It’s been an odd couple of months. With my goal race for 2018 (Ironman UK) still 5 months away, it’s difficult to look that far ahead into the future and get really excited. I’ve done some shorter, low-key running races, but gone into these fatigued and unmotivated, which has led to mediocre (by my standards) results.
However, things are progressing nicely on the bike (with a nod to my bike guru Paul Burton), where I’m producing higher power numbers than ever before. I’m also hoping all the hard work I’m doing with Ray at Swim Canary Wharf is going to pay dividends when the triathlon season kicks off in earnest.
I’d run the Wokingham half 3 years ago, at that time running a big personal best of an hour and 23 minutes. It’s an excellent race; well organised, on a fast course with lots of other speedy runners to compete with. It’s really difficult to run a flat-out half marathon solo; so knowing you’re not going to be time trialling for over an hour on your own is a real plus point when picking a race.
I wasn’t going to give myself a luxury of a proper taper in the build up, as I’ve got other events to prioritise, so I continued training throughout the week, with a 90 minute ride on Saturday morning followed by a nice, social trip to Wimbledon parkrun, which I ran round chatting to a friend from work, Tom.
Sunday dawned with the luxury of a later start time (10am), so I didn’t need to be on the road until gone 7. I jumped in Frank the Ford Focus to head over and collect some Chaser mates, Cathryn and Ed. The hour drive to Berkshire flew by; rather excitingly, the two of them had just got engaged, so there was plenty of chat about weddings alongside the much more common topic of, you guessed it; running.
We managed to park up on a local street 10 minutes or so away from race HQ, dropping our bags and stripping down before heading out on a warm-up, running the first mile or so of the course. Wokingham really is a runners race; the organisation is top notch, with the changing/bag drop set-up running seamlessly and ample toilets on offer; every runners dream.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from myself. I’d only averaged around 30 miles a week since the start or January, and hadn’t run more than 13 miles in that period. However, I had done an awful lot of bike training, and in the past I’ve found that this has transferred well over into my running. But I’d pretty much done zero running ‘sessions’, apart from the odd tempo on a Thursday night (once, I think) and some shorter cross country races or efforts at parkrun.
Therefore, the plan was that I didn’t really have a plan. Instead, I wanted to run as hard as I possibly could, maybe even a little too hard, and see what I had left at the end. I’d been disappointed with myself recently with how quick I’d been to throw in the towel mentally when things weren’t quite going my way, and was determined to make it hurt today and come out the other side a better runner.
I caught up with a few friends at the start line, before it was announced that there were just under 5 minutes to go. The wrong time for me to realise that I needed the toilet. Thankfully, as mentioned, the organisation was brilliant, and with the loos less than 20 metres away I was able to run there and be back lined up and ready to go within 3 minutes. That was at least one personal best time ticked off for the day.
Crisis averted, all the pent up energy was released as we were set on out way. I’m always terrified beforehand that I won’t be able to run at anywhere near the desired pace and that my legs are going to fall off or something stupid like that, so it’s always a relief to finally get running and see what the race is going to bring.
I stuck to my plan of going pretty hard from the gun, storming through the first mile in a completely unsustainable 5:35, which would give me a 1:13 half marathon – not going to happen. My previous best time was set in Edinburgh last May, where I ran a handful of seconds below 1:17 (1:16:53 to be precise).
After passing through some small crowds in the opening stages, the route heads out into the countryside, where support is rather more sparse, aside from small pockets of people (who were all excellent in offering encouragement). The course is a fast one, with some long, straight roads allowing you to get into a nice rhythm, There are a couple of motorway bridges to negotiate, but apart from that, it’s pretty flat.
I struggled to find a group to run with, as I found my fast start led to people steadily drifting past me. When things eventually did settle down, there was a group of 6 about 30 meters ahead. As I was already working pretty hard, I decided the effort to close the gap would be too much, and resolved to run my own race and try to relax.
At this point the leading female drew up alongside me, and I passed Ed who’d unfortunately had a rather nasty fall. I told him to come with me so we could both work together. I ended up running with the first lady (runner, not Mrs Trump) for the bulk of the race, as she was told more than 100 times that she was the first lady – surely that must get annoying after a while?
I hit 5km in 17:46; pleasing, as I’d barely been able to run this quickly in a flat-out 5km recently, but I can’t say I was feeling that comfortable. In fact I was hurting already, with an hour of running still to go. I told myself to suck it up and concentrate on the process, ticking off each mile marker at a time and re-evaluating when I got there. My heart rate was much higher than I’d seen before in a half marathon, but I just disregarded it and soldiered on – this tactic seemed to work back in Valencia.
