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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Leicester Half Marathon 2021

Training for this half marathon was never really a possibility. It was one of those races from 2020 that was postponed, and was now in a position where I'd run it, but it didn't fit well with other race plans. After the Manchester Marathon I'd got two weekends free before this race. What this meant really was that in order to allow my legs to recover properly after the marathon, and to have a lighter load before race day, there was only really one week where I could do anything to work on pace. Going into this race I did have on my mind where I used to be: 84:42 for Victoria Park in 2019, and 86:14 for the Big Half in 2020. Leicester could not be compared to Victoria Park in terms of elevation, so I thought getting as close as I could to the Big Half would be my target. I'd want to get a time of around 87:00 to 87:30 to feel like things are going relatively okay.

I woke up on the weekend before this race with a cold, but I was fortunate this only really lasted two days. I did take an LFT anyway, just to confirm I'd be able to race. It was going to be a wet one though, and whilst I'd planned for it to be cold, I wasn't so sure what layers to wear for it being cold and wet. It meant a lot of procrastination on the morning of the race, not really committing to anything. I decided I'd take a couple of spare layers with me so I could decide once I got there. I was imagining this was going to be like the races I've done in Ashbourne, and that maybe I wouldn't notice the rain so much after a couple of miles even though training in it during the week had been tough at times.

I parked on the road next to Victoria Park, and sat in my car as I listened to the rain pelting the roof of my car. It sounded heavy, and every now and then I could feel the wind rock my car. After almost half an hour I took off my hoodie, and put on the poncho that I hoped would keep me dry until the start of the race. For my half mile warm up I could feel it catch the wind constantly, and I knew I wouldn't be able to run with this. I then made my way to the sub-90 pen, and stood under a tree, hoping to avoid the majority of the wind. It was however very cold standing around, but at 09:05 I got into position, ready to race. At around 09:10 they announced that the race would be ten minutes late starting due to traffic on the course, just outside the park. After less than five minutes they announced the race would start in three minutes, and people hurried back into place. I quickly got my watch ready, and the race had begun.

I crossed the line with the poncho still on, I decided that I'd keep it until I'd warmed up enough. To start with though there were a few people who'd started on the front-line and were holding hands, yet doing around a 2hr30 pace. It caused some congestion initially on the right hand side of the course, but it didn't take too long to get passed and be on my way at my intended pace. At least, I thought it was my intended pace. In case you don't know, I wear prescription glasses when running, and whilst they do react to UV to make it more pleasant on sunny days, on wet days they have no features that help. In fact, they'd got so much rain on them it wasn't that easy to see where I was going, and I certainly couldn't read my watch. I just had to go on how it felt. In reality, as this was a downhill mile, it was actually a 6:05/mi pace, which then led into a 6:19 for the second, before settling into a more reasonable pace.

As the third mile began, I passed Dorset Street and noticed a runner in front of me had actually come all the way from Dorset to run this as well. If my feet hadn't been so uncomfortable from running through constant puddles, I'm sure I would have smiled at that. The puddles were as frequent as the rain; whilst the rain pelted down, the puddles were splashing up - so I was getting wet from all directions. At around the 5K point there was a water station, but I figured I'd been taking on so much water from the rain, it wasn't needed at all. I appreciated that there were so many volunteers out on the course in these conditions. Whilst they were horrendous for us runners, it'd have been even worse just standing around in it. I told myself that the quicker I went, the sooner I could get out of this rain. I thought then it'd be typical if the rain stopped only after I finished running, that was something that did make me smirk whilst running.

In places, runners left the coned area to run amongst the traffic rather than go through puddles that were so very big. I figured I was already drenched, I couldn't get any wetter, so no need to inconvenience the cars too. The puddles on the way out of Belgrave were immense and in places my feet were submerged to ankle deep. I thought maybe it wouldn't be so bad to run through if there were more people about, splashing it out of the way - where I was I could see a number of runners ahead, and a few behind - but I'd got so much space all to myself. Eventually the route reached Thurmaston and there's a gradual incline here on the way out of the village and onto the dual carriage way that leads to the junction with the entrance to Watermead Park.

