Reading half – 17/03/2019

Running is a funny old game. Full of highs and lows, moments of ‘glory’ and periods of doubt and uncertainty. Sometimes I find it difficult to switch off and forget that it’s not the most important thing in the world, before remembering that I’m just essentially running around in a giant circle, ending up in the same place that I started, slightly more tired and sweaty. Most people would probably just use the car and save some time. Where’s the fun in that though?

Sometimes a slice of perspective is required. My fitness wasn’t where I wanted it to be at the turn of the year. I was miserable, and felt totally out of sorts. Stupid thoughts cross my mind – ‘What if I never get back to that shape?’. Everything feels so hard, and I’m not even enjoying it. I figure that since qualifying for Kona, I’ve taken things for granted and forgotten that to get anything out of this game, there’s no substitute for hard work. So I resolved to start grafting and got the fire back in my belly.

The perspective is, rather unfortunately, right in front of my face. It’s been horrible having to witness Katie go from one injury setback to the next, barely able to run, and never doing so without being in significant pain. She loves this sport more than I do, and if I could, I’d give her both my knees so she could run instead of me. But I can’t, so I figure the next best thing I can do is not take things for granted and be grateful for the fact that I can actually run and take part in all these events. I’ve never seen anyone work so diligently to try and fix the various problems; she deserves better luck than she’s got.

Right, sorry, serious stuff over. People are only clicking on this to read about a stubby, annoying moron charging around the suburbs of Reading in a flat cap, eager to find out if his shoelaces did in fact stay tied up for the duration of the race.

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Fashion first, running second. 

Being the diligent professional that I am, the day before the race was spent betting on a series of losing horses at Kempton Park races. I did manage to squeeze a few miles in beforehand, including Wimbledon Common parkrun, resisting the temptation to do anything other than jog around chatting to a friend. After losing plenty of my hard earned cash, I hoped that my luck was being saved up for the following day.

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With a leisurely 10:15 start time on the cards, a ridiculously early alarm call wasn’t required for once. The standard bowl of porridge was demolished, before making the hour or so hop over to Berkshire on empty roads. Being tighter than my new suit after the winter off-season, there was 0% chance of me forking out for the official parking. I dropped the car about a mile from the start and stretched my legs on the brief walk to the ‘Mad Stad’, home of the mighty Reading FC.

I caught up with the crew from Fulham RC, including Leo and Stephen (more on them later), and we headed out for a warm up around the rather scenic business park which doubles up as the race start. There were plenty of friendly faces knocking about in starting pens – always great to have a quick chin wag to take your mind off the impending pain that’s about to become your world for the next hour or so.

I saw superstar runner/blogger Russell Bentley warming up, but thought bothering him with some fan boy antics probably wouldn’t be that cool, so I left him alone before he charged his way to 1:07 and 17th place. Fellow Chasers and elite athlete pairing Steph and James were also there, and as Steph swanned off to take her (rightly deserved) place on the elite start, James and I were a few rows back, hatching a plan to potentially run part of the way together.

It wasn’t quite the hurricane conditions of the day before, but we still had a fairly stiff breeze to contend with, so I knew the pace would probably vary from mile to mile. Still, I figured I might as well shoot for a PB, which meant I needed 5:52 a mile for 13.1. Easy right?

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Double knotted

I thought about super gluing my laces together, but in the end opted for the solid double-knot technique, saying a little prayer to the sneaker gods. As usual, the hooter goes and I’m charging off and getting caught up in the madness. I quickly found myself in a group alongside Steph and the other leading elite women. Knowing Steph is much faster than I am, I conceded this probably wasn’t a good idea, but for some reason didn’t choose to slow down.

I can’t escape lace-gate, as an absolute random asks me if I’ve tied up my shoes properly this time. Fame, at last. Charging through mile 1, I chuckled out loud and said to Steph; ‘Whoops, that was a bit too fast’. 5:26. Just the 25 seconds faster than target pace then. Spraggins you moron. I didn’t feel like I was working too hard, but I knew I wasn’t going to be running at that pace for the rest of the race. I let the little group I was in drift ahead, trying to settle into a rhythm that felt about right.

There’s a nasty climb just before mile 3 that checked my speed somewhat, but I made a conscious effort not to try and hammer up it and spend a few too many pennies early on. Going through the first 5km in 17:42 was a touch (ridiculously) over-enthusiastic, but I was fully invested now and figured I may as well go for broke.

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After we did a tour of all 27 of Reading University’s car parks, we had a nice gradual downhill into the city centre, and I tried to keep the pace high, knowing we’d be turning into the wind at some point. The field had really strung out by now, and it was just groups of one and two on the road.

