I’ve really started to develop a love hate relationship with the half marathon. I remember the first time I stood on the start line for a half and the distance seemed daunting, yet now I’m regularly doing them in my training. However, I can’t quite crack the goal of breaking 1:40.

One of the draws of a half marathon is the fact that you can quite “easily” run one without any specific training if you are getting regular mileage in. I proved this myself last year when I rocked up to the Bedford Autodrome Half Marathon after several weeks of minimal training. In fact I have never followed a specific training plan before and that has led me to my current PB of just over 1:41 that I managed in late 2019. However, what if I actually put my mind to it. If I focused on training for the distance, could I find that extra 60s?

Having got my 1:41 at thr 2019 St Neots Half Marathon my plans were laid out. I was training for two marathons and had all plans to focus on a couple of autumn halfs. It unfortunately wouldn’t be a great episode of Question of Sport if in this case we asked “What Happened Next?”. When the marathons were postponed thanks to the C word, autumn halfs were put on ice and as the year progressed, so was London again.

With my fitness sky high at the time I entered the Bedford race thinking that this would see me through but alas I then lost motivation and the race didn’t really go to plan. That lack of motivation then crept into the winter as we hit additional lockdowns.

Fortunately in the new year my work decided to set up some new virtual social groups to help with engagement and one of those was a running club. Suddenly with some small challenges I found a bit of mojo had returned and I was finding it a little less hard to get out the door. After a few weeks discussions turned to races and the Hertfordshire Half Marathon at Knebworth House came up as a good option for many of us. The timing was almost perfect for me as it was a week before I would start training again for London and it gave me plenty of time to focus on training exclusively for the half distance. 1:40 was firmly in my sights!

I settled on a 12wk plan and started working towards the race. However, it wasn’t as smooth sailing as I have had the two times I have started the marathon plan. Maybe it wasn’t the right plan for me, maybe the fact that it was “only” a half was at the back of my mind or maybe as I didn’t write about it here, I didn’t feel as obligated. What I know is that over the 12wks I did miss more runs off the plan than I would have liked and had a handful of stinkers when trying to up my speed. All that said, it was still more training than I had done before for a race of this distance.

13.1m to go

The race itself starts and finishes in the grounds of Knebworth House, famous for legendary gigs by Oasis and Robbie Williams. I rocked up (pardon the pun!) with plenty of time to spare but oddly was feeling quite nervy. I think this was partly due to the fact I didn’t really know what to expect from my body after the training so how should I pace it? In the end I decided to head out at 1:40 pace and see how I travelled.

The first few km were a little strange. As usual I went out too hard and I went through 1km almost 15s ahead of my target but was going downhill. Kms 2 and 3 I then ran slow. I wasn’t helped by my watch measuring completely differently to the km marker boards that were out for the 10km race so I wasn’t even sure my GPS was accurate. In a way this was nice as I settled into a pace and tried to forget if I was up/down on target pace.

What I hadn’t really factored in was the course and the conditions. I had been told it was hillier but I thought I could balance this out with my times which seemed to be happening. However, it was also really muggy and by around 10km in I could start to feel it and I was sweating buckets. From 10km to 12km was mostly up hill so I made the decision to wait until I summited before taking on a gel. Here is where I made a mistake. I slowed to a walk to take on the gel as by this point I was mentally ruling out a PB. That was the beginning of the end. From that point on my mind was gone and my legs quickly followed suit. I was finding excuses for why it was hard (not helped by it threatening to rain and then not which seemed to ramp up the humidity). I was struggling to run down hills as much as up them and the time was just washing away.

A bit later than I would have hoped but back across the line.

The thing is even a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have turned my nose up at the finishing time of 1:41:36. However, it did feel like an opportunity missed and whilst there were definite physical barriers, the annoyance is that even if I hadn’t got a PB, some of that deficit was purely mental. Yet again the target is winking at me but is just off in the distance.

All said though I am at least entering marathon training with a better level of fitness than was at risk before I entered the race. I know my marathon training plan works for me so I’m now hoping that I can maybe target an autumn half post London to target that elusive time once more (and also when it should be cooler!). This could even be back on the same course as whilst it was hilly, it was lovely running on closed roads in a nice countryside setting. The setup at the event village was well organised, although you would expect to as it is now run by RunThrough and they had also organised Bedford last year, and it was nice running through villages where locals had come out yo join the marshals in cheering which made it an overall enjoyable experience despite of the result!

By Mike

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