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.
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!