Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

This was the big one. The “A” race. This was week 23 of a training build up since 3 May.

In the build up I’d raced 5k on the track (17.01), 3k on the track (9.48), a 5k in July (17.09 – long course in my opinion, don’t @ me!), the Quayside 5k in a PB of 16.01 and the Great North Run in 1:17:46 (agreed by all to be a challenging course). I’d also sprinkled in some parkruns at target half marathon effort. Most recently I’d suffered in the opening cross country fixture of the season. Overall, and in hindsight, this was a very good training block for me with perhaps the most concentrated series of varied races I’d ever done. And I managed to keep major injuries or illness at bay.

But as I said in my last blog post, it would have been ideal if the GNR and Wrekenton XC races had gone better. And it would have been great if my training had been even more consistent. But I resolved to give Manchester my best shot despite facing the usual gremlins of doubt.

Maybe it is something akin to “imposter syndrome”. A lack of confidence about putting my hat in the ring for masters representation at National level. Maybe I had done the wrong thing? Put too much pressure on myself?

It was my first experience of actually travelling to a race. I have done a lot of travel for work and pleasure so that in itself was not the issue. It was more logistics and ensuring I didn’t enjoy the trappings of the big city until after the race!

Everything went to plan travel wise and I even managed to have a walk from my Airbnb to the Old Trafford cricket ground where the athletes village was. That helped to settle my nerves and also make my mind up that I wouldn’t drop a bag off. I would just run the 1.2 miles from the digs, use the toilet etc. and go straight to the start line. I’d brought an old t-shirt that I could chuck last minute before the gun went off. It would just mean I’d have to carry the Airbnb keys 13.1 miles around the course (and try my best not to drop them!).

Things didn’t go perfectly though and I ate much later than I wanted to. I managed to go to a Mexican in Chorlton where I was staying. A burrito, some nacos and an orange juice. Probably not ideal I thought. It was already 20:30 and the plan was to set the alarm for 4am! I popped to a shop to get 2 bananas and a bag of haribos. I ate most of the haribos on the walk home!

Suffice to say I couldn’t sleep. I was up and down to the toilet a few times and I noticed I was dehydrated probably due to the travel. So I prioritised drinking plenty water over sleep. Actually I’d made sure to sleep well the week prior so I didn’t get worked up about this. Just tried to rest and relax. I was only paying Airbnb for a private room but luckily the owner was away otherwise I would have caused all kinds of disturbance!!! A god send on getting up to go to the toilet without switching lights on was my new Petzl headtorch! So good and charges by USB – highly recommend if you are looking for a new one this winter – link here.

Time didn’t drag despite the lack of real sleep and I was up at 4am for two bananas and about a quarter loaf of soreen. The soreen didn’t go down easily but I knew my stomach handles it well. I had another 500ml of water and took some more back to bed for more rest. I set the alarm for an hours time so that I could have two beetroot shots. Then more rest until 6.45. Up, showered, race gear on and out at 7.25.

I noticed that the conditions were pretty perfect. The temperature was ideal and no wind to speak of. This was my chance I thought, things are aligning to a fast race.

I got to the cricket ground feeling good on my jog and it was already pretty busy. I queued for a toilet and then walked down to the start. The actual start line was a lot further away than I thought.

I had to weave my way through a fair few runners to get anyway near the front and, in the end, I probably wasn’t anywhere near where I should have been. Back to the imposter syndrome, hanging back. In hindsight I should have been up there. But ultimately all I was doing was putting more people in the way than I should have been. I need to have more confidence. That all said it was nice to see some familiar faces from my club Tyne Bridge and also Bryan Potts who I’d met on Twitter recently.

It felt like the race organisers got the all clear to start the race earlier than the planned 8.10 start. Before we knew it the gun went and actually I was over the start line in a few seconds.

The start had a little uphill gradient and then a traverse from the left hand side of the road across a central reservation onto the right hand side in our direction of travel. It was this switch across that had me pass a fair few runners and I could see the elites not far up the road. So I’d already put myself in a handy position. I would say that my position at the first mile marker was pretty similar to my position at the end.

