Big Half marathon – 01/03/20

Two posts in a week! My fingers are smoking from typing so much. The main positive from signing up to some races (apart from getting fitter), is providing more content and opportunity for me to put myself in a compromising or unfortunate situation, which is usually what people find the most entertaining.

No pointless pre-amble required, as you heard all that in the Cape Peninsula half marathon report just last week. The short summary was, we went to South Africa, ate and drank copious amounts, hiked over 100 miles, and then near the end did a half marathon in 25 degree heat. Despite all of this, I decided going out at PB (personal best) pace was a genius plan, and subsequently imploded after 5 miles before slogging to the finish. And we got engaged!

Fast-forward two weeks and here we are at the Big Half marathon – quickly establishing itself as London’s biggest (and fastest) half marathon, taking place on the London Marathon route, but in reverse – starting near the Tower of London and finishing in Greenwich.

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Of course, I’m a triathlete these days, so no weekend would be complete without some swimming and biking. Saturday morning dawned, and like most normal couples Katie and I were on the turbos at 7am logging a quick ride, before heading up for a swim around Wimbledon Common parkrun.

Those paying attention at this point will point out that parkrun is a run and not a swim. Spraggins what are you like! However, a pair of goggles probably would’ve come in handy, as we battled our way around a very flooded common. Great fun.

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Feet up for the rest of the day, watching numerous Come Dine with Me re-runs and generally ‘chillaxing’ – is that what the cool kids say now? It wasn’t even a super aggressive alarm call on race morning – 6AM seems like a bit of a lie in if anything. After the standard detailed planning analysis of the quickest method of transport, it was decided driving and parking at the finish in Greenwich would save about 2 minutes – sign me up.

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By far the highlight of the race was having my mate, co-pilot and now fiancé Lysons back in the running game. After seamlessly navigating us to Greenwich, just as I was about to pay for a ticket, free spaces were located. You’ve never seen me move so fast back to the car – if anything had a negative impact on my race, it would have been this explosive burst of speed at the very thought of saving £2.65 on parking. Winner winner chicken dinner.

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Pre-race vibez

8 minutes on a train later and we’re at the start on Tower Bridge, of course ridiculously early, as I’d run through every scenario of what could go wrong on the way, when in reality everything was fine. One negative with big events like this is having to drop your bags about an hour before the race. Whilst I jogged up and down the pen ‘warming up’, Katie huddled in a foil blanket, showing symptoms of early hypothermia.

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Lots of friendly faces in the pens to have a chat with, and whilst we were crammed together like sardines, I caught sight of my elite athlete team-mates Nick Bowker, Ed Rees and Tom Fairbrother having a lovely jog and chat in their specially designated warm up area. I’m definitely not sore about those 41 seconds keeping me from the Championship start. Definitely not.

There was only one plan this time. Don’t go out too fast. (Spraggins – we’ve heard this one before mate. I think it was roughly 2 weeks ago). But for real this time. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to run hard. Just don’t blow it completely in the first two miles.

The problem with a race that has a lot of faster runners in it, is that it’s very, very easy to get swept along in the tide. As we were set on our way, I was absolutely screaming at myself to hold back, using the memories of the recent implosion to remind me how uncomfortable those last few miles can be.

Mile 1 – 5:49. That’s only 6 seconds slower than 2 weeks ago. Flash of panic, but it’s a different ball game today. I’m going on feel and I’m so much more in control at this point. Cooler temperatures and 1 million percent better preparation are both probably helping massively.

Wherever I look there’s friendly faces, with Tom Ryan coming up on my shoulder, having a quick chat, commenting on how he might use me as a good handbrake, before promptly sailing off into the distance. Classic. The charge down into the Limehouse Link tunnel is great fun – climbing the hill coming out of it, not so great. I made an effort here to really keep it in check whilst lots came past me.

Into Canary Wharf and there’s a little out and back section to complete, offering a brief glimpse of those ahead on the road. I spot good friend and better than average runner Steph Davis, and expend plenty of energy yelling out some encouragement, which took at least a further mile to recover from. Totally worth it.

5km in 18:24. Nearly as quick as Cape Peninsula, but I’m in control.

