2018 started just like the previous year with me lying in bed feeling rather ill. I guess alot of people get sick at this time of year. My guess is it at Christmas I spend time around family with lots of babies etc so I have a knack of catching something at this time.
At the beginning of January I took part in the Warwickshire County Cross Country Championships. I finished a reasonable 16th whilst still quite ill (see separate article) which was as a good as I could go on the day albeit I was targeting a higher finish.
Arriving into 2018 I was very much aware that I had a half marathon in the diary for beginning of February and I’d done no specific training for the event. My target was the same one I set last year (which I didn’t achieve and it was to run sub-75 minutes). I even had hopes of running a 73 minute half which was a secondary goal and which felt achievable at the beginning of the winter.
On the Thursday after county championships I headed to the track late after work and had a session planned out in my head which basically involved running at target half marathon pace (5:40/mile = 74 minute half marathon) for around 5 or so miles split into half mile efforts. Having skipped quite a bit of training the last few weeks with illness I was perhaps a bit too keen to step my mileage up at the same time and I’d done a couple of longish runs in the days leading up to the track session. Unfortunately after a couple of half mile reps on the track my left hamstring had a huge level of tightness in it which meant I had to abandon the session and was then forced to take about 4 days off to ensure the leg felt better again.
After the forced break I took part in a representative cross country event for the National Civil Service Athletics Team where we competed against the Royal Air Force (RAF), Police force and Fire service. I took the race very steady to ensure I didn’t aggravate the hamstring in any way. Feeling better I then entered a low key 10k race in Victoria Park exactly 2 weeks prior to the half marathon the plan was to run the 10k at target half marathon pace in order to:
- Remind my body what the pace felt like
- Practice running the pace for around half of the half-marathon distance
- Hopefully find out my body wasn’t too tired after running only 10k at the prescribed pace
As it turned out my idea proved a good one. Victoria Park is an ideal place to do such tempo running as the paths are flat and wide and well suited to fast running. I led the 10k race throughout by some distance and thankfully there was a race organiser on a bike leading the race and ensuring no one was getting in my way. I finished the race in 34:30 which was a few seconds quicker per mile than target half-marathon pace. I didn’t feel too tired at the end of it either. This was a big confidence booster which was exactly what I needed as all winter I’d only done cross country races so had no decent marker for what my fitness was which meant I was lacking some confidence.
The last Saturday of January meant I was racing in Brighton for the South of England Cross Country Championships. This is a race I’ve historically never raced well at and always had the most unflattering of finishing positions with me so far coming 539th, 364th and 279th. At least there was a trend of improvement each year. This was quintessential British cross country at its best as it was freezing cold during the warm up and standing on the startline it started to rain cats and dogs. Stanmer Park is an incredibly hilly course and not for the faint- hearted. Anyway I finished in 154th which is a marked improvement on previous years. It was good to know I am and can still get better at this event as 9 miles on hilly terrain doesn’t get less suited to me really. If I can keep improving it’s certainly a competition I aspire to start finishing in the top 100 over the next couple of years.
A week later I toed the line of the Great Bentley Half Marathon. Great Bentley is a small village deep in Essex and sits between Colchester and Clacton-on-Sea. I’d read good reviews of the event and was pleased to get a place in the race as its held on picturesque country side roads. The week leading up had an atrocious weather forecast with predicted very high winds. This wasn’t good as I really wanted to hit my target time.
I like to apply my track running pacing instincts when I run on the road as I am a big believer in even pacing when going after a particular time. For this race I wrote out all my mile splits on a piece of paper to get me round in 74:59 and stuck it to my wrist.
I woke up early on race day morning with that buzz that I only get before a race when I’m really just doing it to go after a particular time I have in mind. Having spent the best part of 4-5 months only racing cross country I was definitely excited to be going against the clock again as I get a real kick out of this stuff.
The wind speeds weren’t as high as forecasted and at the sociable hour of 10:30 we were on our way. The race went exactly to plan. I kept to my pacing strategy of running 5:41/mile throughout the whole race. In the second half I formed a group with 2 other runners and we ensured we kept well on sub-75 pace – not even the snow that started falling was going to stop us. I finished in 7th place running 74:37 and was delighted it all came together off next to no half-marathon specific work. I like to think once I move up to marathon distance and give that a go there is a large chunk of time to still come out my half marathon time as i’ve never raced the distance off any sort of decent mileage. In that vain I hope to run a time much closer to 70 minutes once I step up.
For the remainder of February there were no more races just training. I had a 3 week holiday planned in the warmer climate of the United States so was glad to make use of the extra time in my days and ensure I got some good 60 mile weeks in.
On returning to the UK I competed in the UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championships. Lacing up my spikes for the mud for the last time this season this was the most churned up mud I think I’d ever seen. Walking from the carpark to the team tent meant crossing a field which would normally have contained grass however the rain and churned up mud was so extreme there was no grass to be seen apart from ankle deep mud and lots of walkers falling over in it.
Chuffed as anything to put on my home county Warwickshire vest for the first time I felt inspired getting on the start line. I managed to finish 6th finisher of the 9 athletes starting the race for Warwickshire which meant I got the last scoring place in the team which I was delighted with. The race – as it was for all participants – was a complete slog fest and I managed to get around in 171st place with Warwickshire finishing as 13th team notable in that it was the county’s highest team placing across all the age categories.