Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017

If you’ve read my previous blog posts then you might know that I’d got a few ambitious goals for 2017:

  • sub-19 5K,
  • sub-40 10K,
  • sub-89 Half Marathon,
  • 3:15 marathon,
  • and to complete my first 100K event.

My first attempt at breaking the half marathon goal was off the back of a minor niggle that had resulted in reduced training at the start of the year, which then led into a marathon PB – but missing the goal I’d set. Over half of the year had passed by the time I ticked off my first goal – completing 100K at Race to the Stones in July. It’d been a tough race, but I hoped it’d help me work on the remainder of my goals.

I unofficially broke sub-19 in an un-timed race just before Race to the Stones, but I’d not yet been able to get it as an official time. A couple of parkruns later and I’d got my parkrun time down close to my 5K PB, but still hadn’t managed sub-19. It was time to move on and start focusing on building up for a marathon once more. I could always go back to working on the 5K after my other races were out the way. I got a couple of long runs done, and then managed to get sub-40 in a 10K during races two weeks running. The first of these had put me well on the way to sub-39 as well.

The week after these two races I did a 10.1 mile training run averaging 6:41 min/mile pace which if I’d maintained the pace for another three miles would have gotten me a sub-89 time (in fact sub-87 was in sight of that!).

My hopes were now high that I’d be able to tick off another of my goals at Robin Hood Half, but a failed 22 mile run (where I only got to 16 miles for reasons I won’t go into) put this in doubt. For the third year running, during the week before the race I found myself surrounded by people with colds and I was concerned I’d get one before the race. There were points where I was convinced I was getting a sore throat.

On race day I got to the Embankment for 08:15, about 20-25 minutes later than I would have had I not got lost on the way due to the bright sun being so low it was making it difficult to read road signs. I had 75 minutes until the start of the race, and only thirty minutes until the planned #ukrunchat meet-up so after a quick walk around I went for my warm-up run.

Half-way through the warm-up I passed Sherie and Scott, so picked up the pace and caught back up with them on their way to the meeting point. I waited there with them for others to turn up. I noticed it was getting warm already, almost enough to make me sweat and my throat was dry already. It was looking like we might not get the cool weather that had been forecast.

DKeT-SUW4AA_edM.jpg

Photo by @sheriamore1

It got to 09:00 and Amy hadn’t been able to find us so I went off looking for her and her sister. After ten minutes I gave up looking as I was running out of time to join the toilet queue before the race.

I decided I’d wait in the queue until 09:20, but was nowhere near the front so thought I’d give it another five minutes. The queue just wasn’t moving so I gave up and had to run for the starting line – hoping I wouldn’t regret it later.

I got to the yellow starting pen with less than a minute to spare before the race started. The pen was a lot busier than I remember it from previous years and was a slow start. Once out onto the main road it started to ease up a bit, but I found it difficult to get up to my target pace.

One runner ran straight in front of me without looking and almost tripped me up; I shouted “jeez” to make sure he knew what he’d done. He looked over his should and just made a “pfft” sound. I think that’s the big difference between the pens – the closer you are to the front, the more likely it is to encounter inconsiderate runners. It’s not a blanket rule of course, there were many considerate runners who would also make sure others are doing okay. There’s always the odd few though, and it seems I encounter one in about 30-40% of the races I do.

The first two miles went more or less to plan – both of them putting me on target for a sub-87, but then I encountered the hills. The hills start at around 2.4 miles and carry on until 3.2 miles before a sharp descent. At the pace I wanted, going up those hills in the heat that had risen to 20C with 71% humidity was too much. I was ahead of the 90 minute pacer, but I found myself walking long enough to be overtaken by him.

I overtook the 90 minute pacer again on the descent and then stayed ahead for a while. I grabbed a water pouch from the station at mile 3 and squeezed a few drops of water into my mouth. I hate those pouches, but as they sponsor the race each year they have no choice but to use them. Unfortunately I couldn’t pour any of the water over me to cool down as I might have down with a bottle. I couldn’t really get enough water out to drink before I discarded it.

Before I reached Wollaton Park I was walking again, and the 90 minute pacer had overtaken me. I didn’t want to lose sight of him so I pushed on when I could, but it was a lot warmer through the Park than it ever has been on previous years I’ve been through there in a race. This area was well supported, and to be honest I think the majority of the race was, but here I noticed it the most as I struggled up the hill through the park.

I’d got a few jelly babies stashed away in my Flipbelt to use mid-race, but with how slow I was going due to the frequent overheating, I didn’t both eating any of them. Even by the end of the race they remained untouched.

