I had planned to start the year with Coventry’s Half Marathon, but due to having the flu I didn’t manage to run it. Instead, at short notice, I decided to run the MK Half Marathon a week later. I knew it wouldn’t be a PB, and it’d be a case of just trying to get around as I still wasn’t 100%, but it was a good way to make sure I pushed myself back into ultra marathon training. As a test to see how my legs were doing I went for a 3.5 mile run the day before, but it wasn’t looking good.
On the day of the race I took my time getting ready, and even had to scrape the ice from my car windows before heading out. I’d not even planned ahead and got my race kit ready, or put air in my tyres, or got some petrol. It felt like I was doing this just to make sure I still could.
When I got there I found that I was able to park on the street and take a short walk to Xscape where the registration was. There were a lot of people about and not long after I got there the 20 mile race started. Once I’d picked up my race number I started to wander around and looked for some fellow #ukrunchat runners. Sadly I never did find any, and whilst standing around in the cold weather I found myself coughing. Oddly the start for each race was a slightly different place, even though the start times were different – it could be something to do with the routes they’d been able to use, but it was amusing to watch them rush to move the timing mats between race starts. For the half marathon there were enough running to warrant two waves – one wave for sub-2hrs, and one for those that would finish after this. I figured that even with me struggling to run I’d probably still be under 2 hours so queued up near the 100 minute pacer.
The gun was fired and the race began, and already I was feeling negative about the run. I decided the best thing I could do would be to not look at my watch and just run at whatever felt comfortable. If any point I started to feel ill I could drop back and take it easy. There was no pressure to do well, and I’d gone into this expecting it’d be difficult to just finish. After about 5 minutes I started to fall into a rhythm and all felt good – I just ran and didn’t really pay as much attention as I should to what was around me. I was aware of the other runners, and the route, but I was totally oblivious to where the route was taking us.
After a while I realised I was running alongside the 90 minute pacer, something I probably would have aimed to do had I been going for a PB. For a time I ran alongside him, but when we went through a village he either dropped back or I sped up. At this point I thought the pacer must be a little off his target time, so I looked at my watch and realised that I was actually going at the sort of pace I had when I set my most recent 10 mile PB. I did my best to ignore this and just kept on running and soon found that we were running across a gravel path through a park. I’m not keen on gravel, and I always feel that running on it expends energy quicker than a more solid surface would.
A little after this I started to cough and found myself unable to catch my breath – I had to slow to a walk to finish coughing, and was then hindered by a running nose as well. It was my legs that should have been running – not my nose! From this point on I found myself having to slow to a walk frequently to either blow my nose or cough – and I was only a little over 4 miles into the race!
The frequency of how often I was having to walk was starting to take it’s toll. It felt like I was never going to finish and I started to question whether or not I’d be able to do an ultra marathon in 3 weeks time. Though I was also questioning whether or not I’d be able to run a marathon next weekend for training, or even manage to hold my planned pace for the upcoming Greater Manchester Marathon. It was thinking of those targets that did make me keep going though, no matter how mentally challenging it was becoming.
The route eventually looped back to an earlier part of the course and continued along this same route for some time, going back over the gravel path in the park and under bridges until eventually the route veered back off onto a new part of the course. This included a hill – one which it was possible to see people running up from a distance and I thought to myself that hill looks so crazy it can’t be part of the course – it’s probably just a few people practising hill sprints. No. It was part of the course! I ran up half the hill, but then started walking – thinking to myself there was no point in pushing too hard as I’d already messed up the rest of the race anyway.
It was sometime around here where we had to cross the first cattle grid and I found it surprising that it wasn’t covered over. Every time I’ve encountered cattle grids on previous races they had been covered over with wood for safety. As I approached I saw other runners were slowing to a walk and carefully crossing them – something I’d have been annoyed at had I been going for a PB attempt. I followed the others and walked across it, but when I then encountered another shortly after I decided I’d run across it instead – surely it was just paranoia with the first one. However that was not the case – crossing this one I tripped, but somehow managed to avoid face-planting and kept on running.
Eventually a sign appeared that said 500 metres remaining! My thoughts turned to:
“500 metres? That’s not far – I could sprint that. No wait, that’s half a kilometre. Though that’s less than half a mile. Oh, I can’t think right now, just keep moving legs – you’ve failed me this far but not this last bit!”
I did keep running and managed a bit of speed to finish with, though the coughing fit afterwards probably indicated that wasn’t a brilliant idea. Looking at my watch though I had finished in 99:27. It was one of my worst ever times for a half, and I hadn’t even done it that slowly in training for quite some time. The only solace I could take from it was that I’d finished ahead of the 100 minute pacer, and I had actually finished.
Once the official results were out I found I’d finished with an official chip time of 1:39:25 placing me 243rd out of 1,556 finishers. I guess finishing in the first 16% of half marathon finishers isn’t really that bad going whist ill.
I went into this race “knowing” I’d do badly, and sure enough I had. Or at least in my mind I had, and for some reason I was still disappointed with myself despite that expectation. It did however make me determined that over the next week I’d push as hard as I can to try and have a strong finish to ultra marathon training. I feel I’ve got unfinished business here now and hope to be back in 2017 for a better attempt at the half marathon.