Blimey – it’s been nearly 2 months since I’ve blogged! I’ve been bombarded with daily messages during that time, asking what an earth is going on. Writers block? Endurance sport retirement? The honest trust – I’ve actually been concentrating on doing some training. Well, there’s a first time for everything.
It hasn’t been a completely barren spell, with a couple of Surrey League cross country races and parkrun ‘efforts’ thrown into the melting pot of tempo sessions and longer runs. But these have all been part of the bigger process of getting back to a decent level of fitness.
As usual, I’m caught in the constant internal battle of classing myself as a runner or a triathlete, with Challenge Roth in the diary for this summer. I don’t want to completely neglect my swimming and riding, but my true love is, and probably always will be,
running Katie. So I’ve settled on clocking some fairly high run mileage each week, whilst ensuring I’m also doing a couple of bike sessions and maintaining my swimming technique work.
Back in early January, my times and paces were frustratingly slow (for my own self-inflicted standards), but I told myself to stay patient. You can’t be firing on all cylinders all the time. I’d got complacent, thinking that because I’ve been training for a few years now, times and speed would just come naturally. What a fool. There’s no substitute for a bucket load of graft and hard work – something I’ve had to remind myself in the last few weeks.
But, low and behold, doing some training seemed to have an effect, and I saw my running form slowly coming back. The first test was going to be at this weekends Wokingham half marathon. I’ve run this event twice before now, and it’s an excellent one. Well organised, a great route and plenty of familiar faces. Perfect.
The major downer around race day, was that my main partner in crime/running/life in general, ‘the boss’ Katie Lysons, is still pretty crooked injury wise. If it wasn’t so sad, it’d be comical. I’ve never met someone so unlucky with injury, and I’d swap legs with her if I could. Sometimes things are grossly unfair – the darker side of running rearing it’s ugly head.
So I jumped into the car solo for the hours drive to the race site, pumping out some motivational
Spice Girls cool club hits to get myself in the right frame of mind. Feeling strangely relaxed, I parked up and wandered over to HQ, rendevousing with super fan and all around great guy ‘Triathlon Ross’ who had cycled to the race from London to come out and support. This is the same guy that pounded the streets of Bolton last summer, giving me splits and ‘motivational’ chat. I hope to repay the favour this year.
After a couple of toilet stops, I headed out for a warm-up with the Irish branch of the Clapham Chasers (Paul and Kevin), where thankfully chat was steered away from the rugby and towards the matter in hand, namely, whether we’ll run the first mile in 5 minutes and 50 seconds or 5 minutes and 53 seconds. Paul has been in better shape than me but I thought I’d try and hang on to him and maybe we could help each other out.
I dropped my bag, quickly switching shoes and slipping on my new Nike Vaporfly 4% whilst queuing. As I was being rushed along, I quickly tied the laces with a single loop, making a mental note to sort them before the start of the race. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
Time moved quickly and we were under starters orders. There were plenty of familiar faces lining up ready to go from various running circles – it was all very pleasant and I nearly forgot I was about to flog myself silly for 13.1 miles. After some inaudible banter from the starter regarding the rugby (he was quite clearly Welsh), the countdown was on and then we were off.
The legs were actually feeling really good and I’m holding back and trying not to get carried away. But I’m still going too fast. Suddenly, there’s some sort of tree branch flapping at my ankle – that’s annoying. Oh right – that’ll be my shoelace being completely undone then. Hands up who didn’t sort their shoes out before the start of the race? Just me then. Righty-o.
Thinking at a million miles a second, I briefly considered covering the next 12.5 miles with my lace undone, before realising that’d be even more stupid than not tying them up properly before the race. So I pull to the side, fingers suddenly coated in butter, as I try and sort it out. It’s painful as I can feel runners streaming past me, as I’m trying not to panic. After what seems like an eternity, I’m on the move again, stupidly surging hard to try and get back on pace.
All that’s going through my head now is, ‘what about the other one’. I’m looking at it, giving it the puppy dog eyes to just stay in place – please. But sure enough, less than a mile later, it’s undone and I’m pulling over again to repeat the same process. This time I’m even more panicked and keep missing the hole (now I know how rubbish golfers feel). It’s torture as people continue to fly past.
