Partly due to not running in the first half of the year, partly due to bad organisation, and mostly just due to bad luck, I ended up with three races scheduled in five weeks. The first, the Two Tunnels half marathon, I’d signed up for when it had become clear that I wasn’t going to be able to run the Bath half due to my knee injury. I’d seen some talk about it on Twitter, and a couple of blog posts about it, and it looked like a good race. The one downside was that it clearly wasn’t a PB course. As I felt I had a fair chance at getting a decent new PB in the autumn, this meant I had to find another race. I went through a few options, near and far, but the one that I kept coming back to was the Burnham half. It was pancake flat, apart from a couple of small railway bridges, and only half an hour away from home. It was cheap, and crucially, it wouldn’t sell out, so I could sign up on the day. After losing a fair bit on money on races I’d signed up for in the spring, and then not been able to run, I liked the idea of not having to commit too early!
Of course, the downside was that it was only two weeks after the Two Tunnels. This was compounded by the fact that I then signed up for the Exmoor Stagger, which was two weeks after Burnham. Prior to September 2015, I’d only run 13 miles or more twice. By the end of October 2015, all being well, I’d have done it five times. Gulp. Still, I had a plan – I wouldn’t push too hard at the Two Tunnels, but use it to try and gauge my pace to give me a better idea of a target time for Burnham. I’d then push as hard as I could at Burnham, and then Exmoor would just be a case of finishing, irrespective of pace.
In the lead up to Burnham, the plan seemed to be having mixed results. We went on holiday at the start of September, which disrupted my training a little bit, and I essentially started to taper a week too early for the Two Tunnels; particularly as I hadn’t intended to really taper for that race much at all. The Two Tunnels went well, much better than expected in fact, but I was unsure whether that showed that I’d got quite a bit quicker, or that I’d pushed too hard. I’d done some reasearch which suggested that after a race, it took one day per mile to recover. So a 13.5 mile race would take 13.5 days. I had a 14 day gap, so that did seem to be pushing things a bit tight, but hey, what could I do now?! One side effect of piling these races together was some uncertainty over what training I should be doing in between. Some suggested that I wouldn’t lose any fitness, so it wasn’t necessary to run at all, while others thought that I needed to keep ticking decent mileage over to keep my legs loose. I ended up just doing a couple of runs; a gentle parkrun on the Saturday after the Two Tunnels, and then a 10k run with my club the following Wednesday, albeit dropping down a pace group.
The night before I spent a while fiddling around with pace ideas, working out what I thought I should target, whether I should aim to run negative/positive/even splits. Mostly, I was nervous. I ended up printing off and laminating a pace band for 1:38:00. I figured that I’d gone through 13.1 miles at the Two Tunnels in just over 1:40, so cutting another two minutes off that seemed reasonable; I could always judge how things were going at five miles and either pick up the pace or slow down a bit. My main aim was to get under the 1:40 mark, and get my time into double digits (1:40 being 100 minutes). As it turned out, this was all to be wasted time. On the morning I left reasonably early, though given it was an 11:00 start, and it was only half an hour away, this was still perfectly sociable. I arrived shortly before 10, and by ten past, I had signed up, got my number, filled my number out, attached it to my race top, and was sat in my car wondering why I’d turned up so early.
The Burnham half is another race in the Somerset Series, and it wasn’t long before I started to see plenty of familiar faces. Eventually, I emerged from my car to run a short warm-up; it wasn’t anything too intense, about one kilometre, with some high knees, bum flicks, crabbing, that sort of thing. Midway through I saw Clive, one of the few other club members to run regularly in the Somerset Series, and we had a bit of a natter about expected finish times and the sort. He (somewhat optimistically) predicted that this would be the race when I’d finally beat him, but I wasn’t convinced!
