strides on consecutive days in the days immediately before a race. However, being busy with work, church and family has meant I hadn’t got these runs in, which are important for keeping the legs ticking over and preventing lethargy. So once the kids were in bed and despite knowing I’d have a busy day tomorrow, I squeezed in a short 5k. Not ideal, but better than nothing!
Compounding the difficulty was that I wore my glasses that day; something that didn’t occur to me until my baby was already asleep in my bedroom, preventing me from retrieving my contact lenses! I’d have to jog while my glasses balanced precariously. This should be interesting…
Despite going considerably slower than my normal jogging pace, at about 8:45 min/mile, my glasses wobbled a lot and kept falling off! Having to hold them for much of the run was annoying, but needs must, eh?
The jog was successful nonetheless, at least managing to maintain the strides at decent race pace.
Sunday – Brass Monkey Half Marathon
I’d heard about this race due to it being one of fellow runblogger Andy Yu’s favorites. It’s not one I would have considered otherwise – not least of all because it’s quite early in the training season and 130 miles is a heckuva long way to travel just for a half. But as my wife has an ambition to run a race every month and I wanted to check it out, I figured; why not?
I managed to get a hotel perfectly right next to the venue at a decent rate (£60, thanks to England Athletics), and was walking distance from the town centre. A night of Nando’s and Costa, Fellowship of the Ring and 2 Fast 2 Furious later, and it was race day!
Admittedly, I wasn’t looking forward to this race in the fortnight prior. December had been a bit of a non-starter with training, my parkrun times hadn’t been impressive, and I’d hardly had any long runs. With my last half marathon back in September giving a time of 81 minutes, I doubted I’d be able to match it (check out the comments on my blog post a couple of weeks back). I wavered between attempting a sub-80, or offering to pace Andy to a sub-84. In the end, I figured I spent money on the hotel, petrol and race fee, and drove 3 hours to get there; I may as well give it my best!
My plan – not fleshed out at all and is always one I default to despite being a bad idea – was to go at 5k pace for 6 miles, hang on until mile 8, and see what happened for the rest of the run, with a sufficient time buffer having been built up. Energy gels would be taken at 5 and 9 miles to get me through the parts of the run I’d figure to be the most exhausting. Yes, there were a lot of holes in that plan!
With a gentle half mile warm up jog from the hotel to the start line, the temperature was barely bearable. There’s a reason why the race is called Brass Monkey! Packing for all circumstances, I’d brought my club vest, t-shirt, long sleeve top and gloves. I settled on the long sleeve, which proved perfect for the temperature, and chivalrously gave my gloves to my wife. I don’t need my fingers for running, right?
With start pens suitably organised, I left my wife at the 1:45 area (her current PB at 1:53) and headed for the sub-80 area. I’d gotten accustomed to positioning myself right on the start line, but the runner’s pack suggested that the faster runners were defined as approximately 65 minuters! Humbling, or what?
Meeting up with Andy (who bravely wore a mere vest!), we had a good chat about our expectations. We’d come to the same conclusion that the wind would be against us for the first half, but should give support on the return journey. He warned me about a couple of hills at the start, though thankfully less troublesome than the ones I’m accustomed to at Sandwell parkrun. He also mentioned it was safe to pick up my pace when I saw the racecourse we started from. It was good to have a seasoned expert on hand for all this!
We also met his friend, Carl, who was targeting a faster time than me but was running according to his heart rate. As I’m dependent on my watch, I’d love to be at that stage one day! Carl introduced me to another of his friends, who again was targeting a slightly faster time. In my head I figured that if I could keep him in sight but not worry about catching him, then that would prove a suitable guide. I’d made the mistake of informing them that I was targeting sub-80. I was committed now!
The start was a bit rammed, forcing me to only 6:30 pace, 30 seconds off where I wanted to be. My experience from London however, had taught me not to worry about it too much; there’d be plenty of time to make it up later. With a bit of dodging, sprinting and weaving, I managed to slip away from the main pack. Carl’s friend was visible for the most part thanks to his bright red top, but just like in the movies where someone disappears when obscured by the crowd, he vanished!
Soon came the the first hill Andy warned me about; good to have a heads up about it. Then came the second hill. “Oh my life!” I thought. Though not as bad as Sandwell, it was still worse than I thought! I took it gently, thankfully was over with quickly.
Decent sharp downhills followed, as well as a long, subtle decline. Balancing it out, however, was a strong wind against me that drained energy. I made use of other runners as windguards, but it was somewhat limited.
A funny thing about racing, that people you’ve never met before and may never see again will naturally gravitate around you due to running similar paces, and you strike up temporary alliances. Using one such runner to keep my legs and breathing steady at an even pace, windguarding for each other, we had an unspoken motivation between us; “you help me, I’ll help you.” He took a corner sharper than I did, gaining a couple of seconds and reminding me of a scene from 2 Fast 2 Furious I’d watched the night before. You’re not racing, you’re allies! I reminded myself.
