Friday, 13 August 2010

Newark Half Marathon

Last Sunday I completed the Newark Half Marathon in a time of 02:02:30. This road race is held in and around the town of Newark-on-Trent on a flat course. I arrived with an hour to spare after a very long drive and got myself ready to run. I had decided to run with a waist pack this time as I wanted to bring my asthma inhaler as I have needed it on long runs in the past with all the pollen in the air. Also, it’s a handy place to keep gels, car keys and money. I also decided to run with my ipod to give me an extra boost. Usually, I don’t like the idea of listening to music in races but I thought I would give it a go. The first surprise on arriving in Newark was the temperature. The weather man had promised a moderate 19 degrees but on stepping out of the car I knew it was going to be a lot hotter.

My fuel before the race had been planned well in advance and on the whole I stuck to it well. My biggest problem last time I raced was an unfortunate and unplanned piss stop at about mile three. This was something I was keen to avoid and so I told myself I would rather be thirsty up until the first drinks station than to need to piss. So I stopped taking in any fluids two hours before the start of the race. Even though it was a hot day I think this worked well and I avoided any unnecessary stops.

I warmed up for ten minutes and did a bit of light stretching. As I stood on the start line I felt the heat of the sun beating down. I hadn’t even started moving and I was already sweating. It was going to be a hot one. We set off and after a bit of inevitable walking at the start due to Newark’s narrow streets I got into my stride. My target for this race had been to run between 8:30 and 8:50 minute miles. This would have given me a better time than my last half and would have given me proof that my training was making me a better runner. However, I hadn’t factored in the temperature and after the first mile my head was telling me that this was an unrealistic pace. However, my heart still wanted to go for it so for the first seven miles I ran at a fair old whack and was on track for a good time.

I got annoyed at mile five. My bloody ipod kept playing the same bloody music and discovered that last time it connected to the brain it decided only to sync one album. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good one album but I was looking forward to a bit of Cloudkicker to muscle me through the last few miles. Never mind.

It was at mile seven that I started to struggle. The heat was too much. I had to ease up. It was difficult to take that my race plan was now in ruins and I was just going to have to keep slogging on.

This is where I am most disappointed. Not at my physical performance but my mental performance. I don’t think I could have gone faster and I am sure I was working as hard as I could. What I should have done is used a bit of common sense to see if I could have overcome the problem. I should have really slowed down for a mile, cooled off and see how I felt then. If I was still too hot then so be it. I would have then forgotten about a PB and just enjoyed the rest of the race. If I was feeling cooler I could have then pushed a little harder in the last few miles. Hindsight is always a useful and humbling thing but I would have liked to think that I could have thought through the problem. Instead, the last six miles were a struggle. With the disappointment of going so slowly and the discomfort of being so damn hot I am just glad that I kept on running.

The last few hundred metres up to the finish were sheer bliss. With my customary sprint finish I managed to move past about ten people and it showed me that there was a lot left in my legs. Immediately after my last race all my leg muscles cramped making me walk funny. After this one they felt strong and if it wasn’t for the conditions I could have kept going for a few more miles. However, the priority at this stage was finding water. I almost had to push through the crowds hazily in search of something to drink. I couldn’t understand why all these people were getting in my way. Couldn’t they see I was dying! Damn them and their fully hydrated enjoyment of the race finish. Joking aside though, I would have probably killed a few people if I hadn’t found myself in possession of a large, cool pint of water. After getting my race my race t-shirt I found another pint of water and went in search of a sit down in the shade. Lovely. All done.

Newark seems like a nice place and complete with castle seems to offer the quaintness of a middle England town with the ever modern presence of Starbucks and the like. The market square and finish area where I was sat seemed a very pleasant place to spend a weekend afternoon especially after a good old 13 mile slog. The flat of Newark and its surrounding area is ideal for a half marathon which lures in runners like myself in search of personal bests. The course itself was pretty plain and uneventful. Pleasant but not surprising. I was a bit annoyed at cars making turns through gaps in the runners even though the roads were obviously closed. A runner in front of me was almost clattered by a right turning car. I also felt uneasy towards the end where there was a stretch of 50mph road that wasn’t coned off. I know that slightly smaller races like this can’t police everything but a few more people manning the traffic and a few more cones on the more dangerous roads should have been implemented.

Apart from the road safety thing the organisers had done a good job. There were plenty of extremely well manned water stations and the support from the locals was really great. I haven’t done many races so I don’t really know what is a standard level of support but it didn’t seem like there was more than a half mile stretch without support. People of all ages clapping and cheering from the road side really put a smile on my face especially towards the end when the rest of me just wanted to lie down in the shade. So, well done to the people of Newark. The people handing out pints of water at the finish area were also a godsend and whilst I would have liked a little medal or memento at the end I do like the t-shirt. Very nice.

As with all these strenuously physical endeavours the feelings of pain and thirst dissipate quickly as time passes by. This blog allows me to reflect on my performance and to try and discover what I’m doing right and wrong in my training and in my race. I always think that racing is an experiment to identify the shortcomings of my training program. With any experiment it is the analysis of the information gathered that is useful not the feelings of disappointment or accomplishment. Being disappointed with my time is meaningless without full consideration of my performance. Considering the conditions, I don’t think I could have run any faster but I am annoyed that I lost focus in the latter half of the race. The feelings of discomfort and tiredness should be treated as data by the brain in order to logically overcome a problem. I forgot this and failed to shrug off the discomfort I felt. I think that working on these sorts of mental strategies in training to deal with things when they go wrong should become more prominent. I would also like to focus more on tempo sessions and to put in race pace sections in my long slow runs. This should give me a greater capacity to maintain a good pace when I am tired. These are definitely things to think about and to work on.

All in all, my fitness and is improving and my weight is dropping. I have really started to manage my diet and have become better at listening to my body to avoid over training. I am keen to avoid the general feeling of exhaustion that I felt for weeks after my last half marathon and so am taking it pretty easy this week. As it happens, I feel pretty fresh and did a seven mile run yesterday which was very pleasant. My legs are still a little stiff so I am definitely not pushing it. Also, one of my toes is a bit sore because of a blood blister underneath the nail. Nothing too bad but I don’t want it to get infected or anything.

I have the Snowdon Marathon in three months and feel that the main areas of training should be tempo work, long hill reps and long distance endurance work. Also, I am going to try and do some off road stuff and possibly run up a few mountains. I like mountains.

Here’s to cooler temperatures and maybe a bit of rain.