So December brings my annual half marathon. Since I smashed my 10K PB a couple of months ago on a training run the thoughts of another great HM personal best have been floating around in my mind so I was really looking forward to this. Couple that with two great 5K times in the last 4 weeks and my hopes were high. All was going great until Monday. I had a headache on Sunday night, thought it was just from not having had my cup of proper coffee. Things weren't better on Monday and didn't feel like the turbo I had planned. Woke up on Tuesday and felt like ****, couldn't take the day off sick though as we were on shifts and as the lead I'd be letting everyone down if I didn't get the early run on. By 2pm I was ready to curl up on the sofa. I thought the worst had passed and was feeling better as it morphed into a head cold on Thursday. Moved back to my chest yesterday though just as I'd decided on a pacing strategy.
Last year I had a good idea of what I could do, so my pacing was to target a slightly ambitious 1:40, I missed, but only just. This year the same formula I used last was telling me I could do a 1:30:45. That would be 10 minutes quicker. That seemed to good an improvement, I tried a few other calculators and they gave similar results. The end result: I had my heart set on a 1:30. Pacing strategy was to go out at with 4:20/km and return with 4:10/km. This should play to the course, flattish first 5K, short sharp up&down, then uphill to 10K, down&up over next 2K, flattish next 5K, then nice downhill before a little kick up before the finish. The forecast on Friday: heavy rain, Saturday: heavy rain if I'm slow, this morning: dry. Ignoring the forecast in the hope it would change turned out to be a good strategy. I was also trying something else daring; new kit. My shorts have got a bit loose, so I thought new kit can't do more damage than worn out kit.
Race morning came and I was feeling alright, still had a bit of a chesty cough and blocked nose, but I was coping, I'd just pretend I was in perfect health. What's the worst that could happen? Dad dropped me off at the start with a little under an hour to spare, about enough time to fight into the hall for chip collection, collect my free race memento jacket, take off my nice warm hoodie and drop my bag off, make sure there was no excess weight being carried around then warm up. Tweaked the ankle sprain during the warm up, got me a little worried. Then to the start pen, stood at the front of the 91-100 minute pen, and was a little surprised by how few people were in front of me. Hmm, was I being a little over optimistic?
Walk to the start line and then the gun went off, little walk and broke into a jog on the line, then into a run. Remembered to try and keep my pace in check and took it what felt easy, 4:05 for the first, actually slightly quicker for the second with a 4:03, out onto the open roads and another speedy km in 4:05. Then a turn back into the wind. That was a bit of a shock to the system. There was quite a wind and it was tough going. Pace dropped as I made it towards the water station on the corner, just before the first hill. Got a measly cup of water then assaulted the hill, nice and easy on the way back down. Now my GI system was starting to complain, I'd only had a little water, why? Then just after mile marker 4 it all went wrong. I started getting horrible abdominal cramp, move up into my diaphragm, so bad I couldn't breathe, so I had to admit defeat and start walking. I say walking, I was staggering about like a drunk after 10 pints. I was actually better running, so tried a slow run until I'd regained composure. Things settled down, but if I ran too hard then I started cramping again. I was obviously not over being ill. So pacing strategy was out the window until I'd made it to the 'top' of the course. Maybe I could still aim for a 1:31, there were plenty of entries in the sweepstake from there down. 1:30:xx was the barren ground in the sweepstakes, maybe I could get that 1:30:45?
Reached to second aid station around km9 and got a little more water, that set the stomach off again, but throttled back the effort using the downhill and kept the worst away. The wind was relentless through to km15 though, the realisation that a sub 1:30 set in and I started sinking into a dark place. I was trying to pick runners and stay with them, sometimes it worked, sometimes they were too slow. I was using the sweepstake to keep my mind out of it, who had bet on what time? Who could still win? I'd really been looking forward to this race and it was becoming a little anti-climatic, I was sinking into the hole that I experienced on lap 3/4 in the Ironman run. Eventually I made it to Cranfield and the start of the downhill, I knew I'd broken the back and there was only 30 minutes left I put my mind in the right gear. Enjoying the downhill I put in a 3:57 km, I could see the average pace start to drop and that helped things, and back on the flat I settled into a steady pace. I settled onto a guy that was a good pace and that helped, another little hill around km18 and I held in there, water station just after and I lost my guy as I walked through. Just a few km left, and I tried to up the pace, well the RPE went up even if the pace remained the same.
I was starting to hurt now, my calves were niggling, breathing was hard, and the dizzy staggering was coming back, I could feel the road swaying. Maybe I should have backed off, but the stupid sweepstake had me wanting to run a respectable time, especially after all those quick bets. Turned the corner onto the final stretch, the nasty uphill, man it was hurting, I managed to overtake a guy as my breathing got loud. Summoned the last drop of energy I had and crossed the line. Then staggered about, stood for a minute while my chip was cut off. Then laid in the car park trying to compose myself, didn't even have the energy to call dad over as he walked past.
Made it 1:33:38 on my Garmin, but obviously started early/stopped late as the chip time puts me at 1:33:34, with a Gun time of 1:33:45 putting me in position 234/1523 finishers.
Having crossed the line I was actually a little disappointed, I missed the time I 'should' have done. In reality though it was a PB by over 7 minutes. That is still one hell of an improvement over an already reasonable PB. I shouldn't be disappointed. I am capable of more though, if I hadn't been ill in the run up, and hadn't had the abdominal/dizziness issues then I could have run harder. The other bonus is it gives me a chance to improve on it next year without a huge amount more effort.