For the 2014 race, please click the following:
Twisty and windy sums up the race…
Read on to find out how I fared at the British home of F1.
Race prep faux pas
How many of us have ever wished we could give up work and train full time? Imagine the training boost of not only being able to train harder and more regularly, but also get the crucial recovery and down time that’s key to absorbing the hard workouts.
The last couple of weeks have been both mentally and physically draining at work. All the race week taper advice I’ve seen has always advised keeping stress down to a minimum in the critical days ahead of a race – no such luck for me, I considered myself lucky that I made it through to the end of the week in one piece.
The day before Silverstone, I attended a friend’s wedding that involved an early start and a late finish. Thankfully, there were a couple of intermission hours during the middle of the day, allowing for a brief nap. The food was fantastic and supplied by the critically acclaimed Itihaas in Birmingham – sadly, far from ideal pre-race nutrition, but hey-ho.
So, yeah. Far from perfect race prep… None of the above stopped me from believing I had a 1:26:XX half marathon inside, especially because there was a small bit of spare capacity during January’s Brass Monkey Half due to the frost and ice on the course.
Lis and I made our way to the Silverstone Circuit and encountered the usual mishaps along the route, including a closed off M6 and traffic from queues trying to get inside the F1 venue.
Once parked up, I had maybe 40 minutes for a warm-up mile, some strides and 400m at race pace before I needed to make my way into the start pens. The warm-up served as an introduction to my nemesis for the day: blustery wind and lots of it. Still undeterred, I completed my warm-up and continued to feel optimistic about the task.
Back with Lis, I stripped down to my familiar vest and shorts combo. People all around us were dressed in multiple layers and I must have stood out like a sore thumb. For a brief moment, I did consider donning arm-warmers and gloves but convinced myself I would soon warm-up once I was running at race pace.
Inside the start pens, I made my way right up to the front with confidence. “You belong here, Andy” was running through my mind – I knew I had to employ every trick in the book to make magic happen under the far from ideal conditions served to me. I could see Iwan Thomas warming up but apart from him and David Weir, the event was thin on celebrities and elites.
There wasn’t much hanging around and once we runners were ushered together, the familiar scent of Deep Heat, fear and nervousness filled the air. I was only mere metres from the actual start line – the closest I had ever been at Silverstone. Introductions completed by the compere, a very abrupt start to the race occurred with barely any countdown. Within only a second or two, I was safely through the start gantry and got right down to business.
It was useful starting so close to the actual gun time of the race; the course had mile markers with synced clocks atop so I decided to utilise them instead of referring to my own Garmin all the time.
The scramble at the beginning was actually pretty clean, thanks to the wide track at Silverstone. I held myself back ever so slightly, wanting to ease myself into the race over the first mile or two. I immediately locked on to a couple of runners around me who all appeared to be chasing after a pace not dissimilar to my own.
The first mile whizzed by in a blur. My Garmin was largely in sync with the marker despite several early twists and turns thrown into the mix. Gaps formed as runners joined and left different packs to try and seek shelter from the onslaught of head wind. So early on into the race, I took the gusts in my stride, feeling most excellent.
Mile two rolled by and my Garmin was out by a few metres; I still wasn’t worried but knew there were plenty more opportunities for my racing line to be eroded away. My pace moved closer to my target of 6:35 per mile, but I was still off by a few seconds.
During mile three, I finally found solace from the wind. My pace lifted and everything instantly felt more manageable. As I brushed some sweat from my brow, a chap to my left commented on how warm it suddenly felt when out of the gusts – it was like he was reading my mind! He’d noticed the tattoo on my right leg and asked if it was an Autobots insignia – he was thrilled to learn that it was indeed the faction symbol from the 80s toy line, and offered me the perfect opportunity to lay on my “…but sadly I don’t transform into a car” routine for a few laughs. This gag never gets old and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used it over the years.
Despite having run at Silverstone on four occasions, I was still caught off-guard by a few unfamiliar sections of the course. One particular switchback had me scratching my head, wondering whether this was there at all during previous years.
I’ve said it before and Silverstone is not a place to go if runners are after atmosphere. Spectators are incredibly thin on the ground, made up almost exclusively by family and friends of runners that have tagged along. This made much of the middle section of the race rather forgettable. I had successfully hit target race pace, but the mile markers were now around 20 metres out of sync with my own Garmin. I tried to nail the apex of each turn, but on a course made up of mostly twists and turns, this was an increasingly difficult endeavour.
Things started to become tricky after the eighth mile. No matter what I did to hide from the wind, it always managed to seek me out. It was almost as if there was a swirling vortex over the entire course, laughing at the runners foolish enough to even consider a PB attempt. I was still touch and go in my own PB pursuit at this stage; I had done enough to get things back on track but it was very quickly becoming apparent that I couldn’t hold on for much longer. The number of runners around me thinned dramatically, though left behind were a few hardy souls that had remained with me since the very beginning. My breathing became increasingly laboured, but still remained under control.
