My first event of the year! Was I excited about it? Well, not really! With storm Jorge taking it’s toll, I wasn’t really too optimistic. The weather forecast had predicted a dry day, but with winds of 19 miles per hour.
With all of my focus being on the London Marathon, I hadn’t done much speed-work. Still, in the back of my mind I was hoping I could shave at least a few seconds off. At this point last year I had ran two half marathons and finished both in around the same time (2:11:02 personal best at Gloucester, 2:11:10 for Ironbridge). The second one had given me confidence as it was a really hilly course (Ironbridge) and I had a niggly knee. I figured that if I could equal my personal best on a tough course with a bad knee, then I stood a chance at the Warwick Half!
Morning Of The Event:
I chose the Warwick Half Marathon as it was part of my running club’s Grand Prix. Plus, it wasn’t too far to travel and we got a discounted entry fee. I only checked the course profile on the morning of the event, and immediately started to worry about my chances! On top of the strong predicted winds, the course looked a lot hillier than I had expected. I’m not really sure what expected from a countryside run! I thought the course was going to be more on road, near the castle and through the town. Trying to reassure myself, I cast my mind back to Ironbridge where the hills were steep and plentiful, and my knee was giving me grief. If I could almost equal my personal best with a bad knee then I told myself I had a chance on the day!
Due to my earlier research en-route, I was ready for the first hill. Reading some reviews from the previous years, I knew that it was going to be fairly steep. Yet, even with this knowledge, the incline still surprised me! I didn’t want to set out too fast up the hill as I knew that I would regret it later. To get a personal best I knew that I would need to average 9:59 per mile across the entire distance.
We set off five or so minutes later than planned. The start funneled slightly, but there was plenty of room to run. I had been feeling a bit nervy and unprepared prior to the starting klaxon. These nerves disappeared as soon as I crossed the start line. Usually it takes me a mile or two to settle into a race, but I felt good. I wasn’t keeping an eye on my watch as I wanted to give myself a few miles and then evaluate how I was going to spend the rest of the race.
I’m not quite sure what happened, but the slower start didn’t go to plan! To my surprise, mile 1 came in at 9:12. I knew that I was feeling strong, but didn’t expect the first three miles to go how they did. Miles 2 and 3 both came in with an average pace of 9:34.
With the first three miles coming in quicker than I had anticipated, I decided to take one of my gels earlier than planned. Originally, I had planned to take my first gel at mile 4, then one at mile 7 and the final one at mile 10. Usually, I carry four gels for a half, however I was trying out my newest running belt which has it’s own gel holder compartments. There were three compartments, and I only planned on taking three gels, so I didn’t carry a spare. I also wanted to avoid carrying anything unnecessary as I have upgraded to the Samsung Note 10+ 5G, which takes up a lot of space!
Unfortunately, not long after taking my first gel at mile 3, I realized that my second gel had fallen out of the compartment. This was a bit of a kick in the teeth! Scared to lose my last gel, I removed it from the compartment and carried it tightly in my hand. Re-evaluating my fueling strategy, I decided that instead of taking a gel at mile 6 as planned, I would hold out until mile 7, and then just have to hope for the best after that!
I slowed down to take a cup of water from the first water station just after the 3 mile marker. My head was starting to struggle as I worried about only having one gel left. To be honest, I let it get to my head a little bit as things weren’t going to go how I had planned. I had also never raced a half marathon with anything less than three gels. After taking a few sips of water, I discarded my cup and tried to get back into a rhythm.
Mile 4 came in slower than the average 9:59 pace required. Even with the slower 10:35 mile notification, I knew that I had a bit of time in the bag from my quicker start. Mile 5 saw me pick up the pace a little with an average of 10:03. I was still on track to hit a personal best, but my legs were starting to feel heavy from the elevation changes.
Mile 6 was slightly slower in 10:16, but still kept me on target. There was a water stop not long after the six mile marker. I tend to run past water stops, however I decided to slow down and take another cup of water at this one also. Nervy about my lack of energy gels, I wanted to see if I could negate some of the effects by taking on my water.
