When I entered this race, I was feeling confident. I was seeing a huge improvement with my times. I was getting stronger, and faster. The elusive sub 1:50 half marathon was well within my reach. I even began to believe that 1:45 was achievable, based on my recent race times.
Then my injuries returned.
As well as a short lay off, I had to stop the speed work, as my ankle couldn’t cope. The one race in which I took part in, I had to take easy, but perversely, this was a confidence booster. It was a tough course, quite hilly, and if I maintained the pace I ran that in, I would be able to reach my sub 1:50 target! A nice idea, in theory.
As far as long runs went, I had a comfortable 13.5 mile easy run a couple for weeks before Robin Hood, but there was no real pace involved. I know these runs aren’t supposed to be run quickly, but I wasn’t confident of running any decent pace for a sustained period.
I have also had a few sports massages, to give the injury a better chance of recovering. I feel much better now, and realise that the foam roller, and strengthening exercises are necessary evils, which I cannot ignore. On the Tuesday before the race, I even tried out some quicker paced intervals, whilst with the running group. I had no adverse action, and surprisingly, I hadn’t lost too much pace. But again, I wasn’t confident of sustaining my desired race pace, but I believed I could PB. Just.
Wednesday and Thursday had other ideas, and my confidence and self-belief was kicked from me as I suffered bouts of Runners Tummy. This has never affected me outside of the gym, and was a huge blow to me. Not literally, mind. Whilst I avoided mishaps, the cramps were agonising. Friends thought that it may be nerves, a couple of others thought it might be a bug. But I felt fine, if I wasn’t running. Perhaps it was pressure?
The day before the race, Leicester City played Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. I’d planned to have a pasta dish in the Wetherspoons pub, but when we arrived, they only appeared to be serving burgers. We decided to brave the chippy on the way to the ground, instead. Delays after the game mean that we were chasing train connections, and didn’t have time to stop for drinks, and I was desperately thirsty on the way home. Not ideal preparation.
After a restless night, I was actually pretty calm in race morning. Mindful of the stomach problems, I took a precautionary Imodium tablet, and we set off for Nottingham.
We arrived at about 7.30am, but we weren’t the first at the race village. Taking advantage of the empty portaloos, the now customary pre-race tradition of bladder emptying started. I have no idea why this happens. I seems to pass more fluid than I take in! Yeah, probably a bit too much information, sorry.
The Bloke was keener to get to the start area earlier than I did. The instructions said to be there by 8.30am, for the 9.30am start, which seemed a bit excessive to me. We somehow bumped into a Twitter friend, Matthew, who was running his second half marathon (edited: I mistakenly thought it was his first, sorry, Matt). I took in all the different clubs represented at the race, from all over the Midlands, and South Yorkshire, mostly. I wanted to give my own club, West End Runners, a good showing. 1:49 something would do that.
We headed to the start, where our section, the red section and second wave to be set off, had two pacers; a 1:50 half pacer (8:24 min/mile), and a 3:30 (8.01 min/mile pace) for the full marathon. If I could keep between them, I’d be on for that PB! It was also good to see our mates, and club-mates, Louise and Gary at the start, for their words of encouragement. Saying that, I still reckon Gary would have taken my place, given half the chance!
We were set off a few minutes after the first group; I’ve no idea how long we waited. I quickly settled down to a rhythm, which was about 7:45 min/mile pace, according to my Garmin. “Okay”, I thought, “maybe I need to ease off a bit”, but I was still at around 7:50 min/mile pace, and feeling good. The course, described as “flat” and a “PB course” undulated a bit. There was a hill past the station, not far after the first mile, but I was doing well. I maintained the sub 8 min/mile pace easily. I felt comfortable, and I wasn’t even breathing hard, unbelievable when I thought back over recent training runs.
The course took us out of the city centre, and towards Boots facility by the A52 junction that heads out towards Clifton and the M1. Six miles in, almost half way, and I was feeling good.
Then we reached the University of Nottingham campus. Suddenly, this “flat” course didn’t look very flat at all. I was face to face with my Nemesis. The Hill. Not only was it unexpected, it was also very unwelcome. Bearing in mind this was the end of September, I was regretting not wearing my Oakleys, and glad that I had put SPF on. One ambulance had gone past, as a runner had collapsed about four miles in. Some runners were already walking, and the water pouches were being used to cool heads, and not rehydrate. By the way, pouches are a great idea in principle. Brilliant if they’ve been opened for you, because it’s nigh on impossible to do whilst running. Empty pouches are more slippery, and easier to trip on than bottles or cups. I wonder if they were made from a more environmentally friendly material?
