Just over a week ago, the last thing on my mind was having a crack at my half marathon PB. Winter training had been going OK, but a little sluggish, and I was still nursing a sore hamstring.
I did take a few rest days to try and heal and then resumed my runs, including a 12 miler on the Saturday morning. I got the job done, although the final few miles were a chore with a bit of run-walk thrown in for good measure.
Then something strange happened. Sore muscles or not, I started finding some pace. It began with a 10k after work on Wednesday, my fastest for many months at 48 minutes. All my miles were comfortably sub-8 and that trend continued two days later with an early morning five mile run. Except it was quicker, averaging 7:35 minute miles.
Sunday was to be the Leicestershire Half Marathon, my first half of the year and longest run so far on the current marathon programme. I ran the inaugural event in 2018 and while it was well organised and a pretty decent course, the weather was awful – freezing temperatures, high winds and a hail shower just to add to the fun. I crossed the line in a solid 1:47 and spent the rest of the day trying to get warm again!
No such repeat this year. The forecast was great, albeit a little breezy which would prove challenging on the more exposed parts of the route. But for a February run, you couldn't really hope for conditions to be much better than this.
Injury-wise, well I'd be lying if I said the pain had gone. It aches a lot, right around the back of my right leg. I'm quite stiff first thing in the morning and bending fully down (as if going to touch your toes) is a definite no-no.
But, as you can see, it isn't affecting my running and with a compression sleeve on it is yet to bother me while on the move. Is it getting better? Not really. However it isn't getting worse either – it's just kind of 'there'.
So back to the half. Of course the sensible thing to do would have been rest, or at least take things easy. Instead though those fast midweek runs were tempting me to have a go. Getting in under 1:45 was a must in my head. Trying to improve on 1:41, my PB from Stafford in 2017, would be the dream ticket.
Sunday morning came and I left home early to make the hour-long drive over to Loughborough. My brother was running too, so I picked him up on the way and dropped Izzy off for a play with her auntie. Prestwold Hall is the venue for the start and finish, while the run takes in a few local villages with fully closed roads.
These parts are picturesque and quite well supported. However, about six miles of the course snakes around a disused airfield which is now a driving school and racing track. It's very exposed and pretty much deserted, save for a few hardy marshals who do their best to liven things up by furiously shaking tambourines. These are testing miles, especially on the return loop which covers numbers 8-11.
Tactically I went for fast-out and then hang on to the finish. I never learn! I came through 10k in about 47 minutes and was knocking out consistent mile splits of between 7:30 and 7:45.
But when I hit the racetrack, and a strong headwind, my pace soon dropped into the low 8s. At that point I thought the PB attempt was gone, but once clear of the track and with a slug of water and a few jelly babies on board, I gritted my teeth and fought back. Miles 12 and 13 were both in the 7s again and the sprint for the finish was on.
I hadn't looked at my watch for an overall time (only mile splits) but I did catch the main race clock as I finished. It was somewhere in the 1:42s. So for a chip time, this was going to be mighty close!
And it was. But alas, not close enough. 1:41:48 on my watch, 1:41:44 on my chip, versus a 1:41:32 PB. Touching distance...
I can be hard on myself sometimes, people have often said so, and Sunday was no exception. I stood by the finish and leaned over the stone wall, quietly grumbling under my breath about those slower miles and how just a handful of seconds on each would have made the difference.
But the downer didn't last too long. To get that close when I'm not fully fit and on a difficult course, well it's something to be proud of, not cross about.
Let's also remember this is part of a training programme too. Brighton is still the main focus and the fact I managed to successfully fight back after a minor mid-race dip, well that's got to be good news in terms of physical stamina and mental strength.
More good news came when James approached the finish. He did manage to PB and at 2:03:50 that two hour half is getting ever closer. I'm so pleased for him, his progress over the last 12 months has been incredible and he seems to have no fear.
As for me, there's another chance in a month or so when we line up for the Stafford Half and this time it's the same course where I set my current best. Before then, I'll have to start ramping up my long runs in readiness for Brighton.
I also need to try and shake off an annoying cold that's come out since Sunday and, of course, hope this leg pain subsides. I guess a few extra rest days are called for and no more seven minute mile heroics until I'm fighting fit again.
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