Coventry’s half marathon–Sunday 23rd March 2014

I was like a bear with a sore head for the day or two leading up to Coventry’s half marathon (Which for the remainder, where applicable, will be referred to as the Coventry Half Marathon, dropping the possessive apostrophe – which, bizarrely, was the theme for the finishing medal – and resurrecting the redundant capitalisation). My left leg is not a happy bunny, it has been prodded more often than a fussy five year old’s unloved dinner, and is not responding well to massage and stretching. As with most of my injuries  – I’m sure the origins lie somewhere in the back, and until the sweet spot is found, a cascade of soreness and tight bits proliferate. Three weeks or so ago I was looking at a near sure-fire HM PB; now I was unsure of whether I’d even finish. Miserable doesn’t even begin to describe my mental state. It’s ridiculous but the life of a running addict can literally swing from boom to despair on the tweak of a tendon.

Back when I was a Coventry resident, the Half Marathon was less than a mile from home. I revelled in being able to leave home around 10 minutes before the off, jog to the race start and be off racing minutes after arriving. Now living in Grantham and with the race kicking off at an ungodly 9am, it meant an early start and rushed preparations in order to get out of the house in time. This led to the biggest mistake of the day when I failed to notice the kids’ car seats were in the back of the car I was taking, which wasn’t much use for the wife who was set to drive them to a party in the other vehicle. The error only dawned on me as I hit the M69; luckily for me the venue for the birthday bash was within walking distance.

I parked up around two miles from the start to allow the warm up to be the run into race HQ. Trialling my new running rucksack for the first time, this was pleasingly comfortable. The left leg, in particular the thigh, was less so. But at least it was bearable. The pain was forgotten briefly as I passed my old home, looking exactly as I left it save for two To Let signs in the miniscule front garden, which were infinitely more aesthetically pleasing than the (presumably broken) Nescafe vending machine that took pride of place in the garden a few doors down. The house that always gave trouble had truly excelled itself with the most bizarre piece of house furniture they’ve ever left outside.

I reached race HQ just 35 minutes before the start, which is around an hour less than I usually allow. It was hence a fairly rushed affair changing, stretching, pit stopping, dropping baggage etc.. It was a shame that I bumped into some fellow Kenilworth Runners literally as we were about to head to the start line. Never the chattiest at the best of times before a race, there was little in the way of meaningful conversation other than the most basic of pleasantries. My mind was focused on the impending doom I felt certain was going to strike me somewhere down the road during the race. That was a great shame as I was really looking forward to meeting old friends again, and time and circumstances sadly conspired against us.

I got to the start line just four minutes before the scheduled depart. I spotted fellow Kenilworth Runner Connor Carson, who is the club’s leading runner based on WMA age grades. He talked down his expectations for the race; I should have known better for he ended up finishing with a one second PB and an agonising six seconds away from breaking 75 minutes. Still, another 84%+ WMA performance is something to be pretty proud of, one that I’d be willing to a fair few creature comforts for.

The first mile was a fairly quick affair, although the 5:36 opening mile my Garmin clocked up I reckon was a touch enthusiastic on its behalf as the mile marker came around 15 seconds further up the road. That opening mile saw me hang on to Connor’s coat tails and even pass him at one point, but that seemed to inspire him and he soon eased himself away into the distance.  I settled into as best a rhythm I could, trying my best to ignore the persistent ache in the upper thigh and a myriad of other weird pains in the left leg.

At around three miles I was in a group of four which I considered sticking with to take advantage of sheltering from the headwind. They weren’t however quite running fast enough so I pressed on. As we passed through Allesley and continued a protracted drag uphill, there was some impressive crowd support which spurred me on a little. The legs felt a touch heavy, no doubt from the heavy mileage, but I was moving reasonably swiftly. In the distance was the unmistakeable frame of local legend Garry Payne, who in his heyday won more road races than I’ve probably entered. Fifty seven years young, the man can still knock out a swift half marathon (He won the Coventry Half as recently as 2011), and I was particularly pleased to catch him, run with him for a mile or two before easing away at eight miles (I was even more chuffed when he came to congratulate me on my run at the end of the race – that was definitely a highlight).

