Berkhamsted Half Marathon – March 2nd 2014

I’m a bit out of kilter with race reports. As I mentioned in the last post, I have raced a couple of times since last year but have yet to write about them but I’m starting with the most recent because it’s so fresh in my mind. Well, fresh in the same way that a pack of supermarket chicken bought from the discount counter and is a few days past its Best Before date is fresh. But before I talk about that race, I want to share some feelings about a race of sorts I did back in November – of sorts only in that it was a club only race and counted towards the club Off-Road championships but there were numbers and times and places and everything so it counts.

The race, which takes place on the route of the popular Ridgeway Race which our club holds annually, is a trail run through the beautiful National Trust woodland and is just shy of 10 miles long and takes in about 775ft of elevation (according to Strava). I was excited about the event because a) I’d never done it before b) it was my first real challenge after injury and c) I love the course. It’s a handicap race with all runners setting off at different times – slow to fast – with the aim of having everyone finishing at about the same time (although this hasn’t yet happened in the events history to my knowledge). The winner is the first one home, irrespective of the time it took them.

All told, the race went well for me. I set out too fast and paid for it later and still don’t manage ascents that well even though they’re relatively benign compared to anywhere outside the Home Counties. But I pushed myself as hard as I felt comfortable, maintained focus and managed to run my fastest time on that course (even allowing for the fact that, technically, a route change made it 0.1 mile shorter), finishing as I did in 1:18 on the nose (so an average of 8:17 mins/mile). It would have been faster too if not for the extra challenge of getting caught behind a couple of ladies riding horses down a narrow path – this slowed the group of runners I was with down to a walk for a couple of minutes. Perhaps the enforced rest did me good and enabled me to push the last couple of miles a little harder than I would have done otherwise. Any which way, I got a time I was pleased with on a steep and muddy course and, more importantly, I really, really enjoyed the run.

So what does this have to do with last weekends half marathon?

I think the answer to that otherwise rhetorical question is about the difference in my mentality between the two events. In many ways, they are quite similar routes in that they are both scenic, both pass through the same National Trust woodland and both have a similar amount of elevation. The primary differences, obviously, are that the half marathon is 3-4 miles longer and all on road.

I’ve done the race once before, back in 2011, and I can’t say it exactly went well. That’s hardly surprising that I had only run 9 times in the couple of months before the race and only twice in the 4 weeks before (for a total of about 15 miles). The first half of the race went okay but the wheels fell off in the second half and I suffered and crawled in over two hours after I set out. This year I’ve been a little more prepared and have averaged around 15 miles a week with some extra cross training thrown in now and then because I’m training for a marathon, donchaknow. And if that wasn’t a clue about how seriously I was taking my preparation for this race then I should also point out that I only decided to enter it 10 days before hand, predominantly because a lot of people both from my club and the group that I coach were taking part so I figured hey, what the hell?

Actually, I did prepare for the race by plotting the route and working out where all the climbs were, how steep they were and how long they lasted and committing those facts to memory. It did help, as it happens, and I feel that I handled the course better. Long story short, I got a PB. Or PR depending on your preferred abbreviation. I finished the race in 1:47 on the dot (or 1:46:22 according to Strava which reckons the measured course was 0.1 of a mile too long) By all accounts, that’s not bad given that the course is widely recognised as not being one you get a PB on. I should be delighted. Obligatory race photo incoming:

Berkhamsted Half Marathon

So why don’t I feel it went that well?

As I came in to the finishing funnel, a guy who I’d passed when I proper legged it sprinted the last 200m to the finish (there are pictures to prove it but they’re even less flattering than the one above) said to me “you’d have been quicker if you hadn’t kept stopping to walk!” “I’d have been quicker if my knee hadn’t hurt so fucking much!” was the reply that came to my lips but, in an unusual act of self-restraint, didn’t say aloud. That had been the case – from about 9 miles in, just after the second major climb (and perhaps because of it), my knee had started playing up (not to mention a niggle in my achilles which you can see strapped up in the picture – damn but I’m a wreck!) and I moderated my pace for the rest of the race – but that wasn’t the only reason that I don’t feel it went well. The other factor was my mentality.

At about 5 miles, on a long downhill stretch which should have been bliss, I looked at the tarmac and the road ahead and thought “Damn but this is tedious!” Shortly after that point, I started counting down the miles, eager for them to pass so I could be done with the race. I found that I just didn’t have the focus to push myself harder than I needed to, totally unlike the trail race back in November. Compare the times: 10 miles on a hilly, muddy and challenging trail course in an average of 8:17 min/mile vs 13 miles on a hilly but otherwise straightforward road course in an average of 8:07 min/mile. Sure, it might have been different if I’d been running without pain but on reflection, I’m very aware of the difference between how I felt mentally between the two races.

I know I should be pleased – and I am pleased really – because I did get a PB (it’s only taken 8 and a half years!) but, as arrogant as it might sound, I honestly feel I didn’t give it my all – even if physically I was somewhat hindered – and I could have done better. I don’t know if I’ll do this race again because roads but I’ve got time to work that one out and maybe I’ll have a change of heart in eleven months.

In the meantime, I’ve got a marathon to prepare for.

One thought on “Berkhamsted Half Marathon – March 2nd 2014

  1. Lyle

    I think that it’s something you’ll decide for yourself – whether you want to be a trail runner or a road-runner. (Meep meep) Actually, I think it’s something you’ve already decided/realised, to be honest.

    I think though (and I’m happy to be decried, shouted down, and called a bloody idiot if I’m wrong) that you feel the need to do some ‘proper’ runs in order to be able to justify/explain things to other runners who only do road-based stuff. “Done a Marathon” (or a Half-marathon) is a quantifiable distance/achievement. Having a time for those puts you on a scale with others who only run roads, and helps in that perception of yourself within that sector.

    I totally understand that mindset – otherwise you almost feel ‘less’ than the road-runners- because you do trails instead, and they can’t see that as ‘proper’ running in their own heads. Which is, frankly, their loss.

    Run with what makes you happy. If it’s not roads, don’t do roads. Do the London one, but see it (perhaps) as your last road-race, or at least do others on your own terms. Be happy with what you do, and the rest is gravy.

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