I felt like I was running fast. I was running completely to feel. I didn’t even glance at my watch once. And I was pleased that there were no time clocks until about 20km! I was blissfully unaware of pace, splits, heart rate, power – any of that stuff. My brain and body were on an experiment!

The only real guide I had at this stage was the sight of a competitor up the road – Simon Bennett of Hartlepool. We have had a similar journey to Manchester. I first became aware of Simon at the North East Master track races in the summer. We then had a little battle at the Quayside 5km. We also bumped into each other at the end of the Great North Run where Simon had finished a few minutes ahead of me. We chatted afterwards and I’d asked Simon whether he had registered his interest with England Atheltics. He said he had, so he was my only known V40 competitor. It felt sensible just to track him but he had latched onto a group further up the road and I felt fine where I was.

At this point a small group of maybe 2 or 3 runners were forming including a runner I now know as Tom Dart. Me and Tom were to run together for much of the race and I was very grateful for the company!

As I say, I was completely unaware of pace but I will give Strava splits here. The first mile went in 5:22. A group was forming with me, Tom Dart (Spenborough), Steven Hayes (V45 – Deestriders RC) and Richard Coen (V40 – Wilmslow). The group was running well together but I did feel at my limit, knowing that I was still operating in the first quarter of the race!

I’d took a mental note that the course had a first sharp turn at approx. 5km and the aforementioned group worked as a unit until that point. Strava had miles 2 and 3 at 5:29 and 5:25 and effectively 5km was done in 17:05. Overall I felt like Steven and Richard were looking very strong and me and Tom were maybe just a little more passed the boil. I noticed me and Tom were having more issues around throat clearing and breathing. I put mine down to still not feeling 💯 but, don’t get me wrong, I was feeling good! I just felt like I was having to clear the throat more than I would like. Every now and then I’d consciously take some breaths through the nose if only to remind myself to relax and not panic breathe.

The group with Coen (left), Hayes (all black kit) and Dart (red/yellow kit)

I was enjoying it. This is what you pay the entry fee to races for! All those days training all alone. For this. To be in a group of runners pushing each other on. The camaraderie was amazing. At a drinks station a bottle was passed round. I declined (I didn’t take any water or nutrition throughout the race!) but here is a sport where competitors actively try to help each other – pure sport.

The sharp left hand turn at around 5km did two things to change the complexion of the race –

1. It introduced an intense low hanging bright Autumnal sun which I found pretty disconcerting. Having been in a solid rhythm for >3 miles, for the first time I felt like the momentum was broken. I wished I’d worn a cap or perhaps sunglasses. It was too late now.

2. It meant Steven and Richard started breaking away. Personally I kind of accepted that I wasn’t able to latch on. I suspect Tom made an effort. I was able to keep Tom a manageable distance away and soon we were back pretty much running together. It felt like I’d overcome a slight negative patch.

The next 2 or 3 miles were churned out just me and Tom. Strava has mile 4 as the fastest of the day at 5:21 and miles 5 and 6 slowed to 5:29 and 5:30. The 10km split was 34 minutes dead. My official 10km PB is 34:49 and even my 10 mile PB (55:37) was slower through 6 miles. Not knowing any of this was bliss.

It was around here that I noticed a runner appearing to be falling off up the road. I spoke very briefly to Tom for the first and only time to say that we should work together to reel him in. He didn’t hear so I repeated it. I also said the word “gradually”. This seemed to galvanise Tom and he kind of dropped me!

I was able to get back on. As it happened, the runner in question was never to be caught. Always in sight but never caught. Instead Simon Bennett suddenly appeared and we were rapidly catching.

This brought back memories of the Quayside 5km. I had ran a solid even pace race and I think I went passed Simon around 3.5-4km only to be comprehensively beaten in the end. I started plotting approach.

I wondered things like should I forget about Tom and just stay with Simon? Or should I rattle by as fast as possible?