After leaving the park, the route headed back towards the road we’d run down before so we could run back up it in the opposite direction. I started to look out for people I know in the oncoming stream of runners, but had a complete mental block of who was there. I was sure I’d seen @designrach – but it couldn’t have been as she wasn’t running this one!

The course then does an “out and back” with a tight turn at the end; one of the ones from last year I think. By the time I reached one hour of running I was at around 9 miles. The 90 minute pacer was still in sight, but I knew at this point that if I wanted to still manage sub-90 I’d need to maintain a pace much faster than I’d prepared for. In this heat I wasn’t going to attempt it though. My lips had dried out and were becoming sore, and it felt like you could cook bacon on me.

When I got to 10 miles it felt like a bit of a milestone – as I knew I’d not long PB’d at that distance, but I was already 4 minutes behind that time and I was walking. Over the miles that remained I walked a lot for each mile – it became like a slow interval session where each split was incredibly short.

As the train station came into view I knew from memory that it wasn’t that far left to go. It was far enough though. With about 0.7 miles left to go I saw Sherie on the corner so gave her a high five as I passed. It was probably about the seventh one I’d given as after 8 miles I decided it didn’t matter if I expended the energy – I wasn’t going to be using it.

Not long after, as I passed through the gates into the Victoria Embankment, I started to walk again. Then I realised Sherie was running along the pavement and shouted at me to keep going. So I did. At least until I’d crossed the start line again anyway.

I walked again briefly and then decided I needed to run the entire grass section. I wanted a sprint finish, and figured that with all the rain we’d had over the past few days that if I went for that last “kick” from a walking start that I might just slip and faceplant in the grass. I pushed on to the last corner and then picked up speed immediately after so I could sprint at at least a 4min/mile pace.

On the way out they passed me my medal so I threw it around my neck as I collected a water bottle. I was then passed an empty carrier bag, not sure why, and the a finishers tee (first time this year!), and a Boost chocolate bar.

I’d finished in 94:14 so was a lot slower than I’d intended. I’d started the race thinking I might just get an 87 minute time, but was hoping for at least sub-89. In the end I failed at this goal for the second time this year, and for the second year running. I’d like to get an 85 minute half in the next couple of years, and I think to manage that I need to run another half marathon this year – otherwise I won’t be racing a half again until Reading in March 2018.

I think it’s okay to fail, it’s how we learn to be better, but it’s important to keep trying. This race was warm, it was humid, and it was hilly. It’s not a great combination for a PB attempt, and I heard afterwards that a lot of people were struggling in the conditions. I hate to think how many would have had to DNF because of the conditions today.

My friend Gen Huss was up in Edinburgh doing a half there and encountered similar conditions as well. She did of course run faster than me, but then her training has been really strong. We’ll hopefully get to race each other again soon.

My time still got me a finishing place of 264 out of 6,149 half marathon finishers. It put me in the first 4.3% which I guess isn’t too bad really. Maybe that’s one positive I can take away from the race. Oh well, onto the next.

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Stratford’s Big 10K 2017

Just one week before this race I ran the Leicester 10K during my last few weeks of training for the Yorkshire Marathon. I’d had a slow year, mostly in the build-up to the longest races I’ve ever done, but marathon training wasn’t going too badly – even though it was greatly condensed from what I’d normally do.

Even though I knew my training was so far exhausting, I wanted to try and PB at 10K. For this I booked Leicester 10K, Stratford’s Big 10K, Thoresby 10, and even the Ashborne 10 for 2018 should I need it. Although my hope, and my training was aiming for Leicester, I wasn’t that sure I could do it. My goal was to go sub-40 and tick off my first pace related goal of 2017 even though the countdown to the end of the year had begun.

I did it though. I ran sub-40 and even took off a good chunk of time to get me closer to a sub-39 goal. I hadn’t expected that, and I hadn’t expected it to be sub 39:30 either. This left me with a question of what to do for Stratford’s Big 10K. The way I saw it, I had the following options:

  1. Take it easy and enjoy the scenery, and then maybe follow it up with a 7 mile recovery run,
  2. Try to get another sub-40 time to prove the last one wasn’t a fluke,
  3. Go off at sub-39 pace and see how long I can hold it for knowing that I’d burn out early and not manage sub-40 either

I liked the idea of option 1, but I didn’t think I could do it. I like to work hard and to keep pushing, so that meant realistically it was going to be one of the latter two options. Which of them though I decided I’d figure out on the day – to see what the race conditions would be like.

