The Surrey Half is one of my favourite events of the year, and never fails to disappoint. This would be my 3rd time running, but the first time I’d actually be ‘racing’, as in the previous events I’d acted as an official pacemaker, helping others try and achieve their goals.
From the outside looking in, social media does a very good job of making it seem like everyone else is absolutely nailing it. Whether that be fitness related, or just living life to the full whilst moving from one incredible experience to the next. But I’ve found it can more often than not give a very false impression, and beneath the bravado lies a massive amount of uncertainty and struggle.
I offer myself up as an example. I’m certainly one of the more active Strava users, diligently logging my training whilst trying (and usually failing) to think up a witty name for my most recent activity. I often get comments from friends and training partners about how I’m ‘smashing it’ and being told that things must be going so well. I must be brimming with confidence, right?
Wrong. I’ve found myself approaching recent races convinced that, despite all the hard work, things are going terribly and it’s all going to fall apart in the first 10 minutes. What if I can’t hold the pace I want to run at? Surely everyone is expecting me to go faster than last time, otherwise doesn’t that count as a failure?
These thoughts swim around in my head, eventually convincing me that I’m awfully unfit and I shouldn’t even bother turning up to the race. Pathetic right? You don’t need to tell me; it’s just ridiculous. I know how lucky I am to be in the position I’m in, and I should just get out there and enjoy the ride, regardless of the result.
I’m not 100% sure where I’m going with this; I guess I wanted to highlight the fact that everyone has doubts and worries. It’s just a case of finding a way to deal with it best that works for you and trusting in the training you’ve done up to this point. At the end of the day, it’s only a hobby and the world’s going to keep on spinning regardless of the result.
This is the mindset I found myself in the night before the Surrey Half; I couldn’t be bothered to run. I’m going to be crap anyway. No doubt my legs will fall off at mile 2 and I’ll be stranded on the side of the road and have to be carted away. Cue the dream where you’re trying to run but not actually moving forward.
But then a dose of reality always hits. I’m sitting next to a person who would give anything to be running tomorrow. But she can’t, because of this bloody knee. How lucky am I to just be able to be out there running, more than likely in a time faster than I ever believed possible. What an earth are you moaning about Spraggins?
Morning rolls around, and I’m much more pumped. Katie is very kindly driving the ‘lads’ (Ed, Graham and myself) over to Woking. Unfortunately, this means that I’m in charge of the music, and some very questionable song choices are made. Strategies are discussed, and goals are formed. Graham is carrying two full sandbags on his shoulders, as he drastically talks down his chances (a man after my own heart).
It’s a huge Clapham Chaser turnout as always; and the minutes before the race flew by as I attempted to catch up with everyone, whilst at the same time cram in a brief warm-up and 72 trips to the toilet. I’d been in touch with Paul Hunt beforehand, as we figured we were in around the same shape at the moment, and we’d devised a plan to run together early on. Lovely chap Paul, but unfortunately, he’s Irish. Nobody’s perfect.
It was great fun lining up at the start with about 10 other Chasers, most of which I’d only see at the start as they drifted off ahead in to the distance. GB Olympian Scott Overall was also a couple of rows in front; probably best to let him go Joe, run your own race. Plan is; don’t go off as fast as you did at Wokingham 3 weeks ago.
The start of the half marathon is always pretty frantic before you realise you’ve got another 13 miles to cover and everyone winds their necks back in. I settled into a small group with Paul and clocked off the opening mile around the same speed as I did at Wokingham 3 weeks ago. Balls.
Our personal bests were practically identical, so we’d decided to go off at just under PB pace and see how long we could hold on for; this would mean running each mile in 5 minutes and 50 seconds. However, not even two miles in, the doubts start to surface again, and I’m trying to give myself all the excuses of why I can’t do it today. I’m too tired from training this week. The legs feel like they’ve got lead weights in them.
I let the gap to Paul grow to a meter, and then two, and suddenly he’s gone, and I don’t have the pace or desire to go with him. I’m just going to run my own race, ignore the pace, and try and at least get some enjoyment from it. I settle in to a group of 3 others and just concentrate on relaxing and clocking off the miles.
Taking the pressure off and settling down surprisingly doesn’t lead to a slowing of the pace; in fact, everything feels slightly easier and more comfortable. This is more like it. Get a smile on your face Spraggins. You’re not a professional athlete; you’re doing this because you love it.
Miles 5 & 6 see us head down a straight road before turning around and running 2 miles back the other way. I see Scott Overall in the lead and then some of my speedy club mates looking strong. I hit the turn and 10km in 36:23, with Paul still hanging tantalising ahead in the distance. I don’t feel as awful as I thought I would, and I’ve still got some running in my legs.
Now I’m going against the flow with the majority of the field coming the other way. This was one of the most fun parts of the entire race, saying hello and egging on loads of friends from both the Chasers and the wider running community. I managed to annoy the guy I was running with at the time, and he commented afterwards that I probably would’ve run a minute quicker had I concentrated on running instead of socialising with half the race.
Fresh or not, miles 8-12 are always a real grind, and it’s just a case of ticking off one at a time. There was some brilliant support out on the course, with live music and entertainment to distract the mind briefly from the pain and suffering. Despite being in the pain cave, I was maintaining a really steady pace, with miles 3-13 all being within 10 seconds of each other.
Coming back in to Woking, I was very ready for it to be over. I was running on my own by this point and hadn’t been passed or passed anyone else for a good 20 minutes. I hit mile 12 knowing that barring a minor explosion I’d run another 1:17, and this was confirmed when I made the turn into the home straight, kicking for the line and finishing in 1:17:37, exactly 30 seconds slower than 3 weeks ago at Wokingham.
There were some fantastic performances from so many Chasers; Matt Dickinson blew his personal best out of the water with a 1:12, whilst Graham left the sandbags at the start-line to also get himself a new fastest ever half time. Paul missed out on his PB by 10 seconds, which he lost as I watched him stop to faff around with his shoes early doors. With a new pair of sneaks, he’ll be there next time for sure.
I really can’t fault the Surrey Half as a race. The organisation is brilliant; the bag drop works like clockwork, there are more than enough toilets (which is rare these days) and there’s a great atmosphere out on the course and at the finish. I’ve done it for the last 3 years and I can’t see anything stopping me coming back next year. I’ll just have to run a little bit faster next time..