This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.
The “killing two birds with one stone” race. I scheduled this to give me a last chance at achieving one of my running goals for 2013, and to gauge how my running was going during my half-marathon training. The first part was reasonably simple: one of my three targets for the year was to run a sub-50 minute 10k. The second part is harder to judge: is a good time indicative of the training good well, or is a comfortable race? Are neither of these relevant, and good pacing more important: it’s hard to know. But enough about that for the moment: the race.
Things began slightly badly. Having scheduled the race into my diary, and onto our calendar towards the end of November, it seemed like my preparation should be reasonably good. Indeed, I stayed injury-free after booking it – a rare event, and logged 62 and a half miles of training runs in the month leading up to the race. Unfortunately though, when arranging to meet up with family, I forgot to consult the calendar and committed myself to family engagements the night before. It was all very pleasant, and I enjoyed myself, but it isn’t ideal race preparation!
So on race morning, rather than the relaxed, short drive of about 10 miles from Taunton to Stoke St Gregory, I instead had a 40 mile drive with my wife and daughter. We arrived in Stoke at about ten o’clock: an hour before the start of the race, giving me plenty of time to register. A quick hug and kiss goodbye (they headed on to Taunton) and I then merely had to find where I was meant to register. No difficulty there: a short walk down the road and I discovered marshals and runners, all wrapped up against the cold.
Registered, race number filled out and attached to my top, and it was only twenty past ten. Forty minutes until the start of the race, and I knew no-one else there. Still, I hovered around, listening to this conversation and that, trying to reccy some of the local running clubs (I’m not a member of one, but keep thinking I should be.) Eventually, it was time to walk to the start, just over a kilometre away. The walk should have been a good chance to warm-up, but to be honest I was a little too nervous, which sounds odd I know. I think with most other people being in groups of two or three, I didn’t want to stand out, or make it look like I might be any good!
After a few minutes I arrived at the start line. Which was something of a problem in itself, as it meant the late arrivals had to push their way through the front-runners to take up a place further back. For myself, this meant that after pushing through a couple of layers of runners I gave up, and ended up starting only about three metres from the start line. Or in other words, with runners much quicker than me! As I mentioned, my target was sub-50 minutes, and I was happy to just creep under, so my target pacing was something like 5:15 for the first 3 km, 5:00 dead through the middle 4 km, and then 4:45 and faster over the last 3 km. I ran a 4:36 first km. And not much slower for the second.
My pacing was out of the window. I figured I had two options: stick with the runners around me, see whether I could keep with this sort of pace, or drop back through the field through the middle and push towards the end, more in line with my pacing thoughts. I opted to stick with the runners around me. I was worried that if I dropped back, I would just let myself drift more and more, and get demoralised. Staying with those around me would push me, but if I could keep with it, I thought I’d have the best chance of staying sub-50.
By halfway around, I was doubting my tactic a little, but I ran somewhere around a 23 minute 5 km, so I knew I had a good chance of achieving my target, as long as I didn’t fall off the cliff in the second half. With the exception of the drinks at 5 km, the middle section of the race, from roughly 4 km to 7 km merged into something of a blur: it was just a rhythm, eating up the miles. Somewhere around the 7 km mark though, my left foot started to hurt, on the inner arch. I wasn’t sure if I had something in my shoe, or whether it was rubbing: I contemplated pausing to take my shoe off and investigate, but I was worried about setting myself back, so I soldiered on. By 8 km, it was really starting to hurt, but I also knew there was no more than ten minutes of running left.
With a kilometre left, I tried to kick on a little, and I passed a few people, though I’m not sure if that was a case of me speeding up, or them struggling and slowing down! I pushed again when I reached the (upside down) “200 m to go” sign, and as I turned the corner to bring the finish into sight, the cheering of the crowd helped me to push on further. I knew by this point that my sub-50 time was in the bag, but I wanted to finish quickly, so I started to stretch my stride out more. Glancing behind me, I saw another runner catching me fast, and I pushed again into a flat sprint, managing to keep ahead of him to finish in 47 minutes and 23 seconds: easily a PB, and easily under 50 minutes.
After crossing the finish line, I then collided with the runner who had finished ahead of me, who had stopped only a couple of metres after the line (a pet peeve), but neither of us were hurt, and I retrieved a plastic cup of water and wandered away to see if I needed to throw up. I didn’t, quite.
In conclusion, the race achieved my 2013 target of running a sub-50 minute 10k. The blister was caused by my insole being out of place, and has faded down already. I don’t yet know if I’m going to have to replace the insoles/shoes/my feet. As to being a benchmark for my half-marathon training, I really don’t know how much I can take from this. Certainly, it has given me confidence, and I know that the miles I’m building up each week is strengthening my legs, which helped me in this race. But the battle of the half-marathon will be as much mental as physical.