Car parking for the event is pay and display, and isn’t as expensive as it has been for some events. It cost me £3 for three hours parking which I figured would be enough to wait for the event to start, run the 10K, and get 5 or 6 miles recovery run done afterwards.

I made my way to the 30-45 minute pen, and was the first one there. One of the organisers joked that I might win it – though of course that’s still an impossibility, but he repeated it over the speakers later to get more people to assemble in the pens. Great. Now people are going to be thinking I’m fast – all I want to do is put in a reasonable effort, not destroy my legs. At 09:30 we were led from the pens to the starting line on the road – some Kenilworth Runners were already there having skipped the pens.

The start was up hill to a roundabout, and the along rolling hills through the countryside. I wasn’t sure what the course as going to be like, so I just ran without really aiming for a pace. Running at a pace that felt good was a refreshing change from last week, but some of the hills did cause me to slow fractionally.

In the first couple of miles I also found my progress blocked for a while when I encountered several runners that were side-by-side and not letting anyone pass. I think it’s fine to run alongside a friend or two, but I really think they should have had some consideration for others – particularly when there were five or six of them.

Eventually I passed them by running on the grassy embankment, and caught up with a couple of other runners who had managed to pass them a little earlier. One of them was actually the first lady (as in the front-most lady in the race, not the wife of the President) and the other was a guy who was being very energetic. Every time he saw someone walking passed, spectating, or marshalling he would start shouting and waving his arms crazily. I found it amazing, but I realised one of two things:

  1. he’s that fast, that the pace we were going at was just an easy run for him so had all the energy to burn (this was the most likely),
  2. he was underestimating the energy it’d take and would crash before the end.

Those two were fast, but I decided I’d try to keep up with them – just for the motivation. A little after the 4km marker we cut through a car park onto the Stratford Greenway near Milcote. The Stratford Greenway is a bridleway that is surfaced with crushed limestone – a similar surface to the Tissington Trail I’d raced on earlier in the year. It’s better than running on grass would be, but it’s still a trail that gets waterlogged and muddy. What it does mean though is that it’s fairly flat and a chance to either speed-up or try to recover from the hills that had preceded it.

I found myself slowing and adjusting my strides to try and clear each puddle rather than run through them, and also jumped over the odd muddy patch as well. It carries on all the way until about 5 miles when you run close to the racecourse. I remembered seeing a water station with water bottles too, but I ran straight passed it.

Every time we passed a marshal they cheered the first lady and made sure she knew she was first. The energetic guy that had been running a stride behind her was starting to slow though so I caught up and ran alongside them briefly. Eventually the energetic guy seemed to go quiet and dropped back, so I had no idea how he did in the end though I suspect it was well. The lady who had been running strong up until this point suddenly cam to a complete stop just after 8km.

I slowed down to check she was okay, and it looked like she was just trying to catch her breath. As she was okay I carried on running, but tried to encourage her by shouting “you can do it!” whilst running backwards before turning around and carrying on with focusing on my own run. I’d still got a little under 2km left to go.

I realised I’d got quite a bit left in my legs but decided not to push. It felt like a steady pace so I maintained it as I ran uphill along along an alleyway, and eventually alongside the River Avon. It goes passed the church, the Courtyard Theatre, and the RSC building.

When the route cut into the park alongside the river I thought the race was about over, but I couldn’t yet see the finish line. I was careful not to run too fast around the bend as it crosses the river, and then ran along the bridge until the final corner. From there I was tempted to sprint, but instead I just upped the pace a little to make sure I’d still finish in under 40 minutes.

I finished in position 29 out of 1,036 finishers (putting me in the first 2.8%) with a time of 39:50. I’d proven my result from Leicester hadn’t been a fluke, and had done it with enough in my legs to go for a 5 mile run straight after. Next week I’ll be doing a 21 mile (or maybe 22) training run, but will be back racing the week after at Robin Hood for my second go at their half marathon. My hope is that it’ll be a chance to tick off another of my running goals for 2017.

At the race finish they gave me a finishers medal, a bottle of water, and from Nuffield Health there was a tote bag and banana.

Run For All Leicester 10K

So far this year the only goal for 2017 that I’ve been able to accomplish is to complete a 100km race. That is something I did at Race to the Stones once more than half the year had passed by. I still had goals to improve my 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon times.

Leicester 10KI came close to reaching sub-40 minutes at Leeds last year, so I decided if I booked a couple of 10Ks during the lead-up to my autumn marathons, and one for after then one of them would hopefully get me there. The first of these was the Leicester 10K – a new event for 2017 which starts and ends in Abbey Park.

