Sunday, 17 March 2013

Tuning up for London

(Posted 11/04/13)

The Fleet Half Marathon was to be my main “tune-up” race in preparation for London. Most marathon coaches and experts suggest you should do at least one half marathon race to test yourself and get used to racing conditions. It can also give you an idea of what kind of time you can expect to run in the marathon itself. The Fleet Half is marketed as a pre-London event and has been running since 1981 so it seemed an ideal choice. Reading Half Marathon was also on the same day but this seemed more difficult to get to and would be busier.

My main concern about this event was the weather. I’d been checking the forecast all week and was convinced the race was going to be a windy washout and scupper my chances of getting a good half marathon time in the build-up to London. It has not been a great few months of weather for any kind of outdoor activity. As predicted the heavens erupted on Sunday morning. I could hear the rain in bed at about 5am on the morning of the race. Fortunately it had eased by the time I got out of bed went for a ‘shakeout’ run at 6am. This is a elite-endorsed ritual I've started doing the morning of important races. It’s nothing complicated or strenuous and simply consists of a short jog to loosen up and prepare the body for later exertions. I need to get up early for breakfast anyway so it doesn't affect my alarm clock too much. On my return I showered and had breakfast before Sarah and I started the journey to Fleet, in Hampshire. One of the nice things about racing is that you get to visit places that you otherwise wouldn't come across.  It was only an hour on the train from Waterloo and then a 20 minute walk to the start from the station. The inclement weather made the build up to the race pretty miserable and served to make me even more stressed out than usual. Lots of rain always makes things more difficult – especially when the HQ is in a big grassy park, which predictably descended into a mud bath. It has to be said, the organisers did a great job in the conditions.

The race started on time on the main road. I was a little frustrated at the start as got stuck behind some runners going at a slower pace which meant I had to compensate for this once I’d got past them. The field was of a pretty high standard so we were a bit bunched up for the first mile or so. I clocked a couple of fast miles and then tried to steady myself into a rhythm. 

Acknowledging the great support on the course

The course was a difficult one to pace because of a lot of undulations. Fortunately there seemed to be a lot more uphill than downhill, however declines do take a lot out of your legs. The support from the public was exceptional for a race of this type and the frequency of support was helped by the route taking in the town centre twice. Even in the more rural areas we came across fantastic support. There were also a lot of families supporting their loved ones with homemade signs.

I struggled with a couple of miles and posted longer split times due to both tiredness and a couple of inclines. It’s always harder to push on with wind and rain in your face as well. I couldn't have paced the race too badly as I started to take over more and more runners and and was advised by marshals that I was around the top 20 mark. By 9 miles I was starting to feel the pain but knowing I had only had a few miles to go I just kept pushing on. I was very relieved to see the sign for ‘Fleet’. The best thing about the last mile was the amount of downhill sections – a decline is always a very welcome sight as far as I'm concerned and it meant I was able to put in a couple of very fast miles to finish. What isn't a welcome sight is a massive puddle of mud in closing stages! I was honestly worried about losing a shoe as I sprinted through – it was like something from ‘Tough Mudder’. The reward for tackling this obstacle was my first sight of the finish clock. It was still on 1:15 and at this point I thought I had a chance of making sub 1:16 but I hadn't realised there was another bend before the finish line so there wasn't a chance of making it. I did however still manage a sprint finish taking over another runner in the process which is always a good end to a race. My official finish time was 1:16:14, a massive PB.

Gaining a position with a sprint finish

It was a strange feeling breaking a PB from 2 and half years ago. I felt on a better day I could have gone under 1:16 but that will come. It was a good day’s work but I still need to force myself to concentrate harder on the pacing aspect of races. One of the most important pieces of advice I have read on the marathon is that the distance has to be respected and what you bank in faster miles early on you will pay back with interest later.

Time: 1:16:14 (PB)
Position: 20th/2286

Click here for results.

5 weeks to go.....

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Testing Thameside 20 Miles

(Posted 11/04/13)

I signed up for the Thameside 20 mile race at the last minute after my friend Majell made me aware of it. The event is put on by Clapham Chasers running club, so you can count on good organisation. Its distance and placing in the calendar makes it ideal preparation for a spring marathon such as London and it certainly fitted well into my schedule.

In the days building up to the race I thought a lot about how best to approach the event. In the end I decided to use it as a training run, completing the first 10 miles at an easy pace (around 6:30/mile at fastest) and the last 10 miles at goal marathon pace (around 6 minute miles). I also hoped to finish strongly and do the last couple of miles at 10K pace and progressively faster. The last aim was to prove a little too ambitious!

It was a real mission to get to the race start in Bishops Park next to Putney Bridge. With the race started at 8am on a Sunday morning, the tubes weren't running early enough. In the end I had to get 3 buses - in fact 2 of them were night buses! This meant getting up before 5am which is never pleasant.

The out and back route from Putney bridge to Richmond

The event helpfully provided “pacer” runners so that you could choose a pace to run the race in and use your pacer as a guide. Darren Tanner, Majell and I ran in the sub 7 min mile pace group led by James, another Clapham Chaser. We set off at a decent pace and started averaging about 6:30 minute miles. A few guys went off at a faster pace and disappeared into the horizon. It was a lovely route to be going along at a fairly relaxed pace. We started at Putney Bridge and went along the Thames all the way to Richmond and towards Twickenham - think the Oxford Cambridge Boat race. The course was 10 miles out and back. I managed to do the first 10 miles fairly comfortably with Darren, Maj and the boys and then at the turnaround I hit the gas as planned to achieve my aim of completing the 2nd half of the race at 6 minute miling pace. I certainly managed to change the gears quickly didn’t keep it steady enough and during some of the early miles I was doing much faster laps! This resulted in a real struggle when it came to the later miles. After picking up the pace in the second half I eventually took over another couple of runners taking me into 2nd place.

Running friends

I must admit although I had not been treating the race as a race as such, I thought I had 2nd place sown up and was quite happy with this! And then with a couple of miles to go  out of nowhere I heard the Australian accent of Maj who came absolutely steaming past me. I just didn't have the legs to keep up with him watched him go on ahead into the horizon. Maj ran a great race and the way he progressed throughout the race and finished so strongly will put him in great shape for London. Darren also ran a solid race considering he is coming back from a calf injury that has plagued him during 2013. It was great to be able to run together again and I am being persuaded to join the Clapham Chasers!

I was disappointed that I hadn't been able to stick to my pacing as strictly as I’d intended and therefore wasn't able to finish very strongly but it was still a run that would have done me a great deal of good training wise. It was a really nice event and I am definitely going to the use the route again for a long run.

Time: 2:05:16 (PB)
Position: 3rd/269

Click here for results.

7 weeks to go....