It actually took longer than I thought to get to the point where I was on Simons heels. I think it was around 7 or 8 miles. We approached a little rise with a right hand turn onto a nice downhill. I took the initiative from Tom and went by Simon at the brow of the hill. I put in a little injection of pace but it was more a shortening and quickening of the stride than anything else. I think Tom was caught by surprise a little, obviously unaware of the V40 competition unfolding…

I honestly felt like I could steal an unassailable march, perhaps on both Tom and Simon. I was feeling very good. I was working hard but in control. But there was still about 5 miles of running left to do.

This was a fast but somewhat “snakey” part of the course. I tried to use the corners to my advantage, getting round them tightly and with fast cadence and then trying to use some momentum to run strongly on up the road. The crowd support was pretty good round here. Nothing like the Great North Run but the support did increase where it was needed.

Unfortunately my lead over Tom and Simon didn’t last. It is a bit of a blur as to the exact order of events but I definitely felt like I had let them both get away on the run to 10 miles. The mental battles had begun by this point. I had noticed the gaps between mile markers getting longer and longer. And I hadn’t got my head around the logic as to when there were KM markers and when there weren’t!

By 10 miles I think I had lost at least 50 to 100yds on both Simon and Tom. 10 miles was passed in approx. 55:16 (faster than current PB). I was slowing but still on for a very large personal best time.

Such were my battles with my negative mental mind leading up to the race, when I had worked out that the course route would be passing very close to my Airbnb in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, I had actually considered how easy it would be to slip off the course and back into the comfort of the flat if things weren’t going well! I think the last 5km at the Great North Run had hurt me so much – I wondered how I was going to be able to dig it out again only 4 weeks later?

As always I needn’t have worried. The support along the roads of Chorlton was amazing. I think at this stage I was starting to realise I was onto something good and that I was holding a very decent position in the race. So my key thought was to “hold it together” and “keep going”, “see it through”. I was now running down the exact same street I had jogged down that very morning and I now knew the Old Trafford cricket ground wasn’t far away. Although I didn’t know exactly where the finish was I could start to think about running across the line…

It was here that I could still see Tom and I started wondering if there was a chance I could get back on terms? I was hurting, getting a little ragged. But maybe just maybe?

I passed the 20km mark in 1:09:48ish and I immediately thought of the 1km efforts I do in training. First off, I knew I had less than 4mins of running which was galvanising. And I also pictured that distance on the training road I used. Every step got me closer, it didn’t feel like a big deal now. At some point between here and the finish I saw the first time clock of the whole race. I don’t know what distance it was positioned at but I distinctly remember seeing 1:12:xx! This was the first time I felt real joy inside. And there was the finish line up ahead.

I still had probably 400m to go and I finally clenched everything and tried to pick up. There were some race faces pulled in the home straight but I finished off in 1:13:34 which was good for 23rd place overall and 5th V40.

Final push for home
Almost there
1:13:34 chip time – elation!

I don’t want to analyse this race too much here. Suffice it to say that this performance is at least in line with the 16:01 5km back in August. But actually I’d rate it as more impressive for me as I have always doubted my capability over longer distances. And this performance over 13.1 miles has proven to me that I do have the endurance, strength and stamina to compete over further. I just have to believe and trust my brain and body to race on the day.

I have posted a VLOG of this race on YouTube here.

I’ve also just launched my new personal running website “KR Runs” here. Go check it out!

Thanks so much for reading and following my running journey! I’d love to hear from runners wherever you may be!

Manchester Half Marathon 2021: race strategy

To say I’ve thought this through would be an understatement. I’ve hummed and harred plenty about the best approach.

Dialling back to August and the 16.01 5km on the Quayside, I was buzzing with the prospect of being in shape to have a shot at an England vest. Given that I was already down to run the Great North I decided a shot at qualifying for the half marathon was a good approach.

Since then arguably the Great North was fine registering a sub 79 minutes clocking and setting up a more positional race in Manchester as I need to finish top 3 V40 to qualify.

Following the Great North, however, training hasn’t been consistent. I’ve tried my best to get on the start line feeling good but in truth the performance at Wrekenton threw me off. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place as to whether I should crack on or rest hard.

