So yesterday was race day. The first real running test I’d faced since my 2nd marathon in 2013. It was also a reunion (in racing terms) with my running partner from the first marathon I did in 2009. Neil had only just got back from Chicago the day before, having been there on work for the preceeding week. this showed
- Fairly sizeable cojones to take on a half marathon under the threat of jet lag
- Just how big a deal it is to be running with me in any capacity
The people of Essex seemed to agree, as they were out in numbers to see us off at the start line.
BTW I have to correct an error I made in my previous blog post. I said my previous 2 half marathon’s were 1:51 & 1:50. they were actually 1:53 and 1:51. I know this now because the 1st half I ever did, Neil also ran it, and he remembered his time was 1:52. In that race I came in shortly behind him, and then in my 2nd half marathon I knew that I had only just beaten his time by about 30-60 seconds.
The weather was pretty chilly and overcast. There was apparently a chance of drizzle, and it was going to stay in the single figure temperatures for the morning at least. Despite this, I had made my first bold decision of the day by wearing a short sleeved base layer with only a vest on top. Just before leaving the house I’d also picked up my running gloves, leaving me with the “Brazilian footballer on loan at Newcastle” look of short sleeves with gloves.
We met up with a work colleague of Neil’s, Stewart, who was apparently faster than both of us but had modestly predicted that he was aiming for “sub 1 hour 45”. We then quickly joined the Q for the obligatory pre-race pee. (on a bad day, this can sometimes be more than a pee)
The race announcer asked for “elite runners” to come to the start. Someone then informed us anyone under 1 hr 45 should also go. Feeling bullish, we decided to all head through to the start together. It’s the smallest of any of the official races I’ve ever done, but still around 3,000 entrants. It’s definitely the closest I’ve come to anyone calling me an elite athlete!
As we’d discussed we were all looking for 1:45ish beforehand we said we’d start together and see how things went. I had also programmed my Garmin watch to warn me if I dropped below 7mins 30 per mile in my average pace. I’d only just started using this near the end of my training so wasn’t sure how useful it was gonna be.
The Brentwood brass band marched us to the start line, which was a nice touch, and then we were off.
The usual slow start ensued as the bottleneck of runners tried to get out of the narrow start line and on their way. OK I’m gonna get my rant in early here. As I said above we were pretty near the start of the group for the beginning of the race. and we had a fair chance of beating 1hr 45 if our training was to be believed. So how then did we spend the first mile, maybe even two passing LOADS of people? When I say passing, I mean zig zagging in and out of them. They must have known the pace they run at? They must surely have then known that starting right behind the elite runners was wrong? It happens at so many races and it never fails to annoy me. *large exhale*
So, the Brentwood half marathon is not on completely closed roads, which was something new for me, and it was strange to be running with hundreds of others, as cars passed on the opposite side of the road. To be fair though, they had a huge amount of stewards along the way keeping an eye on this from a safety perspective.
2k into the run. i.e. less than 10% of the distance gone, and already I felt the need to pee again. This is a common thing for me, and the first few times it happened it really annoyed me, I’d try ignore it, reasoning that it was all in my head since I’d been to the toilet about 10 mins before. But as with most things in life once you accept it and deal with it, it bothers you a lot less. I carried on for 1k, when funnily enough Neil also said he felt like ‘going’. Soon as we got off the main road onto one that was parallel to some fields I told Neil & Stewart to carry on and I’d catch up. What I thought was all in my head was soon all over a tree just off Chelmsford road. The good thing about where I stopped was it was a long straight road and I could see Neil & Stewart in the distance. The bad thing was it was uphill, so I had to really push on past my race pace to eventually catch back up with them, burning a bit of fuel early on, but with an empty bladder I still felt a lot better. If you look at my kilometre splits on Strava kilometre 3 is the fastest section of my whole race, apart from the finish line sprint!
We settled into a rhythm which was comfortable, and just on track for under 1:45. The route started to get more rural, and Stewart started to gradually ease away from Neil & I. It was an undulating course, with hills that weren’t so much steep, but very very long. Sometimes this is worse, as at least with a steep hill you power up it then recover instead of spending 8-9 mins slowly ascending. Getting close to 5 miles now and the sun came out, bringing quite a bit of heat with it. Suddenly my Julio Geordie-o outfit was looking inspired. gloves went into the pocket and I was dressed for the weather while lots of folk around me sweated in their jackets.
