Target time: 3:00:00 (21 miles)
Actual time: 2:08:12 (15 miles)
Course PB: 3:20:39 (21 miles)
A mixed bag of a race (which basically means a bad day on the road)
Pre race jitters
I haven’t had such a bad case of pre-race jitters in a long while. So long that I can’t remember if I ever had one so bad. I was a queasy, complaining wreck for almost two days before the race. I didn’t go out much at all for all of Friday and Saturday – just two evening walks with boys. I complained bitterly to anyone who’d listen (mainly R, over chat). I cursed and complained, and wished for ways to wriggle out of running the race. It was bad!
It was a fear of many things. It was to be my longest distance run since I ran the Berlin marathon in Sep 2016. It was a race pace test, so I couldn’t just relax and take it easy when I felt like. It’d be the first long, road run in my new shoes, which are also my first zero drop shoes. I’d crashed out of this race with injury last year, leading to me defer my entry to this year.
Longest distance + race pace + new shoes + memory of last year’s injury = 😱
Then there were the external factors. The race was on the day that clocks changed over – I needed to wake up an hour earlier. Then the race organisers decided not to send out numbers in post this year, so I needed to get there even earlier to pick up my race number. And I still had to come back and take care of Chewie for rest of the day – R is in India.
I was shit scared.
Ran in the new shoes – Altra Torin 3. Also bought a second pair of Injinji toe socks, and ran in them. Rest of the gear was the usual – Brooks sherpa 2-in-1 shorts, my favourite running cap, and a Ronhill full sleeve tee.
For once, the dress was apt for the weather. I’d initially planned to run in a half-sleeve tee, but checking the weather in the morning, switched to the full sleeve one, and it worked just right.
Managed the morning nutrition well – had a small breakfast 2+ hours before the race, and a banana and gel before the start.
I’d planned to try a version of my marathon nutrition plan for this race – one gel before the start, next at 9K, then every 8K. I also prefer to drink a little water every ~4K (20 mins), but that couldn’t be done here – the water stations were ~6K apart on average.
Kept the nerves under control at the start, and didn’t go tearing off. Stayed steady[^hills] for the first few miles, trying to calm myself inside, and get the legs going.
The race route is two loops – a big one (9 mi / 14.5km), and a small one (6 mi / 9.5km). We run both loops once for the 15 mile distance, and then repeat the second loop if going for the longer 21 mile distance.
My first target was to get to the first water station (~6Km), staying with the crowds. This was a success. I’d kept the pace under control, and stayed well within my comfort zone.
Soon after that water station the route turns north, into the wind, and the race splintered up. It’s a small race (~700 runners), and splintering in the wind meant that I was running alone for a while in this section. This was mentally hard. I was glad when, after about 5 Km of running, I heard foot steps behind me. I slowed down to let a guy overtake me, and then quickly got on his heel.
It was a smart decision. He was clearly in a good phase, and running a decent pace. I got some much-needed cover from the wind, and a good set tempo to follow. Between him, and another guy, I had cover for almost all of the rest of the big loop.
I finally overtook them when they started flagging near the end of the loop that. It may have been a mistake. After dropping them, I was alone again for a long while, and had to run most of the second loop (~9.5Km) alone again. Stupid, bad decision.
Running alone was hard. It was harder than usual since this race doesn’t have much roadside support, nor many water stations.This running alone took a lot more mental energy than I had planned for. Mistake.
I was also starting to suffer stiffness in my right leg. The race is on open roads, run on the left side all the way around. The roads have banking, all the way around. This means running for 15-21 miles on same side banking all the way around. Which means that one leg (the right one) does more of the work all the way around.
I should have known this, since I’ve run here twice before. Last year, that extra load on the right leg, combined with my bad overall fitness, had made me quit even before completing the first big loop. This time I was fitter, so able to complete at least 15 miles. But I didn’t want to end up in the same state as last year.
