Monday 21 September 2015

Race report: Lancaster half marathon

After having a really good time at the Cumberland Ale 10 last week, I was looking forward to going slightly longer this week at the Lancaster Half Marathon. We were in tip-top race condition, having spent the week boozing and destroying our legs with runs and hikes up mountains in the Lake District. For the icing on our preparation, we had a pre-race evening meal of a good hot curry from the local take-away and some more beer. I enjoyed a late night supper of four left-over samosas. We were ready.


Lancaster is a little over an hour drive from where we're staying in Coniston. Start wasn't until an entirely civilised 11am so there was no need to get up at the crack of dawn. Registration was in the now decommissioned HMP Lancaster Prison (in the old Lancaster Castle, closed as a prison in 2011), and walking up the steep cobbled path to the entrance we wondered if this was the "30m climb in last couple of hundred metres" that you can see on the course profile map. Spoiler alert: It was.

Entrance to the prison, doubles up as the finishing stretch (including cobbles)

We registered, and disappeared to find some coffee in the sleepy town centre. Partly because we needed a coffee boost, partly because last night's curry was making itself known and there were only two (yes, two) toilet cubicles to serve the whole event and the queue was already insane.

A minute or two's stroll led us to Diggle's which - although staffed by friendly people - served the worst coffee I've had for months, and had an amusing juxtaposition of stickers on their front window - one warning of CCTV in use, the other saying breastfeeding welcome... There was however no queue for toilets, which was lucky.

Diggle's - terrible coffee, queue-free toilet

We strolled back to race start (via another quick trip back to Diggle's because curry) which was in a field near the prison. We don't get the pleasure of running down the hill, just up it at the end. The course is mainly flat, so I thought I'd have a go at trying to get near my PB of 1:40:30 which was set at the Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2012. I was going to aim at 4:44/km which over the 21.1km of a half marathon would result in 1:39:52 - a slight PB, but also just under the psychologic boundary of 1:40:00.

Milling about before the race

Apart from he course profile that Mrs found, I knew nothing about the course or where it went! We gathered in the field for a pre-race briefing through an entirely inadequate amplifier and speaker. The starter then led us through a gap in the end, and 20m down a road, before announcing that this was the start line. In no time at all he counted from 3 and yelled "Go!". OK for me as I was trying to get near the front, but annoying for those behind who were still filing through the gap.

Pre-race selfie!

We set off down a wide coast road past some new housing, then dived onto a narrower hard stone packed path way. My first couple of km ticked over on schedule, but felt quite tough. Maybe I was aiming too high, and going flat out at Keswick parkrun the day before might not have been the best idea. At least the curry was silent, that last trip back to Diggle's had proved wise indeed.

Two races were being staged concurrently, a 10km and a half. Before long we came to the 10km turn-around point. I'd been slowly catching and overtaking people, focussing on keeping my pace even, and then after the turn-around found myself suddenly alone - the few I'd just overtaken were running the 10km, as were my next few targets!

The course was flat, an out-and-back with a small lollypop road section at half way

I enjoyed the peace, and just continued trying to hit my splits. Eventually after about 5km we came off the pathway, and out into the open. I was wondering if we were going to run 10km up this path and then turn around and come back - thankfully not, that would have made for a very dull course.

As it was there was a loop at the end with a little out-and-back section to make up the distance. It was on this section I passed Mrs, she had been a bit gloomy about putting in a good time, but here she was no more than six or seven minutes behind me at the half way point - she was flying!

It was harder to pull people in now as we were well spread out, and I found the on-road section a bit demoralising. I was still on pace, but the surface was uneven and you never feel like you're making much progress when you're running along a wide road with scrubland to look at.

Before long we turned back onto the stone packed path, and it was time for the final third of the course, back down and into Lancaster, and up the hill. I was managing to hold pace, but it was getting harder. A few km splits had crept to the 4:50 mark - I clearly wasn't going to PB or get under 1:40, but it was going to be a good time none the less. I think in a larger field I may have been able to go slightly faster as I would have tried to pick people off in front of me, as it was I spent the last 6km chasing the same girl (Laura Ryall, according to the results) who varied from about 50m to 100m in front. I lost two places as a couple of very fit looking chaps overtook me, clearly going for an easy first half then winding it up towards the end - they quickly disappeared from sight.

Very happy with my pacing, about the best I've ever done (note the slow last km had the hill in it!)

