This is not where the Worcester City Half Marathon took place
With my 5k and 10k targets conquered, all that remained was a sub-90 minute half marathon finish. To try and minimise any potential anxiety and to try and benchmark our current state of fitness, Dave (of the Burton variety) and I decided to target the Worcester Half Marathon as a warm-up race and as a fast training run.
The original pitch for this race was 5 or so laps within Worcester city centre, but due to another event taking place, a very sudden change of destination had to be organised. Dave sensed that the organisers didn’t actually obtain the proper permission to run the event in the first place either, hence today’s race on live roads around the mysterious Worcerstershire countryside…
In a week full of early starts for work, I really didn’t need a 9am race start but hey-ho. Dave and I made it to Crowle Parish Church, doubling up as race HQ with plenty of time and plenty of car parking spaces available. The weather was grey and a tad on the windy side – happy with the temperature but less so about the gusts we had yet to face.
Before too long, the Parish Church opened up, only to be declared closed again by a surly bloke. Right… So we were asked to get to race HQ early to avoid disappointment, only to then be told to wait outside. To add insult to injury, the several toilets inside were now inaccessible and all 150 or so of us runners were forced to queue up to use the one single toilet elsewhere on site. When I needed the loo the second time, I ended up desecrating the bushes in the garden rather than join the dozens of runners still queuing for the smallest room again.
After a brief jog warm-up and a 1x 400m rep at target-ish pace, I was set to join Dave on the start line. We both knew this was a low-key race, organised by a mom and pops style operation. It was during the race briefing where this became almost embarrassingly obvious when two of the organisers tried their best to explain the route, with a barrage of left turns and right turns being thrown at us. Dave, being the meticulously prepared bloke that he is, had committed the route to memory; we planned to try and stay together for the first 10 miles, which was fine by me!
On 3-2-1, we were off!
Immediately to our left was a chap dressed as a banana, shooting off into the distance. You know how it goes about running your own race and putting pride aside when being beaten by fruits and vegetables.
I did the minimal amount of research ahead of this race, only really knowing that it’s an undulating course and involved a ford crossing. Billed as “predominantly flat”, the first mile already contained several long stretches of undulation, so the organisers had over-egged the description again clearly.
There were only 150 or so runners down for this race, so we both knew it would be a strung out field and began overtaking runners including the lead girl. Without Dave, we would have both been running in no-man’s land on our own. The pace was nice and steady and slightly conversational to make the early miles fly by. Dave and I had a great pacing strategy going where we would take it in turns to lead – me mostly on the hills and Dave mostly on the flats, playing to our respective strengths. As ever, we were at our strongest as a team compared to slogging it out alone.
I had 3 gels packed and sank one at mile 3 to let my body know I would be filling it up as we went along. I was a little nervous about knocking the gel back because my stomach had been a wee bit sensitive all week due to eating something dodgy. Thankfully, the gel managed to stay down and was no cause for concern.
Dave and I soon caught up to our next runner ahead who was fading quite quickly, given we were running a steady 6:59 per mile average pace. Once we reached him, I invited him to stay with us and informed him of our rough 1:31 target. He revealed his half marathon PB was 1:50, so he’d seriously gone out too fast! Once we’d cleared earshot, Dave and I both joked that we’d probably wrecked that guy’s race by indicating how far off target he was.
Running a clean line was tricky on such twisty lanes, especially when the route was so cambered and featured loads of crap (sometimes literally) in the middle of the roads. The race rules did mention disqualification for people running in the middle of roads or side by side but we both jumped from side to side so long as it was safe to do so; on such quiet roads, you could easily hear cars approaching.
We arrived at the ford and took the recommended detour over a small bridge to avoid it. After all the build-up that Dave had given it, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t a bigger hazard!
Somewhere within the middle miles, we started homing in on a lone runner that had strayed backwards from the pack. I told Dave that I wanted to have caught him up within the next 2 miles. With it being an incline and with a new target to chase down, I lead the way and did it in 2 minutes… When we overtook the Birchfield Harrier, we invited him to join our group like the chap before. Thankfully, his target was also much more sensible than the chap before and in-line with our 1:31 rough finish. He managed to stick with us for half a mile or so before we dropped him.