Anyway, I made battle with The Hill. I don’t think either of us came out victorious, but at least I didn’t lose. It had taken it out of me, though. I recovered, but my pace was now just over 8 min/mile pace. A quick calculation at seven miles, and I had to redo it a couple of times, as I kept coming up with 1:43, if I got some momentum back, and 1:49 if I totally blew up.
Head up, I kept going. The route back into the city centre seemed to undulate more than the outward route, and each uphill section took more out of me. As I closed in on ten miles, I had to run back up the same hill I’d run up just after the first mile. It seemed steeper. It was certainly warmer. We started to see markers for the marathon and half marathon split. First 400m, then 300m, the 200m marker must’ve been much further than 100m away and as for the 100m marker, I began to wonder if the organisers had got their measurements wrong! I was feeling zapped, my shoes, which were to be retired after this run, had waved a little white flag and lost any cushioning, meaning I could feel every bump in the road. Not only that, I had a small stone lodged under the base of my right big toe, and it hurt. A lot. Had I gone off too quickly? Had I judged the pacing wrong? Would I make it without walking?
Because every time a negative thought entered my head, I tried to dig in. I had less than three miles to go.
Then it was two miles. I heard my name, and saw my mother-in-law, Fran, my sis-in-law, Mary, her partner, Jo, and our niece Connie waving! I then heard another shout, and a running club-mate, Hannah was shouting, and saying I looked strong. I disagreed, but I’ll let you decide!
The twelve mile marker seemed to take an age to reach. I admit, seeing the quicker runners on the other side of the loop, and not seeing the turn brought out an outburst of Runners Tourette’s. Knowing I had just over 8 more minutes to run, I dug in again. Hannah had crossed over, and offered more words of encouragement, even though I felt disembodied by this point. I think I looked delerious, too!
The thirteen mile marker seemed to be closer than the previous three mile markers! I had no idea how far 0.1 miles is, but I couldn’t see the finish line. I was conscious of other runners, and didn’t want to be overtaken, like I had in other races. I pushed on and found a bit of energy. Then I saw the finish line! At the same time, I heard Louise and Gary cheering me, but I was more focused on the clock. My Garmin was reading 1:45, but the gun time showing, and the one that counts for UK Athletics rankings, was getting closer to 1:50! Battling with the clock, i mustered every last bit of effort I could, and finished in under 1:50 gun time!
The time showing on my watch was 1:46:11.
I’d only gone and done it! Not only that, despite the bad luck, I think it’s fair to say I smashed it!
I made my way to a barrier, as I’d gone a bit light-headed, but I was quick to recover. I don’t know if it was excitement, or dehydration.
I saw another West End vest, not the Bloke, but another club-mate, Leon, who had finished just behind on the gun time, but was quicker on the chip time. I couldn’t see the Bloke. I had my medal, and a bottle of water, and I waited.
He finished about 11 minutes after me. He looked strong down the finishing straight, but he said that the heat had done him no favours, and he had struggled from 9 miles. A lot of runners appeared to have suffered, the first aiders were certainly busy whilst I waited in the finishing area.
Amazingly, we also managed to find all our friends and family to celebrate. Considering there were over 10,000 runners, plus their supporters, I think the running gods were smiling down on us. They certainly smiled upon me!
My face has been glowing since, and not because of the result. I’ve definitely caught the sun, and I’m glad I creamed up before running! I finished 1425th out of 7130 finishers. I haven’t worked out where I fit among the various categories, but a top 20% finish in such a big race is amazing! I’ve also achieved another club gold standard time!
As for the pacing question, I woke up this morning (the morning after), with a “funny cold face”, a sore throat, and really sore eyes. This is normally the precursor to my usual autumnal tonsillitis. Maybe I hadn’t paced it wrong, and it would explain why I suddenly felt so heavy, and lethargic towards the end.
You can see that The Hill did have some impact, however. It’s like a huge middle finger in my face, taunting me. Will I come back next year, and conquer it? I don’t know. Whilst the race was well-organised, I was a bit disappointed with the goody back; a Mars bar, an Alpen bar, and loads of leaflets. I understand the principle of paying extra for a t-shirt, but other races do tend to have a few more freebies, even if they are samples. Given the cost to enter (£27.75 for an affiliated runner, unaffiliated runners paid £29.75!), it seems a bit churlish.
I never expected to finish closer to 1:45 than 1:50, after the last few weeks, and if it turns out I am under the weather, then I will be tackling one of the spring half marathons with loads of confidence. Not that I’m waiting until the spring. My next half is Leicester, where I hope to enjoy the race, as well as help Louise to complete her first half marathon!