Deep in my world of hurt already, some chancer glides up alongside me.

‘You a triathlete mate?’, he asks, his general demeanour suggesting he’s out for a casual Sunday jog, and not racing a half marathon.

‘Yeah’. *Lots of panting after having to say one word.* ‘Why, ask’? (Not grammatically correct but easy words to say, even if I did sound like a caveman).

‘Could tell by your shaved legs mate. Have a good one.’

Rumbled. I had in fact treated myself to a trim the night before, much to Katie’s disgust. Maximum aerodynamic gains and all that, you know how it is.

I hit the 10km mark in 35:10, a full 30 seconds faster than I’ve ever covered 10km in my life. That would’ve been cause to celebrate, if I didn’t have to try and run a further 7 miles at a similar pace. At least if it all goes pear shaped I’ve got something out of the day…

From now I was just zoned in on getting to the 8 mile point. Not because I’m a massive Eminem fan, but because I knew that’s where Katie would be, and I knew seeing her would be a big mental boost. We snaked through the crowds in the town centre, running into the wind now, and I tried to shamelessly shelter behind anyone I could.

At the bottom of the hill out of town there’s a fairly rowdy pub, and everyone went mad when one of the guys just ahead of me sunk half a pint on the go. Bloody legend/showoff. The pace dropped again as I slogged my way up, hearing Katie before I saw her, positioned at the top.

I flashed her a grim smile, doing that thing where I try and talk but a load of mumbling just pours out, which no one on planet earth would ever be able to decipher. I shamelessly tossed my pair of sweaty gloves at her Mum and Dad, who had given up their morning to come out and support – they definitely deserved better than that – sorry guys!

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Now I’m running directly into the wind, and I was completely on my own, with no one ahead or behind. Mile 9 was a 6:02. Struggle street – population me, and we’ve still got 4 miles to go. Time to play the fun game where I find out just how hard I can push. It’s not most people ideas of a good time, and my inner Homer Simpson was trying to convince me that stopping for a pint would be much more enjoyable.

Remarkably, once I saw the 10 mile point looming, something in my head seemed to click – less than 20 minutes to go and I actually don’t feel too bad here. I went through 10 miles in 57:50 (as far as I’m aware, another PB), and I was back below target pace. I saw Katie and her parents again and told her that if I got a shift on, I might even dip below 1:16. 

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‘I love running, it’s so fun’

I think saying it out loud made it feel more real, and I set about reeling in the guys ahead of me, stretched out into the distance. Mile 11 in 5:34 (my second fastest mile of the race), and I’m counting down the minutes left of running, one by one. We’re now onto what appears to be the highway to hell; a straight, long, boring dual carriageway that seemingly carried on forever into the distance.

I was moving forward through the field, each time being tempted to tuck in when I reached another runner to shelter from the wind, before urging myself to kick on and eek out every single second. The stadium is slowly looming up ahead of us, and there’s a short hill off the main road which feels like Mount Everest.

I reached the outside of the stadium, which we had to partly loop around before heading onto the pitch. I became convinced I’d missed the turn in, and had ran at least 2 laps of the entire ground, before I was eventually directed down a ramp and out into the stadium.

A quick glance of the clock above the finish confirmed I’m probably going to sneak under 1:16. I’ve got the stadium to myself and put in a final burst for the line, crossing in 1:15:42, a PB of just over a minute. I haven’t set a running PB for nearly a year and a half, so it’s great to have that deeply satisfying feeling back.

Strava activity 

There’s plenty of pals to catch up with after the race, with everyone swapping stories of how their races panned out. Leo and Stephen from Fulham crossed shortly after me, both running significant PB’s and we shared a sweaty man hug. Steph had finished 3rd overall in the elite race, scooping up a tidy bit of prize money in the process.

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So, it seems as if doing loads of training actually works. I think I’ve cracked this running secret. I’m further buoyed by the fact that I ran over 60 miles Monday-Saturday, and the legs were definitely the limiting factor, feeling pretty flat from 5 miles onwards. I think on a better day, with fresher legs, I’ve definitely got a bit more in me.

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The best bit about Reading was the fact Katie was there to share in the result. It’s always tinged with sadness, as it’d be so much better if she was out there running as well, but it was great to celebrate with her in the evening with a few cervezas and a bag of peanut M&M’s.

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It’s quite funny really, looking back at the results. After throwing my toys out of the pram re; my inability to run under 18 minutes for a flat out 5km less than 2 months ago, I had a look at my pace for the entire race on Sunday. It was equivalent of running four 5kms back to back at an average pace of… 17:58 per 5km. Spraggins, you moron.

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