Back in March, coming out of the long months of winter base training at my MAF heart rate, I set a new half-marathon personal best at 1.23.50, despite pacing the race terribly and fading massively towards the end of the race (https://www.strava.com/activities/897417770/overview ).
I had been so confident in the progress I had made over the winter, going from 8.40min/mile at 155bpm in Week 1, to 6.58min/mile in Week 17 at the same heart, I had attempted to run a sub 1hr20 half – 6 minutes faster than I had achieved the year before (and that had been a 5 minute PB!). So at Silverstone Half in March I had attempted to run at 6.06min/mile, to achieve a 1.19.58 time, despite doing only one session anaerobic session above my 155bpm base in 5 months. I had managed to hold pace for the first 7 miles but faded down to 6.40min/mile and finished with a time of 1hr23, and I was disappointed. It did show that it is possible to race without doing much/any anaerobic or speed training.
It’s crazy to think I was disappointed with a 1.23, when just one year previously I’d failed to crack 1hr30 at my 4th attempt at the half-marathon distance. Just shows how much progress can be made if you commit to a goal, I guess.
Anyway, to make amends for poorly pacing the Silverstone Half in March, I decided to enter Swansea Half-Marathon at the end of June, in the hope of getting nearer to the 1hr20 target. Now, as this was right in the middle of my two big goal races for the year, the GB Age-Group triathlon qualifiers, I hadn’t specifically targeted my training towards the half. I knew that the weekly long runs I was doing, and some of the speed work that I was now doing weekly for my triathlons would see me through the half-marathon. I didn’t want to particularly adjust my training for what was a minor race in the whole make up of my racing season.
The week of the race had been incredibly hot here in the UK (hot for us anyway), and I had poorly timed some of my workouts to go out in the midday sun, and had failed completely at hitting my target pace for those workouts. Just 4 days before the half I had intended to go out and do an hour-ish run of around 8miles, broken down into a 2M warm up, then 5miles at my intended half-marathon pace, and a mile cool down. My legs had felt heavy when warming up but when I went to begin the 5miles at 6.06min/mile I had nothing to give. I struggled to hold 6.35pace, and ended up cutting the session down to 2miles of effort and I jogged home again at an easy pace. I wasn’t hitting my targets and there was no point of hanging on to a 6.35min/mile pace – it wasn’t a race pace workout, or high-end speed stuff, it was just the junk that lies between 155bpm base and efficient anaerobic work – I didn’t need that in my life. It was a mental struggle to fight doubts about racing at the weekend when I couldn’t hold anywhere near a race-pace for 1mile just a few days before, let alone 13!
I then did a slight taper (didn’t work out on Friday), although admittedly I was on my feet all day, and then did an easy 10min jog on the Saturday to check on the legs before Sunday’s race. Trying a taper as recommended by this guy’s triathlon YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UqEGK0luec&t=362s – you should check it out.
The legs felt okay on the Saturday, but there was a degree of tightness in my legs from the failed tempo run on Wednesday. That afternoon involved a family walk down to the beach – which again, wasn’t ideal race prep – but you have to make sacrifices for your close friends/family. The amount you train probably impacts on their lives and inconveniences them from time to time, so don’t always be a pain in the arse and refused to move all of Saturday afternoon….unless the race is like super-important, in which case don’t move. Whack Netflix on and enjoy your afternoon, you’ve earned it.
Sunday morning I was up at 5.30am for a 9am race start. I had my now customary pre-race smoothie of a couple of eggs, some beetroot and a banana topped up with water. I then experimented with some rice-pudding and oat mixture, to provide some good carbohydrates, but less heavy, bloating fibre than pure oats would have been. And of course coffee. Must have coffee.
I arrived at the race on time for once and actually managed to get a light jog warm up in. I joined the start queue slightly late as I didn’t want to be waiting in the starting pen area for too long, where you’re so jammed in you’re never able to move and you stiffen up. It was so busy that I didn’t get towards the front with the quicker runners so actually started behind the 1hr40 pacer. TOP TIP: start in the right place in race.
The race went well though after slicing through the crowd in the first mile to find the quicker runners. I hit the target pace of 6.06 for the first mile but quickly knew my legs couldn’t hold it. Checking my watch I could see that what I felt (perceived effort level) would be a sustainable ‘half-marathon effort’ was nearer 6.15pace. It was frustrating looking at my heart rate data, floating around 170bpm, knowing that I can hold 175bpm for a half-marathon (after tracking heart-rate data but running on feel for a few races). I wanted to push on to 175bpm and nearer 6.06min/mile but the legs weren’t there. I also wanted to avoid a big fade like I did at Silverstone so I held a pace that could see me to the end, so restrained myself. My legs just weren’t feeling it (See pain face below).
Like normal, I raced the half as a 10mile race, with a 5k push at the end to get to the finish line. I held a relatively consistent pace until 10miles, at around 6.15min/mile (where 6.23min/mile pace would have still been a PB), and then tried to kick on from there. I managed at 6.00min/mile at mile 11 but then had to drop the pace back down again to see myself to the line.
I finished in a time of 1.21.54, at an average heart-rate of 172bpm and in 58th place out of about 5000 people. It was a PB 2 minutes faster than Silverstone 3 months ago, 5minutes faster than 14months ago and over 9 minutes faster than February last year. Although I hadn’t hit sub 1hr20, I was pleased with my progress. I thought that after finding 6 minutes on my half-marathon time last year I would start to see diminishing returns, but I’ve made another big step this year. What pleased me even more was that my heart-rate was 172bpm, not the 175bpm I’ve averaged in my past 3 well-paced races – so excluding Silverstone where I hit 180bpm in the first mile, I was being dumb.
Knowing that my nutrition plan before the race was solid, and that my training was going well, I can infer from the race that the reason my legs were heavy was because I hadn’t rested enough that week. I think that the heart-rate data indicates that I was fit enough to go faster, I just hadn’t recovered enough from the previous week’s training. It’s nice place to be. Maybe next time I’ll crack the elusive 1hr20 barrier.
In other news, it’s only 2 weeks before my final attempt to qualify for the Age-Group World Championships in Rotterdam, so I’m into my final week of hard training before a week long taper. Exciting times!
- Give myself more time to taper if I want to race to my maximum
- Listen to your body – rest when you need it; don’t force the race pace if you don’t have it on the day
- Don’t panic if key sessions in the weeks prior to the race don’t go to plan. Just adjust how much rest you need, or adjust the goal if necessary.
- Remember to look back on how far you’ve come, it’s a great motivator for further progress.
- Track your heart-rate data in races when you can – it’s useful to be able to compare effort levels / pacing between events. I find it invaluable knowing that I can hold 175bpm for a half-marathon when properly rested – I stops me going too hard and stops me reserving too much.
- Reward yourself: pizza is deserved.