Two runners ahead of us maintained a near constant gap of 80-100m. No matter what we did, we never seemed to close in on them and reasoned that they were running at the same average pace as us – if only we’d gone with them in the opening scrum on the start line!
The next couple of miles were a bit of a blank. The regular undulation and long incline drags were taking their toll on us but our pace never wavered and remained steady as a rock. The sun even made a guest appearance when it wasn’t needed. One thing that did break this section up was a Telford Harrier runner who had managed to close the gap behind us over the course of several miles. At one point, he actually made it into our group and I invited him to “join the party”. He stayed with us for a brief moment before we lost him, possibly whilst I was leading up one of the many hills.
The last few miles were a tough slog where they were basically one long uphill straight through Himbleton and Huddington. Dave said he was at his limit with 10 miles behind us; he urged me to go on and despite my best efforts to try and pick my cadence and pace up, I was at my limit too and couldn’t get away. We remained together and continued our campaign towards the finish line. I began making a plethora of strained noises to go alongside my laboured breathing. Dave still looked strong and his form was great compared to my hunched shoulders and t-rex like arms and hands.
The final mile climb back to the finish was torturous but the pace never dropped. At one stage, Dave and I had to take quick evasive manoeuvres when an approaching car got a bit too close to us for comfort. Dave urged me to go for it one last time and not wanting to disappoint, I kicked up the pace.
I switched up my Garmin to show the elapsed time screen instead, indicating I had a couple of minutes left to cover maybe half a mile and a sneaky chance to go sub-90. I hadn’t planned to go under 90 minutes on a tough course, but I wanted to see what a final mile burn-up could produce. Slowly but surely, I was catching the two runners ahead that had remained so elusive throughout the entire race. I made the left turn back towards the race HQ and glanced down at my Garmin – 40 seconds left to cover a few hundred metres, so definitely worth a shot. The runners ahead of me had crossed the line and I mustered what I had left in my tired legs for one last kick…
Not sub-90, but top 10 will do nicely!
Man, was I unsteady on my feet after crossing the line. I staggered over to a wall to support myself and took a quick peek at my watch – 1:30:06. Damn, just missed it by 7 seconds but I did later find out I’d finished 10th! I wasn’t disappointed, mind, because that’s not what I had set out to do today and to squeeze out a new half marathon PB along with a fast training run had ticked two boxes. Not bad for a runner who struggled to break 2 hours for his first 5 half marathons from 2010 to 2012!
Here’s the Garmin data for this race.
Dave came back in about 30 seconds after me for almost a minute off his PB set earlier in the year at Silverstone. The Telford Harrier (Steve) came over to chat with us and he commented on how effective our alternating pacemaker arrangement had looked from his point of view. Steve revealed that he was still queuing up for the toilet when the race had already started, so he would have almost definitely gone sub-90 in a chip timed race. Continuing to inspire awe in us, he then went on to say that his former half marathon PB was 1:44 and that he’d only taken up running seriously again in January of 2013. This guy was before us was incredible!
With relatively few runners coming through, Dave and I made a beeline for the car and hightailed it out of there for home.
Analising our performances, there was some initial concern from both Dave and I about how far we actually ran today. Both of our Garmins came up dramatically short on the route, with mine clocking in at 13.00 miles exactly and Dave’s at 13.03 miles. We’ve both run enough races with our Garmins to get a good feel for how accurate they are and mine generally tracks well. On closer inspection of the route tracked, it appears that many of the corners were cut short and the line went a bit wonky during the wooded sections. We’ve both agreed that we probably did run 13.11 miles today so have edited the Garmin data accordingly. Without course certification, I guess we’ll never truly know how far today’s route was…
So, what’s the take home from today’s race? For starters, Dave’s on great form at the moment and it was a real joy to run with him again. I definitely would not have finished in the time I did today without him. I reckon we’re both there for a sub-90 half marathon at Cardiff – It’s flatter and there’ll be more runners to work with and chase down. I certainly want to get some more threshold work in my legs and lungs, along with a couple more long runs to better prepare for my assault on the Welsh capital in October.
I now have a week’s holiday in Spain for some recovery and relaxation – just what the coach ordered.
Oh, and here’s a link to the thread for this race on Runners’ World – it makes for humorous reading!