I’m running angry now – purely directed towards myself for being an utter moron. It’s running 101 and I’ve failed miserably. Annoyingly, the legs are feeling really good and the target pace is coming on relatively easily. I try and relax and settle in to a rhythm, moving through the field as I know the people I wanted to be running with are 100 metres up the road.
I hit 5km in 18 minutes exactly. Considering I’d probably stopped for over 30 seconds, this was
pretty stupidly punchy; last year it’d been 17:45 and I suffered in the closing stages. Hey ho – in for a penny, in for a pound. I was in a group with Lee from Serpentine and Darren, a great guy I’d spent a lot of time with in Kona (did you know I’d been to Kona?). The next couple of miles ticked by without incident.
The group split and I found myself heading a train including the 1st and 2nd ladies (Hayley Munn and Naomi Mitchell). I was conscious of getting in the way of letting them race head to head, but both seemed content to sit with me, and it was nice to have a bit of company.
Through 10km in exactly 36 minutes and I allowed myself a wry smile – after getting flustered about trying to dip under 18 minutes for 5km back in January, I’d now done double that at the same speed during a half marathon. Running can be a funny old game.
It’s hard now, as it always is at the back end of a half marathon. I’m playing the bargaining game in my head – just see out this mile at the same pace, then maybe you can think about slowing. Maybe. The ladies have broken apart and Hayley and I are drifting up the road. A local on the roadside shouts encouragement, followed by ‘come on, just run a bit faster’.
I can hardly talk, but just about manage to mutter to Hayley something along the lines of ‘is she having a laugh’. She chuckles and we soldier on. The doubts are creeping in – that bloody shoelace. I can see Paul 200m up the road and can’t help but think that I could’ve latched on to him. Why not throw in the towel and wait for a day when it all goes right.
This is complete rubbish obviously. I’d be embarrassed at myself if I didn’t give anything other than my best. Besides, Katie would give anything to be out here running, but she can’t, and I’m bloody fortunate. I pretend that it’s just a couple of drops of sweat forming in the corner of my eye – doing these events just isn’t the same without her.
Anyway, head back in the game – where were we? Idiot in a flat cap who can’t tie his shoelaces up properly is currently barrelling down a rural road in Berkshire, heading directly towards the dreaded motorway bridge.
The 11th mile was the point where things unravelled last year – if I could just hold it together this time, I might even run a PB, something I’d scarcely considered in the build up. There’s a couple of ‘bumps’ in the road, which really chop your rhythm. I’m exasperated at seeing my pace drop, hoping that starting angrily at my watch will make it say I’m suddenly running faster.
A 6:10 mile was a slight improvement on last year (a whole 1 second), but the damage had been done. Before this, every mile had been under 6 minutes, and I’d just bled over 10 seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the small margins in running that add up.
Again running angry, I drove myself into the ground in the last two miles, fixing my gaze into the distance and running as fast as I could. The last mile here always feels like forever, as you can hear the finish line PA system and know you’re so close, before diverting away to circle the fields before heading home.
I refused to look at the total time on my watch, figuring it shouldn’t make a difference now – just empty the tank. Up the
gradual slope Everest-like mountain before turning into the finishing straight. The clock says 1:16 something. Christ this is going to be close.
As time ticks on, I realise I’m going to miss a personal best by a handful of seconds, but might sneak a sub 1:17. Lungs screaming, legs burning, I cross the line in 1:16:56 – 3 seconds slower than my PB. Balls. The depth of the field is pretty decent, and I’m down in 68th place.
I’m pleased because I’m absolutely wrecked, but livid at myself for being so stupid. Couldn’t have given anything more on the day, but most definitely could’ve done my shoes up properly. Clown.
After gathering myself and sharing stories with various running friends, a few of us went for a ‘cool down’ jog, which at the time wasn’t enjoyable but probably for the best in the long run. Turns out we’ve also finished 3rd in the team competition (heavily to do with the fact that Andy Maud ran a casual 1:05..), so a nice little trophy to take home as a result.
In terms of the result itself, I can’t be anything other then delighted considering the shape I was in 6 weeks ago. I’m hoping with a few more weeks of good training under my belt, I can make some big leaps in future races. Next up is the Reading half in 3 weeks time – all jokey messages the day before reminding my to tie my shoes properly will be welcomed with open arms.
In other news, this absolute speed demon apparently now runs 5km in 26 minutes. She’s done an incredible amount of training and I couldn’t be more proud and inspired! Go Mum!