Whilst travelling away to a race is fun, nothing quite beats your home run. For me this is the St Neots Half Marathon with a start line less than 5 minutes from my front door.
This was going to be my 3rd time running this race and I was hopeful that this would be the year I finally cracked it. Despite a couple of uphill sections, the last 3 miles are downhill so it’s well known for faster times. However, my last two tilts had not been great. My first run was my first ‘proper’ half after hobbling round injured at first ever race over the distance. I was proud to finish but knew I had more in the locker. Last year I headed out far too fast and paid terribly, walking some of the fast downhill bits. Could this year plan out right?
With its reputation for being fast and a capped field of about 1500 runners, it usually sells out within a day of opening. Therefore earlier in the year I was on my phone as the entries opened to ensure my place. I was in and hopeful that training would see me through this time.
Fast forward to race day. My friend Claire (who is also running the London Marathon next year – find her justgiving page here) was running the half as well. Rather than park in the main car park she stopped at ours so we could walk round. She hasn’t done as much running so it was great to he able to support her through the pre race nerves. It may have added a little to my own nerves as the queue for the ladies was very long, but I needn’t have worried as we headed to the start.
Last year I made the mistake of going out too hard and fading horribly. I was desperate to not make the same mistake again. Therefore, as the first 3km went by and I had already pocketed over 30s ahead of target time, there were several internal shouts of “slow down you idiot!”
Thankfully I was able to check my speed and as the km started to tick along, the pace was steady and my sub 1.40 target was still in sight. The conditions were almost perfect with it being overcast and cool and I was enjoying the rhythm.
Last years fast early pace had killed me when the race returned to the village of Abbotsley. Around St Neots is as flat as a pancake but the half marathon does hit a couple of hills. The one in Abbotsley gets hit twice. On the way out you are still fresh and I’d breezed over it. However, on tired legs it is a different proposition!
I knew I’d lose a little time and with around 30s in the bank at this time, I was hopeful I’d come out with some buffer. Unfortunately over the next 3km it all went and a little bit more. With a downhill stretch to home my hope wasn’t gone. However, I just couldn’t get the legs firing so focus switched to a PB rather than the sub 1.40.
I’d gone straight through the drinks station at 9 miles and was starting to regret this. But I was determined that there was no way I was going to walk this time as I had in this section of the race last year. I saw a couple of walkers and felt for them as I knew exactly what they were going through.
I did slow to a brief walk at the mile 11 water station. Ironically I didn’t want to choke on the water, and then did anyway! Then it was the final drop back into St Neots. As I came down the final hill I finally had a little bit of speed in my legs and I was able to fly past my family and cross the line in an official time of 1:41:04. Part of me bemoaned the lost seconds at the water station that was the difference in beating the arbitrary 1:41!
My wife did approach with caution, aware I might be annoyed and not having hit the target. However, I knew that I hadn’t scuppered myself like last year and it only needs a little more race management. Indeed, I’m confident as I head towards Marathon training, on a flat course I would hit that target.
We stayed to watch Claire finish. She wasn’t aiming for any times and was happy that she had placed herself evenly throughout. The medal was a new design this year so it was great to head home and get it hung up, all ready for 2020 to hopefully join it.
I will be running both the Manchester and London marathons next year for Sepsis UK. Please read this post to find out more about why I have chosen this charity.