Exeter’s Great West Run: race report

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.
After completing the challenge of running my first half-marathon earlier this year at Silverstone, I knew I wanted to do an autumn half as well. Realistically, I had three choices: Cardiff, Bristol or the Great West Run. Cardiff and Bristol are both flat, fast courses, while the Great West, being in Exeter, is on the hilly side. I chatted to a few people, and after enjoying a few undulating 10k courses, decided to go for the Great West Run.
Oh my God, why?
Okay, okay, it wasn’t actually that bad.
Race vest: ready!
Much as with the Taunton 10k, I didn’t have the ideal preparation: two weeks before the race I spent pretty much the entire week off work sick, and the week directly preceding the race was a six-day week, with Friday and Saturday being taken up entirely with a stock-take. I know, woe is me! All that accounted for, I didn’t feel too bad on the Sunday morning. I had spent the previous evening preparing my race kit: club kit with number attached, some food, drink and warm clothing, nothing too complicated. A 6:30 alarm was a little earlier than usual for a Sunday, but not too bad – especially as my 1-year-old daughter woke us up at 6:20 teething anyway!
Breakfast: Porridge and a glass of water, and by five past 7 I was heading out of the door. Travel and parking passed without any trouble, and I was glad to have parked in a legal place, as walking back to my car afterwards I passed plenty of cars with fixed penalty notices on them. A short walk got me to the race village, where I met up with a friend from Twitter, Matt (@MattUpston) and discussed some race strategy: he knew the course pretty well, and I was happy to take on all the local knowledge that I could!
Heading over to the start, I met up with Al, who I often run with at parkrun: we tend to finish around the same point. I probably have a slight edge at 5k, but he’d run a 1:38 half-marathon earlier in the year, so I knew if he was in that sort of form I wouldn’t have a chance of keeping up! That said, we had decided to head out at around 1:45 pace, i.e. 8-minute-miles, and then see how it felt.
As you can see, we didn’t really stick to that plan. The first mile was downhill, so running a quicker time along that wasn’t an issue, and actually it felt good. After that we settled into a slightly slower pace, and although it might not meet the official definition of “conversational pace”, we did (perhaps stupidly) proceed to have a conversation for more or less the first seven miles of the race. This did get us a few odd looks: apparently chatting is frowned upon at that pace.
Splits courtesy of Strava!
I struggled with the Little Miracles energy drink, which was at seven miles: it was sweet and sickly, and with the lid removed, the hole to drink from was the size of a milk bottle top! I took two gulps, accidentally spilling it all over my top, and then gave up on it.
There had been a few ups and downs during the first half of the race, but with the exception of a couple of sharp hill at around the three mile mark, they had been pretty friendly. This changed as we approached eight miles. This hill I already knew about: around 150 feet up towards the university. My wife studied at Exeter, so I had plenty of experience of this part of the course, and while that didn’t help physically, it was nice to know what I was facing. It was especially nice to know that after reaching the university entrance, the road drops and then climbs again, something that had a few other runners around me cursing.
I think it’s fair to say that at this point Al and I both felt we were holding the other back, but amazingly we had managed to hold our pace at around 7:40. Strava suggests this was a “grade adjusted pace” of 7:19 and 7:09, and that might have contributed to my later struggles. Despite being a warm morning, from around this point I started to feel quite cold; the hairs on my arms stood up and I shivered a few times. I knew this was likely due to a fuelling failure of some kind: whether I didn’t have enough sugar, water, or just energy I don’t know, but it clearly wasn’t a good sign. I opted for the not-very-sensible tactic of ignoring the chills and continuing along with Al.
I started to really struggle over the next two miles: I was shocked when I looked at my splits after the race and discovered that they remained around the 7:40 mark. I had been warned that the out-and-back leg along Pinhoe Road was hilly, but I had relegated it to “undulating” in my head. I managed to keep running the whole of the out leg, but as we climbed back up a hill approaching 12 miles, I told Al to head on, and dropped to a walk. After about 20-30 seconds, and spurred on by a passing runner, I started running again, but dropped down to a walk twice more over the next half mile. Another runner, whose top announced him as Paul, also walked bits, and we geed each other along for a while. Amazingly during all of this, I managed to keep Al in sight, and after taking on some water I thought I might be able to chase him back down before the finish.
I didn’t manage it: he kicked on for the final sprint after the 13 mile marker, and although I did similar, I didn’t have enough to close him down. For the first time at the end of a race, I threw up within a few steps, but thankfully after sipping at the offered water, I was feeling pretty okay again within a couple of minutes. I obviously looked in a bit of trouble, as one of the marshals at the end hovered over me, asking if I was okay, and if I needed a medic. Thankfully it didn’t come to that!
My time was 1:41;52, just five seconds behind Al in the end, and over ten minutes quicker than my only previous half-marathon attempt. I had mixed feelings at the end, the massive PB was obviously great, but I’d been quietly hoping for a sub-1:40 time, which I’d been on track for until those final couple of miles. That said, it was a hilly course, and I’d clearly messed up with my preparation somehow, so I was glad that having ignored my chills, I hadn’t ended up in an ambulance.
I’d like to experiment with gels before my next half, as that might provide a decent alternative to relying on race-provided energy drinks during a race. Similarly, a slightly shorter and less stressful working week leading up to the race would be nice! This morning, looking back, I’m really happy with my time on that course.
Have you ever had the chills during a race, even when it wasn’t cold?
How do you fuel before and during a half marathon?

One thought on “Exeter’s Great West Run: race report

  1. Pingback: Tin Tin Ten (2015): race report | Running in Series

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