Just days before my first ever trail half marathon, I managed to injure my knee. It wasn't a running related injury - just the result of the chain slipping on my bike and me slamming my knee into the handle bars. It looked like I wasn't going to make it to the race, as even before the race I could still feel discomfort in my knee. However, I decided to risk starting this race knowing it might also be my first DNF.
The Longhorn is a race of multiple distances, it's just that I chose to do the half marathon which starts later in the day. A later start means a little more planning around fuelling before the race, and a decision on whether or not to fuel during the race. Despite a thunderstorm overnight, it was going to be warm and humid throughout the race.
Four of us from #visorclub met up for a photo before the race, and then joined the start pen. The first wave was for runners doing 6-8 minutes per mile, and I felt that even with my knee as it was it should be doable. Before the race I'd done a 0.2 mile warm-up just to make sure it was possible. I could feel my knee pulling. It felt tight, but it didn't really hurt… unless I touched it. So I didn't touch it.
This race is the opposite direction to Thoresby - it goes counter-clockwise around the estate so in some ways this would all be new despite having run here before. I started too fast, realising that I was doing 5:00/mi pace I slowed to something a little more reasonable. I wasn't sure how the day would go so settled into a pace similar to the Manchester Marathon by the time the course diverged for the half marathon runners.
When the route rejoined the others I'd slowed some more, but felt comfortable. My knee wasn't too badly and I thought maybe I could get a reasonable time after all. I think the phrase I'm looking for there is “don't count your chickens…” as sure enough things would soon change.
Before I'd even reached 5K I started to realise how warm I was getting. It was a lot warmer than I'd thought and even slowing my pace was not cooling me down. I ran passed the first water station, not willing to wait for the crowd getting water. At the second one it was a little quieter so I stopped and joined the queue for water. It's not something I'd normally do in a race - I knew this event had done the respectful thing of minimising the use of plastics. I applaud them for that. I recently blogged about what races can do to try and cut down on the amount of plastics used. You could argue that bottles are recyclable, but it takes a lot of energy to do so, so better to use less. It's good to see a responsible race organiser.
If I'd wanted to run for time I'd have used my backpack, but this time I thought with my knee I'd be slow enough to not need water. I was wrong. The volunteers were speedy keeping up with demand and I probably lost no more than a few seconds.
I was surprised by how many runners I'd caught up with - the 10K had started long enough before that it wasn't really expected we'd reach congestion, but I did need to weave through a few. It was becoming a struggle though - I'd already walked twice and as the lap went on I was walking more and more. I couldn't decide if it was a tough course or tough conditions, but eventually I found some respite in running down hill as I neared the end of the first lap. There were people that had been out there for hours, running a marathon or an ultra. I couldn't imagine what they were feeling like.
At the start of the second lap I tried to keep going for as long as possible, but I'd already walked a few times in the first lap. I knew it'd only be a matter of time before I did again. This time though, I got an alert on my watch that a good friend had just passed the half-way point in the London Marathon. I thought she might need some encouragement, so I slowed to a walk so I could retrieve my phone and tweet her some positive words. No matter how difficult I was finding this race, I could only imagine what running a marathon would be like in this. In fact, whilst there was shade I could run in here, those running the London Marathon would be exposed to it all.
This lap was a lot slower, but it was also a lot quieter. The 10K runners should now be so far ahead of me that I'd now only encounter marathon and ultra marathon runners. Though there were times I couldn't really see anyone about. It's a well sign posted course though, and having already run one lap I knew I was going the right way.
Eventually I caught up with more runners, and some Nordic walkers, just in time for it to start spitting with rain. It would have been welcome, but it seemed the heat was too much for the rain as well as it never really got started.
As buildings started to come into sight I knew I was reaching the finish, I forced myself to run more as I wanted to make sure I'd be under 1 hour 40 minutes. I already knew I'd be slower than the first half of the manchester marathon, but I wanted to make sure I was at least quicker than the second half of it! I started to see runners without numbers going in the opposite direction, taking advanatge of getting some extra miles in whilst the estate was open. I knew I wouldn't have the energy to follow them, I barely had the energy to make myself run sporadically.
Eventually Thoresby Hall came into view and I made the effort to keep on running. If people were running the warmest London Marathon on record, then maybe I could at least run this little bit. The marshalls there were incredibly supportive so I used that to push harder, and then eventually sprinted to the finish line. I knew my legs had the energy, it was just the heat. I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and walked into the tent to get a medal, a banana, crisps, and a bottle of water. It wasn't until I got home that I actually looked at my time. I was more focussed on seeing how my friend was doing, and sending more tweets to encourage her in this brutal weather. From what I could tell, most people were running around 10% slower than they normally would have.
My time was 1:38:54 - a lot slower than I'd normally run a half marathon in; but that's my first trail half done. It was however in position 16 of 322 - the first 4.9%, and I was 4th in my age category. All of the volunteers for this race, of which there were many, did a fantastic job.