Race Report – Worksop Halloween Half Marathon, Worksop, Sunday 25th October 2015.

The weeks following the Chester Half Marathon were not an incident free, painless period of post race jubilation and recuperation. The supposed cramp in the right calf was in fact a calf strain that was impossible to run on for two weeks and was only tested, with a brief one mile run three days before the Worksop Half Marathon.

The days were not spent entirely idly however, plenty of hours on the elliptical trainer, a few spinning sessions at the gym where I worked on maximising my watts per kg figure (now up to 3.7 for a 40 minute session), a ride spent in one gear with Witham Wheelers thanks to a cable failure, and a couple of short sessions on a recently acquired Nordic Ski Machine.

The injury woes were compounded a week after Chester by a bizarre late night feinting incident – caused by low blood pressure – saw me fall awkwardly, killing a few more brain cells and wrenching loads of muscles in my neck and shoulders. Although you don’t run with your arms, the upper body plays a surprisingly important role in running, and I found on the short runs before the Worksop Half that bio mechanically things felt not quite right and the left hip especially was giving some cause for concern.

The calf, after a four mile effort the day before Worksop came through with an ‘okay’ rating; the hip would be reviewed in the evening. Working on the United States Grand Prix (or not working as much as planned on Saturday with qualifying washed out) I packed Saturday lunchtime for two eventualities: race at Worksop or cycle with the Witham Wheelers.

I certainly wasn’t taking the race as seriously as others, my Saturday diet was distinctly risky compared to my usual fare of Margarita Pizza – a mild curry was the dish of the day. Sunday morning awoke with more non-racing dietary habits, a full bowl of cereal rather than cereal bars. At 7:30 am I was still undecided, but by 7:40 I decided to risk the body and head to the race and, if necessary, treat it not as a race but an easy Sunday morning run.

I arrived in Worksop 90 minutes ahead of the 10 am race start and followed all the others to collect my race number. I queued briefly for the first toilet trip of the morning, then changed in what seemed to be the town hall, before dropping off my bag and heading out for a warm up. My warm ups are rarely a dynamic affair, this one was among the all time greats in lackadaisical efforts. A half mile jog out, a stretch to try and loosen the tight left hip, and a slow half mile jog back straight to the lengthy Portaloo queues.

With nothing better to do for 20 minutes in the queue other than pick out the runners who’d gone to the trouble of dressing up in ghoulish Halloween inspired paraphernalia, I proceeded to quite vigorously massage my right leg and IT band in particular. The reason for such vigour was I felt a tender spot that referred pain right to the point of the calf where I’d continued to get nagging pain. The downside was that when I finished the massage the right leg felt a bit like it had been hit by a truck!

I left the Portaloo with five minutes to the race start, which is a good effort by some recent standards. It did mean though I couldn’t actually get into the start pens and had to join a large number of runners hanging around the side of the barriers hoping to jump in when the gun went. It took quite a while for the gun to fire – the chip timers seemed to be fretting a touch and then the mayoress gave a lengthy and largely inaudible speech before giving a five second count down to the start.

We were off and as I eased my way into the mass of runners I quickly got up to a comfortable speed. The first mile at Grunty Fen and Nottingham a year ago was around 5:40, I started off at 6:30 pace and as the first mile and half was so all uphill it remained at that pace. The good news was that the pre-race massage had eased the calf ache significantly. The flip side was that the IT band and thigh in general felt distinctly sub-par for the first few miles.

I’d still no real intention to race hard even when I found myself easing past tens of runners up the steepest section of the opening mile. Indeed I think I would have resigned myself to a gentle training run were it not for an unfortunate incident which had a positive (for me) outcome. At just before two miles I pulled alongside and past a group containing the lead female runner. Running in the middle of the wide road I unintentionally drifted slightly to the left, perhaps as a result of the neck injury mentioned earlier affecting my running stride.

The incident would have gone unnoticed were it not for a rather irate runner muttering something along the lines of ‘why did you f***ing stop in front of me for? Incredulous I pointed out in a rather blunt manner that I hadn’t stopped nor had I even slowed down. I may have inadvertently chopped his stride in drifting across the road (Something that happens a lot in races) and would have been happy to have apologised had he not decided to call me a c**t.

