The Ironbridge Half Marathon was an event that I had entered a while ago after hearing positive things. People had recommended it as a “must do” half marathon that wasn’t too far to travel. For this reason, I didn’t really have a time goal when I originally entered. I started the year aiming for a sub-2:30 half marathon at the Gloucester event at the end of January. Ironbridge was sort of my “plan B race” in case I missed out on my goal there. The Gloucester half marathon turned out to be a great race for me as I finished with a time of 2:11:02. As such, I needed to re-evaluate my goal for Ironbridge. Knowing that I had taken over 22 minutes off of my half marathon personal best in January, I didn’t want to set the bar too high. I decided to settle on trying to run a sub-2:10.
Training had been going well, although really I was actually training for the Blackpool marathon in April rather than Ironbridge. My weekly long run was getting longer and I was feeling more confident. Unfortunately I started to suffer with a niggling pain in my right knee after an 18 mile run along some canal paths. This had a knock on effect as I had to miss some runs or cut them short.
The day before the Ironbridge half marathon led to a bit of a scare. I had been shopping in Aldi and reached the checkout when I realised that I had forgotten something. As I was in a hurry I started a light jog to the aisle that I needed. This was accompanied by a sharp pain in my kneecap. Immediately I had a sense of doubt about my ability to run the half marathon the next day. I decided that I would rather have a DNF (did not finish) rather than a DNS (did not start), so I made the decision to at least try and get around the course.
Morning Of The Event:
I had received the pre-race information via email, however there was no postcode listed for the starting area. It did outline directions to a car park, which we found without much trouble. The starting area, on the other hand, wasn’t clearly sign posted. We ended up following a group who looked like runners and hoped for the best!
We arrived early as I had to collect my race number before the start. This process was straightforward and a lot quicker than I had anticipated. As such, I was run ready by 9:10am. I sat on a nearby bench and ate my banana as I waited for the safety briefing to start at 9:45am. The race started promptly at 10am. It took me around 30 seconds to cross the start line.
Due to the “down and up” nature of the course, I knew that my pace would slow in the second half. With this in mind I wanted to try and be ahead of my 9:55 goal pace by the halfway mark. On the other hand, I had no idea how my knee was going to hold up. Half of me was expecting to have to walk a fair amount.
I set off for mile 1 in an optimistic frame of mind. The first corner was also the first of many hill climbs. Although I wanted a sub-2:10 time, I was weary of aggravating my knee. I tried not to focus on my pace but to run by feel. Deep down though I wanted to push for my goal.
Mile 1 started well as I managed an average pace of 9:15. There were a few inclines but also downhill sections where I was able to make up any time lost climbing. Mile 2 was faster still in 9:07, and I flew through mile 3 in 8:41! To be honest, the downhill parts may have helped, but hey, I’ll take all the help I can get! Mile 4 slowed down a little, but was still way ahead of my goal pace in 9:05. After reaching the 4th mile marker I took on my first energy gel. I planned to take them at miles 4, 7.5 and 10.5.
My fastest mile was 8:37 for mile 5. Again, this was largely down to elevation loss, but I wasn’t complaining. By this point I was still feeling strong. My knee was holding out and I was well ahead of my target pace. Unbeknown to me, this feeling of strength was about to fade as there was a sharp incline towards the end of mile 6. I was reduced to a walk as I struggled to make my way up it. I felt my quads burning as I reached the top. It was only a mile or two earlier that I had thought to myself how well I had progressed on hills as the smallest inclines really used to take it out of me… I was now beginning to take that thought back! Mile 6 came in at 9:48, which was still just under my goal pace.
Mile 7 had a tough incline of its own, but it was made up for by the atmosphere at Ironbridge. There were a lot of spectators cheering everyone on and it was definitely uplifting. Although miles 7 and 8 came in slightly slower than my goal pace at 9:59 and 10:01, I was still ahead of my target on my average pace. I’d actually made it to half way with around sub-2 pace and a 10k personal best of 56:28. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty confident about hitting my sub-2:10 goal.
