02 April 2006

White Horse Half Marathon

If last weekend wasn't as successful as I wished, this weekend has made up for it. 1 hour 32 minutes 49 seconds, which from memory (the only record I have, unfortunately) is a personal best over this distance. I did Reading in one-thirty-something years ago, with Alex and John Scarborough - must have been '98 - but I don't think it was this fast.
Apart from a personal best, my other goal was to break 1:30, so that remains to be done, probably not next weekend in Reading but who knows? Maybe Windsor in September will be the time, when I'll have a complete summer of hard training behind me. And I'll ensure I don't run 25 miles the weekend before - that was a particularly inappropriate form of preparation.
I hadn't given the matter much thought, but when I looked in at the school that served as race HQ (bumping into John Oliver, an Abingdon clubmate, as he departed for the start - or was it the North Pole? - wearing hat, fleece and gloves, while I was making do with vest and shorts) and found a large group of Abingdon Amblers, it struck me that I should find one to run with who could help pace me to my target time. There are some seriously fast people in the club, but I thought that perhaps Thornton, ahead of whom I had stayed on last week's club run for the first time ever, would fit the bill. The age difference would be in my favour, which would not be the case with any other club members I could see. He was amenable, and confirmed that he was aiming for 1:30.
From the start, we seemed to be maintaining a fast but comfortable pace. My main reservation was that Thornton seemed to be breathing with considerable difficulty, but I've encountered plenty of other runners who seemed to struggle for breath, even appeared to be about to expire, and who nevertheless managed to outrun me. At mile 1 my watch showed 6 minutes 30, which I put down to initial exuberance (I remember Mario de Justo, at the end of the INTA 5K a few years ago, asking me whether anyone had ever told me not to start so fast - I had led the race for the first half mile or so - and I had to admit that it was a common criticism). At mile 2 Thornton seemed no more comfortable and the clock showed 13 minutes. Mile 3 we covered in something more like 6:45, and I was there in 19:45, which suggests I should be able to run an excellent 5K this year; mile 4 likewise took about 6:45, and I told Thornton that I'd probably be dropping back. He told me that if I could do each mile in 6:45 I'd be home within the target time, which of course I had already calculated (in fact, my approach had been to run 7 minute miles and hope that the odd minute or two turned up from somewhere, just the sort of hopeless optimism that so often means I don't quite achieve what I want). Reminded of the origin of the word 'laconic', I pointed out that this was a pretty big 'if'.
I didn't stay with him much further. At about this point the route changes direction, and suddenly we were running into the wind - and no gentle breeze, at that. A little late for a March wind, though I've never run this race (and I have three of the souvenir mugs already on the shelf in the kitchen at home) in conditions any different from this. Right on cue, along comes an April shower, just to show that running the event in the month after the usual one isn't going to make much difference. I don't recall what my times were for the intermediate miles, but I do recall that by mile 10 I had lost the seven minute average (let alone the extra two minutes or so I had hoped to find somewhere!).
At nine miles, Andy (from the club) was taking photos and should have snapped a nice one of me, just at the point where I finally gave up using my shades, though the sun came out again a little later. I hadn't been conscious of where I stood in relation to my clubmates: I knew Thornton was long gone (he finished in 1:28 something), and one Abingdon vest had come past me, on someone I didn't recognise (turned out to be a fairly new member, another Frenchman, called Serge, a mere senior so seriously younger than me). A couple of really fast guys had disappeared after the start. When eventually I reached the finish line, I was astonished to see so many clubmates whom I had never dreamed of beating in a race crossing the line when I was already on my second mug of water. I may have been fifth home (in fact, when the results appeared I was seventh) of the Abingdon runners, and there's a good chance none of those in front of me were in my age group (though I don't know whether that counts for anything). I might start taking the club championship seriously for the rest of this season!
The great thing about a half marathon is that it's a comfortable distance. My feet didn't suffer, my legs still work, no problems with hydration (not in a rainstorm!) or nutrition, no need for a two-hour kip this afternoon. It's almost an ideal distance. So what will I do next weekend at Reading? Starting the week with only 13.1 miles in my legs already rather than 25, should I be aiming at 90 minutes or just enjoying the event?

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