Race Report – Grunty Fen Half Marathon, Witchford, Sunday 13th September 2015

All year I’ve been struggling to find a non Grand Prix weekend where I could take part in, what I believe would be, my fiftieth half marathon. It looked as though I was going to have to wait until December, but when that planned race became a casualty to, off all things, a party, I bit the bullet and two weeks or so before the event, entered the 25th Grunty Fen Half Marathon. 

The race with a funny name was a bit of a risk and a compromise too. The compromise was twofold in that I really wanted to do a big name city style glitz and glamour half marathon to celebrate my fiftieth. Plus the race is run under the jurisdiction of the ARC (Association of Running Clubs) rather than UKA (UK Athletics). The politics behind this small, but significant point is worthy of an article elsewhere (Or a Google search), the crucial thing is that my race time will appear on neither the Power of 10 nor Run Britain websites, which these days is all anyone cares about when validating one’s running prowess.

The risk was that, as the title of the race suggests, it is run in the Cambridgeshire fens. The advantage of a race in the fens is that you are guaranteed an all but pancake flat race (Having said that, the Grunty Fen managed to pack in a moderate climb which had to be tackled twice). The big disadvantage of a fens race is that wind speed is seemingly multiplied twofold or even more and it is often windy. Many a Grunty Fen has seen times decimated by a stiff wind from which there is no escape.

Very, very luckily, considering the weather forecast of two days earlier, Sunday morning was all but wind free, even in the fens of Witchford. Moreover considering September races can be blisteringly hot affairs, conditions were near perfect, with light cloud mostly covering the sun and temperatures only reaching 17C by the finish.

My luck though had run out to an extent on Friday evening  when I began to feel the ominous sniffles, the throat beginning to feel a little sore, the ears beginning to ache, the sinuses starting to tingle.

Saturday and I felt pretty lousy all day, a bout of catarrh leaving me in discomfort and weary. That evening I went to bed stating if I felt like I did then in the morning I wouldn’t be racing. Thankfully on Sunday morning I felt quite a bit better but still not 100%: the sinuses were still painful and the legs a touch achy – not helped by a full week of training and not the hint of a taper other than a rest day on the Saturday.

After arriving an hour before the start and collecting my race number and chip, I went for a fifteen minute warm up which did little to boost my confidence – I wasn’t running badly but there was no zing. The catarrh had stripped that from me. I made my final pre-race trip to the toilets and headed to the start.

The start of the race. Grunty Fen Half Marathon, Witchford, Cambridgeshire, Sunday 13th September 2015.
Lining Up At The Start

I lined up on the start line next to the race winner Aaron Scott. He has a talent for turning up at every race I turn up at and winning. He is a very good runner. I was tempted to congratulate him on his win before the start but resisted; I saved it until the finish once he had won (and in a new course record: 1:08:04). As you can tell by the picture above I felt strangely subdued. It was the best chance ever of breaking 1:15 for the half marathon and I was struggling to get myself pumped up.

The start of the race.
The start of the race.

As the picture above shows, I made a tardy start. Aaron was already into the distance by the time we’d crossed the green timing mat. The opening 400 meters were brisk. The race may have lacked the 55000 fun runners taking part a couple of hundred miles north on the same day in Teeside, but the quality was pretty high for a race with less than 500 finishers. From the off I felt a heaviness in the legs which I sensed was never going to fully go away. The first mile was quick: 5:29, but the heart rate was really low. Whether it was the heavy training or the catarrh, I’m not sure, but for the first mile and pretty much the remainder of the race I found it impossible to get the heart rate and therefore effort up to the same level I managed at the Robin Hood Half Marathon in 2014.

The opening mile, surrounded by baggy shorts!
The opening mile, surrounded by baggy shorts!

By the end of the first mile where a short uphill drag soon thinned out the field, I found myself in around 9th position. I saw Aaron Scott as a small dot in the distance with a group of four or five runners chasing, then a couple of solo runners ahead of me. I settled into my running and having accepted that the heart rate wasn’t going to reach the heights I wanted, went about the task of running as fast as I could within the limits of the day.

The next eleven miles were hugely uneventful and as undramatic as the fen course, which had us running on a succession of dead straight and dead long roads with just one hill of note to break the montony. I passed a runner just before 5k, which I went through in 17:32, then another shortly after on the aforementioned hill. Thereafter, aside from a couple of support bikes who were supporting the lone wheelchair competitor, who I passed at ten miles, I didn’t come within shouting distance of another runner – although I could see another runner in the distance occasionally on the long straight roads.

I took a Powergel at just after five miles, where I nearly took a wrong turn thanks to a misunderstanding with a marshal. Soon after the ingesting of goo, I put in my strongest feeling miles of the race. Good stuff in that Powergel. I wish I’d taken another but I was feeling tight and only carried one.


