I think me racing half marathons has become, if you can excuse the pun, a bit of a long running joke. Something always goes wrong, and most of the time it's something outside of my control (the exception being MK Winter Half). One day that luck has to change.
Bassingbourn is about half way between Luton and Cambridge, so can be up to two hours drive from home. The weather was already warm, a side-effect of an extended heatwave that had struck the UK over a week before. It wasn't going to be a pleasant race, and any dream of a sub-90 time had long since gone. At least I remembered to wear sunscreen for once.
Parking was easy, as was finding the start. There was a warm-up before the race, though the person doing it did what I was taught not to do - he got people stretching before warming up. When I did Judo coach training we were always told to warm people up first, then stretch - if you do it the other way around it increases the risk of pulling a muscle.
Within half a mile of starting we'd quickly left the village, and had joined a trail which lasted for about a mile. I'd started off at 06:40/mi pace in the hope that I'd hold it for as long as possible, and during this mile long stretch I started to wonder if perhaps it was already too warm for this. By the time I'd finished my second mile I'd already dropped from 6:39/mi to 6:47/mi and knew I'd be getting slower. It was becoming more difficult, and the start of the hills didn't help.
I caught up with one runner who had started to walk, so I slowed and checked if he was okay. The heat was getting to him too. We were approaching the water station at 5K in and at that point I decided I'd take a walking break as well. I drank half of the cup and poured the rest over my head, but I barely felt it.
After this each mile started to feel harder and harder - I'd look at my watch from time to time, usually as I passed a mile marker, and would realise just how far behind I was. I tried to run when I could, but it seemed to take less and less time to overheat each time I did. An Ely Runner commented to me how nice it would be for some wind, and how unusual it is as a runner to be wanting that. I had to agree though, some cool air would be nice.
Strangely I noticed that marshals would say to keep left, i.e. running with traffic instead of against it, even when there was no pavement on the left. I'd always been told from a young age that when walking on country roads you should walk against traffic so that you can see what's coming. It makes sense really - you wouldn't really want a surprise. I stayed whichever side the other runners were though. I think some were still trying to keep a good racing line despite the heat.
At 10K in there was another water station, and unusually for me I slowed down to get some water there too. At this one I was sprayed a little with water, but I don't think it really made a difference. I found myself wishing I'd got my hydration pack with me - it'd worked out reasonably well in Malawi, and I'm sure it was cooler here. Just. I'd got jelly babies in my flipbelt this time, but never bothered with them.
Knowing that this was around the half way mark I could easily tell that a sub-90 was now out of the question. My only goal now was to finish, and I may as well take my time doing it. Perhaps this would leave me with fresher legs for marathon training. One of the residents whose garden we were passing had her hose pipe at the ready to spray runners as they passed. I slowed down and got drenched through to my skin, but sure enough I was already drying out quickly. I figured I'd be completely dry long before I finished this race.
In Guilden Morden the route finally starts heading back to Bassingbourn via Steeple Morden, and returning through Litlington which we'd passed through in the second mile. Reaching that town again was a relief, and I did try to run for longer than I had done for some time. Although mostly a road race, there were no closed roads so it was good to be alert for this race. For the most part, cars respected the runners, and some even clapped as they passed, though there was one white race support car that did get a little too close to the runners when it had an oncoming car. Fortunately I don't think it bothered anyone, and runners were shouting "car" and "single file" as it approached so people would stay safe.
Instead of going back along the trail from the start of the race, the course instead went down Bassingbourn Road and passed the lesiure centre where I could see my car parked. It felt like the end was near but there was still the best part of a mile to go as we needed to approach the centre from the other side. I couldn't help but think how warm my car would be when I got back to it.
I passed a couple of the many runners who had overtaken me in the last hour, and made sure I stayed ahead. After passing the 13 mile marker I decided I'd speed up a little as I rounded the last corner. I could finally see that finish line, and the chance to overtake just one more. Sure it didn't matter whether I overtook people or not, but I think mentally it's a good way to help force yourself to keep going. I sped up even more just to use up some of that energy I'd never had the chance to use on this warm day. It's amazing how fresh my legs and lungs felt.
I finished with an official time of 1:43:09 - one of my slowest half marathons in quite some time, though still 41st out of 308 finishers. They passed me a bottle of water, and then a finishers medal and a banana.
Whilst I sat in the shade cooling off, it felt like a very negative result, but there were some positives - if I'd been training rater than racing then I'd probably have given up before reaching 13 miles. Of course though, I'd have gone out earlier to try and beat the heat (I've only started to adjust to the heat properly over the last day or two).
Fortunately I've got two more half marathons this year - one which will be a leg stretch the weekend before Chicago, and the other which will be my last sub-90 attempt of the year. One day…