A handy training run for the main event in 2 weeks
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men.
Feared by the bad, loved by the good.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood.
Some two months ago, I was approached via this blog by the official PR company for Nottingham’s Robin Hood Marathon and Half Marathon. They enquired to see if I was interested in a free entry for myself and others (yes, the 26.2 mile option was also up for grabs); whilst it was never on the agenda to enter a half marathon so close to the Yorkshire Marathon, there were 16 miles on the schedule to cover, so I figured a decent warm-up of a few miles and a portion of the race at marathon pace would be a good substitute. Lis was keen on me participating because it meant she could visit Nottingham for the first time. Of everyone I offered the free places to, only Darryll Thomas took me up on the opportunity, having no concrete half marathon plans for the Autumn.
It was an early start of 6:30am to make it to Nottingham with time for all the usual pre-race admin malarkey. Parked up, I was suddenly overcome by the sensation of needing a loo. I fretted not and figured there’d be blocks of portaloos en route from the County Hall to the race village. Nope! Nothing! Some volunteers said there were banks of them in the village itself; once there, they were only on the other side and as far away as possible…
The race village itself was pretty damn good; a touch too commercial, though a positive for anybody that had forgotten anything from shoes through to Garmins – they could all be purchased from the race partner, Sweatshop.
Both of us running via generously offered press places – photo by Lis Yu
Once Darryll appeared, bags were either checked in or left with Lis, and the two of us embarked on a warm-up. Conditions were decent, though a little windier than ideal; what was unanimous was how pleasant it was to run in cool temperatures without humidity after what felt like a very long summer! Darryll and I parted ways; him joining the toilet queue once more and me making a beeline for our designated start pen.
I wasn’t aware that Richard Whitehead was this year’s race starter, such was the poor quality of the acoustics from the outdoor speakers. Pretty much on the dot of 09:30, the gun was fired and everybody lurched forward…
It took me perhaps just 10 seconds to cross the start line. It was pretty congested and a rather bullish club runner from behind began barging his way through the crowd, yelling “Come on! This is 9 minute mile-ing!” He should have positioned himself much closer to the front of the start pen if what he wanted was an unimpeded getaway (I did later smirk as the guy fell off the back of the sub-90 pace group to begin drifting backwards).
The congestion continued for much of the first mile until I was clear of the tree-lined section and firmly on the main road. My original plan was to run just the final 10 miles at marathon pace, with the first 3 quite casual. Easier said than done; I reasoned pretty quickly that the crowds would likely remain until the second half of the course and I would only get frustrated with having to weave my way through slower runners to hit marathon pace, so I opted to simply run the entire distance at pace. I gave myself a tolerance of anything from 6:45 to 6:55 as a reasonable target, with one eye on dipping under 90 minutes and the other eye on the sub-90 pace group. Mile 1 came in perfectly at 6:50.
Darryll and I were both well aware of the undulations and climbs present in the opening 5k, but nothing prepared me for quite how aggressive they actually were. Not only did runners have to face a jarring climb so early on the course, but it also took place on cobbled streets with several left and right turns to really disrupt. My Garmin logged no less than 140 feet of elevation for miles 2 and 3 to produce 7:09 and 7:07 miles splits respectively.
Easier to carry, but not so easy for pouring over yer noggin!
On paper, the Robin Hood course looked like it was well catered for, nutrition-wise. There were promises of several stations stocked with water in nifty pouches like they have in Japan, Lucozade and gels; the race delivered with stations well-signed and generously manned by volunteers. The first station at 5k served the water pouches (pre-opened), which were a novelty. They were both lighter and easier to hold than bottles, and probably proved better safety-wise if somebody accidentally stepped on one; the only downside to the pouches was how difficult it was to pour water over myself due to a lack of flow. I ended up having to squeeze it over my head until it burst like a water balloon to get the desired effect!
What goes up must come down. Just as I’d pretty much made it to the coat tails of the sub-90 pace group, an aggressive descent (-138 feet by Garmin’s account) sent them storming away. I decided to recover some of the damage from earlier and went with the drop for a nice little boost to a 6:29 4th mile.
I’m not sure what happened to the mile markers, but they clearly went out of sync after 5 miles. My Garmin beeped and rumbled, but there was no marker in sight. It didn’t appear until 5.3 miles, which immediately ushered in thoughts of an overly long race by a few hundred metres! Darryll wouldn’t be happy, no sir-ee! I decided for the first time ever in a race to trigger manual laps in a bid to re-sync. Mile 6 appeared early; 0.63 miles early, and I wonder now whether somebody placing them out on the course had accidentally switched from imperial to metric measurements… Miles 5 and 6 came in at 6:48 and 7:03 respectively according to Strava, which post-processes data differently to Garmin.
