So for a long time now, years in fact, I have been working towards a sub 2 hour half marathon. The reason for this is stupid. I know it’s stupid. But I have still been wanting to achieve it. Back in 2008, when I started running, I bought this book after following a run/walk programme in Zest magazine:
(I still can’t flip images any more…)
I found it very useful in my beginner days- it had tips on what to wear, training plans, what to eat, race guides…. But one sentence stuck with me:
That sentence about how long a half marathon should take: “about 2 hours is respectable”. Now realistically reading that, it’s probably true. But I did my first (albeit hilly) half in 2.32. And yes I was near the back. So near in fact, that some of the marshals were packing away and I nearly missed the turning to the finish. But some people did it in 3 hours so I wasn’t really that close to the back.
Anyway, since then I have run 2.19, 2.27, 2.20, 2.12, 2.10, 2.16, 2.06, 2.42 (this was a trail one), 2.04, and 2.11. And do you know what? With my rational head on, I should be proud of every single half marathon. Running one is no mean feat, and from each one I have taken away something. But there has been a little voice in my mind about achieving a sub 2 hour half. I want to be a “respectable” runner. I like goals to aim towards- I managed a sub 30 minute 5k, and a sub 60 minute 10k, and then a sub 5 hour marathon, so the sub 2 hour half seemed similar, and the next goal to aim for.
So, with that in mind, I signed up to the Brighton half. I had already run it twice, so I knew the route- it’s lovely and fairly flat (apart from a gentle hill near the start, which you then get to run down), it has great crowd support, nice views of the sea for most of it, is easy to get to…
Because last year I felt so good running it, I tried to replicate some of my marathon training. I often struggle between miles 8-11, so I decided that adding in a few longer runs, and some over the distance, would help me get through those miles on race day.
We travelled down on Friday evening (listened to the Film Podcast on the train), and then the next morning went to Cafe Coho. I love it there, and was sad that the pancakes with nutella and banana was no longer on the menu, but this beauty was- pancakes with fruit compote and Greek yoghurt. It was delicious.
We had a lovely walk along to Hove.
It was gorgeous out there.
We went out to Food For Friends for dinner- this time we shared the tahini dips to start, and then I had a lovely salad with roasted sweet potato, hazelnuts and avocado.
Staying hydrated with a pear juice, strawberry and elderflower drink.
We had bought a slice of carrot cake from this amazing cake shop, and so shared that later whilst watching Trapped (take me back to Iceland!).
The next morning I had a clif bar and some water for breakfast, before getting dressed and walking down there. I had my flipbelt on with tissues and a pack of yo-yos (just in case) but no phone. Our hotel was close to the start, and Andy walked with me so I could hand him my jumper instead of using the bag drop. I was actually in the sub 2 hour pen, which made me feel very inadequate indeed, so I went right to the back. I had copied down the pacing I would need to achieve 1.59- (the Lucozade website only does minutes, not seconds, and I thought at least that way I have a bit of leeway). It was 9.05 per mile, but I was hoping to see a pacer. 9.05 per mile does sound fast to me, but I reasoned that I ran 10 miles at pretty much that pace back in November, and I have been increasing my long runs since then, so I was trying to be positive! The 2 hour pacer was in the pen behind me, so once they removed the tapes I walked to the start line and let the pacer go ahead so I could watch him.
The first mile was so congested. I have never felt so claustrophobic in a race before. My legs got clipped so many times (through no fault of anyone, it was just very busy) and at one point I tripped on some road paint (the thick lines I think) and just caught myself before I face-planted the floor. Not a good start! I suppose I should have realised that it would be busy, and of course if I had started further back it would have been clearer, but I wanted to see the pacer as I think that helps so much.
Anyway, the first mile (flat through the town) was bang on 9.05! It felt fast, but OK. The second mile heads back to the seafront, and we sped up then, doing 8.59! Someone said “maybe he is going fast in the first half so we can slow down in the second half”, but I think it was just because of it being so busy.
The route then heads up the coast, and I was glad that I knew the course because I was expecting it. I don’t find the hill too bad- it does go on for a fair way (until just past the 4 mile marker) but it’s fairly gentle. There was a point where it narrowed to about the width of two runners, as the fast runners were heading back down on the other side, and here we had to actually stop. The water station was congested too with people running across to grab a water- I had no idea where I should go to avoid it. I had only written down the times for 3, 6, 9, 12 and 13 miles, because I didn’t want to be looking at each mile, but also I could get a fair idea as it was so close to 9 minute mile pacing. Anyway, mile 3 was a 9.12, and when I checked my watch and post it note I was only behind by a few seconds which was fine with me because of the hill.
I was watching the other runners head down the hill and saw another 2 hour pacer on the other side- I had time to think to myself “they must have more than one” before I reached the traffic cone- yup, we were turning around and heading back down! Whoops!
On the downhill I tried to keep the pace going, and enjoyed looking out to sea too. It seemed more blustery here, but of course this was when the runners seemed to thin out a bit- no-one to act as a windbreaker!
Miles 5, 6 and 7 are downhill and back towards the start. I was on course at the 6 mile point, and could hear the winner being cheered home (around 1 hour 10 I would guess- some very speedy time anyway)- at least you can’t see the finish line as you run along the top road, and the finish is on the promenade below. Miles 6 and 7 were run in 8.57 and 8.49- I’m pleased with that speed at a parkrun so I was hoping my legs would last the course.
