Kenilworth Half Marathon 2016 review

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Really not my day…

Christ on a bicycle! Those of you on Strava or Garmin Connect will already know I didn’t have the best of races out there yesterday, but let me colour in the blanks and recount my tale of woe.

Pre-race

A couple of days ago, I was chatting with Darryll Thomas about the Pfitzinger and Douglas Advanced Marathoning schedule almost getting the better of me a few times, having me feel like I was dancing on a knife edge.

Last week’s bumper 13.1 miles at around marathon pace had taken more out of me than I accounted for to leave me feeling rather flat for most of this week, resulting in just one run of 5 miles with some strides thrown in. I was desperate to freshen up in just a few days, though should have known that the wearing down from months of intense training can’t simply be cleared with a few days’ rest.

Further complicating things was a probable underlying bug I was still carrying from several weeks ago; my VO2max did shoot back up to 59 sometime last week, though quickly fell back down to 57 to corroborate the less than stellar sensations my body was going through.

Having achieved a few 5k and 10k PBs, I stubbornly wanted to also pick up a half marathon PB en route to the Yorkshire Marathon, so I ploughed on with the plan.

Moving on to race morning…

Lis and I picked Dave Burton up and made our way to Kenilworth town centre. It was all very civilised, finding a parking space in a free to use council car park only a stone’s throw from the race HQ. Picking our bibs up, the arrangement felt akin to the Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run I ran last year, with the sports hall serving as the hub. Looking around, there was no shortage of club runners and I’d even go as far as saying they outnumbered unattached folk like me. Before too long, Darryll and also Carl Stainton joined Dave and me.

A 1 mile warm-up with a few strides at the end allowed us to scout out the final few hundred metres of the route before assembling in the start funnel, whilst marshals kettled us with barriers to form some sort of order.

The race

With knowledge that the course undulates upwards until around 8 miles, I really should have eased myself into the race, but no, I went out at PB pace. I quickly found a group to join and began settling into the unfolding race.

The forecasted wind was most definitely present and only added to the effort. So early into the race, the unfamiliarity of half marathon pace wasn’t daunting, and I fully anticipated it, having done sod all work at that pace all through the marathon campaign. The first mile clocked in pretty much about where I wanted it to be at for 6:29.

As positions chopped and changed, I followed a few of the faster runners that broke away. Effort-wise, there was very clearly a mis-match between how hard I was pushing and what was being produced by my legs. The unfamiliarity with half marathon pace did not help and I lacked the higher gears to shift into. The pace slowed a touch to 6:40 to factor in some more climbing.

Mile 3 was mostly downhill. Trying to make up for prior lost time, I latched on to a Spa Strider and went with him on the descent. In hindsight, this was probably not the most sensible move and I should have used the downhill as active recovery… A 6:18 popped out on the other side, so pretty shocking pacing for just the first 5k!

Miles 4 and 5 hammered the final nail into the coffin I’d laid out for myself. With a combined elevation of 80+ feet of climb, I simply couldn’t keep the effort going due to all the compounded issues with lingering fatigue, probable illness and unreliable pacing. The pace slipped to 6:52 and 7:01 respectively and I knew the game was up. Even a trusty caffeinated Isogel wasn’t enough to get me going again.

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think it was probably just before halfway when Darryll and Carl came past and tried convincing me to go with their steadier pacing. With a slight descent on offer, I was able to latch on temporarily to get mile 6 back to sub-7 minutes once more. I wasn’t able to stay with them and I had to witness them slowly drifting away into the distance, coupled with hordes of people overtaking me – something that’s not happened since 2011 when I got pacing horribly wrong in a few half marathons.

Dave correctly pointed out later that without a B or even C-goal in mind for the race, I had no motivation to keep fighting. With only 5 weeks to go until the Yorkshire Marathon, I re-focused my thoughts to how I was going to get through the remainder of the race without causing too much harm to myself, with recovery becoming the new priority.

Once I’d slowed down and better settled my heart rate, I was surprised by how comfortable (in the loosest possible term) I felt whilst still covering the course at what I would deem a medium-fast long run pace for me. I was hoping for Dave to pull up alongside me for some company, but alas he never did.

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Not looking too shabby, all things considered! Photo by Lis Yu

Nearing the finish, I saw Lis stood near the 13 mile marker and she could tell from how far behind Darryll and Carl I was that I’d had a shocker of a race. I’ve had worse race photos, mind!

There was little desire to sprint the remainder of the course, so I steadily ran through to the end for a 1:32:30.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

Catching up with everyone, Darryll had a belter of a race to be no more than 30 seconds off a PB. Carl fulfilled his goal of a marathon effort run ahead of his race in several weeks. And Dave got his long run in as a prelude to the Great Birmingham Run next month.

I shared my sob story and reiterated my plans for an immediate week of recovery. Thankfully, there’s nothing key scheduled in with only maintenance runs; carrying on, even at reduced distance or intensity, would only do more harm than good and I would rather make it to the marathon start line a little under-done than over-cooked. The following week is important, with my final long run planned, along with some faster pace sharpening in store.

Whilst more undulating than I thought it would be, the race in terms of cost and organisation was a winner. There were plenty of friendly marshals out on the course and I lost count of how many water stations there were out there. Mile markers also lined up perfectly with my Garmin to stave off OCD. Would I run it again? Possibly, though only with a view to using it as a warm-up to a future race with no PB ambitions on the Kenilworth route – I’m not sure my fragile mind could handle another catastrophe on the same course!

I took a side by side look at last week’s half marathon in training at around marathon pace and yesterday’s race. What’s apparent is my heart rate last week was some 10 to 20 beats lower to support my thinking that I was still carrying a lot of residual fatigue and/or illness, along with going out too hard with a lack of pace experience. I’d also had a really positive 3 mile warm-up prior to last week’s run, though I would place this lower in the list of contributing factors based on past race experience.

A half marathon PB will have to wait until January 2017 when I return to York for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon.

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