Ran my first half marathon this weekend at Surrey Half . Clocked 2:08:57 for little over 13 miles – not as bad as I’d feared, but not as good as I wanted either.
I’d initially signed up to run the Wokingham Half exactly a month ago, and the prep for it had been really good. The whole winter running season had been tailored for that, with a target time of sub-2 hours. After a long, wet winter of hilly, muddy base miles, I’d run 10 mile trail runs the previous two weekends, and shorter tempo/interval runs mid-weeks. The hamstring injury from autumn had finally disappeared, as had the ITB pain that’d plagued me on the trail all winter. With a week-long taper, I was ready to hit the road in Wokingham in my best running shape for a while. Then, just 2 days before the race, it was cancelled due to flooding on the route. That darned UK weather, again!
Disappointed, but still wanting to run a half-marathon before the cycling season began, I signed up for Surrey Half, and hoped to keep the form. The only issues hanging in between were an India trip (read: lots of tasty, unhealthy food with no exercise whatsoever), and beginning of my cycling season (couldn’t postpone it any further with Ronde and Fred Whitton drawing every so closer). Nevertheless, it had to be done, and so ahead we went.
It hadn’t been good.
While I had gathered good, quality, base miles through the winter, February had been a whitewash. There was a 10 mile run on 2nd, a couple of 15 mile hilly bike rides, two 5K tempo runs aborted after 3.5K each (once weather intervened, other time my un-fitness). So, essentially, I went into the run with a month-long taper. At least I didn’t have any injuries to cope with :)
It wasn’t half bad.
Got up early to have a bit of food – a banana, a toast with butter, half energy bar, and some energy drink and water. Rags dropped me off at Stoke park, and a bit of roaming around and warm up later, the run began.
It was sunny. Warm & sunny. 15°C and sunny is not weather one expects in early March in the UK. We had it. Having trained all winter in barely-single-digit temperatures with wind, rain, or both for company, this was unnatural for me. I’d been debating last two days whether to wear the tight shorts I’d been training all winter, or the baggy distance shorts I ran in the previous summer. Looking around at the start, seemed like I’d made the right choice by wearing the tight shorts. There were even people running in full tights!
3 miles in, I knew I’d made the wrong choice. Should have worn the summer running shorts, hydrated more, put some sun screen on back of the neck. Probably even carried a water bottle.
3 miles in, I was hot, and dry. I passed the first feed station, picking up a water bottle. Slowed down to a walk, swallowed down a Clif shot gel, and gulped down the water. Still, there was good news. I was averaging 8:30 min/mile, and the legs were feeling good.
6 miles in, and it got bad. The relief from water bottle at first feed station had passed, heat had picked up, and the road turned up ever so slightly (nothing I would even notice on the trail runs). I kept going – the pace suffered slightly dropping to 10:15 min/mile, but the body was suffering badly.
10K in, suffering badly but recovery’s on. Took 55:14 to finish the first 10K leg. Despite technically being on target to finish within 2 hour target, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I needed to cool down, and hydrate if I was to finish without troubling the good folk of St. John’s Ambulance service. Snapped up 2 water bottles and a Gu gel. Half the bottle went in, then the gel, followed by another quarter of bottle in, and the final quarter on head. Walked almost half a kilometre. Carried the 2nd bottle carried along for another 1.5 miles for hydration and showering. Legs were still good, body was cooling down, water was getting into the system. Started running again. Speed was slower, but manageable – clocking around 9:30/mile.
8 miles in, and what a boost! The miles and heat of first half started catching up with the legs as I approached the 8 mile mark. It was still 2 miles to the feed station. Opposite the St. Marks church in Westfield, outside Woking, were one of the many bands en-route. As I approached them, I recognised the encouraging tune they were playing. Eye of the Tiger. Just the thing I needed. Smile back on the face, energy back in the legs, off I went again. Huge thanks to that band! (Sad I didn’t have the wits around to take a photo of them then).
9.5 miles, final feed stop done, heading to the finish. Picked up another 2 bottles, swallowed my 2nd Clif shot gel, and walked 200m. The wind had picked up so heat wasn’t as much of a problem now. Head wind was. Legs were also tiring, probably crying about the lack of running last month or so. The pace suffered a bit – just above 10 min/mile for all but the last mile.
Finish. I’d seen the route briefings but forgotten by the time I got to the finish that the finish was on the running track at the Spectrum. Gotta say, it was fun to run on the smooth, supportive track after 13 miles on the rough road. That there was a finish sign 3/4th way around the track might’ve even helped the pace. A fast last kilometre has been a trait for me on the trail runs all through winter, irrespective if it was a 5K tempo run on the Mount, or a 10 mile Ice Man in Frimley. Maybe I need to stop saving energy for a fast finish, and start consuming it over the previous miles. The last mile here, like the first mile, was sub 9 min/mile. 9:48 min/mile for the distance. Targeting sub 1:45 for Wokingham half next Feb.
Received the medal. Picked another 2 bottles of water. Sunned & stretched in the track green. Took a faux #sufferselfie for @blacklinelondon gang (suffering was happening between 5 & 8 mile marks, now I was fresh as a daisy). Got a quick massage, bought a £10 ‘technical’ tee, and after wandering around for a little bit, called in the pick-up.
Was slightly disappointed at not having made it under the 2-hour mark. Was super relieved at having finished without any injuries.
Was slightly disappointed at not seeing a single familiar face in the 5000+ runners or the equally large number of supporters on roads and the finish. Was quite hopeful of that changing, with Rags having picked up running over this winter. I think she’s secretly planning to run a half as well :)
With the half marathon completed, my running season is at an end. I’ll still keep running 1-2 runs a week, and might run another half marathon in autumn, but the focus now shifts completely to cycling.
It’s under 4 weeks to de Ronde sportive, and little over a month after that to the big one – the Fred Whitton challenge up in the lakes. Need to put in a lot of long rides under the belt. And a lot of climbing. In March. And then, in April, need to put in a few good long rides with lots of climbing in them. All this while fighting with, and encouraging, Rags to keep her cycling training up – she’s riding the short Ronde sportive as well this year. As big a challenge for her as the Fred is for me.
May the force be with us!