I’d taken Friday afternoon off work originally intending to use it for a long run. But my cake selling efforts had rather taken it out of me and I really didn’t feel like doing a long run. As I’m usually just twitching to get training, when I feel a bit tired, I do tend to listen to myself and slack off a bit.
After a chat with Kathryn – star baker and fellow runner at work – I decided I would still get out and run, but maybe 6 miles at target race pace, rather than the 12 I’d earmarked for a long run and I still had a long weekend to get the miles in. The rain was lashing down as I drove home, passing another supportive running colleague, heading back to work, soaked through but running strong. It was all the inspiration I needed to get out there.
Damp, grey and drizzly, I set out on my familiar coastal route, paying attention to the pace and trying to stick to 9 minute miles. I struggled at first to find my groove, but as I settled into a rhythm I let my thoughts wander, thinking of the first time I ran 10k on this route at a time when I was angry and needed a sense of release. Of being overjoyed when we hit a certain landmark on the return leg, absolutely knowing that without fail I could do this. And then grinning from ear to ear when we finished.
That confidence, that certainty has come and gone many times between now and then. But I’ve never really looked back from that first significant run that took me with confidence into my first race. That also lead me to thinking of other friends and Fetchies I’ve run with and all the good times I’ve had training and racing.
Still my 6 miles weren’t easy, and a couple of them I dropped off the pace, but I picked it up when I could and towards the end really pushed for the finish in a bid to get a sub 2 hour half marathon prediction on Fetch. I didn’t quite make that, but I enjoyed the run, and the bath and the stretch afterwards. It makes such a difference when I run and don’t have deadlines to meet.
So now I had the option of long running Saturday or Sunday. I was still undecided as I turned up to volunteer at a soggy Newcastle parkrun. It was great to catch up with some of my parkrun buddies including Rob, Sue, Penny and the newly married Mark and Davina.
We had some challenging conditions on the moor. Lots of muddy legs and some soggy barcodes that wouldn’t scan. I hope the paper registration is legible among the raindrops. At the start of the race I was fired up thinking I’d get my long run in, but by the end, getting chilly in the rain, I wasn’t so sure. But Kathryn had turned up and we had a bit of a chat and I said I was thinking of doing some of the Great North Run route. I think she convinced me to get it done today, so it was out of the way.
So I came home, got changed and drove out to the other coast, parking up near the end of the Great North Run route with a plan of running to the Lindisfarne roundabout and back (about 9 miles) and adding a couple more on at the end to take me up to 12 miles and my longest run before race day.
It was grey and damp, but the rain had stopped and it wasn’t cold. Perfect running weather. I set out in the aim of 9:15 min miles. For once, I settled quite quickly. The little aches from yesterday’s run eased out or forgotten and my mind nicely calmed by the long straight strip of road ahead.
Beep – the Garmin showed 09:13 for the first mile. That’ll do nicely. Up the steep bank was a bit of a pull but I dug in and kept going. A couple of roads to negotiate, but nothing to really hold me up. 09:20 for the second mile – good. I dodged the shoppers and street furniture around the Nook and kept on going.
When I checked my pace, just about every mile and occasionally in-between, I noticed it starting to creep into 9min/mile territory. But it felt good. Easier than it had on the previous day. So I told myself to keep it going. it would be good to get some race pace miles in the middle of the run and I could always ease back if I needed to. And I knew when I turned round all the downhill stretches would be up. But I was unlikely to get better conditions to run in.
I’d hoped to get at least 4.5 miles from the run back to the Lindisfarne roundabout and Gerty Garmin beeped 5 just as I got there. So I knew I had to get at least 10 in to get back to my car. A bite of dried mango at the turnaround point and back the way I came, ready to tackle the John Reid Road the right way around this time.
And yes, there’s a long rise, and another one. But I picked my feet up, shortened my stride and kept moving, putting in a little more effort when it was needed. Up to mile 6 and I was starting to feel it, so took another bite of mango and told myself that this really was the half way point and I wasn’t going to drift off at 10. I really wasn’t fretting over the pace. I was running well, in the zone. Not easy, but not too hard. Just rhythmical. One foot in front of the other.
Mile 7 to 8 felt tougher. I planned my fuelling strategy – bites of mango at 8 miles and 10. Another dodge through the shoppers and the worst part of the course was behind me. Onto Prince Edward Road and the usual welcome shelter of the trees and happy memories of the good folks out with their trestle tables and cups of water for thirsty runners.
Down the steep bank and feeling it pull on my stomach, leaning into the run and picking up some speed. Then turning onto the seafront, empty today, for a long straight mile. The adrenaline kicked in and a little voice said “You’re running well. What if you do it today? What if you go for sub 2?”.
