Training started well. I cruised through the weeks’ long runs up to the half marathon distance. As I’d now done 8 half marathons I already knew I could run 13 miles…or could I?
At the end of week 3 I was midway through a 13 mile long run, and to entertain myself after my radio broke partway around Gunnersbury Park (I like to do long runs listening to The Archers Omnibus and Desert Island Discs) I started thinking about all the other half marathons I had done over the years. I realised with horror that I’d never technically run all the way around any of them…..
The less said about the Great North Run in 2004, for which I had only made it to 8 miles in training, the better.
The first time I ran my hometown half in Hinckley in May 2007 it was upwards of 35 degrees and there were club runners getting treated with oxygen, so I decided it was worth easing back for a bit of a stroll. I made it to 11 miles in the Robin Hood half later that same year in good time, and then got a crippling hip flexor twinge which had to be walked off for half a mile.
In 2014 I tried my hometown half again and was going well, apart from when I stacked it dead on 9 miles due to a combination of a too-close car and some loose tarmac. I ran it in, blood streaming from both elbows and with a hole in my tights, but there was a good 40 seconds there were I was very definitely lying down in the road and not running.
The same year, I ran the Wimbledon Common Half which was billed as ‘undulating mixed terrain’ but was actually ‘hilly trail’, and being therefore totally unprepared for the conditions I was almost as slow as I was at the Great North Run. In Northampton that September I stubbornly ran on a knee niggle, and had a full blown case of runner’s knee by the end of the race.
My 2015 EHM debut was going really well until the infamous stretch up Greenford Avenue when I slightly bonked and just couldn’t pick things back up. And finally, in November, despite getting a good PB I don’t think I was the only person to struggle at St. Neots. Anyone who managed to keep running around all 13.1 miles of those hills in 45 mph crosswinds is a hero who deserves a much bigger medal than the admittedly lovely one we all got.
Having realised this I started to panic slightly, until I realised that I was at 12 miles already – by doing what my coach had said and slowing my long run pace right down I had managed to easily cover the entire half marathon distance in training without stopping. The strategy was starting to make a lot more sense.
During January I also started having a go at speed work on the track for the first time. This is fabulous if you are trying to get faster – doing shorter bursts designed to see how fast you can go really shows you that, actually, you are capable of going a lot faster than you think you can!
By the end of the month, I was up to 16 miles. Whilst I still felt comfortable, it had definitely started to feel like this was where the real challenge would begin. I struggled up the Horsenden foothills in the last mile of that 16 mile training run puffing like a steam train – and why had it never occurred to me that the part of your body bearing the brunt of this sort of mileage would be your feet?! I could also feel my trick knee starting to play up and something that felt like it might be the start of shin splints, but was determined to go into month 2 of this journey without getting mara-noid about every little twinge.