February is the month where we seem to get the worse weather. Two years ago when I was gearing up for London I did the Great North West HM and the weather that day was the worse I’ve ever run in. So these days it takes a lot to put me off racing, however the forecast for the weekend was enough to make you stay in bed. The forecast was that bad, it wasn’t until 6:00am that I knew I’d be racing, I had resigned myself to doing my usual 3 mile loop for my long run. I live on the edge of the Pennines, near the Woodhead and as such it’s not unknown to get snowed in. The BBC Weather predicted snow, from Thursday on wards but what came was more rain then snow. At the start of the week Saturday was going to be the worse day, then by Friday it had changed to Sunday. Come 8pm the forecast was for heavy snow from 10pm right through till the middle of Sunday.
However I awoke to nothing, I mean nothing! So up the family got and then we headed off in the car to Stamford for the 24th running of their flagship event the St.Valentines 30k. Now I almost did this race back in 2015 but was advised I didn’t need to do it but after a good winter training I wanted to see how I coped both mentally and physically with a race over the half marathon distance, bear in mind the only time I’ve raced over 13.1 miles was in the doomed marathon race in 2015. I had planned on doing the Tarpley 20 on the 26th Feb as my target long race but logistics meant that without shelling out for hotel etc it was not possible, so when I saw a post on a Facebook group by Sean Barkes offering to sell a place, I jumped at chance.
So after my grueling 80 mile week, I decided to cut back the miles with race at end, come Sunday I felt fresh and the journey down was uneventful, despite the wind, snow, sleet and rain. Forecast for the race was 16 mph winds with 30 mph gusts, with outbreaks of rain/sleet. Fantastic I thought but I wanted the test. After parking at the school we hung around in the canteen, after bumping into Simon Newton I knew for once not to try and chase him like I did at Norton 9. He is a good marathon runner, yet I’m not. I also knew Martin James who I had raced against midweek was also doing it. Now Martin is an enigma as he does low mileage weeks but he has a solid engine, over the short stuff I’d always fancy my chances but when it comes to longer stuff he has years of experience on me. I didn’t see him till the start but I had my own plan and was determined for once to stick to it.
After a warm up and Molly having fun to help me relax we were walked to the start on the road outside the school. My plan was to let others shoot off and to run a consistent pace, as I was lacking experience I did a bit of homework on other runners round me at half marathon, looked at their marathon / 20 mile times and worked out target paces. Now after my 77:26 HM if you put that into the race predictor sites such as this one , I should be capable of a 1:52:00 30k and a 2:42 marathon. One day but for me my main target was anything under 2 hours.
As we set off I bumped into Mike Wells and I chatted to him while others raced off, he was targeting his marathon pace, he asked which marathon I was doing. I responded to none, I simply wanted to test myself at this distance and see how I went from there. I then pushed ahead, wishing him well. In distance I could see Martin and Simon running together. Happy in knowledge that trying to race Martin would have been suicidal at an unknown distance.
The route is marked as undulating. Yeah ok! I think hilly is better, you never gain back what you lose up hill when you go down. However my plan was to work it one mile at a time. Plan was to keep every mile around 6:20 for first 9 miles and then try and up pace from there. Fuelling was the biggest unknown as I can’t stomach gels, so I opted to carry a few packs of Haribo with plans to take them at 3 mile intervals from 9 half way (more on that later).
We ran out of the edge of Stamford an up and down first mile allowed for me to enjoy the start of race. I soon relaxed into a pace I was comfortable with as I found myself in a bunch of a half dozen runners. The first mile clocked at 6:21, perfect. Next, I knew it was downhill as we headed into Little Casterton, I soon realised I would have to run this section back, shit that’s going to hurt. I could have gone mental and ran something stupid like a 5:20 mile but instead I held back. I wanted the miles to feel easy for as long as possible, so mile 2 was 6:17. The first climb came at 4k, at this point I realised this group had dropped to 6:46 pace going up this lump. Sod this I thought and left them as we ran on what looked a private road and down hill as we hit mile 3. 6:19 on the watch and happy as managed to claw back the time I lost when I was in pack. At mile 3 we turned right for the start of the big loop, I knew the last 3 miles would be tough. By now the field was in single file and I simply stuck to my pacing strategy. I was told there was tough hill at around 6k, so made sure I upped pace but this mile also happened to be into a head wind. I clocked 6:20 for mile 4 but was still feeling good, just working harder on the hills and then recovering on the downs.