Finally, back down the promenade, and up towards the Castle again. I'd been ramping up the effort to hold my pace in the last few km, and had very little left for the hill. I just about managed to keep running up the main rise, then regained my breath on a short flat spot, then sprinted the last few 10s of metres up through the Castle gates and across the line.

Strava was impressed with my effort!

My final time was 01:41:47, just 76 seconds outside my PB, and only the second time I've run under 1:50. I'm very happy with that given my PB was set in the year I completed two full and two half Ironman events and was about the fittest I've ever been in my life. And, unlike Royal Parks, this time my knee didn't explode! I was 39th out of 177 finishers, 32nd out of 91 male finishers, and 8th out of 20 in my age group.

The top-10, plus our places

I sat back down at the finish and waited for Mrs to come in - she finished in 01:57:16 (83rd place overall, 25th out of 86 female finishers, and 6th out of 28 in her age group), a new PB by over six minutes, and her first time breaking two hours. Wow!

Mrs in action - lamping it up the finish hill to stay ahead of green-t-shirt-man

Looking remarkably fresh for a 6+ minute personal best!

First prize was a microwave and some champagne!

We were in urgent need of some breakfast, so found the nearest pub that looked like it was serving good food and immediately demolished a Sunday roast and pint of local ale.

This didn't last long...

I still find it impressive that we can put out so much effort "on empty stomachs". The sports press will still have us wedded to needing to hydrate before we're thirsty, consume sugars continually, and eat and eat and eat.

Three years into a low-carb high-fat lifestyle (yes, not strict, but under 50g carbs per day for the vast majority of days) and my fat-adapted body can run hard for a half marathon with nothing more than a cup of black coffee in the morning. We hiked for over three hours up Coniston Old Man (peak of over 800m) last week, and I had a 2:45 run round the lake the previous day on similar.

I wonder how I'd perform in an Ironman now if I wasn't continually stuffing myself the whole way round like I was in 2012 - it's no wonder I found the run hard at the end, I'd been eating on the bike non stop for seven hours, you try running a marathon after that! May have to try again one day...

Finisher t-shirt, colourful race number, and medal with stick-on digits


And to finish, a small piece of analysis - yes I think it's the best pacing I've ever managed to pull off in a race and there was no classic explosion from going out too hard, but although I didn't realise it until I plotted the kilometre splits on a bar graph, I was actually slowing down. I've removed the last two splits as they include the hill and so skew the trend line. Note the y-axis scale is considerably zoomed in.

Slowing down, slowly

Still my second fastest half marathon ever, so I'm not complaining too much!

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Race report: Derwent AC's Cumberland Ale 10-miler

Most years Mrs and I rent a cottage somewhere for a week or two to "get away from it all". It's a perfect opportunity to explore some interesting parkruns that we wouldn't normally get near to, and more recently we've been looking at local races to enter too.

We had a fantastic time at the Malmesbury Half Marathon a couple of years ago. Last year was straight after Mrs had run the entire 184 miles of the Thames Path so I was a solo coastal trail runner down in Newquay. This year we've come up to the Lake District National Park and are staying in Coniston. Picking the parkrun was easy (there are only two in the region of the Lake District - Fell Foot and Keswick), and we took to the running sites for some interesting local races. 

We had a nice run (despite the monumental downpour) at Fell Foot parkrun on Saturday, a good warmup for the week's first local race - Derwent AC's annual Cumberland Ale 10 on the Sunday.

Registration was in the Jenning's Brewery souvenir shop and bar

We arrived a bit early at the start, Jenning's Brewery in Cockermouth, right up on the North Western edge of the Lake District. In fact, I think we were the first people there. They hadn't even set up the registration table yet. We hung around a bit until we could sign in, then went to wander round to find a coffee. Options were limited at 10am on a Sunday morning in Cockermouth, but we found sanctuary in Merienda, a relaxed little independent coffee shop (I know the site says Keswick, but they're in Cockermouth too).

Charged with some serious caffeine, we walked back to Jenning's Brewery for the start. Entries are capped at 100 but there can't have been any more than 70 on the start line. It was a very friendly relaxed atmosphere, and I was looking forward to the "undulating" course (I've learned that "undulating" is one of those running euphemisms). 

Mrs and I decided to run our own races rather than stay together, I positioned myself mid-pack and she headed a bit further back.