Miles 5-8 were tough. Exposed and into a headwind as we tackled the greenbelt land near Corley, we climbed to the highest point of the race at eight miles. Thankfully I knew once we turned right onto the main road back into Coventry it was going to be as near as dammit all gently downhill to the finish, with the added bonus of being aided most of the way by a strong tail wind. With Garry dispatched it was now a lonely race, with just a couple of Godiva runners to try and chase down in the distance. All I had to spur me on was trying to reduce my average pace which, after the opening mile, had slowly slid to just outside six minutes per mile.

The average pace over the next five miles came down, but not by as much as I would have liked. The left thigh ached just enough for me not to be able to run flat out. This is shown in my heart rate which was pretty much on my marathon threshold and should have been a fair few beats higher during the closing stages of a half marathon. I battled on as best I could whilst not wanting to risk everything by overdoing it. The long downhill stretch was rudely interrupted by a slight rise at 11 miles then another in the final mile. At least the crowds were cheering in the final miles to will us to the finish, and the PA at the end was plenty loud enough to hear my name called out to the crowd as I came home in 14th position.

I knew I was outside my PB; 1:17:32 should be a pleasing result given the circumstances, but I left Coventry a little disappointed. Twisting my thoughts full circle I was then enthused that I should be disappointed with a 1:17, showing that my standards have risen in recent times. But ultimately I felt a bit flat.

Fearing my leg would stiffen and knowing I had a run back to the car and a journey in it to survive, I had my first second ever post race massage (I’ve just remembered I had one after my first ever half marathon, when I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards). God bless the numerous and very enthusiastic students of Coventry University, who gave their services for free, but I received, without a shadow of doubt, the most ineffective massage ever.  I was requested on several occasions to let them know if the pain of the massage became unbearable; at times I had to turn my head and see if they were actually touching my legs – for they felt nothing.

I jogged back to the car, running more slowly than on my warm up on a longer route, retracing parts of Coventry I ran most often as a resident. The leg didn’t feel too bad considering, I had to consume a Snickers on the way though, suffering from a bit of hunger knock as the cyclists call it. Back at the car I no doubt bemused the residents of a part of Hipswell Highway as I changed outside their house out of lycra and into regular clothes. From there it was onto Warwick and a chance to catch up with some more club mates, some of whom had taken part in the Warwick Half Marathon. I would have spent more time with them had I gone to the right pub in the first instance though…. Time flew by and before I knew it my two hours of gratis parking on the expensive streets of Warwick was up and my time to head home had come.

It was fun racing back in Coventry but the race there left me with no regret over leaving. The warm down especially had me wondering how I was able to train efficiently when I was stopping every mile or so to cross a road or be dodging errant pedestrians. There’s now less than three weeks until marathon day. A cure for the leg woes is urgently required….

Split Summary
1) 1m – 5:36(5:36/m) 151/164bpm 79cal
2) 1m – 5:49(5:49/m) 166/172bpm 95cal
3) 1m – 5:55(5:55/m) 167/171bpm 97cal
4) 1m – 5:55(5:55/m) 168/172bpm 97cal
5) 1m – 6:09(6:09/m) 168/171bpm 101cal
6) 1m – 6:13(6:13/m) 167/171bpm 102cal
7) 1m – 6:16(6:16/m) 168/171bpm 104cal
8) 1m – 6:18(6:18/m) 166/169bpm 104cal
9) 1m – 5:46(5:46/m) 165/167bpm 93cal
10) 1m – 5:41(5:41/m) 166/167bpm 92cal
11) 1m – 5:40(5:40/m) 165/167bpm 91cal
12) 1m – 5:41(5:41/m) 165/171bpm 90cal
13) 1m – 5:43(5:43/m) 165/169bpm 90cal
14) 0.18m – 51(4:46/m) 168/171bpm 13cal