I’m not the most graceful of runners, thinking of myself more of a hard-working pack horse rather than a slender gazelle, but I tried my best to stay as smooth as possible, to preserve as much energy as I could for the later stages. 10km came and went in 35:50, just 10 seconds shy of my quickest ever 10km. At this point, I realised it was going to be a suffer-fest.
If I’ve decided to push as hard as possible at any given race, I always find myself thinking: ‘Well, you’ve worked so hard to get to this point, you’d be a fool to throw it away now’. I kept grinding out the miles, swapping places with other runners every now and then. The course winds through some lovely country lanes, but I’d be lying if I said I took any of it in; instead fully focused on taking the fastest line through the corners (what us runners like to call, the ‘tangents’).
I found myself side by side with Stuart Mcandie from Fulham RC, and we shared the work for a couple of miles. He’d recently thrashed me in the 5km’s of Christmas race in Battersea Park, and sure enough, I found him edging away from me as we approached 10 miles, which I passed in 58:16. 4 seconds faster than when I set my PB in Edinburgh, which meant it was theoretically all to play for.
Unfortunately, theory is meaningless in running, and I’d cashed a cheque that was about to bounce. Not in a big way, but enough to see my PB attempt unravel. We turned into a slight headwind and were faced with the monster M4 motorway bridge (this might be a slight exaggeration). Up until this point every mile had been between 5:45 and 5:55, but I dropped the ball with a 6:14 here despite my best efforts.
I always try to preach to people that miles 9-11 are the worst in a half marathon – with 2 miles to go, you’ve got a scent of the finish. I reminded myself of this now and fought against every urge to slow down or ease up a touch. I concentrated on those ahead of me and tried to reel them in, but I was really hurting now. I’d wanted a test of my mental toughness and I was certainly getting one.
Ed and I had discussed how the last mile could pan out during our warm-up, and I tried to banish thoughts of slowing and concentrate on one bend at a time. I could hear the PA system at the finish now, and some quick mental maths told me it was going to be tighter than a Scotsman on burns night. May as well keep piling on the pain then.
I knew the penultimate bend would see me turn onto a small incline before the finish, and what earlier had seemed like a minor inconvenience had suddenly turned into Mount Everest. Still, no time for sightseeing, and I staggered around into the finishing straight, immediately noting from the clock that I was going to come up a few seconds short.
14 seconds to be precise, as I finished in 1:17:07, which I’m content with given the circumstances and build up. I was also satisfied with how hard I’d been able to push myself; I’m not sure I could’ve found another 15 seconds on the day, and so as far as I was concerned, job done. That was good enough for 65th place on the day. The field at Wokingham is a strong one, with 109 people going under 1:20 and 352 breaking the 1:30 barrier.
Ed finished only a few seconds behind me; admittedly not having the day he wanted (if he was having a good day, he’d be miles ahead of me up the road!). I hung about in the finish area chatting with a few friends and watching others finish. Huge shout out to Josh Hand for posting his first ever sub 1:20 after putting in a massive amount of hard graft over the last few months.
A nice surprise was that we’d manage to snag the team prize, romping home with a victory margin of 12 seconds. This was mainly down to Alex and Luke being stupidly fast while Ed and I hung by our fingernails. Always nice to come away with a bit of dollar and bling though – it doesn’t happen very often (ever).
We jogged back down the course, shouting encouragement to other runners and keeping an eye out for Cathryn. She was using the race to practice the pace she wants to run at the London Marathon, and executed it pretty perfectly, picking it up at the end when we joined her for the home stretch.
Wokingham is a cracking race; I’ve done a lot of half marathons around the UK and this one is definitely up there with the best of them. Not too expensive, really well organised and put on with the runners in mind as opposed to the profits. Sometimes it’s the smaller details that really make the difference, and you can see why this race has been successful for over 30 years now.
We spent Sunday evening in the pub, catching up with the 100 or so Chasers that had dominated the Hampton Court half on the same day, with some spectacular performances including Nick Bowker and Rosy Harvery with 2nd place finishes and Martin Rutter rounding out the top 5.
A couple of overdue easier days now before getting back on the wagon. Things are definitely trending upwards, but you never know what’s around the corner. It’s just a case of concentrating on the process of getting fitter day by day rather than worrying about the end result.