Race number five of the season – done; medal 14 collected and a whole lotta limping going on. I think that sums up my Ealing Half Marathon experience? Hardly.
Going into the race I had wildly fluctuating plans for what I was going to do. I was going to run somewhere between a hard 1:45 and a comfortable, cruising 1:50-1:55. If I felt good I’d go for a PB, but realistically this was an afterthought race – there was no swimming or cycling anyway! My season of racing was effectively done after Weymouth (my main focus for the year), so the Ealing Half was more of a victory lap than anything else, after such a great year of results.
The night before the race I indulged in the finer points of ‘carb loading’ – though I may have taken the piss a bit. The two desserts were certainly excessive. After laying out my meagre amount of kit (no wetsuit, transition bags or bike made it super easy) for the following morning and ensuring ‘good’ music on my headphones, I lay my head down and got some sleep before the 6am alarm.
I woke on time and took in some of the Japanese Grand Prix on the couch before downing some porridge and popping my gear on. The Lady joined me, looking typically gorgeous compared to me clad in lycra/running kit. We wandered down to the race park (local! 10 minute walk!) and looked around the stalls before grabbing a coffee and going to the start line. I got a bit of nervous dancing out of my system, though I was much calmer than usual – probably because it was ‘only’ a half-marathon. I did feel my ego inflate watching people nervously preparing – it’s only 21.1km team!
Saying goodbye to The Lady, I switched my music on and started to focus on the race. I would start with the 1:40 pacer, then when they overtook me drop back to the 1:45 and try to hold on for a PB. I hadn’t trained much since Weymouth, so expectations were low. A hooter sounded and away we went.
For the first few kilometres, I ticked over 4:30 pace quite nicely. I had time to give The Lady a non-sweaty kiss inside the first mile as she was cheering me on. After seeing her, I settled into an easy enough rhythm, periodically checking back for the 1:40 pacer. I couldn’t see them. It was becoming very apparent what was going on – I was going out too hard.
I had form doing this – in this race actually. In my first Ealing Half I blitzed myself for the first 10km before walking home for parts in the last half. I didn’t want to repeat the mistake, but I felt good. Was I going too hard, or just going hard? In my head I broke the race into four parts, with a review after every 5 kilometres to see how I was feeling. If I felt I could maintain the pace I was doing, I would continue – if I started to feel significantly fatigued or sore, I would slow down. I went through my first 5km checkpoint in 22:50; roughly a 1:32 half marathon pace – I was going way too fast to maintain, but I felt comfortable and that I wasn’t pushing hard. A few hills in the first part of the course tested my mettle, but I put my head down and increased my stride rate, and managed to hold on to the same pacing somehow.
The atmosphere in the race is fantastic – it feels like the whole of Ealing is out on the streets cheering you on. Most of the course was lined with families and just general spectators – the most fun was reserved for the parts of the course where large amounts of people congregated; three or four deep and loud with instruments, music and whatnot. With no energy gels at any of the aid stations (why?!?), locals bringing out sweets were an absolute godsend. It’s a great race – it’s no wonder that I’ve done it three times.
In the next 5km section I focused on keeping the pace going, but trying not to burn myself out as much as I could. At some stages I felt myself starting to fatigue a bit, and pulled back slightly pace wise. I say that, but my splits for kilometres six and seven were 4:19 and 4:21, so it turns out that I actually sped up during that section! Just before the 10km checkpoint in my head I got to see The Lady again, and shouted out a ‘I’m going too fast!’ to her as something of a status update. I can’t tell you how much that support helps in races, to see a loving face gives you a real boost – if you can get out to support a friend at a race, do it, it makes a massive difference. I went through the 10km point in 45:13, which is a new personal best for 10km for me, and felt ok – but I was wavering somewhat. I had done 22:23 for the second 5km split, so even though I felt I was slowing down – I’d actually sped up. How I was going to hold on for another 11.1km was anybodys guess.
Kilometres 10-15 were the ones that I probably dreaded the most, as they had the biggest hill climb of the race, and one that I had burned me a little in the past. I spent a lot of this part of the race looking over my shoulder – waiting to be enveloped by the 1:40 pacer. I felt myself dropping slower bit by bit, and was expecting to be swallowed up by a group of runners powering by me. Pushing on, my pace started to settle around 4:30 per kilometre, which was still way too fast (I had planned to run 5:00 kilometres) despite the hills. Before looping back up Greenford Rd I was able to finally catch sight of the 1:40 pacer – about 3 minutes behind me! Back over the hill and down towards the Bunny Park in Hanwell, I clicked through 15km completed in 1:07:37 – a 5km split of 22:24, again – really fast for me. I had 6km to hang on for, and I could afford to do it in 38 minutes and still get a PB. I was flying, and I knew it.
The last six kilometres of the race were brutal on my legs, and for once I even felt it in my cardio system a bit – I had to relax and breathe a bit easier to try and settle myself down. Being chased by a pacer wasn’t a great feeling, I felt like a fox being hunted through the streets of Ealing! I had stopped doing the occasional sub 4:20 kilometre at this point, and settled around the 4:30 mark for every kilometre. My legs were aching, but I kept pushing and willing myself to run as fast a time as I could. I was flying, in form and wanted to make the most of such a good base. I figured if I could run a sub 1:40, that would be amazing – given how I had planned to run a sub 1:45. I got to see The Lady again at around 10 miles in, by this stage I was feeling sore but didn’t want to let on how much I was struggling. A shout of ‘I love you!’ was all I could manage – I needed that energy to get over the finish line! Pulling around onto Uxbridge Road, I knew the finish line was within sight, with just a few minor side streets around the finishing park. The last couple of kilometres were the hardest, and I really had to dig deep to get over the line. I came into Lammas Park knowing that I was going to run a personal best time, but just wanted to finish. I also kept an eye out for the Tin Girly, whose Mum had brought her down to see Dad run in his race. I’m glad that around 400 metres before the finish line I got to see her, give a shout out and then make a dash for the finish line.
When my Garmin stopped at 21.1km I had run 1:35:13 for the half marathon. 10 minutes faster than my previous PB, good enough for 580th overall in the race, or in the top 12% of participants. In a UK season when I had gone longer and faster than ever before, this was an exclamation point to finish things off – a truly brilliant run by my standards.
So where does that leave me now? Well, I had a couple of nice blisters on my left foot, a sore left shoulder (strangely) and some chafing in an unmentionable place – so I’m a bit beaten up today. I’m incredibly proud of that run though – the idea of running sub 1:40 was an absolute pipe dream at the start of this year, and I have not only done it, but I smashed it. I was saying to The Lady over a celebratory beer/coffee/cupcake later on in the day that the fact that I am even thinking I could go sub 1:30 is insane in itself. When I started this lark, sub 2 hours was the goal, and to have come so far (especially in the last 12 months) fills me with a great deal of pride. I’ve come a long way this year.
But for now, I need to rest for a couple of days before hitting the pool. There’s no rest for wicked Tin Men, and Ironman UK waits for no-one. A great half marathon result, a fantastic way to round out the UK season – but for now some rest, and then back to it.
Listening To: ‘When The Levee Breaks’ by Led Zeppelin