I’d put a lot of pressure on myself for this race (as per). It wasn’t a time related pressure this time though – but a performance pressure.
I’d completely lost all race confidence leading up to it, with my last race being a DNF and the one before that being London Marathon which didn’t exactly go to plan.
My goals for the race were simply to run it well. To not shoot off too fast, to find my pace and stick to it, and for gods’ sake not give up. I wanted to be that girl who could turn up to races knowing that she would perform at her best again.
I was half aiming for 1.54 (my current PB is 1.54.56 with a 1.55 on this course the year before), but honestly my main goal was just to finish and regain some of that mislaid confidence. My mantra for the race was ‘grit’ – to dig in if I wanted to stop and use to the strength that I know is inside me somewhere to force myself through. I’d also signed up for another half marathon in May to take the pressure off this one a bit and to tell myself that I could just use this as a benchmark.
I was sick with nerves when I woke up on race day, but I absolutely LOVE the race environment, so I arrived an hour before the start to soak up the atmosphere and catch up with Twitter folk & running club mates. There’s nothing quite like racing in your home town and seeing a familiar face around every corner and in every loo queue.
The start was delayed by about 5 minutes because of a long queue at the bag drop (I love this race and the organisers, but they definitely needed a couple of extra people on baggage duty) but then we were off, with a flurry of (fake) snow in a nod to the real thing that delayed the original running of this race in December.
The start is pretty narrow (the start of the MK parkrun course if you’re familiar with it) and with everyone starting at once it was pretty congested. It did me a bit of a favour because it meant I had no choice but to start slowly, and a 5.51 first km meant that I certainly wasn’t overdoing it at this early stage. It took a fair few kms for the course to empty out, but the concentration levels required meant that the first quarter of the race sped by for me.
My plan was to work in 4km chunks – try and stick to an average of 5.25 pace for 4kms at a time before having a quick look at my overall average pace and then focusing back on the next 4.
I can’t remember exactly when I caught up with the 1.55 pacer but I think it was around 5-6k. I ran with him and his pace group for a while and it was really nice to switch my ‘pace brain’ off and just focus on running. It was a familiar part of the route for me (as was much of the route – including parts of my run commute and lunchtime run!) so I really didn’t have to think much at all. After a couple of km I found myself naturally moving ahead of the pacer so I just went with it and decided that I would just try to keep him behind me for the rest of the race.
There were great pockets of support along the course, and another benefit of a local race is being able to look out for people you know – both in the crowd and running. (The next morning at school drop off I actually got congratulated by my son’s teacher who had seen me running…!). There were water stations at miles 3, 6 & 9 with music playing and great cheering from the volunteers. I’d defy anyone not to pick up their pace during these moments!
My plan had been to take on fuel at 8k, before I started to lose energy but I felt so good at this point that I didn’t dare risk any stomach issues, so told myself I would hold off until 10k. 10k then became 12k as I used the prospect of fuel as a tactic to get me through those next two kilometres. From this point I ate a Go Faster Food Go Bite every 3k unril the end. As I noted in a previous post I’ve given up gels and am trying to fuel my marathon training naturally, and I’m so pleased with how it’s going so far. No stomach issues whilst running, no migraines due to blood sugar spikes and enough fuel to keep me feeling strong to the end.
Then came 16k and The Hills. A mile of essentially continuous inclines. They aren’t terrible but my hips were hurting by this point so I didn’t exactly welcome them with open arms. I held my pace throughout though and the downhill mile that followed meant I could really hit the accelerator and let my wild legs do their distinctive thing.
I knew at this point that I’d achieved my goal of running well. Even if it all went tits up now, I’d have been proud of what I’d done up to this point. I snuck a look at my average pace and realised I was under target; I could either ease off knowing I’d hit 1.54 comfortably or pick it up and see where it took me. I chose the latter and without trying to do too much pace maths (virtually impossible 12 miles into a half marathon anyway) dug in and went for it. I passed Matt Bodkin near the end and he told me I only had 400m to go, which was all the incentive I needed to get my sprint on. Then came the finish line and the crowds and I absolutely lapped it up, knowing that I had run my perfect race. I had to hold back happy tears when I stopped my watch and saw 1.52 flash up. A 3 minute PB and my confidence not only back but higher than ever.
MK Winter Half remains my favourite race of the year and I’ll be back in December for sure.
That was my fourth half marathon, and my times have gotten faster with each race (1.58, 1.55, 1.54.56 -hey, four seconds counts – & now 1.52), so I’m going to give sub 1.50 a bash in May and see how I get on…!