Two half marathons in two consecutive weekends felt crazy. Sure enough though it was the sort of crazy that’d I’d be up for attempting. In some ways it would be like a practice run for my Spring 2016 plan, but with shorter distances. Although after the Great Birmingham Run my cough and cold lingered on – threatening to make this another struggle. Fortunately by race day though it wasn’t bothering me as much.
On race day the clocks changed back to GMT meaning an extra hour in bed before needing to head over to my friend’s flat on the way to the race start. It being a local race too meant it was a pretty casual morning, though it was a 09:15 start time. We probably left it a little late for getting to the start so we had to have a short jog to cover more ground, but we got there in time and I gradually made my way to somewhere close to the sub-1hr30 marker for the pen.
It took quite some time to get moving as the first several hundred metres was a bit of a bottleneck until we reached the first corner. At this point I was able to swing out wide and start to overtake as I got up to my intended speed. After this first corner though it’s a long descent that lasts for about a mile so I was soon going quicker than I’d normally aim to during a half marathon and found I’d covered that first mile in 6:26 minutes – just over 30 seconds faster than my target pace. I thought at this point I’d eased off a bit, and the route continued across the outskirts of the city centre where there’s a fair bit of building work going on for the new bus station and then out onto the “golden mile” (it get’s this name from the number of jewellery shops that used to be along here). Along this stretch a pedestrian ran across the road just in front of me, trying to film runners with his phone – fortunately by this point the number of runners had already started to thin out a bit so I was able to dodge to the side to avoid him.
It was quite a different experience to when I did the Leicester Marathon the year before already – being a tiny bit faster now meant that I was in a pack which was much thinner than the year before so after the second mile I’d already got so much more room to move. I did soon realise though that I was going a little too fast still – my first 5K of the race was done in around 20:21 which up until a couple of weeks ago when I got 19:34 at parkrun it would have been a PB. Realising this I hit the brakes pretty quickly and dropped down to my intended pace of around 7:00min/mile. It wasn’t enough though as by the time I got to 10K I got my second best 10K time of 41:45 – only 14 seconds slower than my PB.
Mile 5 was one of the tougher ones for me – it was when we veered off the dual carriageway and through the town of Thurmaston. It may have been a gradual one, but this was a long hill that I could feel in my legs. I had some regrets here for having started too quickly, but I kept going. A little before the mile 6 marker is when we one again we went up hill and left the dual carriageway – this was the point where the marathon and half marathon runners split up. Just as I’d experienced with the full marathon last year it signalled a sudden massive reduction in the number of people around me.
Although the numbers had reduced, just before entering Watermead Country Park there is a section that narrows so only one can go through at a time. At the time I was shoulder to shoulder with another runner so dropped back a couple of steps to let him through and then fell in behind him as we ran through the park. All of a sudden this brought back memories of the year before – struggling, dehydrated, dodging cyclists, and unsure if I could finish. This time though I was only doing half the distance and was feeling confident I could get to the finish line.
Running through the park everyone was in single file despite having a large amount of space available. There were a few sharp corners and a hairpin bend going through this, but I was able to stick to the sort of pace I was aiming for – and even managed to move up a few places. Between miles 7 and 8 it was alongside the River Soar, and I passed a couple of St John’s Ambulance cyclists heading in the opposite direction – hopefully not to a shout. Just before reaching mile 8 the course moved away from the waterfront and the park and out through a residential area – I remembered this bit feeling particularly difficult last year, but this year I ran straight up the hill without slowing too much.
As I passed the marker for mile 8 I remembered about and ate one of the jelly babies I had with me, but lost all but two of them on the floor. I figured I’d now save the two I had left for around mile 11 or 12 when I would likely need them (although I had forgotten about them by then).
Leading up to mile 10 I was still feeling strong even though I’d lost about 21 seconds of time I’d “banked” (which I’d made a mental note of being around 94 seconds). If I didn’t lose any more time then not only would I make it for a PB, but I’d actually managed a sub-90 minute time as well. Although I hadn’t had any water up to this point, even when another water station was approaching I decided I wouldn’t bother so I stayed as far over as I could. However it didn’t stop another runner overtaking me on the far side and then cutting across right in front of me to the water station before coming to a full stop. I almost ran into the back of him but was fortunate to manage to side step around him at the very last second. It has slowed me down and I needed to get back up to pace, though it had only cost me around 5 seconds as it turned out.