I replied a little ashamedly in a similar vernacular before the surge of adrenaline from the unwanted encounter saw me quite rapidly leave the potty mouthed runner, with a final retort from myself along the lines of ‘come on then, keep up!’ (He couldn’t and didn’t, which left me with a smug sense of victory in a rather regrettable affair). This incendiary encounter certainly stoked the fires within. The first mile was 6:28 . The second mile (Mostly adrenaline free) was 6:06, the third was 5:41. In reality if you believe Strava GAP the third mile was actually slower with hills taken into account than the opening two, but I now felt as though I was racing and not going through the motions.

The reality of this race was that it was barely quicker than my marathon pace for the most part at Chester. It was though, thanks to the injury niggles and fatigue, feeling much harder than most of the Chester Marathon. What tempered the discomfort was the glorious surroundings of Clumber Park in Autumn and the perfect autumnal weather conditions for racing. As is usual I overdressed in long sleeved top and gloves, but it was cool enough to not overheat but not too cold as to see muscles struggle to keep warm.

Running through glorious Autumn scenes.  © Mick Hall
Running through glorious Autumn scenes. © Mick Hall

As we hit Clumber Park the runners I passed began to thin out, but was probably still averaging one or two a mile. We passed some fantastically dressed marshals who I couldn’t help but thank for their support, and along a long straight road in the ninth mile (Following a near mile long drag uphill) there was the most extravagantly celebrated sponge station I’ve ever witnessed.

I’ve posted before the lament I feel for the almost total demise of the sponge station. It is as though the organisers shared my fondness for them. There must have been five signs warning us of the impending station then another 5-10 warning us of the dire consequences of stealing one of the sponges. These were interspersed with around a mile’s worth of humorous messages that certainly provided a welcome antidote at what is often a difficult part of a half marathon. Some may say it is ironic that I decided not to take a sponge after singing their praises for many, many years. Part of me thinks the organisers including a sponge station at a race that is more than likely going to be held in cold and / or wet conditions, is a work of irony in istelf.

Miles 4-10 were run at pretty consistent pace given the constant undulations, peppering six minutes per mile. By the eleventh mile at a race I wasn’t going to race, then was going to take part in with no consideration of time, was now an effort to break 80 minutes. My basic arithmetic said it was going to be close, but a 6:06 mile didn’t help. I doubled the effort to run a 5:55 twelfth mile, which Strava reckons was the fastest of the race if you take the hills into the equation (5:46).

Hanging on at 11 1/2 miles. © Mick Hall
Hanging on at 11 1/2 miles. © Mick Hall

The final mile was a repeat of the opening mile but in the opposite direction, so a long uphill drag became a swift downhill descent to the finish. This would normally be a fantastic way to end a race but my legs are still seemingly susceptible to cramping on such gradients and, sure enough, halfway down the hill the quads and hips began to cramp.

I wasn’t going to let a bit of cramp stop me though, especially as I had another runner in my sights just up the road. There is many a race where I would not have chased down a runner for one position. Now at the race I wasn’t going to race, then was going to take part in with no consideration of time, which became an effort to break 80 minutes, was now an all out effort to beat a runner for twenty-fifth position.

Ignoring the cramps waving up and down my legs, I surged past the 25th placed runner with 400 meters to run and continued to ramp up the pace before putting in a full sprint for the final 100 meters. The thirteenth mile was the quickest of the race (5:37), the last 0.1 of a mile a shade under five minute mile pace. I was rewarded for my efforts with that cherished 25th position, not only a sub 1:20 clocking but a sub 1:19 (1:18:59 chip) and hips that refused to respond to my requests to walk….

I was also rewarded, as was everyone else who finished, with a rather snazzy Halloween themed technical t-shirt, a medal and a lengthy wait as the well-meaning volunteers at baggage struggled to find my small rucksack (not helped that I described my black and yellow rucksack buried in a sea of similarly small rucksacks as grey and blue…)

With F1 deciding to run qualifying at 9am Austin time I had no time to hang around and watch others finish. Instead it was a walk as fast as the failing legs allowed back to the car, a quick chat with new Strava friend Matt and jumping in the car back to Grantham just in time to witness Lewis eventually crowned World Champion, which meant a marathon slog of a work stint that saw eyes closed finally at 4am. By that time the legs were so stiff the stairs were an effort, but all in all, with seemingly no long lasting damage done, it was a long and relatively successful day.