This is where it began to get tough. Mile 8 and 9 were OK (9.09/ 9.06), and I was pleased that my training had meant I still felt strong for these miles (too far from the end to be “just a parkrun to go”). There were loads of crowds cheering- especially as we were with the pacer lots of people were going “go on two hour runners” which was lovely. One lady shouted in my face at the top of her lungs “OH” (down to my Old Hatfield OH top)- it was funny but also a bit intimidating! I am sure she meant to be supportive as she was cheering all of the runner names and club vests- our OH is a bit weird if you don’t know what it stands for! At the 9 mile point I was still OK, but when I glanced at my watch a few times I was below the 9.05. I wished that I had also typed in 2 hours straight (it’s 9.09- I just looked) as that would have helped settle my nerves. I was getting warm too- I only had on tights and a vest, so I decided to have some water at the final station. It’s at the turnaround point past the Hove Lagoon, just before the 10 mile point. I had to stop to pick up a bottle, and then I had a few sips but that made my stomach ache, so I left the rest of it.
Here I lost the pacer group a bit- I could still see them but they were inching further away and I had no energy to sprint- I still had a parkrun to go! The final 3 miles are along the promenade, so I occupied myself with looking out to sea, thinking about the walk we had yesterday, thinking about the parkrun I ran along there last year, and a lot of counting up to 100. At the 10 mile point my watch said 1 hour 29 (which is my fastest 10 mile time, even though Strava thinks it’s my second fastest- possibly down to a mix up), so I knew I had 31 minutes to run a 5k= 10 minute mile pacing. Then I just had a battle in my mind:
Why not just slow down and enjoy it? You are meant to enjoy running after all? Why not stop and walk for a bit?
No! You have wanted a sub 2 hour for so long! The pacer is still in sight. You can run 10 minute miles. Keep going!
But if I slow down, I will still get a pb, just not a sub 2 hour time. I could still get a pb. My legs hurt a lot.
Come on- you have done the hardest part! You’ve kept up with the group the whole way up the hill, for the first 10 miles- you can do this final bit.
Those final miles were my slowest- 9.20, 9.18, 9.27, and even as I passed the 13 mile point I looked at my watch and looked at the finish gantry and that doubting voice crept in saying “you’ve missed it”- I actually said out loud to myself “No, you can do it- don’t give up”- hopefully no-one heard! I could see the time on the clock ticking closer to 2.05 (I think I crossed the start line at 5 minutes) so I gave it all I had for the final “sprint” (9.06 pace!) and was so elated as I crossed the line and saw 1.59.11 on my Garmin (but of course I had to wait for the chip time). I thanked the pacer as he was stopped right by the line- I really don’t think I would have kept going for the final 3 miles if I could not still have seen him and the group.
Then I felt a bit dizzy, so quickly got a foil blanket and drank some lucozade. Then it all got a bit stressful. I had arranged to meet Andy by the ferris wheel- he was going to bring me tea and my jumper. I hurried (as best I could) past the yoghurt raisins (no thanks), cereal bars (thanks, took one for later), carrier bag (it’s empty- well I guess it’s worth 5p!), water (take one for later), medal (hooray! I love my medal) and t-shirt (yes, finally a technical t-shirt from Brighton!!!!!) which I put on. I tried to get out of the finish area, but it was jammed, and the bit outside with spectators was only wide enough for 2 people, so in the end I went back through the medal area as I had seen an exit further down. I actually ended up running a bit here, as it had already been 20 minutes- I didn’t want Andy to worry but also we had to check out by 12! I finally met up with him half an hour after finishing- just due to the huge crowds. The tea was lukewarm but it was amazing!
We stopped for a quick photo, before heading back to the hotel. We got back at 11.45- I had to have a very quick shower and then spent a long time trying to dry my hair as much as I could. (In the end we checked out about 10 minutes late, which panics me but they were fine).
I then got a text through confirming my time- 1.59.09!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am still so amazed! I have finally achieved that time!
Brighton always make fab medals- this one with the pavilion on is great, and I love the silver with a hint of pink. I wore it all the way home!
I love the t-shirt too!
I have lost count of the number of races I have completed in Brighton- and this is my first technical top! (I do have a cotton one from the marathon which is being kept for posterity).
Andy had also bought me a cinnamon roll, so as we checked out, I started to eat it and realised I was rather hungry, as there were no bananas at the finish and I didn’t fancy the cereal bar- then we were in such a rush I forgot. Not good!
Anyway, after that I felt a bit more humane, so we walked around Brighton and ended up going to Bill’s for lunch. I was soooooo tempted by a new item on their brunch menu (peanut butter and banana French toast- I think it was designed for me) but knew that more sugar would not be a good thing (right away…)- instead I had a lovely salad with lentils, roasted squash and goats cheese. Better re-fuelling I think.
We bought another slice of cake (this was mint and lime) to take home, got a chai latte from Bluebirds, and then got the train home. I thought I would nod off but I was so excited still, plus a few of the OH ladies had been running the Cambridge half and the Gade Valley 17 so I was checking on our facebook group to see how everyone got on.
Are you impressed with my cake slicing skills? I managed to slice it properly in half! After soup and sourdough for dinner we shared the cake- it was delicious!
So the moral of the story? Believe in yourself. Not like a “if you can dream it you can do it” kind of way, because I often dream that I can fly. Like a bird. Frequently. But believe in what you are capable of.
And also sometimes not being able to walk properly the next day is very worth it! That time is mine forever!