Global warming, my arse!
Read on to find out how the 2016 Brass Monkey Half Marathon went for me.
For the 2015 and 2017 races, please click below:
I love this race but caveat emptor sure does apply upon entering! I normally play the weather game with any race, be it major or minor, and will stalk various weather services in the days before toe-ing up on a start line. With the recent flooding in York, it was anybody’s guess what the actual conditions would be like on race day, let alone if the race would actually go ahead. A cold snap arrived during race week and brought the mercury hurtling down to -2 degrees. That said, it actually felt colder in 2015 despite being several degrees warmer! This lead to all manner of race kit discussion, with me finally settling on my trusty yellow vest, shorts, arm warmers and gloves.
With Dave Burton in tow, Lis and I arrived at York Racecourse, which once again doubled up as race HQ for the morning. We randomly bumped into Dave Johnson – a member of Kings Heath Running Club and fellow Cannon Hill Parkrun regular.
With temperatures so low, we concluded it was more critical than ever that a good warm-up was key to an enjoyable and successful race. Dave was unsure of his ability after missing the chance at a dead cert sub-90 half marathon back in the autumn of 2014 due to injury; recent niggles did nothing to raise his confidence and he was settled on a finish just outside of 90 minutes. I was looking for a time under 85 minutes as my A-goal, with all of my recent training indicating such a time was possible; a PB of any magnitude would be satisfactory as a secondary goal. A 200m effort at my target race pace of 6:26 per mile completed my pre-race admin.
Pre-race timing seems to have grown increasingly worse for me. I had to get back inside race HQ to pick-up a few bits and pieces from Lis (Dave had already made his way back), just as everybody had been sent off to make their way towards the start pens! I made it back – just. Dave and I then had the problem of seeding ourselves into a decent place in the start pens, so a cheeky detour through the crowd-free car park brought us to the very front without any pointy elbows required. Starting grid positions chosen, we played the waiting game for the tensest five minutes I have experienced for a long time. We were finally ushered forward for a bang on 10 o’clock start, as one would expect of an event in its 34th year.
It took me about ten seconds to cross the start mats. Unlike many races I’ve participated in, there seemed to be no urgency off the line and there was a distinct lack of position jockeying. I didn’t start that far back and I quickly found myself kinda boxed in and unable to make many moves to break away and settle into target race pace. Thankfully, through sheer luck, I started on the right-hand side of the route for full advantage of the racing line during the congested opening mile! Rather unimpressively, it came in at 6:39… Yeah, I know – some serious graft lay ahead of me if I was to even have a shot at a sub-85 minute finish.
Mile 2 thinned out a touch, and it was very clear that runners either consciously or sub-consciously forged groups to attack the route. This was fine and dandy for folks who were happy to just settle in and stick with a group, regardless of any pace drop; for me, the pace was still below target, so I found myself surging between groups and then gaining some brief recovery in between from each slipstream. But this still wasn’t enough to lift my pace; my legs seemed reluctant to turnover any more quickly, and I began to question whether I had tapered a little too much in the days leading up to this race. Fellow runners must have looked on at my haphazard approach with raised eyebrows, because not a single person went with me! The second mile came in at 6:36, so I was at least beginning to move in the right direction…
Going into mile 3, I identified a runner ahead in a brown top that appeared to be moving at a tidy clip; a tidy clip that looked damn close to the pace that I wanted to be running at! I surged to latch on to him and largely stayed in his slipstream for much of the third mile. I had to up my stride and cadence at times to stay with him; such was his strength to hold on to the faster pace. The first of three water stations appeared mid-way through the mile and whilst I wasn’t exactly thirsty, I still took water on to stop my mouth from feeling so dry from the cold air. The chap I followed ran straight past the volunteers handing out water to create a sizable gap whilst I struggled to get water down my neck; more ended up going down my vest for a sobering shock to the system! I never did shut the space down between my target and me and moved my sights to another group that was easier to chase down. The mile closed with 6:29 on my Garmin – we were finally open for business!
I stashed three Isogels for the duration of the race, with the first consumed between miles 3 and 4. The hit of caffeine really did a number to perk me up!
I felt superb during miles 4 and 5. Clearly, I had warmed up to produce splits of 6:27 and 6:26 to be bang on target pace. I continued to adopt my tactic of moving from group to group, though I rapidly found groups were getting smaller and the distances in between were growing greater and greater. I hate running on my own during a race and am at my strongest when working with others to share the effort.
On the turn for Acaster Selby, the southern most point on the course, I was reminded of last year’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon and its ground frost. There was none of that this year, thanks largely to a very dry Saturday that preceded, and a fleet of gritters for perfect terrain underfoot for racing. I remained in high spirits and felt indestructible, even with so few runners around me. Miles 6 and 7 produced 6:28 and 6:25 respectively to still be firmly in target PB pace.
What goes up must come down and I began to feel like a bipolar sufferer. The gaps between groups grew even greater and the highs of miles 6 and 7 quickly faded away. The group ahead of me was too far to reel in; one particular runner in red shone like a beacon to taunt me. I wasn’t sure what a sustained effort at such a stage in the race would do to me and I reluctantly erred on the side of caution. This of course meant I was in no-man’s land hell for 4 solo miles on my own, and it’s no coincidence that these were also some of my slowest splits since the race began (6:31, 6:30, 6:35, 6:34).
