It’s a question that is often asked about an upcoming race, whereas the question that should really be asked is “have you trained for the course?”
In my declaration of a PB attempt at the upcoming Northampton Half Marathon, I have been asked by a number of fellow club runners if it is a flat course. Having replied with “not really” I have been advised not to get too disappointed if I therefore do not achieve a PB. The question wasn’t asked about how the training was going, just simply about the elevation profile. In fact, my PB of just under 1:45 was achieved at Coventry, which had an overall elevation gain of 138m. Supposedly, Northampton has an overall gain of 129m, actually making it flatter than Coventry, so therefore a quicker course?
I’ve spoken to someone recently who would like to do a half marathon in under two hours so, instead of training for such a time and, dare i say it, lose some weight, he chose to run the Edinburgh half. The Edinburgh race was chosen due to it being largely downhill, gaining the title of the “fastest half marathon in the UK.” See the profile below. I would almost feel like I’ve cheated myself if I got a good time on a course like that. The trouble is, you would most likely end up with a time that you would struggle to beat in the future, but I suppose if all you want to say is “I’ve done a half marathon in XX:XX:XX” then a course such as below is the one for you. For me, it’s not necessarily about the time. It’s about the effort and the enjoyment of the occasion and another medal to hang on the rack. The wife of this particular gentleman supposedly told me to “come back to them when I had ran one in 1:42.” Similarly, someone else made sure that I was aware that his fastest (20-30 years ago) was quicker than my current fastest. Well if either of them had taken place on a course such as the one below, then they would be.
In all honesty I don’t really know what my point is. It’s almost as if a statement of a PB time should have the overall elevation gain tagged onto the end of it. You can, and certainly should, train for any course, regardless of how hilly it is. Granted, if it’s a fell race then you shouldn’t expect a PB, but if you’ve trained hard enough, then why shouldn’t you expect a good time?
As for comparing times, unless you are a sub-75 minute half marathoner, you are only ever racing against yourself. It doesn’t matter how quick someone else went in his 20’s or how fast someone ran downhill, there’s only one time that you are aiming to beat, and that’s your own. There’s two people that I work with who have recently taken up running and not long ago completed their first 10km race in a time that was seconds away from being under an hour. There is nothing to be gained, and I have no desire to discuss comparisons. Their achievement was impressive and I told them as such.