It's strange to think that this time two years ago, I was only just really getting into running. My first race was the New Forest half marathon in 2009, which I ran with my dad in 2:12:02 to raise money for CRUK (who I now work for, so it feels a bit odd to be taking a salary out of the money I raised...). It's really all spiralled out of control since then! My first proper race was a local half marathon, the Great Eastern Run held in Peterborough, a few weeks later. In my first year running it in 2009, I ran it in 1:39:33 - an improvement of over 20 minutes. The next year I ran a 1:38:08 - a slightly less impressive improvement. This year, my running has really moved to another level what with training for 100 milers, so I was looking forward to an opportunity to have a crack at a new PB with my new found endurance. So this weekend, I prepared to have my third go at running the Peterborough course, a nice flat course that is perfect for a PB.
Unfortunately, I woke up this morning not feeling great. My throat felt a little sore, and I had a horrible feeling that a cold was planning on making itself known. Hmm. Oh well, it may be nothing, so I decided to just pull my socks up and get on with it. My aim for today's race was to see if I could break the 90 minute mark. So far I have finished most of my runs with plenty left in the tank, so I decided that I was just going to risk it and have a go to see if I could hold a 6:50 mins/mile pace for the whole distance. In the worst case scenario, I would blow up and have a slow end to the race. No biggy.
The weather this morning was perfect. Overcast but dry. The only negative was a relatively strong wind blowing. As I have constantly found, the wind in the East of England is horrendous. It's so flat that the wind just picks up speed with nothing to break it's relentless progress. Give me hills any day - at least they have a summit! I moved into the starting pens, looking for the 90 minute section. This was quite frighteningly close to the front, with very few people in the 75 minute section. So much so that they moved everybody forward, and I suddenly found myself only a few people behind the elite runners! Erm... I don't think that this is quite right.
The organisers had done really well this year in getting the support of a few top names in running, which hopefully will help encourage other runners in future events. Perhaps we will see this race in the same league as the main "Bupa Great Run" series in the future? Ron Hill, the second man ever to break 2:10 in the marathon and obviously the founder of Ron Hill clothing, was there to speak to the runners at the start of the race, as was 400 m Olympic gold medalist Sally Gunnell, who also ran the 5 Km fun run with many of the children in the morning. Running the race was Liz Yelling, who was hoping to get a good PB in as part of her training in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic marathon.
The countdown came, the gun went, and we were off! I got myself to my target pace pretty quickly due to not having to weave around people in the wrong starting pen, and instead was starting to worry that I was slowing other runners down by being too far forward at the start. But I was running the exact pace for my estimated target time, so it may simply have been people going out too strong (indeed I caught a few of them later in the race). The course itself is not the prettiest course, as it is a road race through the city of Peterborough, which isn't the most picturesque hamlet that there is. However, I love it because of the number of people that come out to line the streets and cheer everybody on. Whilst I generally prefer the smaller scale of ultras, I do love the feeling of a good race day, where everybody is in a supportive mood and cheering each other on.
My pace felt pretty comfortable, but it soon became clear that whatever was happening with my chest wasn't ideal. After a few miles, I could feel that my breathing was a little more laboured than it should have been, and the niggling thought that "maybe I should just give up and slow down" entered my head. Once a negative thought like that gets in, it's difficult to get it out again. I pushed through by giving myself targets every mile. "Well, I'll keep going for another mile and see how I feel then", I told myself. Amazingly, I managed to do this for the majority of the race, and managed to avoid slowing down. There were a few times where the course opened out onto a long straight open route, and the wind really became an issue. In these sections, it was difficult to keep the pace up, but I did my best.
As we got into the last few miles, I had convinced my rebellious brain that we were almost there and I might as well push through to the end. "The faster I run", I told myself, "the sooner I will be finished" (what a great mantra for running...). The final mile, I managed to kick it up a gear and started to reel in some of the runners ahead of me. As we approached the finish, I could hear the announcer and the cheers of the crowds. As I pulled onto the final straight, I kicked into full on sprint mode, stepping it up to 4.5 mins/mile for the last few hundred yards. I passed a couple of runners just before the line, but as I passed the last guy that I had in my sites, he decided he was having none of it and sped up to match me. We raced neck and neck for a few seconds, each with a wry smile at the other. I just managed to keep the upper hand, and crossed the line just before him. We shook hands, and had a little chuckle about the finish, and headed off on our separate ways.
Despite not feeling great through the race, and developing a slight niggle in my left knee, I had a good run, and enjoyed the day. I particularly enjoyed cheering the other runners through the line afterwards, and I particularly love seeing people kick for the final straight. The race directors have used a great new service that I've never seen before called Runpix. This system shows you some great little visualisations of how your run went (my results are here if you're interested). For instance, whilst the second half of my race was 1.5 Km/sec slower than the first half (due to the windy sections I suspect - a sneaky peak shows that most other people including Liz Yelling showed the same splits), I passed 53 runners with only 2 getting passed me. Score! My final time was 1:32:10 - 2 minutes away from my ideal time but 6 minutes off my PB. I'll take that, thanks! The results page for the run doesn't seem to be working correctly, so I cannot find who won the men's race yet. But the women's race was won by Liz Yelling in a time of 1:12:14 (coming 14th overall).
This run was also the third run in my friend Dan Park's challenge to race 3 marathons, a half marathon, and an ultra in 10 weeks. Having run the Loch Ness marathon only last weekend, he was going in with tired legs and did brilliantly to come through the line in 2:23:18 despite some issues with his calfs that came up right near the start. He's putting his body through this to raise money for St. Wilfrid's Hospice, so please sponsor his amazing efforts. Only two more races to go; the Beachy Head Marathon and the Brecon Beacons Ultra Marathon. So nice easy runs then, eh Dan! ;)
A week to go now until the Round Rotherham 50 mile race, the last race in the RunFurther series of ultra marathons. Here's hoping that this cold doesn't get any worse, and that my knee doesn't get any worse this week. I may concentrate on cycling this week to be on the safe side with a few shorter runs to keep things tiding over. Happy running!