It’s been a busy month! So much so that I’ll do this update in two parts, starting today with running, and then another one covering a couple of running-related events.
Paddock Wood Half-Marathon
Back when I set my targets this was the race I had in mind for my sub 1hr 45m attempt. Then I did that at Tunbridge Wells. Then I did it again (and a bit faster) at Dartford. Which kind of left me thinking what to do with this race. During my club run the Wednesday before I was running on my own for a stretch, and the thought of attempting a sub 1hr 40m time crossed my mind. Initially I dismissed as being a bit too optimistic, but over the next few days I started to figure out how I could pace it, and by the time race day came around I decided to go for it. After all, I’d ticked off my target, so why not set the bar a bit higher? I had nothing to lose if I crashed and burned, it was a chance to find out a bit more about where I was at in my training.
Even better race day was cool and damp, with little or no wind. Throw in the virtually flat course and in short everything was perfect, I just had to try and deliver. Turns out there were pacer groups too, so I decided to keep the 1:40 group in sight in the early stages whilst I settled into my pace. I’ll be honest, Paddock Wood hasn’t got the most exciting route, it’s predominately rural but without any hills there’s not much in the way of scenery, it looks better if the sun is out, but today was dull and grey, so it was a case of ticking off the miles and seeing how I felt as we went along.
Having kept a 100 metres or so behind the pacers for the few miles and consistently clocking miles around 7:40 I slowly gained on them by the 5 mile mark, and just kept myself back off the group around them. I know there’s a school of thought that you shouldn’t use pacers to help you achieve a time or target. I don’t subscribe to that entirely, you still have to do the work yourself, and in my case I’m confident and experienced enough to pace myself anyway, so for me the pacers were just another group running at the same pace as me.
As I expected once we hit 9-10 miles I started to feel the pace. I’d run this pace at the Folkestone 10m the weekend before, but now I was heading into the unknown. I knew that around 11 miles there was a slight downhill section, and if I could get to that I was close enough to the finish to hold on. There was a short climb up and over and railway bridge and then one of the few (very minor) climbs and my legs were definitely feeling it, but I dug and pushed on, and once we hit 11 miles I was starting to feel very confident as I’d managed to hold my pace.
At 12 miles I knew I had enough time in hand to go sub 1:40, so it was head down, up and over another railway bridge and I was home and dry with 30 seconds to spare. To sub 1:40 wasn’t something I was expecting to do this year, so it was a real unexpected bonus to crack that barrier, I guess I’ll have to look at sub 1:35 now! That might have to wait until next year though now, I don’t have any more half marathons scheduled this year,and if I do any they’ll probably be part of my Bournemouth Marathon training so I probably won’t be pushing as hard for a time.
If going sub 1:40 at Paddock Wood was unexpected what happened at yesterday’s Parkrun was something of a surprise as well! I’d been itching to try a fast one for a few weeks but for various reasons hadn’t had the chance, but I decided this was the week to have a crack. My best time this year was 23:15, so I figured something beginning with 22 would be a good target. Conditions were almost identical to those at Paddock Wood, and I made sure I got a spot near the front of the field to ensure I got a reasonably clear run along the narrow first kilometre of the course. We have a lovely riverside course at Maidstone but with fields regularly over 300 it gets very congested early on if you aren’t near the front, so most weeks I just wait until the field thins out a little and then push on.
Inevitably there were a couple of minor hold ups early on but once we got onto the wider section of the course I found clear air and was going along at a good pace. I was looking at something around 7:25m miles and went through mile 1 in 7:17. I was happy to bank a few seconds as mile 2 includes four 180 degree turns and a few other sharp turns as we cross the river over a footbridge, loop around a small park on the other side before coming back the other way. That presents the additional challenge of running against the masses still coming the other way, which means you have to be careful when overtaking anyone.
Mile 2 was therefore a little slower at 7:37, but I was quite relaxed having got the bridge and park loop out of the way, and with the rest of the field having passed the other way I could now try and push on for the last mile. At that point I really didn’t know how fast I was going, I knew I was looking good for my 22 minute something target, but with around 500m to go I glanced at my watch, and doing a quick bit of mental arithmetic I suddenly realised I could actually be on for a PB!
My previous best of 21:41 is 3 years old, and I’ve only got within 30 seconds of it a couple of times in the intervening period, so it never crossed my mind that I’d be near it today. Of course whilst 500m isn’t that far, the last 250m of the Maidstone course are uphill, the infamous ‘Howard’s Hill’ named after the former timekeeper who now lives in Spain, but still visits from time to time. It’s not that steep, but when you’re pushing yourself hard at the end of the run you know you’re going uphill!
By the time we hit the final 100m or so I knew I was going to do it, not that it made the last bit any easier, I was breathing very hard as I went through the finishing funnel and picked up my finish token, having clocked 21:32 to knock 9 seconds off my previous best.
I’m still not sure where that came from. It’s probably a combination of things, speedwork at the track, improvements in my running form (my arm drive specifically) and just having the confidence to actually go for it rather than backing off because I wasn’t sure how long I could hold a faster pace for.
That’s April in the books anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do over 10k in the next couple of months, but in the meantime I’ll be back with an update on how my LIRF coaching course and marshalling at the London Marathon went.