I told it to be quiet. That wasn’t the plan. I’d already gone a bit faster than planned and would probably pay for it. I’d rather do the 12 miles I planned than push for a time and crash out at 10. It was a sensible conversation and shortly afterwards I was glad I’d had it as my legs began to ache, calves tightening and hips churning.
But I had faith my run would come back to me. This was just a blip. Passing my car I was pleased I’d accurately plotted out a 10 mile route and had another bite of mango. Just a mile out and a mile back now. I could do that.
Ease into cruise control, just keep on moving. But there was a gorgeous downhill as I headed for the roundabout near Gypsies green and I picked up the pace again. I’m going to have to run back up that in the last mile, I thought. But at the same time the little adrenaline beastie said – you could make it a mile and a half out to make it 13…
I tamed the beastie and stuck to the plan, turning around at the signs for Sandhaven beach. And oh yes, that last mile. That last pull back up the incline wrenched at my calves and sent stabbing pains through my shoulder. But I don’t care about pace now. I just have to finish this. Keep going. Pain is temporary, glory is forever. This is going to be a wonderful run.
Once back on the flat I stretch out again. The end is in sight and I can’t help it. I start picking mental landmarks for the finish line – a lamppost, a bus stop. And recklessly, foolishly, I pick up the pace again, imagining that glorious final mile on race day, borne along by the crowd. When the Garmin bleeps I stop and stop the watch. It feels like I’ve been running for hours.
01:48:xx Even in my run befuddled state I can work out that that gives me more than 10 minutes to run 1.1 miles to go for that cherished sub 2 hour half marathon. So I start the clock again and I run.
And I’m sorry, really sorry to anyone reading this thinking ‘I wish I could just throw together a 10 minute mile so lightly’. I have been there. I remember that. I haven’t always been able to do this. I still read other blogs and think ‘I wish I could run 7 min miles, or just find a sub 4 min kilometre at the end of a race’. Believe me, I do. And one day, if you really want to, you will get there. But right now, for me, a 10 minute mile shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
So what a glorious feeling. To be running, further than I planned, and faster than I’d hoped for. Knowing that if I could just keep going at a relatively easy pace, I would achieve a target I’ve been chasing ever since I first got serious about running a half marathon.
As Gerty beeped 13 I was grinning. I didn’t launch into a semi-sprint as I had when I was stopping at 12, instead I just kept my eyes on the numbers until they said 13.1 miles and 01:58:58
And I know it doesn’t really count because it’s not an official race. And I stopped and started again. And once, on a road crossing, the auto pause kicked in on the Garmin. But I don’t care. It’s good enough for me. Good enough to give me all the confidence I could ask for ahead of my next target race.
Recently I’ve had some comments on my performance in training from runners who I admire and people I trust. Not the kind of people who say ‘Well done’ to make you feel better, but who say it when it’s deserved. That’s given me a massive amount of confidence.
And success breeds success. I’ve already achieved far more this year than I set out to do. I’ve had a blast at my triathlons, surprised myself with my performances and pulled a couple of PBs out of the bag. And I think I’ve got better at managing my competitive spirit with the need to relax and enjoy and mix things up occasionally.
So I just need to do it all over again in 3 weeks time on a course full of great runners, dodging the water bottles, the fancy dress costumes and coping with the crowds and the adrenaline – never mind what the weather might do.
Have I peaked too soon? Maybe. I’ve been here before, well prepared and in fine form only to be hit by a cold and have my legs fall off to leave me running a 10:30 minute mile somewhere between Fetchpoint and the finish.
But I’ve never run a sub 2 hour half in training before. And now I’ve done it, I know I can. I’m just looking at that sentence and I still can’t quite take it in. I just did it. I just achieved something I’ve been chasing for a long time. Wow! That feels good
Stats and stuff:
13.1 miles 01:58:58
1) – 1m – 9:14(9:14/m) – 102cal
2) – 1m – 9:21(9:21/m) – 103cal
3) – 1m – 8:56(8:56/m) – 104cal
4) – 1m – 8:57(8:57/m) – 105cal
5) – 1m – 8:43(8:43/m) – 103cal
6) – 1m – 9:14(9:14/m) – 102cal
7) – 1m – 8:57(8:57/m) – 104cal
8) – 1m – 9:11(9:11/m) – 103cal
9) – 1m – 8:56(8:56/m) – 105cal
10) – 1m – 9:06(9:06/m) – 104cal
11) – 1m – 8:58(8:58/m) – 104cal
12) – 1m – 9:10(9:10/m) – 105cal
13) – 1m – 9:26(9:26/m) – 103cal
14) – 0.1m – 50(8:09/m) – 10cal