TLDR; version – hurt myself pre-race, ran a PB anyway. Happy.
So, seemingly I am now only popping up here to write race reports – which is probably for the best, because everything else running wise is a bit monotonous at the moment. There are only so many times I can write the words ‘I didn’t quite do as many miles this week as I had hoped’ before I become responsible for the first ‘death by boredom’ recorded on the internet. At that is saying something. I apologise in advance for the rambly nature of this race report though – my mind is a mess at the moment as there is loads going on, so that may result in a bit of word vomit in this report. Sorry.
I ran the Ealing Half Marathon for the 5th time yesterday, and signed up about two weeks ago I think. I originally had thought I had a slot through the school the Tin Girl goes to, but it turned out I didn’t. I wasn’t 100% committed to it, but after falling short at Aberdeen I figured it was worth a crack. Not to get a PB or anything, but just as a good training run between now and the Frankfurt Marathon. Also – the start line is 10 minutes from my house, so why the hell not?! Also, I’ve run the thing every year except one, so I have something of a streak to keep up. And as Anna pointed out to me yesterday, I’ve run personal bests for the last two years in a row at the race, so there must be something about that course that agrees with me.
All this being said, I didn’t train specifically for the race. It was meant to be a training run, so I continued on with my marathon preparation – presuming I would include the race as part of that. I did a 30km long run the weekend before that went really well, and had a couple of tempo runs planned for the week prior to the race. One of these runs was a 14km light run into work on Wednesday morning, which had followed a tempo 14km run home on the Tuesday night. I was feeling pretty good on the Tuesday, but very sluggish on the Wednesday into work. I was struggling a bit in the last couple of kilometres, and clearly mustn’t have been picking my feet up, because I tripped over a piece of pavement close to work and went tumbling over. As is usually the case, I managed a rather graceful battle-roll in front of stopped traffic; so I expected that the biggest injury I would suffer was that of my pride. I was somewhat incorrect.
As the day went on, my left big-toe began to hurt more and more. I figured I had just stubbed it on the pavement, and that it would get better. Thursday morning I was still walking with a limp and started to wonder if I had actually done some damage. I knew it wasn’t broken, but it still wasn’t in a state to be running on – so I shelved running before Sunday’s race – frustratingly. What was not helping things was that because I was walking with a limp, I had now also managed to strain something in my ankle in my left foot – which was now also looking an impediment to my running. This was getting seriously annoying. Here I was, two days out from a race and I could barely walk properly.
Of course – all it needed was time and rest, and by not running on it I had given it the rest it needed. It was still a bit tender through Saturday, even though I was able to manage some one-person basketball at a gym while the Tin Girl attended a birthday party. I wasn’t taking my recovery that seriously. When I woke on race morning, it was still a little bit tender, but I took the approach that I would try running normally on it, and if it hurt then I would back right off and not risk long term injury. If it felt fine, then the strategy was simply to try not and go out like a maniac. Too many times I have run too hard, too early in half-marathons; burying myself for the latter parts of the race. I wanted a more even pacing strategy. Luckily for me in this race, we had pacers for 1:25, 1:30 and 1:35 – so I could accurately judge where I was. After picking up my race number (hooray! I remembered my race belt this time!), I placed myself between the 1:25 and 1:30 pacers at the start line and reminded myself repeatedly not to go out too hard. Its just a training run – take it easy.
The Ealing race starts off with some fairly flat sections in the opening 5km, before hills at around 7km and then probably the biggest one at around 13km. Other than that, it is pretty flat. I sorta stuck to my plan for the first 5km, going out in 20:55. In fact – now that I look at it, I didn’t stick to the plan at all! I had meant to go out slower than I had in Aberdeen, and instead went 26 seconds faster for the first 5km. So again, my first 5km was within my 5/10 fastest 5km times. I’ll never learn. Anyway, the key thing here was that I didn’t feel too bad – I was running within myself but at the limit. I was sticking nicely between the 1:25 and 1:30 pacers. I figured that if I could hang with the 1:30 pacers until the 16km mark – I would be well set up for a PB. Notice how quickly my mind had changed from ‘training run’ to ‘PB’? Yep – in the first 200 metres.
