I ran my first Half Marathon in 2017 at the Great North Run.
Although I really enjoyed the experience deep down I was disappointed with my time of 1hr 20m 28s as I had been targetting more like 77-78 minutes.
Having said that, my training leading up to the race wasn’t as I’d hoped and mileage was low and my shins sore.
So I’d had to nurse my way to the start line and in many ways I should have been pleased with getting round in a respectable time and in one piece.
One of the doubts I’ve always had about my running is whether I have the stamina to support my natural speed and I’ve always been aware that my 10km and HM times aren’t in line performance wise with my PBs over a mile (4:49) and 5k (16:43-16:47).
I’ve also ran a 1km time trial in training in 2:42.
These PBs and training performances give a wide range of equivalent times for a Half Marathon of approx 72-76 minutes.
So part of me wanted a very low key half marathon to treat as a hard long run/threshold effort to move closer in line with these predictions and simply test myself and my current form.
Perhaps I could banish the idea that I have an issue with stamina?
I picked out the Newcastle Race Course half marathon as fitting the bill.
The event is put on by the North East Marathon Club (NEMC). I was aware of these events for some time and had been meaning to attend the Town Moor event as it is very close to where I live.
I entered the race late on Friday night just before the deadline and set about coming up with a decent plan. Unlike a normal race where I would be persuading myself to not wear the Garmin at all, I wanted to set a good progressive pace plan and to get faster each 5k and use my watch as a tool quite religiously, also tracking heart rate – I wanted to get into an effort I knew I could hold strongly.
The below photo shows what I came up with –
I was working with both pace development and heart rate development as mentioned.
The last time I had lactate threshold testing my LTHR was ~175bpm at around 6 minutes per mile on a treadmill. To run a good HM you need to be able to hold at or around LTHR (preferably bubbling just slightly above) for pretty much the whole race.
But the plan was to start conservatively at 6:05 pace and go through 3 miles in approx 1:19.45 HM projection time. Although I felt it was conservative this would still be ahead of my current PB pace of 6:07 and therefore felt about right.
I’d then look to ramp the pace by 5 seconds per mile the next 3 miles (improving the predicted finish time to 1:19.15 after 6 miles) and then down to 5:55 pace miles 7, 8 and 9.
The pace increase would then get more aggresive in the last 4 or so miles. I would be expecting to exceed LTHR from mile 10 onwards (where things would start getting tough) and I’d be looking to be running at my current 10k PB pace (5:36/mile) in the last 2 or so miles. I believed this would feel like all out.
Overall this was the only part of the plan that concerned me a little but on balance the predicted finish time of 1:17.20 seemed about right and a planned 3 minute improvement on my current PB.
But I also had in mind the current Tyne Bridge Harriers club record for the mens 35-39 age bracket of 1:16.04. Indeed, something between 76-77 minutes would be bang in line with recent 5k performances of 16:38-16:43.
Although I knew this was not a licensed event, part of me felt that if I was going strong the TBH 35-39 record was in my range. However, I wouldn’t bust a gut to break it as I want this to be a stepping stone to breaking it at an official event in a reasonable time frame.
So it was against that back drop that I woke to glorious conditions on Sunday morning to get ready for the 9:30 start time. I’d made sure to eat and hydrate fairly well on Saturday and just had a pint of water, half a tuna sandwich and some soreen before setting off on the 10 minute drive to the race course (the handy location being another reason I decided to enter).
I picked up my number and completed a 10 minute warm up. The sun was high and quite strong and part of me wondered whether it might be an unexpected factor. I hadn’t applied or packed any sun screen. The temperatures were still comfortable at around 11-13 degrees C. I comforted myself that I wasn’t doing the full marathon or 50k! Maybe next time!
Things were quite relaxed at the start with the organisers and other competitors. The start of the 3 races were staggered with the HM starting behind the marathon and 50k so I readied myself for some grass running to get by those groups.
The 9:30 start was a little delayed but only 5 minutes or so.
Two male runners shot off and within 30s I was looking down on sub 5:30 pace and I’d lost about 10 metres on them. I immediately reigned my own pace in and just focused on the best way to get through the other races. Once done the two guys still had a similar gap and I just focussed on settling in.
The running felt like jogging but I was still sub 6 minute miling and ahead of the planned 6:05.
I moved into second place and focussed on the back of first place. The first lap was only a partial lap and on the first full lap I was maintaining a 5-10 metre gap on first place.