As we turned left to leave Ryhall I ran along side another runner and we got chatting about the idiot car drivers who were too impatient to wait. I explained was happy to tuck in as didn’t want to go too fast yet. He asked my target and said 1:57 would be ace. After running a mile together clocking 6:19 for mile 5. I saw a long drag and wished him well and pushed on to tackle the hill, little did I know we had a nice descent the other side. So I ended up clocking a 6:14 mile for mile 6. Just after this was the first 10k marker. The race was marked in km with heart signposts and stuff wrote on them, but was going to fast to read any. I hit 10k in 39:01. Fab only 20k to go and on pace for 1:57:xx.
The next mile was also pretty swift but I was ticking off runners one by one, for once I even had the ability to thank the marshals, the best water station was one having Queen blasting out the speakers. I couldn’t help but sing to myself. I hit 7 miles with a 6:15 split. But next 3 miles felt like I was constantly climbing. I really felt like I had to work hard to keep under target pace in mile 8 but then it did have 82ft of climbing in it. I passed two more runners in the next mile and this was also when I deployed my fuelling strategy but it went wrong. I had my packets of Haribo in my Flipbelt and pre-opened to allow for easy access but I could not swallow the damn things. Trying to breath and chew then swallow just wasn’t happening. So at this point I must have looked like a bloody Hamster storing it’s food. Decided to wait till next water station. On I ran clocking 6:16 for mile 9. I then hit 15k in 58:51, I slowed grabbed a cup of water, took a mouthful and swallowed the sweets in my mouth. I then set off again. I knew I needed to look at different fuelling methods on my long runs.
Mile 10 and 11 soon passed me by clocking 6:17 and was clocking closer to 6 minutes in mile 11 till hit the next hill to bring mile to 6:18. The next 3 miles I was feeling strong and my pace picked up. Looking back I think the sweets gave me my energy and instead of abandoning the sweets should have taken more on at each water stop and used water to swallow them. I clocked my faster 3 miles group together with 6:15, 6:12 and 6:14. I also passed the 20k marker in 1:18:12 giving me a 39:11 10k splits, only 10s in it. Very happy with my pacing so far.
By this point we had swung left at Great Casterton and into the head wind again. The next few miles all seemed up hill. I was on for another sub 6:20 mile till right near end and it buzzed for 6:21 due to the hill at end. I managed to pick it up again in the next mile as we ran down and right back on to the route we did on the way out. I knew there was some hills coming I hit mile 16 with 6:18 but by now I seemed to be on my own as the route twisted and turned up and down.
Mile 17 and 18 I had to really dig deep as my calf’s kept trying to cramp up, so was fighting the hills, fatigue and also trying not to cramp. Mile 17 turned out to be my slowest mile in 6:33 (given it was 60ft of climbing I actually would have clocked a 6:14 mile on a flat mile), I just could not gain back the time I lost on the climb (If you split my run into KM’s it was the 27th KM that cost me with a 4:10 split). By now I could sense we was in touching distance as we ran back through the estate more up then down, all the while my calf’s screamed at me but I kept going, this mile seemed to go on and on, then my watch buzzed for mile 18 6:30 and knew I had 1 KM to go. Just got to finish it. A crowd cheered as I re-entered the school grounds and on to the football pitch. WTF I knew it was coming but my legs went to mush, it was evil, the wind seemed to be coming from every direction. But I ran round it and then turned and could see Sarah willing me in, a quick check of watch but no sprint finish from me. Over the line, job done!
After stumbling into the sports hall, my time came up 17th position in 1:57:38. Job done, my A target achieved and my last 10k split was 39:23. Now I’m not perfect at pacing but to do 39:01, 39:11 and 39:23 is pretty damn good going! My splits both in miles and kilometres are pretty consistent and it was a massive mental boost. If I could keep that pace for another 1.4 miles I’ve potential to clock a 2:06 20 miler. If I could do it for another 12K I have the potential to do a 2:45:56 marathon. Now this was hilly so would like to test myself now on a flatter course to see if I could finish stronger. I still need to work on fuelling on my longer races, as I felt benefits for 3 miles but then needed another top up for last 3 miles.
As for the chaps I mentioned, Martin and Simon both came in 1:55:xx in 9th and 11th place. Mike Wells stuck to his plan and came in 2:06. What miffed me was when results went online earlier I had dropped to 18th place! Even though my daughter counted only 16 runners in front of me, I put it down to chip timing.
- 18th in 1:57:35
Kit used in race
- Adidas Pro Lightweight Running Vest
- Adidas Response 5 inch shorts
- Adidas Adizero Adios 3
- Adidas running light no-show socks
- Adidas techfit base layer
- Adidas Sweat Band
- Adidas Skull Cap
- Garmin 220