My plan at the start was to make sure I didn’t end up running with Clive: he tends to start quicker than I do, and I end up pushing myself too hard, too early. But typically I found myself stood right behind Clive behind the start line! Thankfully, although I did still start too quickly, I kept my pace reined in slightly, and by the end of the first mile, I’d settled at the right pace. Almost the entire course is on open roads, with the exception of the start and finish area, and while most were small quiet roads, the first couple of miles involved running on one of the main roads in and out of Burnham. Thankfully, as the race was being shepherded by a lead car, the queue of cars going alongside us were crawling along barely quicker than us (presumably at around the pace of the lead runner). It was slightly intimidating, but everyone, runners and drivers alike, was sensible so it passed okay. We then turned off that road, left onto a stretch of pavement, and then left again into the backlanes, by which stage we were around two-and-a-half miles into the race.
With the exception of mile one, I maintained an extremely consistent pace for the first eight miles, which was aided by the flatness of the course. My fastest and slowest miles during this stretch were only four seconds different! There really isn’t much to say about this stretch. Towards the end of it, a small group of four of us had formed, but in the ninth mile the chap who had been heading us started to dramatically vary his speed; he would stretch off the front, and then drop his pace right back again. As I moved to pass him, he would then speed back up. It was pretty infuriating, but then at around the nine mile mark his pace seemed to drop off completely, and I passed him and eased away ahead. I can only assume that he was struggling and trying to keep pace with me, otherwise it was just a really odd race tactic! My own pace started to trail off around this stage too, although less dramatically. Miles two to eight had been around 7:18 min/mile, while mile nine and ten dropped to 7:25. From the nine mile marker, the course ran alongside Berrow Sands, and for pretty much two miles it was one long stretch of road, which was pretty demoralising at that stage of the race.
On the bright side, the end of that stretch, eleven miles in, brought us back to the edge of civilisation, and the realisation that there wasn’t too much further to go. Unfortunately, my body was starting to remind me that I’d run a half marathon two weeks ago. My legs were really starting to tire, and it was becoming a struggle to maintain a reasonable pace. In all honesty, it felt like at this stage, I was crawling along. In reality, miles eleven and twelve were 7:31, only thirteen seconds slower than the early stages, and even mile thirteen, in which I thought my legs might fall off, was 7:41. A couple of people passed me in those final couple of miles, but all I could do was mentally congratulate them on having more left in the tank than I did, and let them go; I had nothing left to try and keep up, though maybe it was enough motivation to stop my pace really dropping off. We turned back into the sports centre grounds, and I really didn’t feel like I had anything left to give for a quick finish, but looking at my Strava details, I clearly had a bit, as I slipped under 7 minute/mile pace for that final 0.1.
My time was 1:36:37; offically a PB by around five minutes, though in reality only around three minutes quicker than I’d completed the distance at the Two Tunnels. Only! I’m extremely chuffed with the time; it was a good course to run a fast time, but I hadn’t realised I had that pace in me. I could maybe have run it a little bit quicker without the Two Tunnels race a couple of weeks earlier, but then I might not have been mentally prepared for that pace. Who knows?
We received, not a medal, but a running shoe “trophy”, which was quite a nice variation, though I have no idea where I’ll keep it! My left shin/knee (it was hard to tell) and my right ankle were both troubling me in the final couple of miles, and continued to for the following day or so, but subsided shortly after that. How would I rate the race? It depends. If you’re a confident runner and want a fast time, this is an ideal course; it genuinely is completely flat, with two small railway bridges the only minor exception. Mentally, that can be a little difficult; there are no hills to break-up the monotony of the distance, and the scenery isn’t that brilliant either (and being a foggy day, this was only extenuated). There is little to no real support around the course; a couple of the locals stood at the end of their gardens, but not many, and those people that had come to support their friends apparently didn’t want to bother to extend their support to the other runners, which was disappointing. Still, from my point of view, I wanted a fast race, and that’s what I got. I wouldn’t recommend this as a first half-marathon for someone, as the monotony and lack of support would probably be hard to deal with.
As usual, by late afternoon I had a splitting headache. I get these after almost all of my races, and I don’t know entirely why. Mostly everything says it’s dehydration, but there are times I’ve drank gallons and it still seems to happen. I just accept it as a “race hangover” now, but if anyone has any suggestions, they’d be greatly appreciated!