Mile nine broke me. The course undulated gently and the head winds were at their most ferocious. I tried tucking in behind larger runners, but due to the unpredictability of the wind’s direction, I ended up wasting more energy trying to move from shelter to shelter. This began a downward spiral that led to an even slower mile ten. A club runner in red sensed I was struggling and began to urge me on periodically. I did what I could to keep him just ahead of me and in my sights – this must have helped to keep my splits from dipping into 7:XX mile pace territory and for this, I thank you club runner in red.
Looking good on the outside, but feeling crappy on the inside! – Photo by Lis Morgan
Hiding in and amongst the crowd at mile ten was Lis. It’s very easy for spectators to slip between the start, mile ten and the finish at Silverstone without too much difficulty. Apparently, I looked composed and collected as I passed by – clearly, my poker face was at work again.
The club runner in red continued to offer support and once we were into the eleventh mile, he declared there was “just a 5k to go”. I liked his style, where it would have resonated with my own, when running well. Gradually, I was able to grind my paces closer to target. I was still off by 5 to 10 seconds but I took whatever positivity there was to work with.
With only a mile left, it was just me and another runner. There was nobody behind us for maybe 15 seconds and the gap in front was too big to close down. I was at my limit without breaking into a sprint, which would have been foolish considering we were up against a head wind on the home straight. Last year saw a very convenient tailwind in the closing stages of the race, but no such luck this time.
In flight on the home straight of the Silverstone Half Marathon – Photo by Lis Morgan
As always at Silverstone, I was in a blind panic with maybe 800m to go and hoped the finish gantry would present itself. I dropped the runner and took things upon myself to try and close the gap between the runners ahead and me. The yellow branded barriers began to appear to my left and right and signalled the time to kick, and kick I did! The crowd went absolutely nuts when I did this – without anybody ahead of me, they were clearly cheering for me and me alone, which naturally made the pace go even faster. I could clearly see the clock on gun time above the finish gantry and I knew I was off target, but remained undeterred from giving the crowd what they wanted. They powered me through to the finish line and made the suffering that bit more bearable!
Here’s the Garmin data for the race.
I fumbled for the stop button on my Garmin and stumbled into a heap on the right-hand side of the finish funnel. A marshal came over to check on me; I told him I just needed a minute but he stayed to make sure I didn’t keel over and cause a PR disaster. 1:28:04 flashed up on my Garmin’s display – less than 40 seconds from a PB but over 90 seconds off from target. I was knackered, both physically and mentally. Bizarrely, my upper arms felt rather tender, which was a new one on me.
Walking through the finish funnel, it was nice to see the organisers had arranged for an extra-small t-shirt option for the goodie bag. I remembered to check my Garmin for the total distance covered and I was aghast to see 13.23 miles – this was the longest half marathon I had competed in for years and that’s me making a focused effort to run the shortest legal distance! The kicker is my average pace was just a smidge faster than at the Brass Monkey Half, which clocked in at 13.14 miles; on a slightly shorter or more accurate course, I would have PBd…
Lis caught up to me alongside the barrier. I had missed her completely on the home straight due to the crowd’s noise. She revealed she had been screaming “beetroot” (works better than calling out “Andy” in busy races) like a bloody nutter to receive strange looks from those around her. We parted ways again to meet on the other side to high tail it out of there before it became difficult to exit the car park.
Whilst packing my stuff away, we bumped into a guy from last year’s race that recognised me. Chris started all the way at the back in the 2014 race due to arriving late. He wanted a sub-90 finish this time and came oh so close with 90:02 on his Garmin – I told him that last year’s race gifted 2 or 3 seconds to everybody due to some glitch or another. The alternative was he hoped he’d started his Garmin a little early and had ended it a little late. Tense stuff!
Thoughts and conclusions
This race was a tough day at the office. Without the endorphin and adrenaline rush from a PB, I’m sitting here typing this out in a very tired and slightly dejected state. The odds were against me from way before the gun even fired on the start line.
I had hoped the Silverstone course would help consolidate the six weeks of training between the Brass Monkey Half and this race, and perhaps on a different day with different weather conditions, things may have come good. Maybe six weeks isn’t enough to better what was already my A-game back in January?
I think two consecutive years at Silverstone has seen the novelty wear off somewhat. There was no pre-race buzz and that’s only part of the fun of racing – it should be exciting and something to look forward to! I may have to explore Reading as an option, or the North London Half, which Simon Bull says was free of wind.
Now that we’re into the spring, it also means the beginnings of a return to shorter distances. I’m going to knock half marathons on the head for a little while and concentrate on getting my 10k PB ship-shape, along with some attention on my 5k PB.