Monday, February 23, 2009

Great North West Half Marathon

Those rare days where you feel strong and things go better than planned? Well I had one of those yesterday. It was the Great North West Half, my first half marathon and the longest road race I have done. The Garburn Trail was longer but as it was offroad its a completely different animal.

I had a big bowl of porridge for breakfast with a chopped banana and as an extra treat because it was a race day I had some dark muscovado sugar in it. Its not just a treat really. I am never good at eating first thing in the morning, particularly if its absolutely essential I do, my stomach seems to rebel but having some sugar on the porridge helps. I finished breakfast about 9:15, I've discovered I can run quite happily (not flat out) about an hour after having porridge so I wasn't worried about digesting it, I love porridge.

We set off about 9:30 am, me driving and Jez navigating. we found the race start and managed to get parked in a side street very close to it. Got out the car to the usual biting coastal wind and stood in a queue for the loos, for quite a while. We located the start looked at the course a bit then I did about a mile warmup then got ready for the start.

As it was laps my plan was to take it easy on the first lap then depending on how I felt speed up a little on the second or just hang on. I had my running rucksack on with a few gels and a little water to take with them and I was planning to follow the gel every four miles strategy I have been doing my long runs at but to practice taking the gels when still running and in race conditions.

Just before the off I moved in behind the RW 9mm pacer, it was the pace I was planning to run at to start with anyway so thought it may be sensible to slot in there. The start was a little congested and took a while to get properly running. I was behind the pacer for the first few miles when I realised it wasn't perhaps such a great idea, it was so busy. I was still in the throng when I saw a bike and a pink hat go whizzing past which I can only assume was Trio!

There came a point where the course seemed to open out a bit and have a bit of space out in front, after almost tripping over someones feet for about the tenth time I moved into the open space in front. It was great to have proper space and be able to look at something other than other peoples feet trying to get in my way.

I moved a bit ahead of the pacer but not much and kept my own fairly constant pace anyway. There wasn't much to look at apart from the sea. I passed the four mile mark and was supposed to be having a gel but I really felt like I didn't need it. Once the course started heading back towards the start/finish area I made myself have a gel. I was supposed to be practising.

I managed to get the gel out of the rucksack pocket without too much wrist contortion. I normally squeeze all the gel up from the bottom of the pack in one go but I tried this whilst running and nearly choked, oops. I managed to breathe again and had some water to wash it down. I dumped the wrapper in one of the many bins dotted about which was great, no sticky fingers or having to shove used gel packs in pockets (or dropping them on the ground as some people seemed to think was acceptable).

I quite enjoyed the little undulations along this part of the course, gave the leg muscles some variety. Jez shouted some encouragement from the side as I neared the finish area. I went through the for the second lap in about 58 minutes, as I was hoping to get under two hours I thought I would get a move on to make sure. I was feeling pretty good so upped the pace.

As I was passing under the finish area on my way out on my second lap (just after 7 miles I think) I heard the winner being announced: 67 minutes apparently. Just the motivation you want, your just heading out and someone has already finished! The first part of the course is on concrete and the second time round my legs, my left in particular didn't seem to appreciate it at all.

Towards the top end of the course my left knee felt like it was burning a couple of times which was most disconcerting. I had a second gel around the 8/9 mile mark, when I spotted a bin. I wasn't sure I really needed it but I thought how bad it would be if I felt drained close to the finish. This time I took much smaller mouthfuls over a longer period and this worked really well. So I've learned something.

I was struggling a bit just before the course turned to head back because my legs felt so battered but the undulations along the top helped a little, that and the fact it was only tarmac not concrete for a while. I was feeling pretty strong and my legs perked up a bit, I also remembered it was downhill a bit to the finish so at mile 12 I speeded up again.

As I came into the finish area I saw the clock above the finish line and was determined to get in under 1:54 so I pushed hard, my legs felt quite frisky! I never manage sprint finishes so I was really chuffed, my muscles felt really good, energy wise I felt really good, the only thing letting me down was my battered joints. It really didn't feel like I'd been running for the best part of two hours, it flew by.

I picked up the goody bag and some water but failed to notice the butties so had to go back and get one after Jez pointed them out to me laughing. He said I didn't look that tired so I hadn't tried hard enough! To be fair, I think I could have gone a bit harder earlier but never having raced a half before I erred on the side of caution. It could have been a long painful run if I'd gotten it wrong.

My watch time was 1:53:47 and official results were 1:53:53.

I couldn't face my butty straight away but I had my recovery drink then the bottle of water and was able to eat it then. I felt pretty good all afternoon, didn't feel sleepy or really tired at all.

I am definitely in need of some more long runs on tarmac to toughen my legs up though (will fit a few offroad runs in, hopefully, my trail shoes keep looking at me reproachfully when I ignore them in favour of the road shoes).


  1. Excellent run Julbags. Isn't it a great feeling when you do better than you expected!

    I hate running laps as I get very disheartened running through a finish line when I'm not done, especially when you see people finishing.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. One other thing, why do you take a gel every 4 miles? If it works then great but most people can do around 13 miles without any additional carbs. Or if you find you feeling flat in the last mile or so then one gel at around mile 8 or 9 should do it.

  3. I think for the half one gel would be fine but for the marathon (I'm doing Edinburgh in May, which is what the practise was for) not quite so good. I've done lots of long cycle rides where I've died a death at the end due to lack of fuel and for me getting it in early and regularly is what works best which is why I though one every four. I may change it yet.

    I've had a lot of experimenting over the years with fuelling all day hard MTB rides and for me fuelling well during the exercise seems to be key to feeling strong throughout. People I ride with can get away with much less but not me. That's where its coming from.

  4. Great race! Sounds like you paced it perfectly! Ali started just behind the 9mm pacer as well but soon moved just in front of him for clear tarmac!

    Don't worry too much about your joints hurting, they are going to hurt whatever after the marathon! Nothing you can do ;) That's why even the elites only run so many in a year!

  5. I'm just hoping I can get past the 7 mile mark before they start hurting though.

  6. excellent result! you obviously paced yourself really well. as you said this is training for the big one, so you don't need to collapsing in a heap at the finish-you can do that in may ;)
    well done!