Cambridge Half Marathon; 5th March; 33rd place; 1:16:56.
A fairly pleasing time given the atrocious conditions all runners (and marshals and spectators) faced; putting the conditions aside it remains a brilliant event – the route is really well thought out for runners and spectators alike, on good surfaces (apart from a few greasy cobbled sections yesterday) and flat with oodles of PB potential. OSB do a great job organising the event, the support is great and I love how many people, particularly the huge numbers of Pacers but many others too, head west along the A14 from Bury to take part. You see familiar faces before, during and afterwards and you get shouts of ‘c’mon Pacers’ from people you don’t even recognise. It all makes a difference and makes the atmosphere so much better. The weather was about as bad as it can get for runners with a combination of strong gusty winds, rain and cold temperatures but the course is fast and knowing the course is your friend is a great help going into and during the race. Given yesterday’s conditions, a good 1 - 1½ minutes could be deducted for more friendly/normal conditions which is pleasing as I felt I was in mid-75 minutes shape and is hopefully encouraging to all those who set PBs yesterday.
It was also another really useful learning experience without a watch. A few people have asked me about running without a watch and it’s actually given me a lot more confidence in myself when racing and training as I know my body and when to push a lot better than I did before. It’s taken a lot of long runs to get to this point and I do still use other indicators during a race to help me. Going into yesterday’s race, I’d done my usual homework on previous Cambridge Half results and so was expecting roughly a top 30 position and so I had this in mind during the first few miles and based on my estimation of those ahead as we reached the halfway mark, I knew I was in the right place and recognising some of the C&C runners and others from our region, I took confidence from being in their company as the miles ticked by. I could also feel it was the ideal pace I was aiming for, quick enough to be holding my own against those others near me but not too quick that I didn’t feel able to sustain it. My response to the weather conditions was also a positive indicator: in the past I have struggled in a headwind or gusty strong winds but I felt strong during those moments yesterday – getting my arms to do some of the work at those moments and it was reassuring that the work I do in the gym two or three times each week on my arms, core and thighs is helping. My homework in advance also consisted of recceing the course and studying the route map so I knew where I would try and up the pace and where I would take my gels – at miles 6 and 10 (I prefer to carry my own so I know my plan is guaranteed, rather than depend on the vagaries of water/gel stations). Most crucially of all though in relation to running without a watch, I can now spot the signs when I start to slow or my legs start feeling fatigued and my mental strength has improved to the extent that I react to those signs by upping the pace and basically fight back. To me distance running isn’t about pain, it’s about fatigue management – overcoming tiredness to keep a sufficiently quick pace. This specific issue is what has cost me in my marathons to date and is the area I have worked on more than any other so that when that moment comes in London, most probably around 21/22 miles based on previous experiences, it won’t be unexpected and I will fight back rather than succumb.
The other factor which has given me confidence is that during my current marathon training programme, my absolute number one priority is the long run – the number of long runs I am getting in around the 18 – 20 mile+ distance. This makes half marathons seem like a very manageable distance in my mind and my legs. Running for less than 80 minutes no longer holds any dread but actually feels a relatively short outing and it is a huge lift on a personal level to have reached such a point in my mental approach to running.
Talking of the ‘course being your friend’ another goal of mine in London this time is to be running as strongly as possible along the Embankment towards Big Ben and into Birdcage Walk, as on my two previous visits I have been in severe cramp but I’m determined through the above steps and other little tweaks, like upping my salt intake for 24 hours before races, will help. The other help will be to now put together a strong final third of my marathon programme – I have one race left on 2ndApril at the Bungay Half which is the start of the three week taper, so between now and then, I need four really good training weeks starting with hopefully a few hill runs in Prague later this week.
As for the Cambridge Half, I would like to target it next year and see if I can go sub-75 minutes again. Training for a Half is quite different to training for a marathon – a lot more 10 mile tempo runs, 7 – 8 mile fartleks and long runs of no more than 15 – 16 miles and importantly, more frequent racing. My PB is 73:53 from 2009, when I won the Stowmarket Half and the most important lesson I took from that day was that it came two weeks after I underperformed in my target race of the Bath Half when I ran two minutes slower. Before that, I wouldn’t have entertained the idea of doing two half marathons in two weeks, but I have remembered that ever since and it was the reason I didn’t knacker myself when feeling a little under the weather last Sunday at the Tarpley 10. I don’t know if I’ll run 73 minutes again – it was 8 years ago and long before parenthood and a lack of sleep; having said that there are some seriously good vets in the east of England as a source of inspiration and yesterday was my fastest Half since 2012 before my son was born, which gives me some personal optimism for the future.