At the start of the year I set myself three quite challenging running goals to really stretch myself throughout 2020:
- 1) run a sub-50 minute 10 km
- 2) run a sub-2 hr half marathon
- And 3) to complete the Chicago and New York marathons!
The Vitality Big Half, with its flat course, and exciting event atmosphere, seemed like the perfect place to start working on my half marathon performance, and have a first attempt at getting closer to my sub-2 hr goal.
Training for the Big Half hadn’t gone entirely according to plan. By this point I was hoping to have some solid race performances at the Winter Run 10km and the East London Half under my belt, but the strong winds accompanying storms Dennis and Ciara had meant both of these races were cancelled, and my February mileage was a bit on the low side as a result. My Tuesday night Our Parks running group however, had been keeping me going, helping me get some extra long runs in despite the storms. Several of the group would be running their first ever half marathons at this race and I couldn’t wait to see how everyone got on!
This would be my 5th half marathon, and my PB stood at 2hrs17 minutes, set at the Hackney Half last summer. Since then, I’ve gone through a whole training cycle for the Berlin marathon, set a great time at the Great South Run and taken 7 minutes off of my 10k PB, so I knew I stood a really good chance of bringing my half marathon time down as well. For the Big Half, I set myself the rather optimistic challenge of trying to take 15 minutes off my best time, which didn’t sound easy at all! My plan for the day was to try and follow the 2hr pacer for as long as possible and see what I could do!
Race day came around, and I set off early into central London, giving me time to wave hello to the Walthamstow parkrun crew manning the bag drop lorry, before making my way across Tower Bridge to my starting area. With over 16,000 runners taking part, we were split up into several different starting waves, and I had to leave my Our Parks friends behind to start the race in a completely separate area to them. As we were herded into our starting pens, I looked around and started to panic a little. I could only see the flags of the 2hr15 and 2hr20 pacers, and the 2hr pacer didn’t appear to be in my starting wave at all! I felt instantly quite deflated, as I always only manage to put in my best perfomances with a pacer or speedy friend to help me along. This was going to be a lot harder by myself!
Suddenly another flag bobbed into view over the crowd of runners; not a pacer but my friends Robin and Chris from the Spinal Research team, the charity who I’ve been supporting with my charity fundraising. We made our way across the start line together, with a welcome good luck cheer from the parkrun crew, and we were off!
The first half of the race took us winding around the cobbled streets of Limehouse, through the skyscrapers in the Canary Wharf district and through a rather long tunnel, which played havoc with my GPS watch. Pacing myself for this race was going to have to be the old-school method of running by feel, and checking my time against each 5km marker point that we passed. Robin had got away from me at the start, but I had kept his easy-to-spot Spinal Research flag in my sights and managed to catch him up again by around 9km. We passed the 10km checkpoint right on schedule for a 1hr:59 finish time, things were looking good!
After an iconic run across Tower Bridge, things began to get more difficult. This was by far the longest I had managed to maintain this kind of pace, and I was starting to feel the strain. We passed through the 15 km checkpoint at just over 2hr half marathon pace, and I knew there was no way I would be able to speed up any more to get those lost seconds back. I focused on trying my best to stick with Robin, but a couple of unwelcome small hills right near the end nearly finished off my very tired legs. Suddenly Greenwich high street was in sight, and I turned the corner to see the Cutty Sark, and the finishing line!
My finish time was 2:00….and 16 seconds! Agonizingly close to my sub-2hr dream, but I knew that I had given it absolutely everything I had on the day, and I couldn’t have done any better. Besides, that meant a 17 minute improvement on my PB, which was definitely something to celebrate! The huge queue for bag drop at the end of the race was slightly frustrating, but at least gave a good opportunity for everyone to catch up, and it was wonderful to bump into so many friends from Instagram and Twitter who had all put in some fantastic performances. I met up with my Our Parks group to continue the celebrations afterwards, everyone feeling rightfully proud and showing off their medals!
So my sub-2hr half marathon goal hasn’t been ticked off yet, but what a result for my first attempt! Next up for me will be the London Landmarks Half marathon on the 28th March, which gives me 4 weeks to rest, recover, and then do it all again! Eek! Better get training!