By the time I started from the last water station, I knew I wasn’t going for a second loop. My reason, at the moment, was the fast deteriorating state of my right leg. Though, later I realised that it had just as much to do with diminished mental strength. All that running alone had taken its toll.
I pulled in to the finish at the end of the loop, and collected my medal.
I was part sad at not having finished the full distance, and part glad at having being able to maintain the planned pace – 5:17/km, against a target of 5:25-5:30.
It was also a wise decision to stop. That last 1.5km had taken almost 10 mins. My right leg was stiff and cramping now, and now even walking was getting hard. Taking on that extra 9 Km may have done too much damage.
After the race, hobbled back to the car to pick up change of clothes and water bottle. Then went back to race HQ to get a massage. The massage, by Cranleigh physios, cost £10. It may have been one of my best spend £10. I went on the table barely able to bend my right leg. When I got off the table 10-15 mins later, it felt like there’d never been any problem with it. The only thing still hurting was my perennially bad left hamstring, but it always cries after a hard rub down. I owe a big thank you to the lady who gave me that massage.
I got a not-so-pleasant surprise on getting up from the massage table. There was blood on the table cover where my right nipple would’ve been. It still wasn’t hurting, but I knew what was to come. Both the nipples had fissures, and hurt like crazy in the shower. Only right one was bleeding, but I taped them both over for a couple of days. Only now, 4 days later, are they starting to settle down.
After the massage, changed into fresh clothes, and drove home. Stretching, shower, and went over to eat some tasty Punjabi food at Dudley’s place. Had planned to go to town for a coffee, but that never happened. So, took the boys for a very slow evening walk to keep the legs going. That I was able to go for a 6K, with energy to spare, the next day says that the recovery was good.
This is not a flat race. It doesn’t have many ‘hills’, but it’s a rolling terrain – constantly going up or down. So keeping a steady pace is hard. Still, I was glad to see that my pace stayed below 5:20/km on all km splits from the 2nd to 18th. Only the last km, where I walked up the hill, was above 5:40 pace. And despite trying not to, there were four kms at sub 5:00 pace. I am quite happy with this.
My other target of the race was to keep a high leg turnover. It was a success. All the training with the metronome meant that the leg speed stayed above 185 for almost[^waterwalk] all the race, including on the hills, and at the end.
The new shoes turned out fine as well. They’re quite light, and well cushioned. Which makes them good for longer distances. They, however, aren’t as responsive as the Brooks PureFlow – probably because of the softer EVA sole. But then, the PureFlows were showing the limits of their range at end of a half marathon, so can’t really use them for any longer distances. I’m happy so far with the change.
Another thing that I tried, successfully, at this race was the ‘fall forward’ running. The idea is that you lean your body slightly forward so that gravity is pulling you down. This provides a slight forward motion advantage. It also helps keep the foot strike in fore/mid-foot. I tried it consciously for over half the race, and it felt really useful. Some of my best periods in the race were while using the ‘fall forward’ method.
The one drawback to this method comes from the one constraint – we need to fall forward from our feet, not by bending at hips/waist. This requires using the core to keep the body in line, to prevent it folding at the waist. Which is good. However, when my weak core started tiring, I noticed myself bending at the hips, spoiling the ‘fall forward’ party.
The final note (to self) from this race is: Never run this race again.
The constant banking is a big risk for my legs, and I don’t need the extra stress – mental and physical.
The next race is the big one – London marathon on 22nd April. My initial target time for that was 3 hours 45. Given the constant falling short in races this season, I’m now going for a more reasonable target – sub-4.
Before that I need to get in more miles in my legs. This week, scheduled to be a 60+km, week has been a washout. I’ve run just a 6K so far. I’ve got two 30+km runs planned, one this weekend, and then again next weekend. I need to get them done. And then add a couple of speedier runs, and a few more usual slow runs before I start tapering.
[^waterwalk]: Except at the water stations, where I prefer to walk and drink, and at the one big hill before the finish where I decided to walk. The only non-water-station walk of the race.