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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Leicester Big 10k

What a wonderful weekend this was! Leicestershire, as most of Britain, was basking in a lovely summer and we spent it lying by the gym’s outdoor pool, trying new recipes from our low carb recipe book (aubergine-wrapped lamb meatballs anyone?) and of course running ourselves to the verge of heat exhaustion on Sunday morning! Beautiful!

As I signalled in a previous post, the Leicester Big 10k marked the end of my Spring’s proper running, and now I am on a compulsory (but very welcome) holiday as the next big event is our wedding in Greece! It’s also a good opportunity to rest, do some cross training and wander the trails of the National Forest without worrying about specific sessions or interval durations.

It was the second year running that Demi and I ran this race and it has most definitely become one of my favourite races! Abbey Park in spring is a magnificent venue for it and, while the course is made up of two small and two larger loops, the organisers have designed it in a way so as not to be tedious or monotonous at all (in fact in 2014 there were some tweaks to last year’s course that helped further in that respect). Instead they have taken advantage of the park’s may pathways to come up with a very beautiful and flat course that crosses the river Soar six times (of which twice in the park itself) and includes two straights by the Grand Union Canal.

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Speaking about the organisers, the organisation by Tempo Events last year had set our expectations for the day high, but they still managed to impress us: The marshalling was excellent with a lot of support for the runners and – despite the meandering route – there was never the least ambiguity as to the route; there was a water station at the end of the first lap giving out small bottles of water (rather than silly cups) and the design of the route meant we passed it twice (an absolute godsend on such a hot day). I took regular sips and poured a lot on my head to keep cool, but there was still water left in the bottle by the time I passed the station on the second lap.  It’s also worth noting that when we eventually left the park after the last runner had finished, there were still plenty of cases of water left at the station, which means they had allowed for a more than sufficient amount (we tend to take these things for granted, but of course there is always plenty that could go wrong – and sometimes does!).

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There was  a manned laptop just past the finish line where runners could check their provisional results on the spot (which we felt was a nice touch), a left baggage area, the ladies giving out t-shirts and goodies were very happy to exchange them for a different size, official results and photos were really online by Sunday evening (something that’s always promised, but rarely done!) and there was a general air of relaxed competence about the whole affair (e.g. the start was delayed by only a few minutes, but this was to allow for the last portaloo users to make their way to the starting line, which we felt was fair enough). On the subject of race photos, I will order mine on Friday and update this post to include a couple of them after that. So overall very impressed with Tempo Events and their associates (Yourraceday.co.uk were the race photographers,  Rainbows the charity partner who provided many volunteers and the whole event was sponsored by Western Power Distribution) and I will definitely look out for more of their races (the Whale Ale Relay sounds good)!

As we were lining up for the start I took a place closer to the back, which turned out to be a mistake: I don’t usually mind starting to the back of the field, as this means that I avoid getting drawn into setting off at a faster pace by faster – or too eager – runners, and from a morale point of view it’s always better to be going through the field than having runners stream past you… I know there is a penalty in terms of gun position (i.e. someone running at the same or marginally slower pace as me but starting further up the field will finish ahead of me), but this is something I am willing to accept as I am nowhere near the prize-giving positions for it to make a difference and my performance in the county running league and the club Grand Prix is affected more by the races I do not run than the few positions I lose by starting further back…

On this occasion however there were so many runners starting ahead of me that despite the first couple of kilometers being run on the widest park paths, I could not find a quick way past them, which meant that at the end of the first kilometer I was 18” behind my race plan; by the end of the second I was 33” behind and there was still a crowd ahead approaching the narrow bridge. This wasn’t a race I was particularly desperate to do well in so I decided to run it at a tempo pace instead, enjoying the route, the sense of occasion and protecting my knee that had given me a bit of a scare the day before. It was still a hard one in that heat, even if I ran 1:41′ slower than my PB.

I finished, collected my t-shirt and set off back along the route to meet up with Demi, who would be a few minutes behind. She hadn’t seemed too optimistic before the race as she had missed too many training sessions trying to organise the wedding essentials (I often wonder about that girl’s sense of priorities!), and I was worried that the heat would prove a bit too much for her. I met her at the point where the route turned to follow the canal for the second time, with just over a kilometer to go. She looked tired, hot but determined. Running with her I began to realise that her pace was steady and she was catching up and passing the runners on the path ahead: she continued to run strongly, picking up the pace significantly for the last 500m and continuing to overtake runners all the way to the finish line! In the end she finished in 1h 03′ 54”, beating her PB by just under 3′! We may make a racer of her yet! 😉

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We stayed in the park for a while after the race finished, recovering in the sunshine, soaking up the atmosphere and taking the traditional selfies before heading back to our gym’s outdoor pool for some well deserved rest!

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The only regret of the day was that we didn’t visit the very interesting-looking catering tent, but that is something we will definitely have in mind next year…

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And so the summer holidays begin and with them a whole new set of adventures… Proper training will resume in July, but in the mean time I will keep running – and posting.