In the run up to this race I’d built up some unnecessary pressure on myself. This was my first ever race when I ran it in 2011 (1:56), and where I ran my half marathon PB in 2012 (1:36), both of which are among the most unpleasant experiences of my life, so I already had some bad feeling about the race, and the distance in general. I had also managed to mention to a few people that I wanted to run a sub 1:30. Unfortunately I didn’t back that desire up with any race specific training at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t in bad shape, but checking back through my training on dailymile, I hadn’t run longer than 45 mins at the pace I’d need to run sub 1:30 for months. The forecast was also for a stiff head wind for the last four miles along the promenade, exactly the point at which my training indicated I was most likely to die.
I weighed all this up against the fact that if I somehow did run under 1:30, I would never have to run another half marathon again, and decided to give it my best shot.
At the start it was all quite fun. I saw David and Les from SWAC/RDB, dropped my bag on the baggage bus, and had a little warm up run before climbing over a fence into the start pen with the 1:30 runners. With around 6,800 runners there were around 6,600 more than I’m used to, which was quite exciting until we got started and people started bumping into me. It was a bit tight and a couple of people fell in the first half a mile or so, but then it soon opened up and there was a bit more space.
After a mile, I knew I was in for a bad time. My legs felt wooden, like I was running on stumps, and my shins were in agony. I felt awful, like I’d never run before, a hundred times worse than when I’ve run multiple marathons or ultras, and was really struggling to keep the 4:10/km pace I was aiming for. Last time I felt like this was the first few miles of the Manchester Marathon last year, and that eased up after a couple of miles, so I ploughed on hopefully. At three miles as we hit the parks it was no better. My form was all over the place, and I could hear my feet smashing into the ground over my mp3 player which made things worse. I tried turning my music off and concentrating on running smoother, but when I did my pace dropped to nearly 5:15/km which I couldn’t afford to do for long.
As we went around Sefton Park I saw Matt from SWAC who was going well. We said hi and overtook each other a few times which was really good. Seeing a friendly face was great the way I was feeling, and knowing he was either just in front or behind me was a bit of a distraction from the pain in my legs.
At this point my Garmin decided to throw me some more drama. Every time I looked at it, it said something different, jumping from 4:10/km to 4:25/km, without me (as far as I could tell) doing anything different. The splits I was getting each km seemed roughly on target though.
I don’t remember much of going through the parks, just that as we came around Sefton Park for the last time at 7 miles things started looking up. My form hadn’t improved (still stamping those feet), and I wasn’t going any faster, but I got to employ my running super-power – recognising the point where it isn’t getting worse. I was in pain, clumping along like a fully-grown Pinocchio, but at last, it wasn’t getting worse. As far as I’m concerned that equates to being invincible. The next two miles were the least horrible of the race, round the back of the park, and through the woods by Jericho Lane down onto the prom.
I was even feeling well enough to get pissed off at all the people that cut two massive corners off on the approach to the prom, despite shed-loads of barrier tape and it being blatantly obvious which way to go. I made a point of being the only one anywhere near me to take the last hairpin before the 8.5 mile water stop properly.
Then it was the prom. 4.5 miles to go, into a pretty stiff breeze. I started that stretch in a small group, which gave me some shelter, but they were going 4:45/km. I didn’t think the wind was worth 35secs/km, so I broke out of that group on my own, fighting through the wind to the next group a hundred yards up. That was hard as hell, but the new and crushing pain in my lungs was a welcome distraction from the pain in my legs. As soon as I got to that group, thinking I’d get a slight break from the wind, the group just sort of fragmented. I was quickly at the front of a group of three, then I left the other two behind. I was running around 4:15/kms at this stage, but had no idea where I was cumulatively, or how close I was to 1:29:59. I figured I must’ve been close though, so I decided it was worth kicking at 10 miles and giving it whatever I had left. As it turns out that wasn’t much. I somehow managed to convince myself that there were 3km rather than 3 miles left, which I realised at the next mile marker, and the mile from 12 to 13 seemed to go on for ever.
The wind was relentless, and I came close to being blow into the six million benches, dustbins and other random street furniture a few times, but eventually the Arena (where the finish used to be) materialised and it was time to really go for it. I got into a nice duel with a guy in a red gilet, and spent the last half a mile or so desperately swapping places with him as if it somehow mattered which one of us crossed the line first.
As I hit the 13 mile marker and just had two small turns back into the finish chute I looked at my watch and still couldn’t work out if I would make it under 1:30. With 100 yards to go I checked again and it looked like I had a minute and a half to spare, but I was so trashed, so desperate for air and struggling to keep upright at the pace I was running, I still didn’t think I’d make it.
Then I crossed the line and stopped my Garmin which I accidentally turned off at the same time. I sucked air for a few seconds, felt the relief of it all being over flood over me and through my legs, and shuffled up the finish chute to collect my medal, t-shirt and jelly beans. I found a bench and started to stretch, while I recalled the details from my Garmin, and couldn’t believe it – 1:29:09. That was my gun time too, so I knew it was safely under 1:30. After that some more SWAC runners came in, and it was great to see Clare, Matt and Carl (all of whom could’ve kicked my ass if they’d been properly racing), before heading off to Rigbys for some post-race carbs with the RDB mob.
The day after, I’m still happy with my time, although I’m questioning whether it was worth the hammering I gave myself. I really hadn’t trained at the right intensity for that kind of race/pace, and my calves in particular are smashed. I still don’t know what was going on with my gait/form that caused the pain in my shins, maybe I was just too tense thinking about the 1:30 target, but I hope the damage I’ve done is just superficial. One thing’s for sure, the Oldham Way 40 next week will be a far more relaxing affair, at least for the first 30miles or so.