Around 5 miles I got a stitch, something that’s plagued me during exercise for as long as I can remember. The most annoying thing about it is how random it is. It’s as understandable as hiccups (which I also have a nightmare with, but that’s for my other blog about binge drinking, Pavement Pizza). The only thing that sometimes works is to take big deep breaths, longer than the paces you are running. So I started doing this and quickly disappeared into the zone as I focused on breathing. Loooooooong breath in…..breath out…… Loooooooong breath in…..breath out…… which made me think of an app I downloaded when I was going through the worst part of my depression, called Headspace. recommended by my mate Bruce. It’s a meditation aid, and teaches you how helpful it is to take 10 mins out each day and ‘get some headspace’ by meditating. It’s not one of these crazy lotus position mantras, but just simply focusing on your breathing can take you away from everything else, and it definitely has worked for me before
Loooooooong breath in…..breath out……. Loooooooong breath in…..breath out…..at this point scenery etc doesn’t register, it’s just me, my stitch, and my inner monologue reminding me how to stay alive as a human…
Loooooooong breath in…..
Loooooooong breath out….
Loooooooong breath in…..
Loooooooong breath out….
WTF was that?
I was brought back into Planet Brentwood by my first experience of runner rage. A runner right in front of me had taken a carb gel, and had dropped the wrapper in the road as he ran, at which point another runner shouted this insult at the top of his voice, following up with “put it in your pocket! You’re an embarrassment!”
I was almost as stunned as the recipient, as the angry runner took off again at a faster pace! Being back in the conscious world I realised I now didn’t have Neil at my shoulder so it was gonna be a solo run for more than half of the race. I wasn’t sure if he was ahead or behind but figured I’d surely have seen him if he passed?
Either way there was nowt I could do about it, and one thing that has helped me a lot recently is to realise when I can’t affect something, then I shouldn’t stress about it. Just let it go, as Elsa would no doubt say. And I don’t doubt living in that castle on her own probably affected her mental stability as much as the next princess, so she’s a voice worth listening to.
Suddenly I heard a beep, and looked at my watch “HURRY UP!” said the display. My pace alerts! So I wasn’t alone after all. I’ve had my Garmin since the first marathon in 2009. He’s hideously low tech compared to today’s watches but right now he was the only mate I had left. (This is all poetic license btw, I don’t usually count my watch as a friend…)
The rest of the race became a mental game of checking the pace section of my watch, without looking at the distance. I don’t want to know too much about how far is left. Like clock watching at work, I feel it slows down time so I wanted only mile markers to be my indication.
If I’m honest, everything was fairly smooth from then on. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard, my legs were feeling it big time near the end but I took my gels when planned. I talked up their impact in my head so that if I got a burst of energy after eating one I’d say “that’s gel 1 kicking in” and act as if I had at least 2 miles of extra effort transplanted straight to my legs. Kinda like gummiberry juice.
Neil and my physio had both told me that the last part of the race is a long uphill section, so as I continued along, trying keep enough pace to stop Garmin berating me, I kept thinking I need to hold something back for the hill. I took a gel at 10.5 miles figuring it’d kick in for the hill.
The hill actually came later than I expected and while it was a long grind I was already ahead of my pace target so I was flying on positive energy. The fact that it was lined with people too was great, loads of encouragement being shouted. Hats off to the folk of Brentwood and surrounding areas, they were a credit on the sidelines.
Mile 12-13 went past in a blur and before I knew I was coming into the finishing funnel, where I was greeted by Neil & I’s families plus our mates Brian & Steph. A final little boost as I kicked into a sprint finish.
I hadn’t looked at the time section of my watch since about mile 9, I looked down as I stopped it at the finish line. 1 hour 37m 22 seconds*. Holy sh*tsauce! FOURTEEN minutes quicker than my previous best. I was knackered but elated in that amazing combination that only an event like this gives you.
*(official clock said 1:37:24 but I’ll happily concede those 2 seconds.)
I collected my medal, and saw Stewart up ahead, who had crossed in 1:35 which sounds close but 2 mins is a long way in a race like this! I then turned back and saw Neil who’d just crossed in 1:38 bang on. All 3 of us were delighted and rightfully so.
As we left, we saw Christian Dailly, who we’d seen on the course earlier cheering on a runner he knew, possibly his significant other. We got a quick photograph with the Scotland & West Ham Legend (yes, he IS a legend, if not for his playing then for this)
Then on the road home, a Street Pastor gave us a free cake and a small unofficial goody bag they had made up for the runners which contained a tea bag & chocolate biscuit ‘for when we get home and put our feet up’. Loved it. The genius of the best plans is in their simplicity.
Lunch at Neil’s then followed with a tremendous Nacho, Chilli & Baked spud combination washed down with a celebratory beer while the kids all ran amok amongst us.
Perfect end to a perfect day.
A big thanks to all of the spectators along the way, the blues band at Blackmore village were especially great, and the organisers of what is a very nice half marathon to take part in I’d thoroughly recommend it (http://www.brentwoodhalf.org), Thanks also to Christian Dailly for being a gent & to our support team, Milo, Molly, Andrew, Jamie, Ann-Marie, Steph, Brian & Lydia. Especially Lydia for her cracking lunch!
P.S. I’ve just signed up to the Chiselhurst half marathon on 22nd May. The bug is back in me!! Although I do have an 80 mile bike ride in Scotland to prepare for first. *Gulp*