With there being so many races coming up due to the EMGP series, there’s going to be quite a few race reports posted up on this site in the coming weeks. With that in mind, and almost in an attempt to prevent repetition, I’ve done this one slightly differently…
Race: Stratford Half Marathon
Ambitious target and pace: 1:38, 7:28/mile
Realistic target and pace: 1:40, 7:37/mile
Pre-race: Military precision
The race started at 9:00 and I usually like to get there an hour before. This allows plenty of time for parking, getting to the start, completing a warm up and at least two stops to empty my bladder. Before getting there though, I had to drop my children off in Coventry at my mums. I also had to get them, and myself of course ready, including a shower and breakfast. So this meant alarm at 5:45 (yes, on a Sunday), a quick shower and a tried and tested breakfast of a slice of peanut butter on toast and a slice of jam on toast. I should leave the house at 6:50, after a double-final kit check to arrive at my mums for 7:15. This allowed for my mum to chat away for 15 minutes before needing to leave at 7:30 to get to Stratford for 8:00. Sure enough I was at my mums at 7:15 and parked up in Stratford at 7:58, allowing plenty of time for my obsessive pre-race ritual.
Miles 1-3: Get out of my way!
Usually at races, particularly big ones such as this (2,000 finishers, with I imagine many more starters), there are markers set up within the start pen. This is to help entrants position themselves on the start line relative to their estimated finish time. This ensures minimal congestion in the early miles as, in theory at least, everyone around you will be setting off at the same pace.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the case at Stratford. I joined the start line late; I don’t like getting there too early, standing there getting cold. So I joined the back of the mass queue of runners. Standing on tip toes I could just about see the start flags, and they were quite far away. I started to make my way through the field to get a better starting position, but it was difficult to know where to start. You begin to make assumptions on how fast someone is going to go by their stature and attire, which is completely unfair.
I went pretty much as far forward as I could go, until the crowd was so dense that I couldn’t squeeze through any further. The downside to getting to the start line late. I was amongst a crowd of club runners so was relatively confident that all would be ok. It turned out it wasn’t. As I crossed the start line I was almost immediately dodging other runners, jumping up and down the pavement to try and get a clear run to build a bit of pace. It wasn’t an ideal start, but it didn’t affect my pace at all. A good start with a 7:32, 7:29 and 7:24.
Miles 4-6: I’ve got this
It was fairly early on that I gave up on the 1:38 goal. In truth, this probably happened before the race even started. Given my recent lack of training due to shin and calf injuries, I was aware that, even though I had been training for it, 1:38 would be a stretch too far. I was still after a sub-1:40 though, although I appreciated that this was still a tall order given the above.
Miles 4-6 were undulating. Mile 4 was relatively uneventful but mile 5 involved a short but tough climb followed by an equal drop. Time lost going uphill was regained on the decline. Having researched the course profile beforehand, I was aware that mile 6 was the calm before the storm. A 7:33, 7:30 and 7:36 kept me within the realistic target time but were taking me away from the original race target. This was fine though, as I was feeling good on the pace at this point, and a surprise sideline appearance from my lovely wife, who had travelled over to Stratford from Rugby just to give me a wave and encouragement, gave me a huge boost around the 6 mile mark.
Miles 7-8: I haven’t got this
Miles 7 and 8 saw the incline for the only real hill of the race. Despite the many half marathons that I have took part in, I still haven’t defined a specific strategy for tackling hills. When you’re on a specific race pace strategy, do you attempt to maintain pace throughout, regardless of the inclines and declines? Or do you ease up on the inclines and hit the declines hard to make up the time lost?
In training I usually go for the former, but in races generally the latter. Not sure why, maybe a concern over burning out and not making the finish. Either way, today was no different as the course started to climb towards the end of mile 7 and continued right through mile 8. A total of 44 metres of climbing inside two miles, with 34 of that coming in mile 8. Just when I thought the hill was over and I had reached the brow, it would begin to climb again. A 7:42 followed by an 8:03 meant some time had to be regained.
Miles 9-10: Oh, hello again!
Just after the turn of mile 8 came a short and very sharp decline. It was the type of downhill where you are almost stumbling to try and stop yourself from landing on your face. This additional load on the legs meant that the shin pain that had caused so many problems in the past few weeks resurfaced. It wasn’t necessarily a pain at this stage, but it was certainly there, threatening to be.
34 metres gained in mile 8 was followed by 35 metres lost in mile 9. This certainly allowed for some time to be clawed back, but sometimes it’s just as tough going downhill as it is going uphill. I haven’t quite mastered the art of riding the hills as each step felt like I was more slowing myself down rather than letting the decline carry me. I did at least manage to get back on race pace, with a 7:33 and a 7:37.
Miles 11-13.1: Only a parkrun to go
As my watch bleeped for the end of the 10th mile, I reminded myself that there was ‘only’ a parkrun to go. The course mile marker came up around 0.1 of a mile later, so I was aware that the course was likely to be slightly longer than 13.1 miles. A quick check of the overall pace showed an average of 7:36, so still on target although allowances had to be made for the additional distance. I did a quick calculation, which granted should not be taken as gospel when you’re doing maths 10 miles in to a hard effort, and estimated that I needed a 23 minute parkrun to come home in 1:40. Perfectly doable.
The trouble with this, is that I was running on empty. Almost like a switch at the end of mile 10, I just completely ran out of energy. From this point on it was almost completely flat, perfect for a strong finish. But as the metres passed I began to slow down. At this point, I knew straight away that 1:40 would not be doable today, as I just tried to keep going. I was almost in autopilot throwing one leg in front of the other. There was slight pain from the shin, but it wasn’t really troubling me, it just felt like there was nothing left in the legs whatsoever.
I put it down to a lack of miles and a lack of training over recent weeks. I was just happy to reach the finish now and, given how I felt at the time I’m impressed that I even managed that. A 7:49, 7:54 and an 8:06 saw the end of 13 miles, with a further 1:32 for the final 0.2, bringing me home in a finish time of 1:41:22. Surprisingly, this was still a PB, albeit by just 20 seconds.
I’m not entirely sure I really enjoyed this half marathon. It shows how much I pushed it by ‘achieving’ an average heart rate of 180bpm, with a new record maximum at the end of 193. With the various niggles, pains, pace watching and suffering towards the end, I almost ran the course blind. The few times I did take a look around to take in the surroundings, I found them to be rather beautiful. It was a lovely course, but I don’t feel that I really appreciated it enough. That, coupled with the issues at the start, meant it was a tough day at the office, as they say.
I’m glad I did it though, and I’m over the moon regarding my finish time, particularly given the fact that I didn’t think I would even be on the start line a week before the race. Next up is the Blisworth 5 mile race on Friday evening, although given that my shin has returned to pain again, I’ll see how this week goes before committing.