What I couldn’t understand is why Run For All would organise this event for the same day as Leicester’s 10 mile county championship – race 7 of the LRRL summer league. A lot of the local clubs would be concentrating on that race – one which GB athlete Gemma Steel has won twice, and is the course record holder for. I could only assume it’s the only date they could agree with the Council for, or that they didn’t know about the league race.

Unlike the 10K organised by Tempo Events, this one does not organise any parking for competitors. The closest I could find was the John Lewis multistory car park which is one mile from the exit to the start line in Abbey Park. It’s not really a problem though as it acted as a nice warm-up before the race.

When I got there I talked to @BillAndrews and his sister for a while until they needed to drop their bags off. I even saw @amy_everett_ and her sister pass by before I made my way over to the starting pen. I noticed that the sub-40 was quite small, so as I was the first one there I thought I’d stand near the middle of it – I could reposition myself later. In front of this pen was a very small sub-35 pen; there was nobody there at the time, but I thought to myself that one day it’d be nice to find myself in that pen – starting at the front of a big race.

Time passed and two others joined me in the pen though nobody had entered the sub-35 pen. I imagined those that could do that were doing league races. I hadn’t spotted a single person in Wigston Phoenix or West End Runners  tops. We were then asked to move forward to the front ready for the warm-up to start at 08:45.

As is usual I didn’t take part in the warm-up, but whilst it was taking place the 40 minute pacer joined us in the pen. Once the warm-up was complete they then announced a ten minute delay in the start time whilst they secured the route. Those that had warmed up now had plenty of time to cool down. At last though, the race was about to begin.

It seemed weird, but I was on the front row and shoulder to shoulder with another runner who was hoping for around 36 minutes. When the race started I darted forwards and for the first few hundred metres I was leading the Leicester 10K – my home city. I’d been nervous about not being good enough yet to go sub-40, but I was at the front. It distracted me that much that I realised I’d not started my watch but had already covered about 200 – 300 metres. I started my watch and dropped the pace a little to something a little more sustainable, and the guy expecting a much faster time slipped into the lead.

By the time we left Abbey Park there were three runners in front of me, with another two about to overtake. That was okay though as I was hoping the 40 minute pacer would catch me up soon and I could follow him for the duration. There was no sign of the pacer so I carried on assuming that I’d see him at some point.

The route then goes along one side of dual carriageway, but then turns off before the end to go through an industrial estate and loops around to go down an underpass beneath the dual carriageway we’d just run over. I did drop my pace briefly for the uphill section as I didn’t want to tire myself too soon. I was wondering if I’d overdone it a bit with the quick start.

The route then rejoins the dual carriageway, but on the opposite side. As we rounded the corner onto the other dual carriageway near the Highcross shopping centre I spotted @amy_everett_’s parents on their way to cheer her and Lucy on. I decided there and then it’d probably be best if I didn’t hang around after the race to talk as no doubt she’d be busy!

We were then directed from one side of the road to the other so we could run down the side of the Highcross on Highcross Street. This felt like a bit of a climb, but so far the only real uphill effort had been the underpass. As the miles ticked on though even the gradual inclines would likely feel tough. I then got to Saint Nicholas Square where the route goes around the outside of the park on the brick floor, and around passed the front of Leicester Cathedral – the burial place of King Richard III. So far things were going well, and I was thinking about the last time I ran around this area – the Sunrise City 5K.

The route continues passed the Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe and the neighbouring champagne bar,  around passed the market, and onto Gallowtree Gate – one of the main shopping areas in the city. At the Clock Tower we continued onto Belgrave Gate to leave the city centre behind.

Along this stretch of road I was starting to tire. A lot of it is uphill and a few people overtook me, one of which I overtook again not long later. It felt to me like this was one of the hardest parts of the course and I was certain I was going so incredibly slow. I’d just passed the 5K marker and I considered walking. I didn’t though, I kept going and I’m glad I did as the reality was that this mile was on par with my fastest mile of the race. I’d only glanced at my watch a couple of times so wasn’t entirely sure how I was doing – I knew the delayed start of my watch would probably throw me off if I looked.

Eventually we left this road that seemed to never end, and even though I was even more eager to walk I kept going as it felt like this was homeward bound. Each stride now was taking me closer to Abbey Park, not away from it. My head kept telling me to walk, and when I reached a housing estate I convinced my legs to keep on going at least until I was passed the houses. It’s amazing what lying to yourself can do. I didn’t actually want to allow myself to walk as I knew that if I walked then every second beyond 40 minutes I was out running for would be a second I would question if I could have managed my goal.

