When I booked this half marathon I thought it might be a practice at a PB attempt for later in the winter; but that was no longer something I was bothered about. Somehow I'd done better than I could have ever anticipated in the spring; but then did far worse than I'd hoped when it came to running my spring marathon. What this meant was this race had now changed into practicing pace for an autumn marathon instead.
The weekend before the race I did my 22 mile run for the second time this training cycle - the longest I'd do before Amsterdam marathon. My plan then was to have a relatively easy week with my mid-week speedwork being my target marathon pace. It'd be nice and steady and had the potential to be quite fun. During this run though I slipped on some mud in the rain, and went crashing down onto the tarmac. I got back up and finished the run in my target time (having sped up to make up the time I'd lost whilst on the floor) with blood dripping down my arm. After the run I found I'd cut both hands, my right arm, and bruised most of my right side: particularly my hip. As time went on it felt like I'd already run a marathon from the aches.
When I awoke on race day there was heavy rain, and thunderstorms were forecast for the entire morning with 90+% chance. It seemed like so many of my training runs requiring effort were ones done in the rain this training cycle. There were definitely more of them than in the winter at any rate. I decided that it could be the most intense rain ever, and I'd stick with shorts and tee - something which used to be very unlike me; but this summer I've gotten used to the rain. It was going to be a warm 17C anyway, and maybe the rain would mean not needing to take on fluids.
At the Victoria Embankment, even 90 minutes before the race, it was a queue to get in to park. I sat around in my car for a while after parking - I might be okay getting rained on in my run; but there's no need to get needlessly wet. When I got out of my car the rain started to slow and then completely stopped as I started my short warm-up run. I was surprised; but definitely wasn't complaining!
For thirty minutes before the run I stood around in the yellow pen waiting for the race start as patches of blue sky appeared. It wasn't going to last; but was nice it did until after the start. Standing there made me think about something - I was a few rows from the front - I could see the elite runners in the next pen. Five years ago when I'd not long started running I did this race as my first half marathon and I'd been so far back I'd barely been able to see the gantry. Things sure had changed.
When the starter gun went off I could smell the gunpowder as I set off at what felt like a steady pace. Sure, it was actually close to 6:00/mi; but I'd slow down by the time I'd left the park so I was sure that'd be okay. Sure enough, I did slow down; though maybe not quite as much as I was supposed to. I finished that first mile 31 seconds ahead of schedule so immediately started to slow down, and the second mile was close to what it was supposed to be. However, that was when I then hit The Park.
Two years ago I'd been working hard; but everything had fallen apart after the third mile due to the time I spent walking up the hills of this notorious housing estate. Last year I'd taken it easy and ran the entire route. This year: well yeah, it wasn't great. I think with having overdone the first mile I was now hitting these hills too fast and couldn't sustain the pace. One thing I've noticed is that if I slow down whilst on a hill I will walk. If I slow down before I reach the hill then it'll be okay and I'll run to the top no problem if I've judged the effort right.
This year when I walked I kept it short and got running again as soon and as often as I could until making it to the top where Tom and Alison had a Racecheck cheer point. It was good to see them; I'd hoped to see some other friends a little before that but had missed them. I knew they planned on moving the Racecheck cheer point to somewhere else on the course later too; but couldn't remember when it was going to be.
Whilst thinking that I'd made good progress down the long descent passed Lenton, and was fast approaching the Mile 4 marker near the university. After the turn towards Wollaton Park I remembered having drive through the park in the summer, and how by car it seemed different finding the entrance. I was getting quite warm though, and was ready for some water. I took a few steps walking and then got back to running - barely making a dent in my average for the mile; but it was a reminder I needed to slow down. I'd done another 6:15 mile down Derby Road, and was on target for another mile being too fast. My plans for practicing a steady 6:50/mi pace really wasn't working out.
Inside the park I slowed down to grab some water (they've started sing new cartons that are much better!) but fumbled it and dropped it. I never attempted to take on water again during this race as whilst I could have done with some I figured it might be encouragement to get my pacing right. That wasn't going to happen though - then walked up the hill through the park before I started running again. I carried on running all the way out of the park and onto the road.
The next few miles were quite pleasant and for a while I thought I was going to carry on running for the remainder. Once passed the university and heading towards the hairpin bend that leads towards the Mile 9 marker I walked some more when it started to rain once more. This time it was short-lived as I was going to be walking a lot more now before the finish. I'd done a few quick calculations in my head and figured if my last four miles were at 7:15/mi I'd dip in under my target. Half-marathon brain though (is that a thing?): my calculations were wrong though it took two miles to realise it.
Somewhere along Castle Boulevard I saw Alison and Tom again (thanks for the high five!), and then not too long after saw Emma with just enough time to say "hi" on passing. In all honesty, by this point I really couldn't be bothered with the race; but kept going as it was almost over anyway. Some of this was into a surprising headwind. I say surpsing as not only was it very strong; but it was also the only wind I'd noticed in the entire race.
Unlike previous years, there was no hairpin bend along the road through the park as the start line had been pushed back to account for it. This meant I knew roughly how far away it was to the finish, and I'd gone over the distance by around a tenth of a mile. It was most likely from having gone wide whenever I'd walked. The problem was, I suspected I knew exactly what was coming.
When turning off the road and into the field I could see patches of mud that indicated the field really was waterlogged. I'd been planning a sprint finish; though with what had happened during the week I wasn't too sure about running too fast on the field. I was cautious. I left it until rounding the last corner and accelerated slowly instead of a sudden "kick". It worked - I didn't slip, and they'd put some straw across the finish line to help.
Though the area after the finish was an unavoidable quagmire, squelching through mud to collect the finishers medal, water, and cereal bar.
It hadn't gone to plan; but Strava was showing me averaging 6:50/mi for the race which was precisely my goal. So that was something! However that also meant that as I'd gone over distance slightly I'd also failed, as I'd intended on dipping under 90 minutes for the race. I should have thought ahead and allowed for up to a minute for that; but it just hadn't occurred to me when doing calculations. Hopefully this will be enough for Amsterdam; though it has left me with a nagging feeling that I'm not ready.
I finished this with an official chip time of 1:30:20 in position 153.