Things took a turn for the worse before the end of mile 7. I started to struggle as my legs felt heavy. Mentally, I was also starting to fade. My watch vibrated to tell me that I had completed it in 11:12. I was really disappointed and it also put my average pace over the 10:00 minute per mile mark.
In an attempt to give myself a boost, I opened up my second, and final, energy gel. As soon as I had finished it, I picked up the pace and tried to make up some time. My strategy worked somewhat as mile 8 came in at 9:58. I was still slightly behind on the overall average pace, but I told myself that there were still enough miles left for me to claw back some more time.
Whilst I was correct in my thinking of there being enough miles left to stand a chance at a personal best, mile 9 really didn’t help matters! My watch vibrated with a time of 10:45. I knew it had been a tough mile, but I had been hoping for quicker than that. Missing my third energy gel was really going to hurt!
I cast my mind back to Ironbridge, and how I had finished just 8 seconds behind my personal best. Despite having a bad knee, I still kicked myself as I knew how close I had been to a new personal best time. I told myself, “if only I had pushed a little harder”. That was ingrained in my mind as I tried to rescue something from my race.
Mile 10 was a real boost. With a time of 9:11, I actually had a chance of just sneaking under the 10:00 minute average pace required. I went from feeling down and out, to feeling like I still had a shot. Granted, I would have to run a minimum of 9:55 for the remaining miles, but I was still in with a shout. My mind got carried away doing all of the arithmetic to work out what my mile splits needed to be, and how much leeway I had.
The optimism didn’t last long. Hills, hills, hills… my nemesis! Just when I thought I was over the worst parts, along came another incline. Hills are never fun, but at a late part of the race, and after just completing my fastest mile (albeit by a second!), these weren’t welcomed! I was trying to avoid looking at my watch. The headwinds were picking up and I was finding it tough. I knew it had been a tough mile, but I was pretty distraught when my watch vibrated and showed a time of 11:00 minutes.
2:11:02 was almost certainly beyond my reach at this point. Still, I dug deep and wanted to give it my best effort. Despite my lackluster mile 11, mile 12 came in at 9:51. I was surprised at how comfortable the first half of the mile had felt. For the first half or so if mile 12 I had been running at under 9 minute per mile pace! Shame it had been too little too late!
My excitement at my surprising burst of speed was also short-lived. I really struggled for it in mile 13! I got stitch in my left side and had to slow to a walk as I tried to apply pressure and take deep breaths. This is also where it gets tough mentally. You feel so close to the end, but still so far. For me, the last mile always seems to feel a lot longer than the one before it! Mile 13 came in with a disappointing time of 10:53.
I usually tend to gain a “second wind” as I see the finish line. Today, however, was a real slog. Don’t get me wrong, the grandstand finish inside the racecourse was great! Spectators lined up either side of the fences cheering runners on. It’s just so tough, mentally and physically, to find another gear for the finish line when you know that you aren’t going to get the time you had hoped for. It can seem rather fruitless to put in a bit more effort for no reason at all!
Still, I dug deep and picked up the pace. Part of me just really wanted it to be over at this point so that I could get in the car with the heater on! I managed to overtake a couple of people with my final sprint burst to the finish line. The last 0.1 mile came in with an average pace of 8:04. I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, grabbed my medal and headed straight to the tent with the free bananas!
After demolishing my banana I looked down to read my watch. At first I was disappointed upon reading the time of 2:12:54. However, after taking some time to reflect, I don’t think it was too bad of a time. If you’d have offered me that time before I set across the start line, I would have taken it! The course was hilly, the headwind was tough, I dropped an energy gel, I was trialing a new running belt, plus I hadn’t been doing any half marathon specific speed-work.
Okay, so I can sit and say that the “race didn’t go to plan”… but then again, I didn’t really have a plan! I had no clue what the course entailed as I didn’t check the terrain or elevation. Granted I did drop an energy gel, which was unfortunate.
I always want to try and get a personal best when I enter events, but I know that I won’t get one every time. It’s just nice to have something to aim for, and when my marathon training had been going well, then why not?
Given the conditions, I don’t think my performance was too shabby. In fact, it’s made me want to find a flat half marathon to sign up for! Due to my marathon training, I’ll have to wait until July or August to give the sub-2:11:02 another go.
The full list of official results can be found here.