How many half marathons have I run now…16, 17? Not counting two which came up very short for various organisational cock-up based reasons, I think it was 16 at the start of this month.
Half Marathon 17 was the Newark Half in Nottinghamshire on 12th August. At a suitable point in both mine and Mr. Duff’s marathon training calendars, small-ish field, pretty flat countryfied route, out of town so no pressure and less than an hour from my parent’s house on a weekend we were due to be up for a family do. Perfect.
The race itself was a lovely little event. It was joint organised by four – yes FOUR! – local running clubs; Newark Striders, Newark AC, Fernwood Running Club and the marvellously named NotFast Running Club (I will admit I didn’t fully appreciate the pun until I saw their club banner halfway round and realised they must also be a Nottinghamshire club – well played, NotFast). Being organised by runners it naturally had everything you would want or need; lots of loos, well organised number pick up and bag drop off, sensible range of stalls and stands.
There was a nice element of pomp and circumstance added by the presence of local councillors, a Lord Mayor and a Lady Mayoress, and a race director/announcer who may or may not have had his shorts on inside out. The jury in the start area was out on whether they were inside out or not, and if they were inside out whether or not he was aware of it. If he wasn’t he’ll have had a shock when he saw the photos.
A really nice touch at the start was the pacing signs ranging from sub-1 hour (optimistic, and someone had hand-added a hasty ‘:15’ to this one!) to sub-2:30, which the runners were not just encouraged to group themselves behind but were also walked to the start line in order so that everyone was pretty much in the right place heading out.
So, which sign did I choose?
Well. I haven’t been doing any targeted half marathon training lately. As I always seem to be, I am most of the way through another marathon training cycle. It’s been so long since I actually raced a half that my PB was still the 2:07 I got at Maidenhead in 2016.
Having said that, I had been on for under 2:02 at the Hillingdon Not Quite Half in February, had they not misplaced the final quarter of a mile of their course, and I had done a 2:05 during a marathon training run a few weeks previously. So I knew I could PB, the question was whether to declare myself and stand with the sub-2 people or to do my usual thing and choose a conservative pace.
Screw it, I decided. You’re running well at the moment, the weather is 10 degrees cooler than it has been all summer and there’s noone here to see you blow up if it all goes wrong. You know you’re capable of this. Go and stand behind the sub-2 sign.
So that’s what I did. And goodness me, I don’t have a clue what happened, but it was amazing.
On the start line I pondered my pace. Sub-2 is 9:09’s, but as I didn’t know the course aiming for literally just under the wire seemed a bit close for comfort. 9’s maybe, I thought. Let’s try to get to 10 miles in 90 minutes and then see what’s in the tank for the last few miles. That seems perfectly doable.
During the first couple of miles my watch went a bit nuts and I was grateful for the amount of ‘training by feel’ I have been doing this year. I got chatting to a couple running in charity tops and a man called Ivan from an online club called Lonely Goat. It crossed my mind after three miles or so that I was running roughly 8:55’s and comfortably chatting in short sentences. This seemed an ok pace to try to maintain.
Ivan the Lonely Goat and I stayed together for almost the whole race, and this was a massive help. This was his first ever half marathon; he had only started running at the start of the year, and it was great to hear his story and how enthusiastic he was in his new found love of the sport. I told him that if he ran a sub-2 on his first go I wasn’t sure whether to love him or hate him and that it would be a massive achievement. We kept each other honest on pace and made it to 10 miles with about a minute in hand of my 90 minute target – we’d been averaging about 8:55’s throughout.
Just ahead of the 10 mile marker I told Ivan that I was going to push on and try to pick up some pace in the final 5k. He decided to stay consistent, so off I went on my own.
I’d never been this far up a pack before for a half and it was really interesting; the runners around me at this point were exclusively MAMIL’s, and most of them were run-walking and making a bit of a meal of it. One or two seemed to be struggling with injuries, but a worrying number were simply running the run bits faster than they could maintain. I kept hearing these uber-macho ‘Grrr! Huh! Come oooon!’ type grunting noises from behind me, followed swiftly by a sweaty man sprinting ten yards ahead of me and then stopping to walk, totally puffed out.
I mean, maybe this was their race plan, but it seemed terribly inefficient to me.
Into the final couple of miles I was gifted my now favourite ever spectator encouragement from a lovely lady giving me a clap and a ‘well done, Duck’ (God love the Midlands!) which spurred me on. I knew I was going to break this mystical 2 hour barrier that had eluded me for so long. It was now a question of by how much.
Definitely under 1:57 I thought – could I push it to a sub-1:56?
Not quite, but nearly. I crossed the line in 1:56:07 and was absolutely thrilled. My watch told me I had also run a fastest ever 10k time of 54:45 during the race, and I was thrilled all over again!
I found Ivan the Goat a few minutes later, he had come in at 1:58 something and was delighted. Even better, Mr. Duff had run a spectacular sub-90; he hadn’t even realised he was on for this til the home straight and had to put a bit of a shift on!
On the way back to the car I started pondering my shiny new PB and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.
Part of me hadn’t expected I could break the 2 hour barrier by that much, but on the other hand although I felt tired I wasn’t completely destroyed. I was pretty much ok. I’m aware that I’m in good shape at the moment and have been running well. So did that mean I could or should have gone faster?
Well no, it wasn’t my target race for this training cycle and I didn’t want to break myself. But it has opened up some interesting questions; what should my marathon pace be, if my half pace is that much faster than I thought it was? What can I actually run for a 10k or a 5k when it’s not 32 degrees in the shade? If I paid proper attention to strength and conditioning would I shave more time off? And what am I capable of for the next half I get to actually race?
It’s a truth of our sport that many runners are never satisfied. We always want to set the next goal or try for the next pace bracket. I am enormously happy with my new PB, but having gone sub-2 I now want to know when I can go sub 1:55, or sub-4 marathon wise.
It takes time though. I still haven’t officially ticked off the sub-55 10k and sub-26 5k targets, and I have my target marathon to deal with in September before I worry about anything else. Personally, I think my current good form is because I’ve now been running consistently for three years so my base strength is better, and I know a lot more about nutrition, injury prevention and technique.
And most importantly pacing the race so it feels just hard enough to challenge you, even as you push to keep going.
Which is also true of life, I suppose. The grass is always greener.
It was in Nottinghamshire, at any rate.