Somewhere during this awful stretch also saw the arch in my left foot tighten up horribly. Running on my toes occasionally alleviated the pain, though it was no guarantee and before too long, the tightness remained regardless. I tried heel striking with my left foot and this seemed to do the trick; I looked ridiculous heel striking with one foot and mid-foot striking with the other, so I reverted to full time heel striking until the pain subsided once more.
My final gel was the hardest to tear into. I was tired, my form had altered and my cold, gloved fingers simply did not want to co-operate! Ripping the sachet with my teeth, more of the sticky contents ended up on my face and vest than inside me…
Mile 12 saw me return through Bishopthorpe for the first lot of spectators in a long while that weren’t marshals out on the course. A cheeky hill over the motorway also sent a few runners back towards me to finally break the tedium of running alone. A single decker bus came out of a side road just in front of me before pulling into a bus stop. Its stop was temporary and quickly closed in on me from behind; I’m sure my cadence picked up at this point to try and outrun it! I moved to my left to allow the bus to safely overtake me; comically, it was travelling at exactly the same speed as I was for what must have looked like a runner chasing down the bus for a lift to the finish! Nonetheless, the bus played its part in restoring some vigour to my race for a 6:25 split.
With just a little more than a mile remaining, I did my best to visualise the final mile from Cannon Hill Parkrun to give it all some context. Earlier that morning whilst discussing race tactics, I advised Dave to begin to wrap things up once the racecourse became visible in the distance during the closing stages. With the pain in my left foot completely absent, I took a dose of my own advice and started my drawn out kick for the finish. Much like last year, my eyes scanned the horizon for any motion from runners ahead that were moving back into the racecourse complex. A runner to my side sensed I was close to my limit and encouraged me on by telling me there was just 1km left. His words were like music to my ears and prompted me to check my Garmin to see “1:21:15” staring back at me. I knew a quick 3:40 km – something I run most weeks at Parkrun – would allow me to sneak under 85 minutes. I needed no further motivation and pumped my arms and raised my cadence, overtaking a few runners, including that runner in red from earlier. Maybe 50m in front of me was that club runner in brown that slipped away during mile 3.
The 400m sign flashed by, but I was in too much of a frantic panic to think straight and do the calculations to work out whether a sub-85 minute finish was still possible or not. I hoped it was and continued my charge and finally made the left turn for the racecourse.
Doing my best Sylvester Stallone impression – photo by Lis Yu
Marshals cheered me on as my eyeballs bulged from their sockets from the effort that was more akin to 5k than half marathon pace. I heard the familiar voice of Carl give me a cheer – he provided race support for another friend of his that was running. I turned for one final corner and only 200m remained between the end and me. Having run this 200m stretch as part of my warm-up, there were no surprises at all and I went hell for leather; Garmin Connect reports the final scraps clocking in at 4:53 per mile pace!
Here’s the Garmin data for this race.
With the knowledge that a sub-85 finish was touch and go by mere seconds, I uncharacteristically ran through the line without so much as a glimpse of my Garmin. A quick button press once clear of the finish line and I stumbled over to the banked grass verge in the funnel. Lis was on the other side of the barrier and wondered whether I’d hit my target or not. I myself wasn’t sure, so took a look at my Garmin. A few takes later and my eyes finally believed what had been presented: 1:24:55 and a near 2 minute PB since October. I did it by just a few seconds, and chip timing was gracious enough to gift me with an extra second for 84:54 officially.
I rendezvous’d with Lis to quickly get some warm clothes on. Thoughts quickly turned to keeping an eye out for Dave coming through, where we believed he would be due back any moment for a 91 or 92 minute finish. As I turned around to scope out my surroundings, Dave was stood only metres away with his finisher’s t-shirt in hand and a beaming smile on his face. Caught completely off-guard, we quizzed him for his finish time and whether he had made it back in under 90 minutes or not. Not only did he achieve his long awaited sub-90 finish, but he also completely smashed it for an 88:25 PB – he’s only 16 months behind schedule is all!
6:26 per mile was a theoretical race pace derived from December’s Sneyd Christmas Pudding 10 mile race. Whilst this running of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon wasn’t my finest example of steady pacing execution, I’m still pleased that I averaged 6:28 per mile to get pretty damn close. Could I have gone even faster if I had others to work with during the second half? Definitely.
Plugging my race into the McMillan calculator produces some wide-eyed predictions:
- 5k: 18:20 (18:49 actual)
- 10k: 38:05 (39:16 actual)
- 10 mile: 63:39 (64:17 actual)
- Marathon: 2:58:41 (3:34:02 actual)
Pretty insane, huh?
With the Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships just 10 weeks away, I’m scratching my head somewhat about what I may want to target at the Welsh capital. The course isn’t nearly as fast as the Brass Monkey route, so any improvement would be marginal, if there will be any improvement at all. Me thinks 84:1X looks achievable with some race pace graft over the coming weeks…