This park is one in previous years I've often ended up walking in as I've managed to get the pacing so epically wrong. This time though I was going a little slower than I felt I normally would, as now I was running into the rain whilst I couldn't see my watch beforehand, now it was a struggle to know where I was going. I was pretty much relying on staying close to other runners so I could follow their blurs. One of these blurs did speak to me as they passed me, calling me by name, but I couldn't see their face - only the red and black colouring of their tee or vest. Hopefully they weren't offended that I seemed confused. Every now and then I'd get rainwater dripping into my eyes, mixed with salty sweat that stung as it made contact. The poncho now was catching the wind far more than before, and it was pressed tight at the front, with it billowing out behind me like a parachute as a brake. I guess a bit of resistance training doesn't hurt every now and then.

Eventually though, the park too was left behind as the route entered a residential area in what I think was Birstall. When I almost ran into one of the cones that segregated us from the traffic, I decided I needed to try and dry my glasses off a bit. I slowed to a walk and removed my glasses so I could wipe the water from my eyes first, and then from them. One of the marshalls asked if I was okay, I nodded, and said, "all good, thanks" before carrying on.

From Loughborough Road, the route goes onto a path that leads behind the space centre. At the point of seeing the space centre, there's just 5K to go. For the last few miles I'd stuck behind another runner like glue, but now I slowed down, cleaned my glasses again, and then got going again - putting some distance between myself and anyone in front. This is how a lot of the race was - I could usually see people in front, but usually no more than two or three, and every now and then I'd pass a couple, or a couple would pass me.

This path leads to the entrance to Abbey Park, and right in front of the curb was a massive puddle - just to make sure if any part of my shoes or feet had started to dry out, they'd be squelching for the next few miles. When I first entered the park I slowed down to start with as I wasn't totally sure whether to go left or right. I felt it was to the left, as I was sure that was the way I'd gone in previous years. I made that decision, and then found I was right as a marshall was walking towards me - probably heading to that split in the path to direct runners.

This bit of the course is far more familiar for me as a lot of 10K races also use this park, and I've been through it a number of times in training. Out the other side, and onto the A6, the route is then on the pavement, but there is one point where it was good I'd caught up to some more runners. When you reach the road crossing if you keep to the path then due to some railings you'd end up having to go further. With the runners in front, and having run this way several times this year, I knew to run onto the road as soon as I was able to. This then goes down to the underpass where my watch isn't too happy and sometimes loses a little distance off the run. Once out of it, there's also a hairpin bend which you can't turn into with any speed at all in these conditions.

I'm sure I walked briefly before reaching the High Cross, but then ran from there through the city centre where it was almost deserted except for a few spectators and plenty of marshals. Near the Adult Education College I passed a bakery I used to visit daily whilst at University here, and joined New Walk - the steady incline to the finish.

At the start of New Walk, the rain had about stopped and the sun had started to come out, and there was a brief period where I could actually look at my watch. I realised that despite having had several walking breaks, I could potentially finish this race in 87 minutes. What I hadn't counted on though was that with it no longer raining, my glasses were now happy to steam up. That was even worse than it raining! I don't know if it was increased effort making them steam up quicker, but I had to clear them a couple of times along New Walk. At least the poncho wasn't getting in the way now.

At the top of New Walk I could just about see where the finish line was - about 0.2 miles to go. I took this bit easy, and crossed the finish line in a time of 88:18. This was position 68 of 1,620 putting me in the first 5% of finishers. Just as I had for every other race since the middle of 2019, I missed my target even though the target I'd set was supposed to be accounting the lack of racing until recently. However, I can say it's the fastest I've ever run a half marathon in the rain whilst wearing a poncho. Maybe that's something.

With the Limassol Half in November postponed until the new year, my focus now will be on getting as ready as I can be for the MK Winter Half in December. Maybe this can get be a sub-87 minute time if I'm lucky - then it'll feel like my racing is back on track.

Tags: 13point1 halfmarathon race running sport

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© David G. Paul