I decided to crack on and actually last week and early this week went as well as could be expected. So it’s a case of seeing how the body reacts to a 3 day taper…

In terms of race strategy, to be honest I was hoping for more info pre race in terms of who was in mix for V40. In reality it is going to be very difficult to know. It’s often hard to tell who your peers are and, even if they are V40, it isn’t necessarily the case that any similar aged competitors have actually put their hat in the ring.

So the idea of an out and out race against key opponents is out of the window.

The possible race strategies I felt I had to pick from were –

1. Run a similar race to GNR, very conservative to 10-15km and then kick on aiming for an overall power average of 355w again. This strategy is pretty safe and would probably guarantee a PB over GNR on the assumption that Manchester is a quicker course being correct.

2. Aim to run a harder race to power, aiming to average >360w overall. An expected time if I pulled this off would be anywhere from 74 high to 76 low. There is nothing suggesting this shouldn’t be possible.

3. Ditch all tools and metrics and just go out and run to feel. I honestly don’t know how this would turn out as I’ve never done this over the half marathon.

After much deliberation I will be going with option 3. I will still wear my Garmin and power meter but I have removed all data metrics from the data screen leaving only a time clock…

I am nervous. I am apprehensive. I don’t know how I feel about the race.

But the decision is made and I will stick to it.

Wish me luck!

Reflections on my build up to the Great North Run 2021 plus race strategy

As I finish Week 13 of 14 in the build up to the GNR it’s a good time to reflect on what I have done and my thought process going into the race.

Some may say it would be better to keep my “eyes on the prize”, i.e. the race to come.

But for me running is a continual learning process and I don’t think self reflection and learning should be paused no matter how close the race is. Capturing my thoughts and mindset pre race will also help me post race as well.

I have been intrigued by the high jumper Nicola McDermott who is meticulous in writing notes after every single jump in competition. It seems very out of the ordinary. But I admire it.

Follow me on Twitter @kevrich1981

Athletes like McDermott are seeking to learn and improve “on the job” and it certainly seems to work for her.

First of all, I am proud that I have got to this point. Even though I’ve only averaged 34 miles per week (442.7 over 13 weeks) in this build up it is still probably one of the best training blocks I have ever done(!). Critically I have stayed healthy and motivated.

Overall running distance in KM since 7th June 2021

I’ve really started to find myself as a runner in this training block. My confidence in my ability has grown and I feel more sure now about what I am capable of than ever before.

I’ve also not shirked races.

I’ve raced 5000m and 3000m on the track (for the very first time) and also two 5km’s on the road.

LGBT+ 5km in July, 2nd place in 17.09

I’m sure that switching to running to Power has helped with that. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but the power meter has helped me execute my training correctly. The benefit of downgrading the importance of heart rate training has been immense.

Having spent the period 2014 to late 2020 believing training to heart rate was the best way, I’ve now come to realise that it is not optimal for me.

For whatever reason I get too emotional about my heart rate, both during and after training. What I mean is, I allow heart rate data to affect me mentally whether monitoring out on the run or in post run analysis.

Don’t get me wrong, I still track heart rate data as accurately as I can as it is powerful information. But now I don’t let it run the show any more. This has been liberating in many ways.

Moving to Power has been the liberation because it has introduced a new metric without the emotional baggage of heart rate, pace etc. And it works really well for me.

I know if I go and run x watts I will get a specific workout and the resultant output of pace and heart rate will be what it is. As it happens the data I am seeing is excellent which helps, but I think that is a result of getting less worked up about heart rates and paces when I am out training.

Training to power provides focused race strategy as well.

For example, going into the Quayside 5km I knew if I put out 397 watts I would run 16.09 +/- 10s. I managed to execute that and ran 16.01. Not only that I pretty much even split the race perfectly (something I have never really been able to do in the past), running 3.12/km pretty much dead on.

This confirmed to me the real power of training to Power.

Running doesn’t need to be a magical and mysterious guessing game if you don’t want it to be. Admittedly I am an analytical person and it suits me to a T. I get that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but, if like I was, you are a little in the doldrums with your current training I would highly recommend considering trying Power. Full disclaimer: I am not sponsored by Stryd and paid full price for the foot pod and membership of the full features of the app.

