As we moved into 2019, like most runners, I started to make a plan for the year. However, unlike the past couple of years, this didn’t include any spring time races. Instead I started out with a plan to improve my speed work, test it at parkrun and do a bit more tourism.

It was all working out quite well. My mileage was actually higher than last year and I wasn’t finding myself missing races. I’d always planned on doing a couple of the local, Autumn half marathons and the first of those opened for entries in early June. It sells out almost straight away so I had to enter then but it unlocked the bug and straight away I found myself event searching again. This obviously in turn led to many more races appearing as sponsored ads on Facebook.

Cue me logging on one day to a post for the Bedford Running Festival and the fact there were only 200 spaces left in the Half Marathon. I’d been seriously considering this race last year and then it sold out, so I took the urgency and signed up there and then. To make myself feel less guilty I called it an early birthday present (as my birthday is the following week) although my wife and non running friends just think I am mad! The ironic thing is I then continued to see 200 to go posts, then 100 to go and eventually 50 to go throughout the summer so perhaps I needn’t have been so worried about missing out again!

Fast forward a couple of months and it’s race day and time to start preparing. It’s weird that even now I will wake up on the day of a race like this and the nerves are all over the place! A trusty breakfast of crumpets, butter and lots of coffee and then it was time to head to Bedford.

#RACEDAY— Mike Heywood (@Mike_Heywood) September 1, 2019

The event is called a running festival as they have a lot of other stuff going on as well such as live music, open air cinema and food trucks. However, that could all wait so I orientated myself and settled down near to the bag drops before eventually heading to the start.

What time to aim for had been something I’d been grappling with so I had decided I’d head out and see how I was feeling. This put me at the back of wave 1 (sub 1:45) and after a briefing I couldn’t hear so doubt anyone further back did either, we were underway.

The 1st km was along a narrow path so you were a little at the mercy of the crowd for the pace. This probably helped me a little though as it tempered my natural tendency to head out too quick. The path then opened out a bit and the field started to spread. After clearing pretty much the only “hill” on the course (a bridge over the A428) we then set off for two woodland laps.

I was feeling good with a pace that would bring me in sub 1:40 if I could maintain it. And then my watch started playing silly buggers. The heart rate monitor was recording me as going well above my max threshold and was continually buzzing to tell me this. I’d like to think I know my body well enough that my heart was not beating that fast and indeed it kept buzzing at me even when I took it off. Unfortunately though, as I was trying to sort it, I managed to hit the split button. From that point on my splits were coming through more randomly and I couldn’t work out if the slower splits were real or maybe GPS related. In some ways it was quite liberating as I was just running at a pace that felt natural, rather than pushing times.

The 2nd lap of the woodland was a bit more chaotic as we picked up the back of the field. On the whole this wasn’t an issue as runners kept to the left being overtaken. It was only when we reached the drink station and people were crossing and stopping it caused a few almost collsions. Likewise, as we split off, some confused runners either started on a 3rd lap or started heading home after one. A prime reason to check the course map before the race!

By this stage we’d done 8 miles and I was definitely starting to feel it. Fortunately I got in a small group which helped keep pulling me along through. As we running back along the embankment at around 11 miles I was though thinking that based on the pace my watch was giving me, maybe at a stretch a sub 1:45 was still on the cards but I couldn’t be sure. This was  little slower than I had hoped so aready excuses were starting to run through my mind. Therefore I was quite surprised when I came past the 12 mile marker in less than 1:35. All my pacing is done in km but even I knew this meant that a PB might be  on the cards after all. I pushed on and finally, for the first time since my watch issues, with 400m to go, I believed I was getting a PB. What’s more, as I had been a bit closer to the start line, as I crossed the finish, I could see even my gun time would have beaten it.

Having collected the (very nice) medal and my goodie bag (that for some reason was deconstructed and I saw on FB they started to run out at end, probably due to greediness) I sat down with my free pint of Erdinger. It may be alcohol free and isotonic, but it did feel a but weird recovering with a pint and some jelly beans! By the time I had collected my bag from the bag drop my timing text message had come through, an official new PB of 1:42:35.

I’m obviously very pleased with dropping my time but there is an element of “What if?” in my mind. If I had not of had the watch issues, would I have pushed harder and hit sub 1:40? Or would I have pushed too hard and blown up like has happened in the past? The good news is it is only just over a month until I run the distance again at St Aidans Trail Half Marathon. What’s more, with more of the Bedford course off concrete than I was expecting, I’m now hopeful I might be able to deal with the conditions better than I had thought.

I would run this race again and I think the festival vibe has its merits. Hopefully the organisers can iron out a few of the small issues like the water stations but as a flat course, it is prime for another PB attempt next year!


By Mike

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