After 6 miles, the course flattened out and even introduced small amounts of elevation loss. Running through Wollaton Park, I noticed a Lichfield club runner to my right looking at his Garmin, and then at the sub-90 group several times over. I too had observed that the pace group were running a touch faster than sub-90 pace, regardless of whether on a climb, the flat or a descent. I piped up and said, “They’re going a touch fast, aren’t they?” The Lichfield runner replied with, “They’re going very fast. Not fair on the runners following the group.” The two of us both had PBs well inside 90 minutes and neither of us were chasing new times that morning; we struck up an alliance for what became the sub-90 chase group, picking up runners that had fallen off the back of the official pack up ahead, or runners that were chipping away from behind who needed a group to work with. Bizarrely, we were momentarily directed off the paved path in the park to run for 100m or so on grass past a locked gate. The gate was large enough to accommodate a mass of runners, so I’ve no idea whether this was by design or whether some park warden didn’t get the memo… Mile 7 was my second fastest split of the morning for 6:34, thanks to -39 feet of elevation drop.
Mile 8 wasn’t memorable at all, so let’s move on.
Mile 9 presented the first of 2 switchbacks on the course, thrown in to bulk out the total distance. For the first time since starting, I saw some of the faster runners coming through on the other side. I noticed a BRAT vest worn by none other than my friend, Ed Barlow. I gave him a holler and a wave and soon noticed the turnaround point was fast approaching for me, so figured Darryll couldn’t have been far behind Ed, and just like that, he appeared looking in pretty good shape despite running at PB pace. Mile 9 clocked in at 6:50.
Somewhere during mile 10, I finally made contact with the sub-90 group and sat steady, whilst the Lichfield runner moved further ahead. The group had shrunk considerably and no longer resembled the 30 strong that the race had started out with, though I guess that must be true of most races. 6:40 popped out for the mile split and also re-aligned with my Garmin’s lap estimations.
For the final 3 miles, I felt really comfortable and began to think maybe, just maybe, my marathon in 2 weeks might produce the goods… Of course, anybody can run the first half of a marathon quickly and it’s all about how one carries themself in the second half that matters! I continued to sit steady, producing splits of 6:48, 6:43 and 6:48 for what was possibly my easiest close of a half marathon to date.
Easy does it at the Robin Hood Half Marathon 2016 – photo by Lis Yu
Entering the tree-lined avenue once more, Lis spotted me from the riverside of the course and her photos confirm how easy it all felt. I saw the start funnel, but had somehow miscalculated that as the 13 mile marker. It wasn’t, and there was still some 700m remaining until the finish, so I picked up my pace to ensure I made it back in less than 90 minutes. Turning the final corner, I saw the clock read 1:29: 37 and with the knowledge that it had taken me at least 10 seconds to cross the start line, I ran through casually with no need for a sprint unlike so many races past.
Here’s the Strava data for this race.
A few deep breaths and I felt better than many solo Sunday long runs during this marathon campaign. The volunteers handed me a rather handsome, chunky medal and a goodie bag, congratulating me at the same time. I felt like a fraud, though nobody needed to know I was simply out on a training run.
Darryll was waiting at the funnel exit, though I was saddened to learn he’d missed a new PB by just a few seconds. I knew that pain all too well, having experienced an incredibly similar outcome at this year’s World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff. I reiterated what we both already knew: he was in good shape to be so close to a PB, especially on what felt like a blustery day and having achieved a 10k PB only a week prior. He cited the early aggressive climbs as his downfall, where they’d pushed his heart rate higher than he could tolerate, leading to an eventual pace decline in the closing stages. We’d also managed to run markedly different distances, with me covering 13.14 miles and he 13.19.
No Willy Wonka or chocolate factory in sight…
We’d both been casually aware of a promotion the race laid on, involving 36 golden tickets to celebrate the event’s 36th year. Well, luck would appear to come in pairs because neither of us paid to run the race this year, courtesy of the event’s PR team, and neither of us will be paying to run next year either!
If you can get over/accommodate the early climbs, twists and turns, the course isn’t bad and has the potential to be fast if your downhill technique is decent. The race was well stocked with nutrition; a welcome novelty when so many large events are now seemingly cutting back due to costs and profit margins. I carried just a single gel and probably could have relied solely on what was handed out on the route. If you’re in it for the bling, the race medal is one of the finest examples I’ve received in the last few years. With the free entry, Lis is keen that I run once more with a view to seeing more of Nottingham and making a weekend of it.