I went on to do a 1:35 half marathon at that time, which was a PB by a couple of minutes which I was pleased with, but then for various personal reasons, seemed to lose my long distance training drive and until last year with the Thames Meander, I’d only done the occasional 10k.
That was the last time I had a similar level of fitness and had not been troubled with injury, because even last year before doing the TM and MdS I was recovering from shin splints.
It has been a long, hard road – 5 years long, and it is only on reflection that I realised the other day how much I had been set back and frustrated with various issues. Only now can I dare to think that I am improving my performance past my previous best.
Today it came together though – 29th March 2009 – lined up at the start of the Reading half Marathon, 5 years almost to the day since my previous excursion at that distance, and although I felt nervous about a cold I was fighting off*, tight shins and tired calves from training in the week; I was ignoring my mind games.
So there we were, John and I again – pushed RIGHT to the front with the elite athletes – can you imagine. By the time we arrive there was barely 3 minutes to wait in the bright morning sun. The weather was perfect, the position was perfect and I was ready.
This was my chance to put years of frustration behind me.
At the gun, we were off. No really; OFF. None of this meandering about for ten minutes shuffling towards the line before finally breaking into a slow trot – Six seconds to cross the line rather than the twenty minutes it took those at the back, I later found out!
No, we were almost sprinting from the start, “oh my word!” I thought, can I maintain this, it feels steady but it’s too fast. We’re going uphill already, and I’m passing people, but my legs aren’t warm yet, am I going to break something, hold back. No, I’m strong!
Too many dilemmas for ninety seconds into what I was planning to be a ninety minute race, so I forced myself to settle down a bit. Nevertheless, the first few km passed quickly and John, sensing I wanted to break away, shouted for me to carry on as he was going to take it more steadily. We had run the first two miles at 6:30 pace.
As we went up and down a few rises, through the university grounds and down into the town, I managed to maintain a steady pace, averaging (unbelievably) 4:01 min/km. As we passed through 9km, I suddenly realised I was going to break my 10k PB! Had I started out too fast? Would I be able to maintain the pace for another 7miles? Would I blow?
Having gone through the 10km mark at 40:11, I also realise the GPS in my watch was starting to react slightly optimistically through the high buildings surrounding for a mile or so; Not a problem, just something else to be aware of. When you are running, you have a lot of time on your mind to contemplate trivia such as this, as well as the grander aspects of life, the universe and everything. Maybe Douglas Adams was also a runner.
We turned through the town and started the long trawl up out of Reading before turning back along the A4 again. I’d already checked this part of the course out on the map and thought it would be the most difficult – after half way but before the home straight – so to speak. This was the time for the mental challenge (if there can be such a thing in a 13 mile race!)
After a rising slope, on which I passed a number of people, the reciprocal downhill provided momentary relief before the aforementioned ‘home straight.’
Now a new challenge arose. After finally turning back towards the Majdeski Stadium, the wind along the exposed link roads was bitter and although I was not cold, it was slowing my progress a touch – perhaps the way out had been ‘wind-assisted’ in which case I was right to have pushed so hard and the pace was effectively even.
As I came to the final 2 mile point approaching the stadium, I saw… MY FAMILY!!!! At the side of the road shouting and cheering me on, my fantastic and supportive wife and my four wonderful children – the boost was the shot in the arm that I needed to dig deep for the last few moments, as I turned down the dog leg to the final roundabout.
The last mile seemed to last forever, heading away from the crowds round a gently curving road with the turning never quite in sight. Eventually though it did arrive and as I turned the hairpin I looked for the final mile sign. One hundred meters along the road, I heard a familiar voice and heard John shouting from the other side of the road, he was less than a minute behind me.
As I came up and round in the tortuous route some individual had designed to get into the stadium, I heard first the frantic voice of the announcer over the PA and then the crowds cheering – a full stadium is something to behold!
Sprinting round the track for the last 100m I had done it. 1:27:06 the official ‘chip’ time, over 8 minutes off my previous best. A long time coming, but worth the wait! In the end it seems my pacing was pretty much spot on, as my heart rate was pretty stable all the way through, averaging 167 bpm. Garmin route and stats here
Anyway. Now onto London.
The focus shifts imperceptibly from the half to the full marathon, in the same way that a subtle change in training strategy will be called for after April 26 to focus on the UTMB. The question is now, what can I achieve at London? – sub-3hr?
Watch this space.
*Medical Note – Warnings abound of not running with a cold or virus for fear of stressing the heart too much, but medical opinion seems to agree it is ok if it is above the neck, i.e. chesty coughs will make breathing even more difficult than normal when running.