I went through ten k on my watch in 35:10 and more importantly the official halfway in 37:10. This didn’t take a degree in maths to to work out that if I maintained pace, sub 1:15 was a real possibility. A maths degree, nor any other for that matter, doesn’t run those last six and a half miles for you though and there was still plenty to be done. Thankfully I was able to maintain pace miles 7-12 (Including the hill in the twelfth mile) were 5:46; 5:41; 5:40; 5:41; 5:44; 5:43; and another 5:43.

A bit past halfway

I went through ten miles in an unofficial PB of 57:09, and knew that once the hill in the twelfth mile had been tackled I could put my head down and give it everything in the final mile and a bit. For the first time in the race I was able to get my heart rate up to the sort of levels I’d been hoping for and, as I tackled the closing twists and turns through a housing estate it showed with a thirteenth mile covered in 5:31.

Sprinting to the finish, full effort!
Sprinting to the finish, full effort!

In the final half mile I glanced at the time in my watch and realised that whilst breaking the PB of 1:15:29 was a formality, breaking the 1:15 barrier was not such a given. For the final 400 meters I gave it full gas, chasing nothing other than a good time. I finished, clocking 1:14;46. Fourteen seconds inside my target time! Finishing seventh was irrelevant, I’d hoped to break 1:15 and this I managed, despite not feeling on top of the world.

This sense prevailed in the following minutes and hours. The euphoria of the half marathon at Nottingham, clocking 1:15 was not present. Normally I’d chide myself at such a response – a PB is a PB and one should celebrate them wholeheartedly. However today, I was pleased, but aware that there was more in the tank potentially and that this race is just a warm up for what is the bigger picture – the hopeful culmination of Project Sub 2:45.

Race Report – Lincoln Services Summer League 10k, Grantham, Wednesday 9th September 2015

This was a curious little event. A few days before this race, held on the afternoon of Wednesday September 9th at the Prince William of Gloucester Army Barracks in Grantham, our running club received an email from Captain Lepage of Grantham, inviting us to take part in one of the Lincoln Services races. At first I wasn’t too interested in the idea, especially as I’d planned a rare evening out the night before the race where the consumption of (a fair to large volume of) alcohol was a given.

However the day before the race I reckoned a bit of a run out over 10k would probably do my marathon training no harm, indeed it may even help it a little, having not run a great deal at pace recently. I was mindful that I was taking part in the Grunty Fen Half Marathon on the Sunday, so this wasn’t to be a full gas effort, but the plan was to put in a solid tempo effort.

Two hours before the race and I was a bit of a mess – head spinning and pounding, a little bit worse for wear, scrambling desperately for the last remaining Ibuprofen in the house. Ninety minutes before the off and I made a reluctant decision to take part in the race – at least try to run up to the barracks before deciding whether I could actually run.

Thankfully, apart from feeling very dehydrated and the heart rate thinking it was running a 5k, the warm up showed I was okay to race – the head actually grateful for the hangover busting qualities of running. Getting into the army  barracks took a little bit of effort, but I was soon in and in a totally different world to what I am accustomed too. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure what to expect not frequenting myself that often in army camps, but I soon found some familiar faces wearing Grantham Running Club colours, and before long we were introduced to Captain Lepage who offered a warm welcome to his guest runners.

He also gave hands down without a doubt the most comprehensive pre-race briefing I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Short of telling us quite how to run and when to breath I do believe every possible eventuality was covered. That done and it was soon down to racing. A few strides and I felt ready to go.

I found it a touch amusing that having been briefed that the pre-race briefing would be at 14:15 and the race would commence at 14:30 prompt, the klaxon for the race start was actually sounded at 14:27, catching out a few runners who had used the nearby conveniences for a last minute pit stop.

Thankfully I was on the start line and from the off I was running fairly well. After the initial surge I tucked myself on the shoulder of the leader and sensed that the pace wasn’t going to be that fast. After a mile or so I took the lead briefly and tried to slow the pace, keen not to go much quicker than the 5:42 opening mile.

I was soon passed though on a brief section of multi terrain which I struggled on and slipped to third before hitting the familiar surroundings of Turnor Road, an oft traveled section of quiet road for interval sessions at the running club. I pulled in the lead two and for the most part for the next three and a half miles sat on the shoulder of the lead runner.

I was finding the pace comfortable; the heart rate though was a little too high, a legacy no doubt of too many glasses of vino tinto the night before. Miles 2-4, on Strava at least, were a model of consistency, a trio of 5:40 miles. I got the impression the three of us could go faster but had other events on our minds – the two with me were talking of racing the next day, for instance.

The fifth mile saw us tackle again the short section of multi terrain and the other two drifted a few yards ahead of me as I slowed to a 5:44 mile and they increased their pace slightly. I could have gone with them, but as a guest runner and with Sunday on my mind I didn’t feel the need or desire to push, so I let them drift 5-10 seconds ahead in the final mile, which was another 5:40.

It turned out the 10k was near enough spot on six miles, so there the race ended – third, not a bad effort. Six miles in 34:35, which is actually faster than my official six mile PB. I waited for my fellow GRC runners to come in, felt my hangover making an unwelcome return so made my farewells and jogged home. A curious race, but a strangely enjoyable one.