After the success I had at the Birmingham Half Marathon last October (2:33:29), I had set my sights on a sub-2:30 half marathon. I entered the Gloucester Half Marathon as it was the soonest half marathon that wasn’t too far to travel to. In addition, the course was also described as “mostly flat, with a few inclines”, so that gave me hope of a personal best!
The night before had caused me a lot of anxiety. Do I wear a vest top with arm warmers or a long-sleeved top? Which trainers should I wear? How many energy gels should I take and when should I take them? What do I need to take with me? Will we get there on time?
All of these questions are ones that I have normally already sorted before the race, however for the Gloucester Half Marathon, I was starting to question myself. In fact, I was probably more nervous for this event than my very first half marathon! The reason being… well, I had actually trained for this one and had a sub-2:30 goal on the line.
Morning Of The Event:
Chris and I woke up at 7am, had breakfast (my usual Quaker Oats) and left the house for just before 8:15am. Google Maps had advised that the journey should take around 1 hour 15 minutes. It would then be a 3 kilometre walk from the car park to the starting area.
We arrived at the car park, which had been well marshalled, and then proceeded to follow the signs to the starting area. In the end we just followed a group of other people with race numbers attached!
I collected my 2 arm bands from the sports hall and headed back outside. The armbands were used to keep track of how many laps had been completed as there was also a marathon and 50k event on the same course. I then joined the rather long queue for the toilet. In hindsight, I should have stopped at the last service station on the M5, but I hadn’t expected the starting area to be so busy! I kept checking the time as the queue barely seemed to move. Luckily I was able to use the toilet and get to the start line for 10:07am. The race was due to start at 10:10am, however it was just over 6 minutes late starting.
When the race did finally start, it only took 30 seconds or so to cross the start line. In the run up to the start I had gone over my pacing strategy more times than I would have liked! Originally I had planned to run the first mile at 11:20 as my goal pace would be 11:25, so this would be faster than that but not too fast. I was thinking back to the Sneyd 10 Mile event in December where I had ran faster than my goal race pace (10:52 average pace). I had started around goal pace and then picked up for the last few miles.
Then I had the strange idea of starting out quick and running on feel, hoping that if I did slow down for the second half that I would still be running 11:25 or thereabouts. I would be counting on my fast first half to negate any second half slow down.
As soon as the race started, everything went out of the window! I started out quite quick, and at first did try to slow myself down. In the end, I decided to just go with it what felt “right” and stopped holding myself back. I overtook people to find my own running space and pressed on. The first aid station came early at around the 0.5 mile mark but I ran straight past. Mile 1 came in quicker than I could have imagined at 10:11. This did scare me slightly as I was worried about burning out and crashing harder for the later miles.
Apparently it didn’t scare me as much as I first thought as my second mile came in quicker in 10:06! There had been some ascent for the first two miles, but nothing too bad. Miles 3 and 4 had slightly more elevation gain and my pace dropped slightly to 10:15 and 10:11 respectively. I opted not to take on any water at just after the 3.5 mile mark. I was still debating whether to take my first gel at mile 5, then 7.5 and 10, or to wait until mile 6, then 8 and 10 or 8.5 and 11.
I’m not sure what happened for mile 5! I think the downhill section really helped as I finished it in 9:58. I took on my first gel as my watch vibrated to show me my mile 5 split. It was at around this point that I started to work out how well I was running. I was calculating my finishing time if I could hold onto my average pace. Sub-2:10 appeared to be on the cards, but I laughed and deep down knew that my pace would have to slow down at some point… wouldn’t it?
Carrying on from my fast fifth mile, miles 6 and 7 both came in at exactly 9:56. These were my fastest two miles of the race so far. Just like the previous aid stations, I ran past the water station at around the 6 mile mark. I still felt strong but there was a niggle of doubt in the back of my mind. As I had been running a lot faster than planned, would I crash and burn? Would I run out of energy and be reduced to a walk? I tried to push these doubts to the back of my mind and just focus on the mile I was in. It was around this point that I was glad I was wearing my bone conduction earphones to try and drown out my own thoughts!
Mile 8 saw the return of the inclines so my pace slowed to 10:11.There was an aid station just before the 9 mile mark, so I pulled up to grab a cup of High5. The plan was to take a few sips whilst still moving. This proved difficult and I definitely missed having a sports capped bottle. I ended up spilling more down me than I drank! At this point, however, I really didn’t want to stop completely. I slowed down to take a sip or two and then through the cup to the side. If possible, I wanted to run the entire distance without any walk breaks. So far, so good! The slowing for the aid station saw my mile 9 time drop to 10:17.
Completing mile 10 was tough. I kept telling myself that as soon as my watch vibrated for mile 10 I would take on another gel and then it would just be a Parkrun to go. At this point, I really just wanted to get to the finishing line and get it over and done with! The allure of an energy gel must have really boosted me as mile 10 was my fastest mile so far in 9:34.
That record mile didn’t last long as mile 11 beat it by a whole 1 second in 9:33. Again, both of these miles were slightly downhill, which helped the pace. It really started to get tough mentally here. I approached the water station at around the 11.5 mile mark and grabbed a cup. With the lactate starting to build, I slowed right down to get a good few sips of water before pushing on.
Mile 12 came in slightly slower, but it was a real struggle in 9:52. Slowing for a drink had affected my pace, but I was worried that I would have to walk if I didn’t take on any fluid. I tried to slow down a little, but it didn’t make things any easier. As such, I decided to just try to get it over with as quickly as I could! Upon finishing mile 12, I looked at my watch and realised that sub-2:10 could still be a possibility but I would have to push hard!
So close to the 13 mile mark and I was faced with a rather steep incline! To my surprise, I was actually still able to overtake people here. It felt like forever, but eventually my watch notified me that mile 13 was complete in 9:39.
The finish was just around the corner from the 13 mile mark. I could see it, but it felt like I was running through treacle as it just wasn’t getting any closer! This was one of the toughest mental battles that I have had for a looong time. My mind wanted to stop, my legs wanted to walk, but I was so close. There were people either side of me cheering me on and I knew I just had to do it. I couldn’t run 13 miles non-stop and then walk the last 0.1!
I finally crossed the finish line. My watch showed 2:11:03! I was over-the-moon. After grabbing a bottle of water, I headed back to the sports hall to pick up my finisher’s t-shirt.
I still can’t believe the performance that I pulled off! In hindsight I didn’t drink enough the night before and should have started the event with a bottle of water or Lucozade. The plastic cups didn’t help me as I hadn’t practiced drinking from them whilst running.
Getting through the last three miles had been really tough. I had to keep reminding myself of all the evening training runs I had put myself through, as well as the hours I had spent every Sunday completing my long runs. They had all been for this race, so I had to give everything and leave nothing behind. I didn’t want to look back with regret.
Sub-2:30 was the goal, but deep down I was hoping for sub-2:25. I never even dreamt of a sub-2:15, so 2:11 was absolutely amazing! Originally I was hoping for sub-2:25 and then to train for sub-2:15 for October. Now I need to re-evaluate my goals and see what would be possible for October. I have another half marathon in March, so it would be nice to get sub-2:10 there, however the course is apparently challenging!
Full race results can be found here.