Half-Marathon preparation: A hilly half marathon (5/9/2012)

Nothing quite gets me out of work-mode than a long long run. At time of running, it is 25 days until the Ealing half (Eh) and I want to maximise my experience at running for 2+ hours. There is a small ridge that runs along the north-west boundary of Ealing and it is on this ridge that the bulk of the half takes place, so this is also an ideal time to get some hill running in so that I am better prepared for the hills of Eh. True, Eh’s hills are nothing compared to the hills I puffed and sweated up in Envaux earlier in the year

In the hills above Envaux

but most of my recent running has been on very flat ground so a bit of hill work would do me some good.

The first twenty to thirty minutes concerned me slightly. I had consulted a pace-calculator the previous evening and had fathomed that if I could run 9:30/mile (5.54/k) I could get around in about 2hrs 4 minutes which would put me on track for a sub 2hr time at Ealing. 9:30 should be no problem, I have recently upped my regular run distance to 7 miles and I tend to run those at roughly 8:45 – 09:00/mile. However, I am 2 miles in to this thing and it is not going well; one of the many mantras I have begun to adopt while running is:

“if I am struggling to keep it below 10min/mile, I am having a bad day”

Today is turning into one of those days. I start to look for conditions to account for my lack of pace. Maybe I am more tired than I thought; maybe the weather is too hot (no scratch that one, although it is a gloriously warm blue sky day); maybe a man-sized bowl of Special K and a caffeine addicts size cup of coffee is not the best fuel when embarking on a 13 mile (21k) run. Maybe I should just give up now, knock this whole run on the head before I do myself some serious damage, I am clearly not up to the task at hand. In fact maybe I should just abandon trying to run this half marathon all together.

No. Shut the f***k up.

I remember reading somewhere that due to the crowds that run in the modern day marathon, the long wait from the warm up to the start, etc, etc, often it is best to use the first few miles of a marathon as your warm-up. To take it slow – because you have no choice but use it as an efficient way to slowly warm your body up into your race pace. So I do just that, I let go of my hang-up and just accept that this is the pace my legs want to run today. That instead of aiming for a 2:04, I am looking at a 2:30. I decide that the most important thing is to get round.

Sun dappled Tamsin Trail

At mile three I am in Richmond Park, the Tamsin Trail is lovely today, and as I bounce along the tree covered path, dappled sunlight all around me, listening to the rhythmic swish swish swish swish of my CamelBak, I begin to enjoy it [inset pics of tamsin trail]. Everytime I glance at my watch, my pace is still painfully around the 10:15/mile mark which is s-l-o-w but it feels good and I know I have a couple of big hills coming up, I have lots of fluid with me (today I am running with a mix of Lucozade sport Raspberry and water) and the beauty of Richmond park, apart from the tree covered trail, is that there is a toilet every half a mile.

The warning before Broomfield hill

At mile five I am descending, rapidly, down Broomfield hill, an impressively steep hill. SpeedyVic once told me that the best way to tackle a hill is to quite literally throw yourself at it: Lean forward, put your hands out in front of you and let yourself go. I had also read about this technique of tackling hills in the Fell running book I am currently reading, I think SpeedyVic may have been a Fell runner in a previous life. Anyway, I discover, and will now

The path quickly descends as it goes around the corner

share, that if one wants to a) scare oneself and b) see how much faith one has in ones own legs then tackling a steep hill with a sprint is the best way to do it, it’s also a lot easier on the joints and your reactions sharpen too – although that may just be the adrenaline surge triggered by the though of the damage the path will do to my face, legs, and general health, if I trip.

The rest of the run goes well, pace is easy to maintain and I now realise that although I thought I was going to be out here for the best part of 150 minutes, I am on target to run a similar time to last week.

Mile twelve is by far the hardest mile. I have been running for almost 2 hours and my knees are beginning to ache, but I know the end is near, I am at Pen Ponds and I know that I have one last hill to push up then it is all down hill all the way to the finish. The hill is very steep though, I drop my pace by about a minute so that I can maintain a forward momentum but the incline and the sandy soil is too much for me and I resort to a walk for the last twenty or so meters. By now I am ready to give up, I could stop right now – so close to the 13.1 mile goal, but that would be defeatist, plus I need to walk home from here and the difference of a

The hill is unavoidable as you run through Pen Ponds

mile of running is about twenty minutes of walking, so I have words with myself:

“come on. what are you doing stopping now. If you abandon this here then you might as well give up all together. Now, look it’s all flat now, just move into a gentle jog and finish this.”

This version has been edited for a universal audience but the chat worked. I managed to get my legs back up to a 10min/mile pace and finish the run. The last 11 minutes of jogging gave me time to reflect on why it is I like to beat myself up – verbally – when running gets tough. I think it stems back to an association with my father (not what you think) – you see, he was a Sergeant Major in the British Army so I have fond memories of his stories about chewing out his company after they failed an exercise or were arrested on a night out. So the masochist in me responds to the abuse.

Looking at the data, post run. I discover that my pace was not as abysmal as I thought. About a third of my miles were sub 10, which isn’t great but is not terrible either and if I had not walked the final part of the Pen Ponds hill, I would have finished maybe 1 or 2 minutes quicker and set a new fastest time for my half marathon distance – on hills.

All in all, the effort was a positive one. Over the next couple of weeks, I will do some more hill work in Richmond Park, with the intention of being able to run a hilly 10 miler sub 1hr 30min.

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