I could hear that he seemed to be working quite hard already in terms of his breathing and perspiration so I felt I could just keep it very easy/steady knowing that I was feeling good and would naturally go by as he slowed off.
That happened shortly after the start of the second full lap and I got ready for a long and lonely time trial.
It didn’t take that long before the sound of second places breathing had disappeared and I only had runners from the other races and lapped runners to chase down.
The first 3 miles were passed in 5:55, 5:49 and 5:58.
I was enjoying myself.
There is something about a longer race that is starting to appeal. In 5k’s the only option is to try to bury yourself as much as possible but for the HM I felt like I was able for perhaps the first time ever to get in a great rhythm with comfortable breathing. And enjoy it!
The only slight issue was my inability to deal with the water cups at the end of each lap. I had decided I would try to take a few sips per lap and get some over my head to avoid any possible dehydration/over heating. The first attempt I struggled to drink what water was left in the cup after spilling most of it and the next attempt I didn’t even feel like trying to drink. So after the 2nd full lap I didn’t attempt to pick up water again.
Those first few miles, the wrist monitor on my Garmin was telling me that I was operating at below 170bpm but in the third and fourth miles there was a sudden correction to around 178-179bpm. I didn’t let this concern me as the effort felt right and I ticked off miles 4, 5, 6 and 7 in 5:48, 5:47, 5:45 and 5:44 feeling very strong and probably bang on threshold (or just above) at 178bpm. Perhaps a little part of me was starting to think “can I keep this up?” after the 7th mile. I had gone through 10k in 35:59 which, according to Strava, is my 3rd best ever time.
I knew I was significantly ahead of my progression based schedule and part of me started to wonder whether I could avoid now a positive split.
Indeed miles 8, 9 and 10 were slower and I was unable to continue to hold my HR just under 180bpm. It fell off to more like 174-176bpm and the miles in 5:51, 5:50 and 5:53.
Depending on where the mile laps beeped dictated whether I could relax a little or had to dig in just a tad. Any one who has been to Newcastle races will know the finishing straight is a little draggy for the horses and so the last third or so of each lap negotiated this, leading to a slight slowing of pace. It was around these miles I think that a new mile clicked and I was looking down on a lap pace reading of 6:12. It gave me a slight jolt and made me wonder if the wheels would start falling off. But pleasingly I was able to get back on track.
So mile 8, 9 and 10 were definitely the toughest part of the race. Incidentally I passed both 15k and 10 miles in PBs of 54:10 and 58:11 respectively.
But mentally things got easier in the last 5k or so. I recall at the Great North Run having an awful time of the last 3 miles (having gone trhough 10 miles in 60:10ish) due to the draggy incline of John Reid road (those who know will know) but I didn’t have this to contend with this time.
What I did have was the continued monotomy of the course, what was starting to feel like a touch of a headwind (although this was just tiredness and the headwind caused by running >10mph for a prolonged period!) and having to pick my line through lapped runners.
My HR continued to fall off a few beats in those final miles suggesting a slight lack of strength and ability to keep pushing on. Don’t get me wrong, I was increasing the effort and keeping the pace there or thereabouts. But with a bit more strength (and confidence in my ability to finish) it could be possible for me to move more towards 15k or even 10k effort/pace in the last few miles of a half marathon.
As it was miles 11, 12 and 13 were completed in 5:54, 5:50 and 5:54. I was starting to want the finish. As I approached the finish line for what I hoped was the last time the time keepers didn’t seem to be aware I was finishing. As I went over the line I looked at my Garmin which had something like 13.0* miles. So I shouted am I finished or do I need to go to the HM start line!? (which I think was another couple hundred metres away). I didn’t hear a reply so I decided to push on until my Garmin said 13.12 miles to ensure the HM was completed! I’d picked the pace up to 5:40 in the process!
I then turned round to see one of the organisers had chased after me to tell me that I had finished! Not to worry, I felt remarkably fresh for having just run a HM in 1:16:32, knocking a good 4 minutes from my previous best!
We walked back to the finish and I received my trophy, voucher and medal. I was pleased to have finished and to have beaten convincingly both my previous PB and race plan.
It also gives me confidence that I can translate my 5k/10k performances to the longer distance. So I can now focus on improving my 5k time to seek to achieve the TBH club record (low 16mins) for the 35-39 age bracket and then try to convert that to the record 10k and HM as well. And, who knows, I may have a full marathon in me yet!
Thanks for reading.