Whilst I agree with this saying and almost always try for a negative split, I’m also of the belief that if you don’t give it go and try and push yourself, you will never know what you’re capable of. The last thing I wanted was to finish the Northampton half knowing that I could have gone a bit faster had I started off a bit quicker.
With that in mind, and with my original, albeit ambitious, sub-1:40 target also in mind, I decided to go for it from the start. I also wanted to bank some time early on, knowing that miles 6 and 7 would be tough. I didn’t want to get through the tough bit and already be behind where I wanted to be, whether that be the 1:40 or the 1:42 target. So after a km or so of a warm up followed by some stretching with the club coach, who also happened to be participating in the race, I lined up on the start ready to hit 7:30 splits from the off.
It was quite a small, quiet half marathon, particularly in comparison to the Warwick and Coventry half’s that I ran earlier in the year. I prefer the smaller races. I’m not sure why, no particular reason, I just do. I lined up on the start just next to the 1:45 pacers, which really wasn’t far from the start at all. It wasn’t long after the start horn that I was crossing over the chip pad and starting my watch.
I settled into my pace quickly, and without looking at my watch. I did question myself however when the pacers that I started with were still in front of me. A quick glance at their watch prompted one of them to say “bang on.” I looked at mine and at a pace of 7:34 I thought no you’re not.
The first mile marker was an important one. I’ve mentioned before about GPS inaccuracies and you can always tell after the first mile how well synced your watch is with the course, in my opinion at least. My watch buzzed for the end of the first mile at a time of 7:24. The mile marker came a mere 0.03 of a mile later. Proof that my watch was on target and my pace was too. We turned left and entered a park as I overtook the pacers. “We’re a bit off by the way” one of them said. “I know” I said as I passed. That’s the issue with following pacers, and I’m certainly not criticising as I am fully aware that it is a very difficult job to pace exactly, and there are often a large number of people relying on you to bring them home in the time that they want. I feel you are much better off relying on the tech on your wrist, as that is often what they are doing. Tough job.
So within target for the first mile and not feeling out of my comfort zone I continued maintaining pace. Mile 2 came up at 7:23, mile 3 at 7:35 and mile 4 at 7:25. Still going strong and at an average pace of under 7:30/mile. Again, I knew miles 6 and 7 were going to be tough so I eased off slightly for mile 5 in preparation and clocked a 7:42.
The hill I was expecting at the end of mile 6 never really came. A few metres gained, but nothing that was worth worrying about. Mile 7 however was something else. Almost a third of the total elevation gained during the race was seen in mile 7. It looked never-ending, and felt it too. I was keen not to try and maintain pace whilst ascending, as I knew it would take everything out of me if I did. Short strides and quick feet brought me to the end of the mile in 8:18. Mile 8 began with a descent as I used it to recover rather than regain some time back. This welcomed section was followed by the second real hill of the race as I posted another mile over 8:00. I had worked out prior to the race that if my watch was on target GPS wise, which it appeared to be, then as long as I continued clocking 7:30 miles, then I could afford three 8:00 miles and still remain on target, so I wasn’t too disheartened by these two miles. I did have to kick on from here though and get back on pace.
Miles 9 and 10 were better, but not quite what they needed to be, even if they were largely downhill. I was still on target for my more realistic goal of 1:42, but the dream of sub-1:40 was fading fast. Mile 11 came up at just under 1:25:00 which, strictly speaking, meant 1:40 was still possible. Two sub-7:30 miles would get me there or thereabouts.
Unfortunately though, this sort of pace was not at all within grasp. A decent mile 12 was followed by a poor mile 13 as the course turned into a light trail. One benefit of small races is that narrow paths and trails can be used as opposed to being limited to just roads due to needing to cater for a larger number of people. Much more scenic than main road followed by main road.
A horse-shoe finish brought the end in sight in front of Delapre Abbey. It was far from a sprint finish but I mustered what I could to get there as quickly as I could.
1:41:43 was the time, which was an improvement of 3 minutes on my previous PB. That’s 3 minutes gained in the space of six months. A rewarding gain from the training that I’ve been doing. I haven’t another half planned, and I probably won’t do another one until the spring, but next time I’m certainly going to go for a sub-1:40. As for today, I really don’t feel that I could have gone any faster, and I certainly don’t regret my decision to start quick. Overall I’m pleased with the result, very pleased.