Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz“. A sound I have come to simultaneously dread and look forward to. That early morning alarm on the day of an event. Nerves were especially high for this one, the first time I’d pinned on a number since my Half Ironman last September. After such a physically and mentally challenging off-season I was grateful to finally be on the start line again. If you’d told me three months ago that I’d be in good enough to shape to run a Half Marathon let a lone a quick one my response would have been a deeply skeptical one.

Preparation in the preceding few weeks had gone surprisingly well. Minor foot injuries that had all but completely ruined my run training last year were no longer a problem. This newfound consistency had paid off when it came to my pace, slowly but surely increasing on my normal training routes. With that said the unknowns were still there. For fear of incurring an injury I hadn’t run any longer than 10k in training. To a certain extent therefore it was a matter of hoping for the best, specifically that my legs wouldn’t give up half way through the thing.

I had two goals in mind. First and foremost attempting to set a new personal best, having run a respectable 1:34 in this event a couple of years back this would provide a direct comparison. Secondly I set out to go sub 1:30, a very big ask but one that I hoped was just about achievable.  Having done very little training in the preceding week I was relieved that my legs felt relatively lively upon waking up. The usual routine followed.

  1. Get up ten minutes later than planned having hit the snooze button out of habit.
  2. Spend at least five minutes deliberating over kit choice despite having made a firm decision the night before.
  3. Wolf down the world’s largest bowl of porridge, washed down with a double espresso.
  4. Check my kit bag, realise I’ve forgotten something important – spend a couple of minutes frantically searching for it only to realise it was in the most obvious place possible.
  5. Set off – hopefully having half an idea of the way.
  6. Arrive. Very often (though not this time) struggle to find somewhere to park.
  7. Locate registration go and sign in. Hope the queue isn’t too long.
  8. Warm up if it’s one of the rare occasions where I’ve left enough time to do so.
  9. Attend race briefing – try to look as if I’m listening.
  10. Wait nervously on the start line until the flag drops.

When that flag does come down it’s usually a relief and certainly was on this occasion. Finally it was time to see what I was capable of. It was a simple strategy, run with the 1:30 pacer for as long as possible. Miles 1-4 went by very quickly, having run this course before I knew that wasn’t going to last long. Staying positive during long events is one of the most important skills I’ve learned over the years. In those first few miles it’s inevitable that the thought of what is still to come is a daunting one. My preferred strategy is to think only in terms of getting to the next mile maker, running one mile thirteen times sounds much easier than running thirteen miles.

At mile five my legs started to hurt. Those first signs of fatigue can creep up on you and easily get in the way of a good time if you’re not prepared for them. I did my best to distract myself, focusing exclusively on following the pacer in front and ignoring the pain in my legs and aching feet. It was at that point that I decided to sneak an energy gel, refuelling can provide just as much of a psychological boost as a physical one. Particularly as it just happened to be my very favourite flavour, raspberry ripple.

Three miles later things began to get serious. Up until this point the course had by enlarge been flat or very slightly downhill. If anything steep uphill gradients are more daunting on a run than on the bike, if you get the pacing wrong there is simply nowhere to hide – no easier gear you can switch into in order to give the legs a rest. Once again it was a matter of trusting that the pacer knew what he was doing, I had to put the ego away and reminded myself that my running experience is very limited in comparison to that which I have of Cycling. I simply wouldn’t have trusted myself not to try and attack the hill, blowing up before reaching the top.

I just about succeeded in staying with the pacer. I knew however at this point that I wasn’t going to get round in under 1:30, my legs were really starting to protest and every footstrike felt like a real effort. At mile ten I began to feel light headed, a surefire sign that at some point I was going to have to slow down. It’s at times like this that keeping your head in check is beyond crucial, there are a few strategies I’ve developed over the years. Today I went with a classic. Picturing myself crossing the finish line and in doing so saying a giant “f*ck you” to everyone who made fun of my un-athletic and overweight teenage self. I agree it’s not the healthiest of thoughts to draw strength from but sometimes you just have to go with what works.

As I’d predicted I lost touch with the pacer at the mile 11 mark. A stitch was the final straw and I had no choice but to stop running and catch my breath. It would have been easy to give up at that point but deep down I knew I had more to give. Gingerly I set off again, this time at a self-selected pace that I hoped I would mange to keep up for the remainder of the run. Those last two miles are a blur, in contrast to two years ago when I was able to really race them it was all I could do to keep going in a straight line. I tried to maintain an external focus to as greater extent as possible, picking out interesting objects in my surroundings to distract myself from the pain.

Crossing the finish line was a blessed relief. Overambitious pacing had come perilously close to ending my race. Everything I had to give was left out on the road. A time of 1:32 was a pleasant surprise, not quite what I’d wanted but still a new PB. I’d only experienced that level of fatigue once before, at the end of the weymouth Half Ironman. Its an achievement I’ll long be proud of despite finishing a lowly 116th out 1300 entrants.

A few hours later my legs are still aching, to tell the truth I haven’t been able to move from the sofa for the last hour and a half. Having now got over the “Never doing that again” feeling I’m busy thinking about how to train better so as to finally break 1:30. Onwards and upwards.

Thanks for reading.

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3 thoughts on “Shut up Feet

  1. Nice job, man. 1:32 is seriously cookin’!

    Try going for a ride after one of those tough runs. Pace doesn’t matter, fast, slow… cadence does, though. 85+ rpm. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you recover from the run. It’s truly amazing.

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