This spring has been quite busy for me. For someone who usually enters 2-3 races a year having two in spring felt rather congested. The two races, The Forest of Dean Spring Half Marathon and Plymouth’s Half, had very different objectives.
First up was the Forest of Dean. This is a mostly trail half making use of the old mining train lines making most, not all, the gradients steady with the added bonus of a beautiful forest backdrop. The objective for this race had been to run with my youngest sister and my dad, but unfortunately my sister was unable to get the time off work so it became just me and my dad. This seemed to concern him. I say seemed, he was quite vocal about it. Having not run consistently for about 5 years, he was planning on running until my sister had to walk, and then walk with her. That plan was now redundant. The new plan: run, and when you can’t run then walk.
From a personal point of view my training for this race has gone ok. I am using this as a dial up for the Plymouth half a few weeks later so I haven’t got all the speed endurance in my legs but I am building towards it, including a new course PB at my local parkrun a few weeks before.
In typical fashion, we turn up with a bit of time to spare, but leave it too late before joining the pre-race toilet queue. As a result we manage to miss the start of the race by a few minutes. We are not the only ones; we were by no means at the back of the line.
Don’t panic, DON’T PANIC. No mad dash, just go at our pace and we begin to pick up the back of the pack. We do just that, and then try to pass people as and when we can, but as we hit the trails for the first time about 1 km in this becomes a little trickier. The first 5 km or so are all either flat or down hill, giving us a chance to warm up before the proper work starts – did I mention we missed the start, thus no warm up? After being gently eased into proceedings, the climbing begins. We gradually climb for about 7 km, topping out at the highest point of the race. We then drop down before climbing again for another kilometre or so. It is at this point that stage two of Dad’s strategy comes into place, the walk. So I do what any good son would do, I continue to run and leave him to walk alone. If I am honest, I can’t believe he lasted 13 km running once, maybe twice, every 5 years. Obviously good genes, or poor decision making.
Once on my own I try to push the pace a little, and try to run the remaining 8km at around threshold. It has to be said, there is something uplifting about waiting until half way through a race before really opening the taps and being able to give it a big push as others begin to feel it bite. By the time I finish I am the beetroot red, sweaty mess that I usually finish a race in. Garmin paused, and medal collected I go find the family for the obligatory ‘just finished a race’ pictures, and then go for a little cool down run to get the distance up.
By the time I’ve done that and gone to collect my bag I find that my dad has made it back, and not moving too freely. Feeling guilty, I give him a hug and make sure he is ok. Thankfully he’s ok, just a bit disappointed that he couldn’t finish the race.
After a couple of days off I get back to focusing on the Plymouth half. The aim is to be as consistent as possible; double run day early in the week (2 x 10km), speed work on a Thursday, longer run on the weekend. This continues with the exception of a couple of away day Parkruns (both at Swansea Bay, both PBs). Two weeks before the half I set a new half marathon personal best. It was only 1 minute faster, but all is looking good. A week later I set the second new 5km personal best of 19.09 at Swansea Bay Parkrun, which is another 27 seconds quicker than the time I set there a few weeks earlier. All is pointing towards a new personal best at Plymouth half, I just had to try to manage my expectations.
In the final week before the half, all the preparation appears to be going well with the exception of a slight niggle in my left heel. It doesn’t appear to be anything that will prevent me racing, just something I need to be mindful of.
Race morning comes around, and the niggle in my heel is still there but it shouldn’t give me too much trouble. I walk down to the ‘race village’ with Steve, a mate who is also running the half. He has only been running for 6 months to a year and is annoyingly quicker than me, so I feel the 15 minute walk may be the only time I see him. We get to the start with a decent amount of time to get ourselves sorted and find where we need to be in the starting pen, no running late this time.
Once the ridiculous warm up is done – how can you do jumping jacks in a crowded starting pen? – We are off. Over a minute passes before we cross line. The first km or so is very crowded as 6000 people make their way through the closed roads of the Plymouth waterfront. Steve and I go our separate ways shortly after, I see him about 10 people ahead, but make the conscious decision to let him go. My plan is to try to keep it as steady as possible to start with, and open the taps towards the end. As the roads widen there is more room the run at my own pace. The early kilometres tick over nicely as I consciously try to run at an ok pace without over cooking it.
After around 6km the first of two climbs starts. It’s a long gradual drag, rather than a steep hill. I consciously aimed to just try to hold my pace, and not let my average pace drop by more than a few seconds per km. I try to relax and make the most of the free speed on the other side of the hill, and then repeat the process on the second climb which comes straight after the first. The decent from the second climb is a long and gradual affair through the beautiful grounds of Saltram House. Once out of the grounds the race recounts its steps, with one exception. Just before the route heads back to the waterfront it takes in an out-and-back. This takes us along the river for a kilometre each way, which, in direct contradiction to all topography rules, felt uphill both ways. On the way out I see Steve coming back to other way – quickly I try to look comfortable. I make a mental note of where I am and by the time I reach the turnaround point I guestimate he is about 1 km, maybe a bit more, ahead of me. I conclude that I won’t be catching him and concentrate on my own race. As much as I would like to beat him, I don’t want to ruin my race chasing after him.
There are now 5 km to go, 4 of which are predominantly flat with a climb for the final kilometre. My plan was to push on at this point, but when that message was sent down stairs to the engine room there wasn’t much of a response. I try to keep my pace up as much as possible, saving something for that final climb.
The lower cobbled section of the climb is tough going, but as I hit the tarmac and I round onto the sea views I begin to feel a little better. As the climb continues the crowds get bigger, and louder. I push again, giving it as much as I can. The final two corners approach and the crowd is 10 deep, or my vision is beginning to blur. It feels like nothing I have raced before, I genuinely don’t think I have seen so many people at a mass participation event. I dig in for the final ramp and push for the line.
I had hoped for a new PB, and had told people I wanted to get as close to 1 hour 40 as possible. Internally I was hoping for something close to 1 hour 35. I glance down at my Garmin and I have managed to get a personal best, finishing in 1:37:38 (course) and a half marathon PB of 1:36:45, an improvement of 6m 34s. Just outside my internal target, but if I’m honest I don’t think I had much more to give. There isn’t anywhere that I can look back and think if I had done X or Y here or there I could have saved a little time. What I am pleased with is my pacing. I had planned to pace it as uniformly as possible, before pushing on. I didn’t quite manage the push but the pacing was pretty much uniform for the whole race, something I have never managed before.
In the week since the Plymouth half I have been unable to run, as the sore heel has felt pretty tender. Usually post-race this isn’t too much of a concern, but I have entered another race.
After running part of Man Verse Horse as a relay a couple of years ago, I have had an itch to run the full race. This year I have entered it, using the training I have been doing for the halves as the base miles to build up to 23 fell miles. It was always going to be tight getting my endurance up. However the longer I have to rest my foot the more anxious I get about it.