I've run two stand-alone half marathons previously. Royal Parks in its second year, 2009, at that time the furthest I'd ever run. I clocked a hugely frustrating 2:00:05, partly as a result of losing my mind a bit, forgetting how many miles were in a half marathon, and expecting the finish to be just after the 12-mile marker. Realising I had a mile left was quite demoralising, and I found it hard to push that little bit harder to make my 2-hour target.
Then last year I ran Nike+ Run To The Beat with Mrs. We planned to jog round, and then push a bit with 5km left if we had any beans left. We posted a time of just over 2:07 on a hot sunny September day.
The only other halves I've run in race conditions are the two this year at Ironman 70.3 UK where I posted 2:06 on a really very tough course, and Ironman 70.3 Ireland where I ran a few seconds over 1:50 on a pancake flat course.
It was clear I could improve on this, and I was aiming for sub 1:45 with a dream outcome of sub 1:40. There were a couple of pace runners aiming to hit 1:40 so my plan was simple. Stick with them for as long as I possibly could. If I could hang on, great, and if I had any juice left at the end try and over take to hit that sub 1:40 dream outcome.
The beautiful course takes in a number of the Royal Parks, and some great London landmarks
I set off in front of the 1:40 pacers, and after 1km one of them came flying past me. I hadn't realised I'd started slowly, so thought I'd better jump on the 1:40 bus as it trundled past. The next km passed in 4:24 - this was a bit nuts, that's not far off my parkrun pace, and those are only 5km. There was a lot of concerned chatter in the group about how fast he was going. 4:44 per km should hit 1:40, 4:24 would get us there in a bit under 1:33, and there's no way I can manage that!
I hung on for a bit, and after 5km he had slowed a little, but was still going a bit too hard. We thought we should tell him, but no one wanted to use the effort to catch him up! He realised and slowed considerably, we put in a 4:58km back in Hyde Park just before half way. About this time the other 1:40 pacer joined us. I jumped into his group instead (as the one I was following pulled away again) - this guy was metronomic. He was checking his watch every mile and at 8 miles was 5s up on his target.
My pacing wasn't too bad in the end, even a slight lift at the end
I was finding it tougher as I moved into the last third, but was still hanging on. From 11 miles on the pacer would slowly pull away, and I'd have to put an effort in to join him again. This happened a few times and each catch-up was harder than the last.
The course ends with a long drag across the bottom of Hyde Park. This time as he pulled away up the gentle rise past the Albert Memorial I couldn't hang on. My heart rate was through the roof, it had been above functional threshold since about kilometre 10, and my legs and arms were singing from the build up of lactic acid - I certainly can't be accused of not trying.
Heart rate - the only way is up, baby!
I crossed the line in 1:40:31, taking 19 minutes and 46 seconds off my previous stand-alone half marathon PB, and 10 minutes off the fastest half I've run in competition. I can't complain about that! I know 1:40 is in within easy reach, next time I'll smash that, and maybe even think about trying for 1:35.
I'll probably run this race next year too. I enjoy the course, the support is excellent, and it makes a good performance benchmark towards the end of the season. In order to hit my Ironman 70.3 objectives I think I need to be able to hit 1:30. That's quite a target, but I reckon I can do it. Whether I can hit it next season or not though remains to be seen...