Palace half marathon – 19/03/2017

katie me post

Another Sunday morning meant another early alarm call, this time for the Palace Half marathon, held at Hampton Court on the banks of the Thames. Even though I’d run a half the previous weekend in Woking, I was on pacing duties there, so I was counting this as my first proper race of the year – a good chance to see where I was at fitness wise after a decent block of training over the winter.

After seeing so many friends perform so well in Surrey, I went into the weekend with the motivation levels sky high, helped by a slightly easier week of training which left the legs feeling fresh. I made no secret that my goal was to go under 80 minutes for the first time – I think it helps when people know the time you’re targeting – it puts me under positive pressure to up my game and give it everything I’ve got.

For someone who doesn’t let many things stress them out, I had Michael Fish on speed dial in the few days before the race, and could probably tell you the hour-by-hour forecast for the entire weekend. It’s funny how a tiny symbol predicting a gust of wind can change a grown man to a quivering wreck. However, I had the cliché ‘you can’t control the weather’ on repeat in my head, which is true, so I just accepted what will be will be.

It was business as usual on the Saturday, with an easy parkrun down at Fulham to shakeout the legs while Katie offered herself up for volunteering duties. The rest of the day was spent watching 6 hours of back-to-back rugby, which unfortunately ended in disappointment -hopefully not a sign of things to come. We also had a friends leaving do in the evening, where I restricted myself to a singular beer and pretended I was cool for a couple of hours in Brixton.

I don’t have a set breakfast routine on race morning – I’ll only eat if I’m actually hungry. I was, so I scoffed down a bowl of porridge before we jumped on the train to Hampton Court. It’s always great racing with Katie; we have a laugh on the way and it makes the time before fly by. It was quite a walk from the station to the event village (around 20 minutes), but we’d left plenty of times and enjoyed walking through Hampton Court gardens.

There were loads of toilets (two weeks in a row – result), and the bag drop was super-easy, so we stripped down and headed back to the start – the start and finish are about a 10 minute walk from each other, for people to note for future events. I did a little warm-up with some short strides and before I knew it we were being called to the start line. I bumped into Steve Skinner; we’d chatted in the week beforehand so I knew he was going to be there, and he kindly said he’d run with me in the opening stages. Steve is normally a sub 75 minute runner (finishing 2nd just last weekend in the Colchester half marathon), so I told him if at any point he wanted to crack on ahead, then please do so.

They’d drafted in Henry the 8th himself to offer us a few words of encouragement (something about avoiding marriage at all costs, probably) before the control was passed to the organisers to get us underway. Setting off from about the 3rd row back, I was over the start line almost immediately and bombing down the towpath towards Kingston.

start

We had an opening 3-mile stretch along the river, which helped to get into a rhythm early on. I had to calm it down as I’d covered the first half mile at 5.40 minute mile pace (my target was to run around 6 minutes per mile), so I slowed slightly and tried to concentrate on keeping my breathing under control.

Just before crossing the bridge at Kingston, I spotted coach Dan and fellow chaser/good mate George Bright out to offer me some support. I started working with Dan at the start of the year, as I decided I need some guidance with how to structure my triathlon training and numerous people had recommended him to me. So far, it’s been great, and I can really see the improvements across all 3 disciplines. It was awesome that these two had turned out to spectate – small things like this are always such a big boost when you’re working hard in a race.

We’d made a U-turn and were now heading in the opposite direction along the river – this is where my nightmares about the wind turned into reality. Admittedly, we’re not talking gale-force winds, but it was tough going battling into pretty constant gusts. It was at this point I turned around and realised I was dragging about 10 other runners along, all sheltering behind me. 1st-3rd had pulled away (Steve included – I was glad he was obviously feeling good) and I was sitting in fourth place.

Not one to be mugged off, I had some choice words with those that had been content to sit behind me for about 4 miles. I can’t disclose exactly what was said, but I’m not sure some of them appreciated being told off by oriental-looking 12 year-old wearing a bright blue headband. However, it seemed to do the trick and begrudgingly others moved to the front and we had a relatively good working group for a couple of miles.

