It is 6.30am on Sunday 26th March and my alarm has just gone off. Must be time for the QE Spring Half Marathon, run by Second Wind Running.
Well I say my alarm has just gone off. This is not entirely accurate. I have a 4 year old who gets up at somewhere between 6am and 6.30am every day, so no need for an alarm really 🙂
I was looking forward to this race. Despite my training going nowhere near to plan due to injury and illness, I was feeling fairly fit and this hilly half marathon is a preparation run for Brighton Marathon in a few weeks time. No need to try and rush round, just turn up, complete the race uninjured and move on.
This race had been entered due to my friends Mike and Neil both signing up and persuading me to do so. Since then, they have both had to withdraw from the race due to injury, leaving me to it. No real drama, as they both run WAY faster than I do so would only have seen them at the start, and then again at the end. They would have been looking all lithe and fit and well rested as I hauled myself over the line hours after they have finished. So really a blessing in disguise I was going on my own, as I wouldn’t have to suffer that. 🙂
Queen Elizabeth (QE) Country Park is just up the road from where I live in Portsmouth. Nestled along the absolutely stunning South Downs Way, QE allows access to miles of mountain bike and running tracks, and is just about as nicer place as you could ever want to run. All except for one minor point. It is hilly. Very hilly!
Now I am not somebody who balks at hills. In fact I quite enjoy a hill. Those that are too steep for me to run up I simply walk up, meaning I get a well earned rest and can then fly down he other side of the hill like a mountain goat running away from a snow leopard. At least that is the idea anyway. Plus my ultra marathon that I have booked in June is along the South Downs Way, which means that any hill practice I get in now will hold me in good stead for that race.
Arriving at race HQ at around 9.15am for a 10.15am race start, I quickly registered and set about the tedious business of trying to pin my race number onto my vest. Luckily, I had the ever cheerful Dave Ludlam to talk to. Dave is a fellow member of Portsmouth Triathletes, and also a fellow blogger. His blog is well worth a read if you fancy it. You can find it here. I always enjoy talking to Dave and we were discussing his race schedule for this year, my race schedule and various other bits and bobs as I got prepared for the race.
Soon enough the race brief was upon us and we filed over to the race start. I had never run this race before, so didn’t know what to expect (other than hills), so the plan was to start slow and see how I got on. This plan worked perfectly, as soon after the start Dave and others were powering up the first switch-back style hill, as I slowly trundled along towards the back.
Once we submitted the first hill we were in the woods at QE, winding through well worn paths and out away from the park. The run was essentially either uphill, or downhill with very few flat sections. I was concentrating on just keeping it steady. Not worrying about the pace on my watch, just nice and steady.
After a few kilometres I caught up with Dave. We had a brief chat on how we were getting on before getting to yet another uphill, where I slowly moved away from him. I was feeling good at this point in the race and wanted to maintain a nice solid pace. On we climbed through another switchback and out into the sunshine at the top of the hill.
The scenery around QE park, the Downs and the Meon Valley is simply stunning. On a warm morning in March there is nowhere better. Each turn presented another stunning view and I felt very privileged to be able to run in such a beautiful place. As we continued onwards I glanced down at my GPS watch, which seemed to be stuck, saying I had only run 2.79km. Oh well, I wasn’t planning on using it much anyway, so would just keep going.
Soon we were through the first aide station (at the 4.5 mile mark), manned by some cheerful volunteers. I was running with my race pack on (that I will use for all my marathons this year) so had water with me. There was no need to top up the bottle, so I just kept going. We were running through some great single track at this point and I had settled in with a group of runners who all seemed a similar speed to me. There was pink top lady, green jacket man and another lady with some very colourful trousers on. We would all take turns overtaking each other, but essentially seemed locked together. It is funny how this tends to happen in races. I never plan to stick with certain people, it just seems to naturally occur.
As the race wound on and I was feeling good. After 1 hour of running I had no idea how far I had gone (cause of the watch), but I felt really strong. The sun was beating down on me, but my legs felt great, my breathing was easy and I was running well.
Onwards and onwards, uphill then down again, I continued. At the second aide station (at the 9 mile mark) I stopped to top up my water bottle. It was really quite hot and my water consumption rate had risen. Luckily, I had run enough races to tell when I needed to drink more and had adapted my water intake accordingly. I had also taken a couple of energy gels by now to keep the energy levels topped up. These are great but sometimes give me a bit of a stomach ache. This would prove to be the case shortly.
As I approached around 2 hours of running I started to flag. We were out in the open. The wind was blowing and the sun was strong. I was running out of beans. Hardly surprising on the amount of training I had done, but never the less it was a problem. I decided to take my final energy gel, even through I had taken the previous one only 20 minutes before. Usually I have to leave it at least 30-40 minutes or I am guaranteed stomach ache; however this was not a luxury I had. I needed the energy boost. No sooner had I taken it than I got stomach cramp. I knew this would happen, so just kept on running. Concentrating on my breathing I got the cramp to pass, lifted my head up and got on with the race.
Shortly after this I was overtaken by a very fast runner. He was running the full marathon distance, which was two laps of the same course I was completing one lap of. Bearing in mind I had only been going for 2 hours, he was on for a very fast marathon time, as I couldn’t of been that far from the finish at this point. Impressive running indeed.
Making it back into the woods I recognised where we were. I often run the Parkrun at QE and we were at the bottom of the biggest hill that the Parkrun runs down. Turning right to head up that hill, I knew what a beast it was. The pink top lady from before was still with me, and she took the lead up the hill. We both had to walk in places. Boy was it steep. About half way up I gritted my teeth and decided I would just run. I knew how far we had to go to the top of th hill (about 150 metres), and knew once I was at the top there wouldn’t be much more of the course left. Powering up the hill, I left pink top lady behind. I was breathing heavily, but summited the hill without stopping.
Turning left, I knew I was on the final descent to the race finish. Picking up the pace on the downhill section I felt great. I was going to finish in less than 2hrs and 30 mins (which was my target). Not only that, I had run a good race. My hydration was good, my nutrition plan mostly worked and I had not got injured.
Down the final hill and across the line I was done. 2hrs and 22 minutes. Not bad. Most encouraging was that after the race results came out I finished 103rd out of 198 runners. No more finishing last for me. Perhaps I might make a go of this running thing after all.