While at running group a few weeks ago I spotted a new runner being introduced to people by another member of the group. I was a little out of the way but I could hear what was being said. I saw that I was being pointed at and the following was said, “That’s Steve, he’s one of the faster runners.”
I always cringe when I hear people say something like that.
I’ve never really classed myself as a faster runner and my automatic response is to mention that it took me 2 ½ hours to complete my first half marathon and 3 hours to complete my second.
I’ve seen a quote a few times lately that says:
It’s sage advice. It’s taken me over eight years to get to the point where I’m banging out times I never dreamt possible or achievable for me and there was a lot of experimenting, challenges, stubbornness (on my part) and motivation issues along the way.
I started the year by hitting out a 1:33.18 PB Half Marathon at Inskip in January and then going to Manchester in April and knocking out a 3:24.45 PB Marathon. After these events I sat down with my personal trainer and we discussed what was next. I disclosed that I wanted to hit at least one of three goals before the end of the year.
A sub 3:20 Marathon
A sub 1:30 Half Marathon
A sub 40 minute 10k
With that goal in mind a plan was devised that would target the English Half Marathon and Chester Marathon.
When I originally saw the plan I’ll admit that it looked daunting but I was assured that a) I could do it and b) it would get easier as the plan went on. It was a bit of a detour from the plans I’d been following from Pfitzinger and Douglas. They’d gotten me so far but I’d plateaued a bit and the idea was to reduce my high mileage plan and put a bit more quality speed work in.
It usually takes me around 3 weeks to settle into a training schedule so those first 3 weeks are always tough and I definitely struggle with fatigue in the early weeks as I push my body to paces they’re unused to over distance. But as usual once those 3 weeks are out of the way I started to feel a lot more comfortable at running at the speeds.
To hit a sub 1:30 Half Marathon I really had to be running for 13.1 miles at an average of around 6:50 pace. Throughout the training plan I was battling with my mind a lot. I was constantly talking myself out of being able to run at this pace. Harky, my PT, was constantly having to talk me into it while I was consistently sandbagging (I must be a nightmare client). I’ve never really had the belief in myself that I can achieve something so it takes a lot of work for someone to knock down the barriers and make me believe that I’m capable.
With the English Half Marathon fast approaching I’d picked up a little shoulder niggle. The osteopath had mentioned that, should I feel any pain during the half marathon, I had to slow down. Not the greatest thing going into a run where I was looking to push myself but advice I would need to heed to ensure that I didn’t end up with a chronic issue.
I headed down to Warrington on the Saturday afternoon and was staying at the Park Royal for the third year. It’s a lovely hotel, relatively quiet and no hassle.
Having spent some of the night stretching, doing a bit of yoga and generally relaxing I managed to get my head down early enough and was soon fast asleep.
6am came far too early though and I was up and about, showered and ready to go.
Breakfast was soon consumed and I was in a taxi on the way to the start well before 8am.
First things first I had to find Kate and Andrea and hand over their race numbers. There’s had gotten mislaid in the post so I’d picked up replacement numbers for them on the Saturday. Once I’d met up with them and done that it was time to get the pre-race rituals out of the way and head over to the start line.
Surprisingly confident I plonked myself right beside the 1:30 pacer and, after a short delay due to traffic, we were soon heading over the start line and onwards for the next 13.1 miles.
The first mile was a surprisingly comfortable 6:56. I was on autopilot to start off with and I was just mentally ticking the miles off for a bit. I hit mile 2 at 6:50 pace and with mile 3 at 6:48 pace I started to ease into the race and feel a bit more comfortable.
Mile 4 and 5 start to see a bit of elevation with mile 4 being knocked off in 6:45 and mile 5 in 6:58.
I knew that from mile 6 it would be a bit easier for the next 4 miles. From mile 6 there is plenty of downhill so I started to take advantage of that and pulled away from the pacers a little bit. I knew that they’d more than likely reel me back in around 11 miles but if I could hit the downhill at the pace I would normally run at I’d feel a little bit more comfortable in myself.
Mile 6 was tucked away in 6:42, mile 7 in 6:53 and mile 8 and 9 both in 6:35.
I had to have a word with myself during mile 7. I’d started to drift off a little bit and convinced myself I was struggling but I switched back on for mile 8 and 9.
Mile 10 was next up and that was completed in 6:41.
The last three miles are a little tricky. There are a few inclines so it involves pushing hard on tired legs but I knew that if I could keep the pace going I was going to end up with a pretty decent time.
The pacers arrived by my side just before mile 11 (which I completed in 6:50) and they’d come at just the right time. I was starting to flag and they gave me the encouragement and impetus to get shifting.
I headed towards The Halliwell Jones Stadium, home of the Warrington Wolves, for the penultimate mile. In the past this is where I’ve lost a lot of time so I was determined to keep my pace going. I only had two miles left and I now had to graft to get what I wanted.
The pacers kept shouting at me to stay in front of them and I knew that if I did then all would be well. I went past mile 12 in 6:59.
All I had to do now was put the last mile in. There’s a fair bit of downhill in the last mile so it was just a case of keeping going at this point.
There wasn’t too many runners around me at this point so I was mentally working out if I could feasibly pick anyone off at that point. There were about three that I reckoned were catchable so I put them in my crosshairs and went for it.
With the last 200 metres to go I managed to catch the last of my targets on the approach to the finish and I crossed the line in…
I’d placed 133rd (originally 127th) out of 3192 with an average pace of 6:48.
When I first started running I looked upon a sub 1:30 half marathon as one of those unattainable mountains that I’d never be able to climb. But the past two years of my running has seen me come so close that it only seemed sensible that I would aim for it.
In the past year I’ve knocked over ten minutes off my half marathon time.
Since my first half in 2011 I’ve knocked an hour off it.
Words could not describe how chuffed to bits I was with myself. Other people have definitely helped me get to this point and for that I thank them. For now it was a case of wallowing in the plaudits and then getting my head down ready to go again for Chester Marathon.
I’m not naturally blessed when it comes to being athletically gifted. I’ve had to work bloody hard to get here.
As Matt Fitzgerald says in his 2015 book:
And I wanted it. I really, really wanted it.
I’m not sure where my next half marathon will take me. Am I capable of going quicker? I really don’t know. The past few years would say that I absolutely should be. Will my body and, more crucially, my mind allow me to push harder? We can only try and see.
Kudos to the organisers and volunteers of the English Half Marathon. It’s a near perfect event for me and I’m so glad that I took the plunge in 2012 to have a go. Also a massive shout out to the 1:30 pacers. They absolutely nailed it.
Next up for me is a gentle Cumbrian Run Half Marathon before the big event at Chester. The sub 1:30 half marathon is now out of the way. Is the sub 3:20 Marathon achievable, we can only see.