I went through a rough patch during this period, with the normal internal doubts surfacing – ‘There’s no way I’m going to be able to sustain this for 13 miles’. Still, I accepted that I’d committed now and the worst that could happen would be an uncomfortable last few miles. We turned out of the wind at the 10km mark (37.30) and I immediately felt better. Two more runners had gone off the front of the group which left me in 6th, but with a bit of wind assistance I managed to tick off a few sub 6 minute miles as we looped past the Palace again and headed back down the same stretch of river we had started the race on.

After dodging a couple of tourists distracted whilst getting a selfie with Henry the 8th, I settled back in for what was going to be a lonely journey from here to the finish. I knew the last 2 miles were going to be into the wind, but tried to just concentrate on one mile at a time. Our race numbers didn’t have numbers on, rather a name on the piece of paper attached to our front. This ended up being a great move by the organisers, as I got a load of support as I made my solitary progress along the river.

mile 8
Henry and his new mates

I hit 10 miles in 60.08, which would have been a PB for that distance, and I made a mental note to race one at some point to try and dip under the 60-minute mark. George and Dan were waiting for me again at Kingston bridge and I did my best to look like I was OK but internally a mental battle was raging – everything was hurting and it would’ve been so easy to take the foot off the gas. Their support at that point was much needed as I made the turn home and came face to face with the wind.

mile 10

The last 2 miles were across undulating and exposed parkland, and as I was feeling pretty smoked it felt like the wind was 3 times as strong as it had been earlier. My mile splits had been really consistent until this point (between 5.55-6.05) but despite pushing as hard as I could mile 12 was a 6.19 and I was mentally in a bad place – I had images of the sub 1.20 slipping away.

I could actually see 3rd, 4th and 5th strung out ahead of me, but they were too far away to reel back in with just a mile to go. I just dug in, the thoughts of all the hard training sessions at Battersea park I’d done in the last few months running through my head. I went through the 13th mile in 6.11, having managed to raise the pace again slightly. I passed coach Dan at this point, as he shouted at me instructing to just give it everything I had to the line. (There’s actually a video of this moment kindly filmed by Dan – here)

I raised it to a sprint (or what felt like one), as I turned into the finish straight and saw the clock ticking towards 80 minutes. I realised I was going to sneak inside but still wanted to eek out as many seconds as possible. I crossed the line and crumpled into a heap on the grass, my final time of 1.19.41 good enough for 6th place out of 3300 runners. I’d finally broken the 80 minute barrier!

Strava activity 

Race results

finishpost race

me dan george
Coach Dan and George

me dan

splits
Splits

After composing myself and collecting a nice medal and various other freebies, I had a quick catch up with Steve (who’d managed an impressive 3rd place – his report is here) before chatting with Dan and George and thanking them for being so awesome and coming out to support. As usual, I then jogged back down the course to look out for Katie – I always worry about her when she’s out racing. I saw her coming from fairly far off so bellowed my support so she knew where I was (wasn’t hard to miss). She smashed her goal of running faster than last weekend in Woking, in what were much harder conditions on the day.

katie 1katie 2

Chasers were well represented as always, with Sean Mackin having a good run considering his disrupted training (report here), and it was cool to meet some newer members after the race. After chugging a litre of chocolate milk and attempting but quickly giving up on a cool down jog due to the fact my legs were no longer working, we headed for a hot drink with George and Dan to round off what had been a great day.

Overall, the Palace half is a decent event and one we’d definitely do again. The course along the river is nice and the route is predominately flat so if you don’t get a windy day it’s definitely got big PB potential. The organisation was great, so I can’t have any complaints there.

For me, all roads now point towards London, and my jaunt along the streets of our capital in nothing more than a pair of swimming trunks – more information on that can be found here; www.virginmoneygiving.com/spraggins 

I’ve not done many (any) long runs yet so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes – it’s very much a stepping stone to my key triathlon races in the summer, so I agreed a long time ago not to get too carried away with doing too much running. I’ll definitely look to get at least a couple of long runs in between now and April the 23rd!

me gardens

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