I’ve also been able to pinpoint issues in my form, specifically my naturally low cadence. Being 6ft 2in tall (188cm) does mean I have quite long legs and my natural cadence is low (160-170 in normal training). However, I’ve realised this is a strength if deployed correctly. The power meter has allowed me to really focus on cadence, stride length and Leg Spring Stiffness (LSS) so that I can improve and optimise my running dynamics. This is something I am having to try really hard at as my tendency is to revert to type.

I published a YouTube video on my belief in Stryd as a training tool prior to my Quayside 5km race here. This doesn’t cover the running dynamics aspects, more the nuts and bolts of the foot pod, how it calculates Critical Power, training zones and race time predictions. Note: in the video I state that Critical Power as calculated by Stryd is equivalent to Functional Threshold Power (FTP) for 60mins. Unfortunately I have since become aware that this is not correct. Stryd do not disclose the exact formula for Critical Power. At the time of writing my Critical Power is 383w (5.24 watts per kilo) whereas my FTP for 60mins is modelled at 364w (5.0 watts per kilo).

Current Critical Power rating in Stryd

So the build up has been good and the 16.01 5km in early August really points to a potential half marathon below 75mins. However, my approach going into the Great North Run has changed as I am now seeking to run all out at the Manchester Half in October with the aim of finishing top 3 in the V40 Age Group. If able to do so I should qualify to represent England Athletics in the Chester Half in 2022.

So the Great North Run now becomes a test run in preparation for Manchester.

With that in mind I will be targeting a time of around 76 to 77 minutes as a good outcome for the Great North Run.

I will be looking to run a negative split.

My strategy will be to run the first 15km in the range of 344 to 352w (avg. 348w) and the last 6.1km in the range of 356 to 364w (avg. 360w). If executed correctly I would expect to average 355w for the full half marathon and would expect a time in the range 1:16:40 to 1:18:32.

Stryd GNR race prediction based on 355w

My current official PB (1:20ish) was set in the Great North Run in 2017 but I have run an unofficial HM of 1:16:32 in 2019. If honest I would like to get as close to the latter as possible feeling like I had more in the tank. Strictly speaking a sub 79min is the minimum qualifying time for the England Athletics representation. Achieving that would be enough to allow me to fully focus on racing at Manchester.

I am planning to take a time split at both 5km and 15km. It will then be a case of dialling in my pick up to the finish. In an ideal world I will have plenty runners who are perhaps fading to pick up as motivation in this approach.

Another thing I am considering is nutrition. I have never considered nutrition for a half but I did try a gel with a small amount of caffeine today (5th September, 7 days out from the GNR) on my final long run of 18.8km. I must say I wasn’t too keen on it and frankly cannot understand how I could ever ingest a full gel. My thought is I will carry one gel and literally take a enough to coat the mouth at around 40-45mins to gently assist the planned pick up at 15 km.

In terms of footwear, it was a choice between Plan A of the Nike Next% 2 or Plan B of Nike Tempo Next%. For the GNR I will wear the Tempos and save the big guns for Manchester.

On a lighter note, a few people suggested if I had had my hair cut for the Quayside 5km I would have broken the 16 minute barrier. Again, I have taken the decision to keep the hair long for the GNR and save any hair cut for the big day out in Manc! I tried to rock a headband on the long run today but I’m not sure it will be getting an outing as I doubt I want to be caught on camera with it on!

Finally in terms of my training in Week 14 (the week of the GNR), this is the plan –

Mon: rest day (stretching, core)

Tue: easy leg loosener (8km max)

Wed: final HM session – 10km total split between power ranging from 345w to 360w

Thu: 4km easy

Fri: rest day (stretching, foam roller)

Sat: optional leg loosener otherwise rest

Sun: GNR, start time 9.45am behind male elites in fast club runner wave

So all that remains is to get on the start line mentally in the right place and healthy.

Thanks for reading! Good luck to anyone reading who is in the race. Enjoy!

P.S. For those that prefer a video, I’m hoping to get something posted on my YouTube channel “KR Runs” in my GNR training series here. Hopefully during next week. If you haven’t subscribed already it would be cool if you did!