I was super happy to have my two-person cheer squad on course for Ealing as well – Anna had brought the Tin Baby (and a coffee for the first viewing) along to the course. The poor little boy must’ve been quite confused by all of the music and noise – but watching his Dad run is something that sadly for him, he’ll just have to get used to. It always gives me a boost to see them on the side of the road, even when (especially when) I am feeling horrid. This day was no exception.
As I started to come through the 10km mark I was deliberately trying to pull back my pace, as I could feel myself going too hard. Once again, I suspect I failed – as Strava tells me that I ran a PB for the 10km distance in 41:58. I wasn’t leaving myself much wiggle room for not exploding in the back end of the course (on a side note – how is it that I can run 41:58 for 10km, but can’t run a sub 20 minute 5km? What the hell?). At around the 12km mark, I got picked up by the 1:30 pacing bus, who I followed up the aforementioned ‘big hill’ and then I was subsequently dropped at a great rate of knots. I stayed with that pacer for all of 1km – so at this stage I was hoping to hold on and not get caught by the 1:35 bus. It was particularly difficult, as during this section of the course the support dwindles slightly, and I found myself effectively running by myself and falling backwards. This was when the voice in my head was telling me alternatively to stop and walk, or to just jog to the finish and call it a training run. That voice in my head sucks.
As always, I ignored that voice and pressed on, even managing a 4:08 kilometre split for the 14th kilometre. I don’t know what happened there, because I don’t remember getting on a motorbike or anything – but clearly something spurred me on. Perhaps it was that I had an energy block and it just really, really worked. Anyway, through 15km I was at 1:03:33, and had 30 minutes to run 6km in order to secure a PB. If I could tick over 5 minute kilometres, I would make it. It was going to be close though.
And what a long, long 6km it was. I was in a hurt that did cause me to wonder at one point why I bother doing these things. I considered the conversation I had had with George Bright about the arbitrary nature of endurance sport. I considered how much my legs were hurting and what benefit I was gaining. I considered stopping and sitting down. Somehow I managed to keep one foot in front of the other, and as every kilometre ticked over I glanced at my watch in shock at how far under my 5 minute per kilometre goal I was. 4:36, 4:21, 4:29 – even a 4:14 for kilometre 19. It was only at kilometre 20 though that I admitted to myself that a personal best was likely unless I absolutely exploded. I picked some targets amongst the other runners and refused to allow my legs to stop until I reached that finish line. I had struggled in the last 3-4 kilometres in Ealing before – I didn’t want to do it again.
My head lolled backwards as I tried to keep myself together for the last mile or so. My breathing began to suffer and I gritted my teeth to try and focus on something other than how much my legs were straining. I entered Lammas Park towards the finish line, and the final 500 metres seemed an age away – even with a personal best assured. I closed my eyes (never a good feeling – everything spins) and made one final push towards the finish line. My watch beeped to indicate 21 kilometres completed, and I sprinted for the last 100 metres before hitting stop on my watch. It was faster than I had ever imagined I would have run that day.
For the third year in a row I ran a personal best at Ealing and defied my own expectations of how fast I can run. A couple of people have mentioned that I must be disappointed at how close I got to running under 1:30 – but I think rather I have the satisfaction of knowing that I really could not have gone any faster. I knocked 3 minutes from my personal best on a course that is still hillier than one that should have PB written on it. Not bad for a training run.
In the context of this season, this was a most welcome boost. There was every chance that I would have finished the year with the 5km personal best I ran in January (?) and nothing else – but now I have something to hang my hat on. If I can do the business in Frankfurt, I could end the year with PBs in 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon – which was sorta the aim of my year. I could argue that I haven’t gone under 20 minutes for 5km, nor 1:30 for the half-marathon – but I’m starting to think of how arbitrary those goals are. I’m improving, I’m running – things are well. I remember being super excited at being in the top 20% of participants in the London Triathlon, and how crazy that seemed. It’s now a strange regulation type feeling at being in the top 5% at half marathons. I finished 207th out of 4171 runners yesterday – not bad.
Now to Frankfurt though – with the confidence that I am running as well, if not better than I ever have. Will it translate into a marathon PB? Who knows.