The finish line was parkrun inspired

With very little fanfare and no countdown, there was a "Go!" called, and we were off! It's a 10-mile lollypop-styled course with a 3 and a bit mile out-and-back with a loop at the end. The undulations got started early as the first mile was all uphill! I took the hill gently, and got into my stride in the second and third miles. I felt great, running was easy and my form was good (or felt good at least, no idea what I actually look like!) and I started pulling in the excitable runners who had started too fast.

With such a small field we quickly separated out and found our paces. All the way round I gradually reeled people in, very slowly making one or two places per mile. I loved it. I ran the gentle hills as if they were flat, and ran the steep hills conservatively (but without walking). Downs were the best. Mrs told me a long time ago that people generally run the ups too hard and the downs too easy. Ever since then I've made an effort to run down hills quickly - and it makes a big difference, a really big difference (try it).

Finish right under the Jenning's Brewery gantry

While I was running I split the race into three - first three miles (should feel easily in control), middle three (turn up the effort), final 3 (push to the end). I was discounting the last mile as I now knew it to be all downhill. I didn't have a target time, when Mrs and I were discussing it I thought an hour and a half might be good - she thought that was too fast for a hilly 10.

There was a lovely fast and steep descent just before the loop, I commented to someone "What goes down..." and tried not to think about running up it in a few miles time.

As it was, I was on a long climb on the loop when I passed the 5 mile sign. I looked at my watch for the first time and it showed 40:08. I was very happy with that! I began to think that with the last mile being downhill then a one-hour and twenty minutes time might be possible. I decided to go for it.

The lollypop course

At mile 5 and a half there was a lovely downhill that went on forever, I opened up and overtook someone who had been sat a few 10s of metres in front of me all the way up the previous climb. Reaching the end of the loop, I prepared myself for going up the hill I'd enjoyed earlier. It was very steep - the closest I came to walking - but with 1:20:00 in mind I pushed on.

Reeling people in now was harder as we were all at roughly the same speed. All through the return leg I was driven on by someone I'd had in my view for some miles. He was faster on the ups, and I was faster on the downs, but he was slowly pulling away. I redoubled my efforts, making sure to run the ups and keep pushing off the top (a technique I've carried over from cycling).

The kilometres had been beeping along on my watch but, apart from the half way point, I hadn't looked at any times. I was now coming up on the 8-mile marker and thought I'd take a peek and see if 1:20:00 was still a possibility. As I ran past the marker my time ticked over to 1:04:00 - I needed two 8-minute miles back-to-back. I always run in kilometres so I didn't know what effort I needed for 8-minute miles, I thought I'd just push hard as I could and see where I was at the 9-mile marker. Mile 8 was a long drag up an incline with a steep bit at the top, the 9-mile marker was just over the summit. Push harder...

It felt a lot lumpier than this!

Pace was good throughout with a noticeable acceleration at the end

Huffing and puffing from the climb I checked my watch at the marker - it read 1:12:08, I was a little over the 8 minutes, but I knew most of the last mile was down. I didn't want to relax though, I knew it would be tight.

I pushed all the way down back into Cockermouth town, and ran hard down the steep narrow road into the brewery. The finish funnel looked just like a parkrun funnel, and pushing right to the end I ran right through the line (no slacking off!). The previous finishers were all milling around and clapping and cheering each new runner - there were a good few dozen in front of me. I was handed my complementary bottle of beer, and staggered off to get my breath back.

I checked my watch. It read 1:19:18! I'd taken out the last mile in 7:09 and come in under 1:20:00 - a clear 10 minutes faster than I was expecting!

Watch time made me happy

I wobbled about near the finish funnel and clapped the arrivals waiting for Mrs. She arrived in no time, chalking up 1:31:40 on the clock - also a fantastic time ahead of expectations. We were overjoyed! So overjoyed we helped demolish the buffet.

Prizes waiting for winners - the overall winners and all age group winners won a prize, impressive

Mrs arrived at quite a pace!

The official results agree with my watch time within a second, putting me at 1:19:17. I was in 36th position and 6th in my age group. Mrs was in 55th place and 7th in her age group. The winning time was an incredible 58:40!

Post-race spread was the best I've seen...

...and very popular!

This was an excellent local race. It's staged annually so I'd heartily recommend it if you're in the area next year. Thank you Derwent AC, thank you volunteers, and thank you Scouts who manned the water station (I didn't take any water, but it doesn't mean I don't appreciate your efforts :)

Let's see what we can find for next weekend.

Happy knackered us

The ultimate recovery drink - a good robust cuppa