November 18th 2018, St Neots, Cambridgeshire.
Today there was a lovely morning in the Cambridgeshire fields, mist spread across the meadows and the sky donned the morning pink-blue swirl. I woke up feeling fresh and ready for a good race. This being my second time doing the St Neots Half, having done last year in a tidy 01:27:13.
In 2017’s race, I was not yet back to being a resident of the area again, however I was in the midst of planning my return so there was a certain nostalgic feeling this morning. I remember running around the course last year knowing that I for sure wanted to return to these lovely fields and villages. One year on and here we are…
The outskirts of St Neots are where I grew up so it only feels appropriate to make it the course in which I hold my Half Marathon Personal Best. As I walked up to the start line today, thats what was running through my head – “time for a new PB”. As far as training goes, I don’t really adhere to a training plan, I just make sure I have a somewhat progressive workload between races and make sure its strenuous enough for my legs to be used to pounding out distances. I love running so I mostly train for the sheer joy and enjoyment I get out of it – running 8 miles a day along the river is all I need. However, it is nice when races like today’s come about and I’m reminded that I actually have some pretty decent times in my legs.
The Organiser’s, Nice Tri Events, are the local race guru’s in this area so I expected nothing less than smooth organised event and thats exactly what we got: Clear signage, good parking system, bag drop, good quality medal, somewhat questionable t-shirt colour scheme but a finishers long-sleeve all the same.
For me, a Half Marathon isn’t a threatening distance and I know what to expect in how it feels to push for a personal best over 13.1 miles. This year I raced in the Watford Half Marathon and got 01:25:10 which up until today was my PB, so the focus was on getting under that 85th minute. Luckily for me, St Neots Half this year had a 01:25:00 pacer so I knew I just had to come in before him. Due to it being a popular race I wasn’t able to start that near him though and within the first mile noticed that I was about 200/300m away from the 01:25 group.
The first 3/4 miles of a half, for me, are the hardest part as this is when I can determine whether a PB is going to happen. It is also when my mind is at its most vulnerable place as if the start feels slow, I feel inclined to give in and just run at a quick but comfortable pace. When I raced in the Welwyn Half in September, I noticed that my first few kilometres had been about 4:10 minutes and it made me slow down. I finished that race in 01:26:56 with lots more to give and wished I’d pushed a bit harder in the beginning, even with those slower km’s. Today I didn’t even want to look, I just eyeballed that pacer with the notion that there was no way I wasn’t going to catch him and (hopefully) go on passed.
At about 4/5 miles, I typically ease into my pace and go into an almost meditative state of mind where suddenly running isn’t the focus. I like to become aware of my surroundings, take in the countryside views, have a little giggle at people who grunt and talk to themselves during these things. My quads are particularly strong due to some lovely work I put in during my strength training sessions, so I am always confident going up hills. With hills, I like to approach them quickly and relax more on the way down, which I know is the opposite for a lot of people but in my mind, like in life, it’s better to get the hard bit over with quick and enjoy the nice bit. St Neots Half isn’t anywhere near as hilly as a course like Watford (and I’m sure many other places) but it stacks a little bit of elevation into the milage.
The course for St Neots is a figure of “8” loop so between the 8-9th mile you come back around through the village of Abbotsley which has the last real gradient on the course. Then from the 16th Kilometre/10th mile the course is more or less downhill until the finish. I could recall last year feeling quite easy the whole way from number 10, so this year when I saw the little green 10 up ahead I just decided to dig deep and push, at worst it’s 20 minutes of pain, but what’s 20 minutes compared to the rest of life? I watched a really cool Will Smith speech not too long ago where he says about compartmentalising time frames of pain, like in a workout – in the grand scheme of life that 20 minutes is nothing, even in the grand scheme of a 24 hour day it’s nothing so just dig deep and grit.
Although the pace felt quick I didn’t doubt that I couldn’t come in under the 85 minute mark, I used the visualising technique and thought about coming in with the clock shining “01:24:00” on it. Before I knew what to think next I could see the sign for St Neots up ahead and the 12 mile sign. Sometimes during a Half Marathon I forget that the race ends at 13 miles and the 13th mile isn’t something you have to run, usually this comes as an advantage because my mind suddenly realises I don’t have to run as far. My last mile was a quick 05:53min and I came in at 01:23:50. A new personal best and a big fat smile on my face.
Thank you St Neots, what a great day and now I get to enjoy a roast dinner in my lurid white and pink t-shirt.
See you next year, time to chase 80 minutes…