Endurance Skating

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Race Report: Hampton Court Half-Marathon – 21.02.2016


I almost didn’t write this race report — not because it was a horrible experience or anything (quite the opposite, in fact) but because in hindsight I’m disappointed that I approached it all so nonchalantly.

Make no mistake, the half-marathon is an utterly evil, cruel and horrible distance. I don’t know whether I love it or hate it – at this point I think the latter.

Raced hard, it’s short enough that you are operating very close, and occasionally above that crucial threshold where you can feel the lactate accumulating in your bloodstream as you gasp for breath while desperately trying to keep your legs from completely buckling under you… but it is also far longer than most training runs, and can seem like the longest most difficult 13.1 miles of your banal existence as a non-elite runner.

For the full marathon you need to hold yourself back and so don’t really start working until you reach half way, and even then it’s a very slow windup in as you move deeper into the back half. Not so with the half-marathon, where you hammer it from the first mile to the last. It is a completely different race, and a completely different approach is needed.

Do As I Say Not As I Do…

I believe in and write about belt-and-braces approach to training and racing if improvement and setting PRs is important to you. Training correctly, recovering well, paying attention to diet, sleep & stress all make for a healthier, fitter and faster athlete. But sometimes I need to pay much more attention to the smaller details that can make or break your race. Let me explain…

A combination of not tapering, too much wine the previous evening, and not enough sleep had me already on the back foot, but these alone were not enough to kill my spirits as I lept out of bed on race morning.

However, from there it quickly went further downhill (and also uphill) as I had underestimated the distance and undulations that lay on my cycle from Wimbledon to Hampton Court. cycling into a race is not something that many people do, but I find it a nice warm up, provided you take it at a leisurely pace.

In typical style, I also hadn’t really bothered to check the finer details of the race and just assumed that there would be loads of runners all making their way to the startpoint that I could follow. However this proved not really to be the case, so a little extra faffing was involved. All this meant I was late, and it bothered me. The fact it was entirely my fault bothered me even more. At one point I was seriously contemplating just turning around and going back home. But after a stern talking to myself, I decided that I would go ahead and do the race come hell or high water, even if it meant starting 20 minutes after everyone else.

Fortunately I was able to flag down a few water-station assistants who were able to point me in the direction of Race HQ.  I was running late, but as I arrived, I saw that plenty of others were also arriving late, so at least I wouldn’t be alone. Quickly parking my bike and pinning my race number on, the PA announcement came that the start had been delayed by 15 minutes. It was a lucky stay of execution that I didn’t really deserve at all, which helped to calm my nerves!

Already slightly frazzled from my cycling/navigating travails, I quickly slung my stuff into the bag drop, stopped off for a pee break, and then advanced to the start line, ready to race. The Hampton Court Half-marathon is a considerably bigger race than I am used to, with a good 3000+ runners, and to my delight I saw that there were official pacers! I quickly picked out the 1h:40m pace group in the hope that I could hang onto their coat-tails. This was a departure from my usual preference of starting further back amongst slower runners and then gradually working my way past a good chunk of the field during the race. My half-marathon PR is 1:39:40, but all things considered I wasn’t at all confident of lowering that mark today.

As I gave my laces one final reknotting, I couldn’t help notice something that everyone else had, and that I did not – a small, perfectly formed timing chip neatly tied up in their fucking shoelace. Great. Didn’t even think of that. Did I get one in the post? Did I not realise and throw it away with the envelope? Did I file it just leave it in the letter holder back at home? Frankly, I had no idea, and no chance of rectifying the situation at this stage. So with no chip time, the record will show that I was an official DNS in this race… hahha… I laughed to myself (it was laugh or cry), but needless to say that had it been an A-race then I would NOT have been as relaxed about it all. Chalk that one down to experience… So far, so not-by-the-book. Nevermind – let’s run!



Sadly not, in this case.

The run itself was one of those that you know you are dicing right on the limits of your capabilities. This was a 10/10ths effort, and even if it was officially a DNS, I would still have, erm, a Strava log — hey, these days it only count if it’s on Strava, right?

I was having trouble staying with the 1:40 group, and was sure that the pacer was probably a couple of minutes ahead of their advertised finish time. For the entire first 10km I was unable to get on the back of the pace group, with them consistently about 100 meters up the road. Even on feel alone, I was pretty sure that the pace group was a few minutes ahead of projection. My heart rate monitor was showing some horrifyingly high numbers at 178-182bpm all the way around. Whichever mile I was at, and however miles were left, I was convinced that there was no way I could hold this pace until the end.

Gradually, however, at some point beyond the half-way mark, I very slowly found myself reeling the (thinning) group in and then moving onto the shoulder of the pacesetter. I was happy to stick with him for the next mile.  Was I going faster? Or had the pace group slowed a touch? I think probably the latter. I knew the pacesetter would keep going steadily, and if I could then eke out a small gap I would be on course to do well.  

And so in the last 3rd of the race I went for it – it’s too easy to make a pact with yourself and say that you’ll take it just a touch easier at some point before the finish line. Today I dug deep, and concentrated just on running, putting the pain inside a box marked “open after finish”.

As the miles ticked down..3 to go..2 to go.. final mile… I reflected the transformation that one goes through during an all-out race effort – the initial though in the first mile of “way too fast.. I will be slowing down very soon at this rate..” through to the final mile’s “I have absolutely no idea how I pushed that hard all the way.” It is always the same when you are chasing a personal record. Setting PRs always requires that you go to the well, and they bloody well hurt.

Into the last mile and running round the final few bends, My HRM was showing >180bpm, and I could also hear the 1:40 pace-setter behind me shouting out encouragement to the runners who were still gamely clinging on. I had not really been able to gap him as hoped, and he was probably no more than 30 seconds behind. Finally the finish line arrived. I was satisfied with how hard I had pushed, but not quite sure how well I had done.

PR. Bleh.

Luckily Strava confirms what I hoped and thought – that I had indeed run well and faster than I had ever previously managed – a 1:37:50 half-marathon effort, shaving 1m50s from my previous PR. As a bonus I also managed a 10km PR time of 45:55 in the same race – Result! Although it’s not really a priority, one of my targets is to run a sub-45 minute 10k, and I think I could now be at a level to do that.  My heart-rate averaged 179bpm (89-90% HRmax) which was the same as when I ran my previous PR a year earlier, confirming that that is right where my cardiovascular limits lay for me over this distance.

I’m not going to lie – it bloody hurt. As I said, half-marathons are utterly horrible, and at this stage of my amateur sporting career I feel that only if all the stars align in training AND race-day, lowering your PR by 1-2% a year is realistic. That’s just the reality of being a mid-pack runner. I certainly learnt a lot – mainly, don’t be such a flipping idiot in your race prep.

So in summary, I think I did everything right in training, everything wrong in race-day preparation, and then everything right in race execution. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, y’know.




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This entry was posted on February 26, 2016 by in Half Marathon, Race Report, Running and tagged , , , .

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