Back towards town now, through the largely uninspiring streets of Wapping, with the added annoyance of some cobbles thrown into the mix. Fulham’s Stuart Macdougall is driving an impromptu sub 1:20 bus, which I latch on to for a bit, until he starts trying to tell me a story about confronting a randomer in an airport and congratulating them on our engagement – before realising it wasn’t actually Katie. Funny story, but I’ve got zero breath for gossip right now, so continue to edge forward.

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At the same time I’ve caught clubmate Steve Leonard – a surprise considering he’d told me just yesterday he was hoping to scrape under 1:30. We’re running at 1:17 pace mate! Well wishes are wished and I keep easing forward through the field, picking off a few quick starters.

10km – 37:09 (Last 5km – 18:45)

A slight slowing but still feeling semi-decent, so hope springs eternal. At this point two weeks ago I was a dribbling mess, so today is already a success. We cross Tower Bridge – underwhelming compared to the epic occasion this is during the London Marathon. Some crowds, but noticeably quieter.

The back half of 13.1 miles usually blurs into one prolonged memory of pain and suffering, and there was no indication things were about to change today. I’m playing the ‘one mile at a time’ trick with myself, swapping encouragement with fellow Chaser Laura Boehm – I won’t hold it against her for mistaking me for Elvis.

15km – 55:56 (Last 5km – 18:47)

Just about keeping it together – the pace looks metronomic, but in reality I’m holding on by my fingernails. 10 miles passes in 59:57 – important because I know a pace of 6 minutes a mile gets me just under 1:20. So I’m bang on that and just need to keep pushing onwards.

People are scrapping for places at this point, and it’s incredible the motivation that someone coming past can provide. Before it seemed like speeding up was incomprehensible, but as soon as they appear on my shoulder you try everything to find another gear.

Unfortunately, I spot that I’m reeling in my good mate James Bosher. I say unfortunately because, Bosh and I shouldn’t even be in the same postcode – the lad is a 1:14 half-marathoner and he’s quite clearly having an off day. I come past and tell him to run it in with me, but he’s sensibly saving his eggs for another basket.

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Bosh and I back at Berlin 2016

20km – 1:14:52 (Last 5km – 18:54)

Those still paying attention to the numbers at this point will see I’ve actually paced this rather well, but it’s 6th gear engaged now, red-lining all the way to the finish. My heart feels like it’s going to explode out of my chest and there’s a strong chance I might throw up. No doubt about it, I’ve given it everything I’ve got on the day today.

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Pain. Lot’s of pain.

As always everyone engages their sprint finishes – unfortunately I’ve never owned one, so they’re all cruising by but I’m far too cooked to care. Cross the line, hands on knees – so glad it’s over.

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Strava activity

Results

I ended up ducking under 1:19 in the end, which I’m fairly pleased with. This time last year I was running 1:15, so there’s clearly some work to  be done to close the gap, but that’s where I am right now. Hanging around the finish was great – so many friendly faces both for Clapham Chasers and the wider running community, swapping stories and unpicking how the race went.

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                                                              ‘Why does he wear that Flat Cap?’                                                                      ‘I don’t know. Be quiet though – he might hear us.’

There had been some phenomenal performances, most notably from Steph, who had finished 3rd overall amongst the professionals and secured a GB vest at the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland. Insane! I’d love to say I taught her everything she knows, when in reality my sole contribution has been running alongside her for half a mile at the Reading Half as I’d gone out too fast (doesn’t sound like me), whilst she was easing into the race.

Unfortunately at this point, a good day became rather soured. The bag pick up area was an absolute shambles. I’ve never seen anything like it before in the 100’s of events I’ve taken part in. A huge crowd had already gathered around the pick-up point, with people getting crushed up against the barriers – it was chaos. It took the majority of the people over an hour to get their bags, by which point some people looked ill they were so cold. Not cool.

Once I’d finally secured my possessions, I rendezvoused with the boss, eager to find out how she’d got on. A successful return to the scene, running a controlled 1:35, the furthest she’d run continuously since last October. Really great news. From here we headed back to the car and onward home for a good feed and few sherberts.

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Work to be done in the coming months, with 15 weeks to go until Ironman Ireland. Next up is a return to the Diss Duathlon, where I’ll be looking to improve on my string of 2nd place finishes – so look forward to me reporting on a 4th place finish.

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