At the start if this year I had such plans. By the end of April I’d have run two marathons and the autumn was going to see a return to half marathons. Who knew?

When London was paused again I was in great shape and having seen the Bedford Autodrome races advertised on Facebook, I decided to sign up. The plan was to do a 6 week training plan focused on breaking the 1:40 barrier that has become my nemesis over this distance. Then I stopped running.

I had to take a week or two off and before I knew it that had extended into 3 and then 4 weeks without lacing up at all. As raceday approached I was clear in my mind that I couldn’t race with so little preparation.

That was right up until the Saturday evening. I’d had a bit of news that I needed to process and know that one of the best ways of doing this for me is a long run. As I’d already paid up to do 13 miles then I thought I might as well get a medal and t-shirt for my efforts so Bedford was back on.

Obviously as the decision was so last minute, I wasn’t as prepared as I would be usually. For example, I didn’t have any of my trusty pre race Mars bars in the house. However, I did have myself and my kit and that was all I really needed.

As this was my first COVID secure race, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. So having arrived at the site, I went for a brief recce of the race village. From here I could see there was one water station which made my mind up about running with my bladder but otherwise, it didn’t feel that different. Just more social distancing going on and hand sanitiser around.

After a quick trip back to the car to get kitted up, is was time to prepare for the race. After all if the postponements this year, it was nice to finally be able to give a run out to my UK Sepsis Trust kit as I am still raising money for them.

As mentioned, when I signed up I was aiming for sub 1:40. I knew this was definitely out but what should I be targeting? As the organisers started to line everyone up at 2m intervals, I made the call to sit in the sub 1:45 section. The plan was to go steady and see how it went. Just wing it!

In a strange way this event was going to be easier than most to achieve this. We were set off in small groups of 4 onto the track. Already on track were those doing the longer marathon, 20mile and 16mile distances. Therfore very quickly I had no idea who I was racing against or not so the natural desire to chase was dampened.

The course was 4 and a bit laps of the Bedford Autodrome course and it really would have been PB perfect on another day. It was pretty flat, the roads were wide and bends sweeping so nothing to slow you down. However, on this occasion the aim was to be steady and I seemed to be going OK. I was only checking my watch as a guide but unlike a “normal” race, I wasn’t calculating what pace I needed to keep at to hit targets etc. It was quite pleasant although I was already starting to regret wearing a base layer after a couple of km.

The longest I had run in the build up was around 9k and I had found that a struggle, so I was pleased as I approach halfway at the end of lap 2 still feeling quite strong. I was a bit faster than I had planned at around 1:42-1:43 pace but it felt ok. I took on a gel and then my first water of the race. As I was still feeling hot wearing the base layer, I tipped a little water over myself. This was a mistake. After an initial cooldown, within another km the temperature differential between parts of my body meant I was over heating too quickly. It’s reassuring to know this new base layer will keep me warm through the winter but it needed to go. Rather than stop, I stripped down to my vest as I ran. Unfortunately this put strain across my shoulders and now I was tiring and in pain. The “Just Wing It” tactics were starting to fall apart.

Then at around 15km I gave in and walked a bit. The problem is once you lose that mental battle once, it will go again and again so the next 4km saw multiple stop to walk sections. I was a bit annoyed with myself but it was to have been expected given the lack of prep. I did manage to push through the last mile or so when I realised a sub 1:50 was still on and I crossed the line in a time of 1:49:25.

Despite the lack of fitness, I really enjoyed this race. The track was nice to run on and I didn’t find it boring which was a fear with a 4 lap race (although 8 laps may have pushed it!). It was actually the first race track I had run on since doing Silverstone right at the start of the 2000s. The COVID protocols didn’t detract from the experience and I liked the fact that once on track, you were mixed. The races are back on again next March and I am very tempted to try again. I might just train this time!

By Mike

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