Just passed the houses and the bridge was the second water station, and again I ran straight on through. Whilst my legs were still moving I didn’t want to slow down. Some of the runners in front of me nipped to the side to get some water on passing, but didn’t slow by much. I couldn’t really think what the local support had been like – I was focused on running too much, but I did notice that for most of the race up until this point I’d been on my own with the exception of the brief times when faster runners overtook me. As I turned onto Abbey Lane another runner started to catch up and eventually ran alongside me.

This helped keep my mind off wanting to walk for a while  and I thought it was cool to be running with the same strides as someone else just for a while. Abbey Lane seemed to go on forever, but I know the area a little and I knew the turn would be coming up eventually. On this turn, as with every other, I took it wide to try and increase my distance so that my watch would better match the distance – I wanted to make sure it was going to record 10K even though in reality I was running a little more than that. This was the opportunity the other runner needed to overtake, but we’d not long passed the 8K sign and I wasn’t going to slow down now.

I decided this was it – I’d keep on running and pushing until it hurt, and would then keep on running. Nothing was actually yet hurting, but I could feel the tiredness in my legs. I pushed on and overtook the runner again before crossing the Grand Union Canal (which also passed by where I live!). I’m sure when you’re working hard that some roads become longer. That’s what it felt like for Abbey Park Road; I was having to keep telling myself to focus. If my legs don’t hurt then there’s no reason to stop. Keep going.

Eventually after what seemed like a lifetime, I was back in Abbey Park, passed the 9K marker and on my way to the finish. I was that focused on running I didn’t even notice that to my left it was possible to see the race village and the finish across the field. I knew at this point that no matter what I wasn’t going to walk. I’d walked briefly at the Leeds Abbey Dash and missed out on my goal by just a few seconds. It wasn’t going to happen here. I looked at my watch and saw it was something over 36 minutes. I wasn’t sure how far I’d got left, but I thought that maybe I could just about get to the finish in under four minutes.

With only 400 metres remaining two runners sprinted passed me, one after the other. I wasn’t going to bother trying to catch up with them but when I saw the timer hit 39 minutes I decided to sprint. I passed the first runner quickly, and then caught up with the other. He pushed harder to keep up, but I managed to push harder – I wasn’t yet at top sprinting speed, and snuck passed him to finish.

I stopped my watch, and for a second thought I was going to throw up. Perhaps I’d worked a little harder than I thought. I was pretty sure I’d done it though – I couldn’t imagine my time having crept passed the 40 minute mark. I hadn’t seen the 40 minute pacer since before the start though. The sick feeling subsided as I walked to get some water, and then collected my finishers bag. Inside there was:

  • a finishers medal,
  • a finishers technical t-shirt,
  • a bottle of Arla Protein Tropical milkshake,
  • an ASDA Nutty Bar,
  • a packet of ASDA Cashews, Raisins, and cherries,
  • and an ASDA sports nutrition protein bar (cookies and cream flavour).

After a quick sit down on the grass to look at the medal, I headed over to get it engraved whilst I checked out my time. My watch said 39:17 which I knew was about 10 seconds off, but I’d more or less added on an extra 10 seconds of running from weaving in order to make up for not starting my watch at the start (so had actually run just over 10K). Whilst waiting for them to engrave the medal I got an SMS come through to confirm my official time was 39:27.

I’d done it. I’d finally beaten another of the goals I’d set for 2017 which was one that had hung over from 2016. To make things even better it wasn’t just a marginal amount I’d beaten my target by – it was enough to put me in sight of my next goal – sub-39. Surprisingly though they engraved my medal with “3-9-17”. I thought it was supposed to say “39-17”, but still, somehow they managed to get the time wrong. It didn’t matter to me though, as I was happy to have had a run I was pleased with. I later realised I’m an idiot though – it may have looked the same as the time on my watch, but it was in fact the date they’d engraved on the medal.

I finished 8th out of 1404 runners which put me in the first 0.5% of runners. I couldn’t believe I’d actually done it, and managed a top-10 finish in a big event. I know the usual local club runners were missing due to league events, but it was still a result I could be happy with.

I was also happy to see the guy I’d started next to had finished in just over 36 minutes as he’d hoped – and won the race. The marshals on this course had been great, and overall it was a very well organised event that I think went pretty smoothly. After the race I walked and then ran some of the last 2K of the course in reverse so I could cheer on friends along the way.

Next up for me is Stratford’s Big 10K in a week. I’d planned to make it another sub-40 attempt. Now I’m thinking I’ll either take it easy and enjoy it, or push hard and see how long I can hold a sub-39 pace for before exploding.