Tapering did you say? Leicester half 2014!

2014-10-26 09.12.45I picked the Leicester half marathon as the transition, if you will, from marathon training proper to tapering and as a way to check how my training had gone, with all its interruptions and hiccups. I intended to run this as the training run I had scheduled for that day, i.e. a 1h 30′ progression run (ok, I never expected to run the half within 90′, but what’s an extra 10 ‘- 15’ between friends?)

It didn’t quite work out that way: the first 2.5km of the course were downhill and I let myself go a bit too much and for a bit too long: and to make matters worse, after about the 3k mark, I spotted a speed of Harriers (I’ll settle for that as the collective) in the distance who had started ahead of me in the race, so… I would be lying if I said that pacing considerations weren’t hampered by a desire to edge closer to them… After seeing their bright vests appear and then vanish again through the throng, I eventually caught up with them at around the mid point mark, but the impact of the faster-than-planned first half was showing, so any thoughts of still running this as a progression run and accelerating, and then upping the pace again 5k later went out the window!

In the event Chris and Andy were out for a relaxed race (I never would have made up the distance otherwise), so after staying with them for a bit, I eventually went past and – mindful of the uphill last mile (and the small business of the upcoming marathon) – I tried to take it relatively easy for the remaining 8km, not digging deeper than I had to and using whatever downhill to catch a breath.

I was impressed by Sarah though (who I occasionally called ‘Claire’ in the race for no apparent reason! Sorry!) who also detached herself from the speed of Harriers and stuck stubbornly to my shoulder! As the race went on we traded places a few times but she set off up the New Walk hill faster than I did, which I think is what made the difference in the end: For all my faults, I’m reasonably good at judging the pace up a hill (it should be slow!), so I had enough left for a push over the top and a decent 500m strong run to the finish.

Photo curtesy of Andy Ball

Harriers charging (after a fashion) up New Walk – photo curtesy of Andy Ball

Where I promptly folded in half and gasped for dear life, but that’s ok, that was on the other side of the finish line! 🙂 My (chip) time was 01:40:39 which is a PB with a decent margin, which I’m very pleased with, especially as I didn’t set out to blast this. So I don’t begrudge the 40”, I see it as an opportunity to break the 1:40:00 mark on another occassion.

What I’m less happy with is my lack of discipline at the start: something I will need to be more careful with in Athens. I could also tell the lack of strength and core training, I felt my abs and glutes complain a bit after the 18km, which isn’t great news with a full marathon coming up in less than two weeks’ time!

On the positive side, I did much better than I thought I would overall, I was pleased with my uphill running (ok, not the hilliest course in the world, by a margin, but the last 3km were all uphill, the New Walk mile in particular was the course’s sting in the tail) and with the fact that I still had enough in the tank for a very strong last 500m culminated by a final sprint.

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But the highlight of the day was once again being part of such a great running club! I arrived at Victoria Park alone (Demi was looking after guests at home), just one of over 3,000 runners, and within minutes I was in a huddle of Harriers keeping each other company till the starting gun. And it didn’t stop there: I already mentioned that the first half of the race was haunted by a vision of a speed of Harriers in the distance and the other half was ran just ahead or just behind Sarah. But the majority of the Harriers I saw were lining the streets offering very loud support, many of them were cycling or walking around the route to cheer us over and again! It makes a massive difference to our running, perceived suffering and enjoyment of the day!

And of course, once again congratulations go to the organisers, all volunteers and everyone involved with the race: I’ve run it two years in a row now and it’s becoming a favourite – especially the last stretch: yes, even the New Mile uphill but mostly the last few hundred meters along the tree lined Granville Road and across the finish line!

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After I had regained my breath (much to the relief of concerned spectators, who didn’t want their enjoyment of the day spoiled by a noisy fatality), the day kept getting better: Home for a quick shower and to join the guests I had been neglecting all morning (their fault really: I had offered them the opportunity to wake up at 6:30 on a Sunday to stand in a windswept park for a few hours but they – quite unreasonably – passed on it!) and then back to town for a runner’s very lengthy lunch in The Globe, followed by a relaxed afternoon watching footy, sipping autumnal ales and generally taking the sting out of Sunday evenings…

Dash and I

I don’t know about valets, but every man is a hero to his own dog! Photo curtesy of @Elemil

So, full speed ahead for Athens now! I’m really pleased I ran the half at the point I did: it gave me an idea of where I stand running-wise (I love the absurdity of this phrase, so I’ll keep it!), things I should watch out for and it reminded me that running is always different on a race-day. It also gave me a sense of confidence. Even if I’ll probably miss the target I had set myself when I started my training, I am still in the race. I’ve done all the long runs I’m going to do, I’ve balanced work etc. the best I could and have come through all the surprises, upsets and spells of self-doubt that past few months had to throw at me faster than I was this time last year, stronger and more self aware.

I’ve no idea what will happen in Athens (you can never take even finishing any race – let alone a marathon – for granted), but – all things considered – I’m happy with my prep. Bring it on!!!

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The day is getting closer…

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I’m reaching the business end of my marathon training plan, and I’ve got slightly mixed feelings: On the one I think I’ve done as well as I could with training consistency, considering all other planned and unplanned demands on my time since I started in July; with perhaps one exception (the long progression run last week which went terribly wrong), I feel I’ve been able to follow my plan and run the distances, paces, repetitions etc it included; I’ve have avoided injuries (he writes touching wood), and the few niggles I had at the beginning of my training seem to have gone.

On the other hand I still have missed more sessions than I’d like (crucially, including a couple of long runs in September), I have not been able to do much strength training or conditioning and I somehow can’t see myself completing the marathon in the time my plan is based on… I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the Athens route is quite hard, with a long hill from the 18th to the 31st km, so you have to pace it very carefully: Make the most of the relatively flat first 18k, but at the same time don’t set off too fast, and remember to keep enough in hand for the 13km long hill that follows. And if you are still strong at the 31st km, you can try to shave a few minutes off your time in the final 11km (gently downhill), but they will never be enough to allow you to run a negative split race. So you have to have a pretty good idea of your (realistic) target time and run the first 18k accordingly. And while I know I’ll be slower than what my plan says (less-than-perfect training and that bastard hill!), I’m yet to decide on my realistic target time.

That’s part of the reason why I joined the Leicester half, which is a local race which I enjoyed immensely last year and which this year falls on the first Sunday of my taper. I hope it will be a pleasant distraction from the training runs, give me an idea where I am fitness and training wise and – hopefully – boost my pre-race confidence a bit!

On other news, I got the letter informing me I didn’t make it through the ballot for London this year and, while I’d love to run for charity again, I don’t think that I can realistically commit to the pledges most charities ask for (most around the £2,000 mark), not with all my time already as stretched as it is with work and everything else…

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My original fall-back plan was to enter Paris (it’s two weeks before London and as my parents live there it would work out very nicely), but I think I’ll sleep on it… perhaps even see how Athens goes before signing up for the next one…

But that is all for another day – the priority today is to have a decent rest and then a decent long run tomorrow!