Expectations are a funny thing.
Sometimes we get exactly what we expect because we are so focused on all the different facets of an event, such as maintaining a certain pace at all costs, that it becomes the objective to fulfil and realise those facets. The alternate approach is to aim for something far more woolly and generic like ‘doing your best’ and while that certainly has it’s place, it is far less tangible and so more difficult to focus on.
The danger is that if you set your expectations too low, set them conservatively, then you may never realise your full potential. It is a constant dilemma, in life as well as running, to determine the goals for which you should be aiming.
At the Reading Half Marathon last year, I ran 1:27:07 but my levels of confidence were also significantly higher then, for some reason which I have yet to work out. Nevertheless, setting a goal for this year involved the usual discussion with John who in the end was the only other of my running buddies who was taking part, that went something like
John – “So, I’m going for 1:25 this year. What do you think?”
Me – “Yeah, sounds about right.”
So with little more than that we had set our target for another pre-London Half Marathon pacing run, although given my tiredness in the previous few long runs I had little confidence I would be able to beat last year’s time, let alone meet a 1:25.
We had fun with the trains from Guildford prior to the event as the train at 6:58am turned out to be a bus, and the bus hadn’t turned up. So in the end, Jackie, John’s wife kindly gave us a lift all the way to Reading Stadium, which meant we actually arrived in plenty of time. The weather was not quite as cold as it had been the previous year, but it was still quite fresh and a lot of jumping around after donning the obligatory bin liners was still necessary, no doubt creating quite a bizarre sight at the start for any casual onlookers.
The race itself was very similar to last year, from my point of view – with one exception – this year I was chasing John rather than the other way round (he is going very well!) and although I kept up with him for the first 4-5miles eventually he drifted ahead as I started to feel the first signs of fatigue stopping my legs.
I passed through 10k in almost exactly 40 minutes and this was the first point at which I allowed my levels of confidence to rise. The pace was right for 1:25, but with 11k nearly 7 miles still left to run, I still had nagging doubts in my mind.
Reading is a relatively flat course with only a couple of hills at the start and one midway, but as with all courses it has it’s low points and high points, geographically as well as mentally and physically, and the route to the west of the town centre is often the worst for so many reasons – i.e. only just over halfway, few spectators, still heading away from the finish, starting to deplete the body’s normal glycogen stores, to name but a few. As a result I had to work hard, mentally, in this section to keep pushing at the same pace, but eventually there was the nice downhill section at about 16k and the corner back to the stadium was physically, and psychologically, turned and I was on the home straight.
There is a wind turbine very close to the stadium which is visible from a great distance at Reading, and one of the awful things about the course is that the 2 km you have to run with the turbine in view is flat and straight but never seems to end! As if that is not bad enough, by the time you reach the stadium, there is still another 2 km to go which consists of a sadistic mile dogleg out and back along the perimeter roads of the stadium, before you are subjected to a final partial circuit around the outside and then the inside track of the edifice.
13.1 miles is not far when you are training for a marathon, let alone ultras, but each distance and each race has it’s own appeal, it’s own individual facets, even if it is merely part of a training schedule. In general the shorter the distance, the faster you have to push and the more intense the pain can become, but for a shorter period of time. The half marathon for me is the distance that bridges the gap between performance and endurance and from that point of view it is the perfect trial, as for many people, for the full marathon.
As I write this, nearly 5 days after the event, my legs are tired and heavy from another 30 miles + since then, but touch wood, everything is hanging together and this coming Sunday marks the 4 week countdown to London, where my expectations are to achieve a sub-3 hour time…. at last.
I’m starting to get excited about it!