The mile marker for mile 10 was more or less directly behind the National Space Centre and was a cause for me to smile. I only had a parkrun’s worth of running left to do, and it didn’t matter if I needed to slow down for the wet leaves that covered the path here (I was a little paranoid I’d slip on them). Half a mile later I heard someone cheer my name, telling me I was doing brilliantly. It was the first time this race I’d heard someone cheer me, and to be fair it doesn’t happen that often, but it was enough to spur me on. I crossed the road and picked up a reasonable bit of speed down the very short stretch of hill into Abbey Park. One of the marshall’s yelled “you’ve got this! great running!” and I actually let myself smile at this. It felt good.
I knew Abbey Park reasonably well from the 10K and marathon last year and knew that with the exception of the bridges it was a fairly flat area. My legs were starting to tire, but I knew with so little left to do I had to keep on pushing. I couldn’t let myself walk as I knew if I did I would be disappointed with my time no matter what I got. By this point I’d stopped looking at my watch and was just waiting for it to vibrate to signal the passing of each mile – I didn’t want to know how much time I’d lost before reaching the park.
This seemed to pass by quickly and I was soon back out of the park and along the pavement heading back into the city centre. Shortly after this point, and a little passed the mile 11 marker the route goes down under the dual carriageway through the pedestrian tunnel. It looks like my watch lost it’s signal during this point and didn’t track this properly resulting in my next mile seemingly falling short.
Once out of the tunnel the route climbs back up to street level and then continues up hill towards the high street, before veering off down a side street. This side street cut through between the Highcross (shopping centre named after a part of Leicester where two Roman roads cross) and the Showcase cinema. It was getting tough, but I’d caught up with some more runners and was no longer that alone – I’d got motivation to keep on going no matter how tough it started to feel. The run through the city centre was lined with people cheering us on and I managed to overtake a few more along this bit. There’s then a few more turns as the route passes by the market and towards the start of New Walk and the 12 mile marker.
For those that don’t know, New Walk is a pedestrian path which was the first suburban walkway in Leicester in 1785 and runs from the former location of the Leicester City Council offices all the way up to De Montfort Hall (named after Simon De Montfort, the 5th Earl of Leicester who led the rebellion against King Henry III). This section is about a mile in length but it is a steady incline almost all the way with a bit part way up that levels off briefly. I’d known this was coming and I was hoping I’d made up enough time early on and not lost it later on in order to still get a PB.
My main goal for this race, and for New Walk was to not walk. It was a struggle, and at one point I caught up with another runner, though just before I passed him he cut me up to give some friends or family of his a high five. I can’t begrudge him that! Though a little after this I did hear someone cheer my name again and this was just what I needed for that one last push to get to the top of the hill.
At the top of the hill the route moves back onto the road and for the first time for this course was lined with railings to keep pedestrians away from the runners for what was approximately the last 400 or so metres. I started to pick up speed again, but found it a struggle to get up to my usual sprinting speed – so didn’t push it. As I crossed the finish line my watch read 91:06 – a new personal best!
The goodie bag for this race consisted of:
- Finisher’s medal
- Finisher’s tee
- Bottle of water
- Oat and chocolate bar
- Harribo Golden bears
- Salt and vinegar crisps
I drank a reasonable amount of the water, but poured the rest away before setting off on another run. This run was a lot slower, and a lot shorter and after 2.5 miles I decided I’d walk for a while before doing another mile of running to get back to the finish line to wait for my friend to finish. It was great to see that she was running strong, and incredibly happy that she knew she was already on target for a PB as well. I met up with her at the finish and sure enough she’d PB’d by 3 minutes – a fantastic achievement for the second half marathon in two weeks. I was so incredibly pleased for and I could tell she was so happy – that made me even happier!
My official time was 01:30:56.253 in position 132 of 2057 finishers (putting me in first top 6.5%). With only 57 seconds off a sub 90 minute time that will likely be one of my goals for 2016, so may help to shape my training post-Canalathon next year. It felt good to end my half marathons for the year with one I could say I hadn’t walked during – something I’d struggled with in the latter half of 2015. I’m now looking forward to 2016 and setting new goals.