At the halfway point (helpfully made clear by a sign stating such), he broke the silence with “we’re doing well lads, keep it up.” It was confirmed; I couldn’t let him down now! In the distance I saw Carl, and we gradually caught up to him. Checking he was doing okay, he felt “just” to drop to marathon pace. Here I was going all out, and he was strolling!
My ally and I chatted a little bit afterwards, confirming that we were both at PB efforts and discussed our marathon goals. To my surprise, he still hadn’t achieved his London Good for Age, having had a disastrous attempt last year but would go for it at Rotterdam this year. Best of luck to him, guy who’s name I don’t know!
Getting my energy gel out for mile 9, the pocket’s zip was troublesome and I was worried about losing my hotel keycard with my fumbling! Eventually – with great difficulty – I managed to get it out while ensuring my keycard was safe. However, my ally had started to pull away, either from second wind or me losing pace. Choosing not to pursue him, I looked to maintain as steady a pace as I could.
The Mile 10 sign came into view, my watch displaying a shade under an hour. Just think; if I was only running 10 miles, I could have gone all out now and achieved my first sub-hour 10 mile run. Oh well, another day. On the plus side, my new 10 mile time is 1:00:38!
In the meantime, another similarly-paced runner had pulled up beside me and he confirmed we were on for an 1:18:45 finish. I was tempted to pull back, knowing that the target was beyond my capability. Nevertheless, I stuck with him, feeling okay though starting to fall apart.
Mile 11, I attempted to swing my legs rather than push too hard, but they felt more wobbly than jelly, less stable than those strawberry shoelaces sweets. I lamented that I hadn’t carb-loaded enough the days before, my legs feeling as though they had literally nothing left within them. Making it worse was the return of the hill we faced at the start of the race. “What goes up, must come down” my ally reminded me. I chanted it as a mantra, closed my eyes, managed to drag myself to the top of the hill and made the most of the downhill.
My new ally had started to pull away from me, and despite trying to keep up, I’d had to let him go. Mile 11 is always the worst point in a half marathon for me, and it proved true today. I constantly felt that the wheels were about to come off, that I’d crash right down to near-walking pace, that despite a valiant effort I’d end up with a time slower than my current PB.
Why am I doing this? To beat Barry. For my wife’s “well done” afterwards. For the “well done” from my colleagues. To prove I’m capable of a 2:45 marathon. Ten minutes left to run one-point-two miles. You should be able to do it.
Andy had said when I saw the racecourse, it’s safe to go all out. It’s one thing thinking it ahead of time, but when you’ve pushed yourself beyond your limits for an hour and a quarter, “going all out” means “keeping upright!”
Before I knew it, the “800m left” sign came into view. Two laps of the track. Come on. I started counting back from 30 (I don’t know why, I’d have picked any number, even a million if it crossed my mind). Then 600m left. 400m. I switched to “duration” on my watch, which displayed 1:18:40. I caught up to my second ally. “You predicted it spot on!” I call out, him responding with something positive. Finish line in sight, I passed him. There was a woman just ahead. You gonna let yourself get beaten by a female? My kick came into full force and I passed her. The announcer confirmed a surprise; it wasn’t just any female, she was the first female! Kicking onwards, I crossed the line a mere second ahead of her. New PB: 1:18:54! Three minutes faster than before!
I collapsed onto a metal railing, desperately catching my breath. Once I gathered my strength, I gave thanks and congrats to my two allies who had supported me throughout. Seeing Carl’s friend who finished not long before me, he confirmed a PB as well. A little while later, Carl casually crossed the finish line and Andy a little while afterwards, him having bagged a PB also.
I immediately went for a quick dash (as quick as my exhausted legs would allow) back to the hotel for a shower, change and checkout, returning back to the course to greet my wife. She had also scored a PB by three minutes, 1 hr 50 min!
I’m really happy – even if somewhat bewildered – with the result, accomplishing not only a sub-80 which I’d dreamed of for almost a year, but a sub-79! Even if I don’t run a half marathon again, I’d be happy with that to be my ultimate PB. At least, that’s what I thought for the first hour. Then thoughts of 77 minutes crept into my head… and then 74…! I achieved 78 minutes after two quiet months. Just think what I could accomplish if I actually trained!
Back at Silverstone a few years back, I attempted my first sub-90 by making use of a pacer. Unfortunately it didn’t happen (I clearly wasn’t ready at 1 hr 35), but since then I’d wanted to be a pacer to help others accomplish their goals. I’m happy to say that it’ll soon be a reality!
At the Birmingham 10k in May, I’ll be a Duracell Bunny, pacing those looking to go sub-40! It’s a distance and time I’m more than comfortable with (I pulled out a 37 minute one, twice today!), but it will be nerve-wracking knowing there’ll be people watching and dependent on me. Nonetheless, I’m excited about it!