Maybe I got a little ahead of myself as things took a turn for the worst. Mile 9 was brutal… absolutely brutal. I took a right turn into an incline, which was tough and I ended up walking a lot of it. Just when I thought it was over, I turned to see an even greater incline ahead. It was so steep I struggled to walk up it. I felt like I needed a rope to pull myself along, or some Nordic walking poles. It actually made me nervous about falling backwards! Half of me just wanted to drop out here. There was just no end in sight. It was only the fact that I had already put a tonne of effort in and was ahead of my goal pace which kept me going. I finally reached the top of the climb and kept telling myself that the worst was now over. This had dented my average pace significantly as mile 9 came in at 11:51.
Not only had the climb affected my average pace, it had also taken a lot out of my legs. My quads were starting to suffer and it had knocked my confidence. What’s more is that mile 10 was also hilly so there was just no respite. I was really starting to struggle, both mentally and physically. To try and give me a boost I took my third and final energy gel just before the 10 mile marker. Mile 10 also came in significantly over my target pace at 11:08.
I kept telling myself that I only had a Parkrun (5k) to go and that I could still get my sub-2:10 target. Usually at this point I get a second wind as I realise that 5k isn’t that far, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. My legs were burning and although my knee was holding up fine, I was struggling to keep pushing through. The hills kept on coming, and now even the smaller inclines were feeling tough. I was reduced to a walk on all of the climbs. I managed to pick up a little bit of time on the downhill section, but even that didn’t help. Mile 11 ultimately came in at 11:32. I had less than 20 minutes to run the last 2.1 miles.
It’s really tough to take when you see your goal time slipping away. Even more so when you had been so far ahead of target even after the half way point. I tried so hard to keep pushing as I knew that my goal was still achievable, but it would mean I would have to run around 9:30 minutes per mile or faster for the last 2 miles. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t manage. My legs were struggling and the mental battle was well and truly lost. I felt like it had become impossible to hit my goal, and so I just thought “what’s the point?”. I was now reduced to a run / walk pattern as I desperately tried to make it to the finish line. When my watch vibrated to notify of my mile 12 pace, I was disheartened… 11:30. That left me with 9 minutes and 20 seconds to run the last 1.1 mile.
This was probably the toughest mile. Not because of the inclines as they were nothing compared to the earlier miles, but because I knew that sub-2:10 was now impossible. I actually felt devastated. It became a real challenge to keep moving forward, but I knew I was close to the finish line. Spectators were there cheering me on, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. I had managed to pick up the pace a little, but at 11:06, it was nowhere near fast enough.
The last 0.1 mile was really tough. Again, it was slightly inclined, but by this point even a slight incline felt like a mountain. My watch only measured 12.95 miles so I had to manually increase it to the full 13.1 distance. As such, I don’t know what my pace was for the last 0.1 mile. It definitely felt like a slog. If it wasn’t for all of the spectators lining both sides of the finish area I’d have probably slowed to a walk. With that being said, I did find a random burst of pace to overtake a lady a few steps from the finish line!
I crossed the line and just felt the disappointment hit me. After being handed my medal and goodie bag I headed to the results tent to get a print out of my time. I’m not sure why, I guess to just confirm my disappointment. Yup, there it was in black and white, only now I felt worse. The time read 2:11:10… 8 seconds slower than my personal best. Chris just didn’t understand; “you were only 8 seconds slower than your best with an injured knee and on a tougher course. And besides, you only wanted sub-2:30 in January and got 2:11!”. I knew that he made valid points, but it was more the way that I had fell short which I was disappointed with. Before the run I’d have bitten your hand off if you had offered me a time of 2:11:10 as I didn’t think my knee would hold up. However, being so far ahead of my goal pace after the half way mark and then still falling short really hurt. Even more so as I missed out on a personal best by 9 seconds. Deep down I knew that if I hadn’t have struggled mentally for the last few miles then I could have at least ran sub-2:11.
All in all, I was glad that my knee held up and I was able to complete it, but it was with a sense of disappointment. Looking at the bigger picture I realise that it was still a good run given the fact that my training hadn’t been great for the 3 weeks prior due to my knee and the hilly nature of the course. It had also been a lot warmer than expected! I can’t help but kick myself for not being able to find those 9 extra seconds for a personal best. As such, I’m already looking for my next half marathon challenge on a flatter course!
My event review will be linked here later in the week, and the full results can be found here.
Splits and Official Time: