Leicester Half 2018

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It’s been over a month since the 2018 Leicester half and I’ve only now found the opportunity to put a bit of a write-up together. I’m determined to catch up though, and hopefully this will bring back memories to the many thousands who took part in the whole and half marathon races and the relay events. Many of these memories will undoubtedly be of the heavy rain that seemed to fall all day long – from the moment each of us got out of bed and looked out the window, till we got to our homes many hours later!

Mercifully there was no wind to speak of, so the rain was only a problem when you were standing about before and after the race and wasn’t such a problem while running – which made the contribution of the volunteers (marshals, people manning the water points, first aiders etc etc) and spectators, who lined the course and waited in the rain till the very last runner got home safely, all the more remarkable! The event couldn’t take part without the former and certainly wouldn’t be what it was without the latter, so I am sure I speak on behalf of all runners when I give a massive and heartfelt “thank you!” to everyone who stood in the cold rain while we were kept (relatively) warm through running!

I kept myself as wrapped up as I could before the start, wearing my waterproof jacket as long as I could till the baggage drop-off point closed and swapping it for a garden waste bag (stronger than a normal bin bag, and a more becoming colour!) after I had given my rucksack in. To my amazement, there were people who had stripped down to their racing kit as early as an hour before the start of the race, and were looking cold and miserable standing in the pouring rain!

No race write up would be complete without a review of the portaloo situation, and I am pleased to report that this year they were adequate in number, with reasonably sized queues even at the point of final visit before the start and attendants to help them flow (the queues; I doubt the most community-minded of charitable souls would volunteer to help portaloos flow!) It’s also worth noting that the main Victoria Park toilets were also in use, which is handy to remember for when you approach the park from the main entrance.

And with that out of the way, let’s move out of the toilet and concentrate on the race proper! Having done my homework, I had noticed that on every other occasion I ran this race, I tended to set off hard (easy on a course where the 1st mile is downhill) and begin to pay for it mid-way in the second half (so from kilometre 17 or just after mile 10). I also knew that, based on my current fitness (measured as training volume, similar to the way Strava or TrainingPeaks calculate it) and Parkrun times, I was a couple of minutes off my PB time, so I was looking at a finish time of 1h 42’ to 1h 43’. I therefore decided that rather than try to chase a PB which was out of reach, I would concentrate on running consistently throughout (a reverse split on a course with the 1st mile downhill and last 2 miles uphill was not a realistic target). Maintaining a race pace through to the latter stages of a race has been my main weakness which I have been trying to address in training (with Progression Runs and Progression Long Runs) and in recent races (for example Joy Cann and Carl Rutt), but I know that I have a long way to go still.

So while I took advantage of the downhill at the start, I made sure I eased off as the course levelled and was always running a bit within myself and stayed nice and relaxed. I had taken my garden waste bag off as I passed the start line and responsibly disposed of it in a bin (last thing you want dragging on the floor amongst a tightly packed group of runners is a plastic bag on a wet surface!) opposite the Railway Station. I then lowered the brim of my hat over my eyes as much as a gesture to myself to button down and settle mentally as it was to protect from the rain and got into a nice comfortable rhythm keeping a mental half-eye on the horizon that was the 17th km; I had told myself that if I could post 1h 42’ pace times on kms 17 and 18 I would be doing well! I absent-mindedly began to hum a little song and laughed at myself as I realised it’s a made-up song we sing to Philip to cheer him up!

The rain eased and strengthened but was always present and – thankfully – always vertical: no head wind to contend with and no gusts of wet wind to lash you in the face! We past the first water station and I stoically prepared to choke on isotonic drink: I dislike water cups during races, I find they affect my running rhythm and their contents end up either on my vest or down my wind-pipe, but rarely where they intend to go! Still, on a wet day I had made a conscious decision to not carry any drinks of my own and instead take a few sips of whatever isotonic was on offer at every water station. The “little and often” approach seemed to work from a hydration point of view, although chocking on isotonic drink and have the rest splash all over you every 3 miles or so was no fun!

As we turned off Melton Road and briefly back onto the A607 before turning towards the Watermead Country Park (so on the 9th km) I spotted a runner in a white t-shirt with “in memory of baby Arthur” hand written on the back. I had seen him once before, in Ashby a year and a half ago, but that’s not an inscription I was likely to forget! I managed to speak to him this time though, mention that I remembered him from Ashby and wish him all the best for his race. I never caught his race number though, so I couldn’t look him up in the results afterwards…. If you are reading this, I’d love a proper introduction and as much or as little as you want to share about your t-shirt (e.g. is there a charity you are / have been supporting?) either through a public comment or a private message here.

The race carried on, we were approaching half way now and I was feeling good. My pace (I tried to only look at each autolap notification – fixating on my watch is another bad habit I’m trying to shake) oscillated around the 1h 42’ time pace, allowing for the course’s very mild ups and downs and my choking on liquids. Whenever I found myself go slightly slower than that “target” pace I felt an urge to speed up a bit (especially as I didn’t feel I was pushing myself at that stage), which I resisted and concentrated on keeping the effort consistent: I reminded myself that the real test would come after mile 10 / km 16 and that my race goal wasn’t a finish time per se, but a consistent (and yes, speedy) pace throughout.

We ran through Watermead Park, Birstall and we were approaching the National Space Centre, just after mile 10 / km 16: I remembered the footpath leading up to it as the point where I began to tire in previous years and where the race stopped being fun. I was certainly beginning to feel the distance I had run, and it was taking a bit more of an effort to keep the pace consistent: But I was by no means tired, and that in itself felt like a massive boost! I took some more deep, calming breaths to steady my breathing and maintain control of my running. I picked this up from Nike Run Club’s guided long runs and I have found it an invaluable tool to “re-setting” mentally as well as physically. 

We entered Abbey Park, and were getting deeper in the last quarter of the race now: I had to work a bit harder to keep my pace consistent, but my spirits were lifted by how well I felt (relatively speaking at least!) late in the race. I had been in a good mood throughout the race, rain or not, and it was now verging on euphoria; looking around in the park I saw a father walking with two very young children, each covered by a domed transparent umbrella: They looked like little mushrooms running around the lawn in their wellies, and I couldn’t resist greeting him with something like “I like your little mushrooms!” Fortunately he got what I meant and laughed back.

Turning left and away from the river Soar, I spotted Mike crouched behind a camera: I gave him what felt like a hearty smile, of which I think a hint came through from behind the curtains of rain and look of fatigue!

It might not look like much, but I rarely smile when I run, so that I was smiling at all this deep into the race means a lot (all my race photos have the same “just landed carp, gasping for air” look to them, down to the size of the belly, which in fairness is how I usually feel)!

The final water point was just round the corner from there, and I approached it just behind a West End runner: I grabbed a cup of isotonic, but she missed picking up hers, so I offered her mine after I had drank my usual few sips. We talked about expected finish times (I wrongly informed her that we were between a 1h 42′ and 1h 43′ pace) and she willed me to keep up with her. I tried to, but her pace was a bit too fast for me, and I didn’t fancy undoing my judicious pacing before even reaching the uphill bit, so as we passed St Margaret’s Church she began to edge ahead. 

Under the wet underpass we went, up the other side and along the winding course to circle Highcross:  it was the 19th km, and I allowed myself to get a bit uncomfortable (if Strava is to be believed, it was the km with the greatest elevation gain, 26m compared to the 14m gained up New Walk which we tend to focus on). The course then dips a bit as it goes through Leicester City centre over the penultimate km, to give us the full effect of the New Walk ascent!

I reached the bottom of New Walk in as good a condition as I could wish for, and was feeling strong following the runners ahead of me. I used to be quite good at pacing myself up it, knowing how long to keep a steady pace for and picking the right moment to push ahead a bit; it’s the part of the course with the greatest support, and if you pick your moment well, you can rely on the cheers and encouragement to give you an extra boost.

On this occasion I was feeling a bit too strong though, a bit too happy with getting this far so consistently, a bit too carried away by the crowds and I made my move a bit sooner than I normally would. “I’m running strong” I told myself, “I’ve got enough in reserve to see me home from here” I said as I high-fived a little girl in the crowd. 

There are dangers in believing your own bullshit half way up a hill: one of them is you go past the runner you’ve been shadowing only to stay just ahead of them, holding on for dear life as the hill goes on and on and on with a smirk and a laugh at you rashness! The confident smile gave way to the beached carp gasping for air impression, but I stuck in there and at least kept my newly-acquired place. I even had the courage to go up a gear on the straight that follows the hill, and put in a good minute’s sprint at the very end. You can say what you like about us beached carps, but we are a tough, resilient fish!

I did have to take a moment past the finish line though, bended in half and gasping for breath! I had already confirmed, from glancing at my watch on New Walk, that beating my PB of 1:40:41 wasn’t on the cards, but I was only now beginning to realise exactly how close I had come: never mind my target of 1:42:00 – 1:43:00, my (official) finish time was 1:40:51, just 10” off that 4 year-old half-marathon PB!

And – and this really was more important! – I really had run strong and consistently throughout! My average pace for the first half was 04:44 mins per km (7:38 per mile) as opposed to 04:46 m/km (07:41 per mile) for the second half – not bad considering the downhill at the start and uphill at the end. Using Strava’s GAP (Grade Adjusted Pace), which adjusts pace for hills, I ran the first half at an adjusted 04:46 m/km (07:41 per mile) and the second at an adjusted 04:39 m/km (07:30 per mile)!

And because I’m the Excel geek that I am, I wanted to see this pictorially, and charted my average pace for this year (orange line below) against my previous attempts in the same race (blue lines below). You can see similar trends (faster or slower sections of the course: e.g. the slow-fast-slow sequence of kms 8, 9 and 10 tends to be repeated year on year), but what a difference this year over kms 15 to 21, eh? Though you can spot my poor judging of New Walk, as it was the first time my paced dropped rather than picked up over the last km (still faster than every other time I have run it though):

But before I had time for any such analysis, before the official results were even published, I was one happy runner! I knew I had done well, coming unexpectedly close to my PB and running the race as well as I could ever hope to! Soaked under the enduring rain, I quickly collected my rucksack, met up with Kyriako (who’s lack of training due to a new job meant he for once finished behind me!) and proceeded to find some shelter to get changed under.

Turned out the shelter belonged to a van from the Alpine Pizza Co, and never one to abuse hospitality, I spent some very happy moments in my mostly dry change of clothes, munching on a delicious fire-baked pizza and watching the finishers come home…

So in all very happy with the day, I feel that a few things are coming together to make me a more complete runner. There is (always!) more work to do, but at least I feel I am moving in the right direction, which is important given my ambitions for 2019 (more on these on a later post). 

But as I said at the start, the real stars of the day were the volunteers and spectators who defied the downpour of cold rain that lasted all through the race and made the day what it was. The team over at Leicester Marathon excelled themselves and despite the late change to the start time the event, as far as I could tell, was another great success and made a significant contribution to local charities – well done guys! 

Finally, you can watch the Relive video of my race here: https://www.relive.cc/view/1903815749

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