Trainer Obituary – Nike Pegasus 30 (Green) – 18 August 2014 – 5 September 2015.

Nike Pegasus 30 (Green)
Nike Pegasus 30 (Green)

The green pair of Nike Pegasus 30 replaced the Nike Pegasus 29 and the numerous incarnations of the Pegasus that have been worn over the years. As usual they were the every day trainer worn for a variety of sessions, from recovery runs to longer efforts and even the odd interval session.

They were used at the first ever Melton Mowbray parkrun in January 2015 and they were worn when I won the Maverick Original Somerset Trail Race in August 2015. They therefore own the honourable distinction of being the only pair of trainers thus far I’ve owned that have actually carried me to victory.

Like most pairs of Pegasus’ I’ve owned they died a rapid death not long after reaching 500 miles. They battled on to 562 miles but after a 10 mile training run on Saturday 5th September left my right Achilles somewhat sore they were declared knackered and deceased.

With new Pegasus costing a veritable arm and leg (And apparently not feeling the same as old Pegasus’) they were replaced by a pair of Nike Vomero 9, which feel very much like old Pegasus’ and not at all like old Vomeros. They are though currently on sabbatical having allegedly caused an ankle injury shortly before the Chester Marathon.

Race Report – 2015 Chester Marathon – The Tale of How I Finally Broke 2:45.

Part 1: The Taper

The taper began officially the week after the Grunty Fen Half Marathon. The intervening week though was significant for a couple of injury niggles that affected the taper period. It began well enough with a bias on cross training and easy paced runs as I allowed the legs to recover from Sunday’s race. However from Wednesday through to Saturday I began to notice increased discomfort and sometimes pain across the top of the right foot somewhere near the toes. At first I thought it might be over-tightened laces or even the chip worn on Sunday that had irritated the foot. By Saturday though, which saw the only hard session of the week – a pleasing ten miles at marathon heart rate averaging 6:04 per mile – the pain was enough for me to fear it may have been the onset of a stress fracture or some form of tendinitis.

The pain continued into Sunday’s run – ran over the bulk of the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon course – but it was nothing compared to the discomfort that seemingly came from nowhere from the onset of the run on the outside of the left ankle. Despite stretching and some gentle massage the pain began to intensify in the final miles so that by the end and when I stopped running there was a noticeable limp.

What I also noticed was that, unlike the right foot, the pain in the ankle stopped the moment I took of my trainers (A pair of recently purchased Nike Vomero 9s). I was therefore initially more concerned with the right foot which continued to ache. Having exhausted all ideas of what could be causing the pain I returned to my injury bible and soon found a plausible explanation and simple solution. It suggested the pain was not coming from the foot but from two points on the outer shin, one in line with the bottom of the patella, the other around a hand’s length from the patella, not too far from the ankle. Low and behold both spots were tender to massage – the lower point even had a bruise that had surfaced mysteriously. The book said results would be quick and it didn’t disappoint – from the next run onward there was no discomfort.

The ankle though was proving more troublesome, it was even difficult to go on the elliptical trainer or join the spinning class without loosening the trainers to the point of them becoming slippers. After two days of no running I was determined to run on my (cough cough) 40th birthday,  so in a moment of inspiration opted to try running in my Nike Flyknits with the elastic laces I added for the sprint triathlon I took part in back in June. The lack of pressure on the ankle joint meant the relatively short run was more or less pain free.

I wore the Flyknits for the rest of the week – except for the long run coming on the Saturday, where I wore the Frees I planned to use at the Marathon, which were thankfully also pain free. As a stint of overnight shifts covering the Japanese Grand Prix took its toll, Sunday’s run was a short affair – I attempted to run in the Vomero’s but the pain was instantly too much, so I reverted to the Flyknits and they were fine. For now the Vomero’s are on the naughty step to be maybe worn again at some point in the future.

The final taper week was not a happy one. It rarely is with the effort of abstaining from exercise proving tough, but this week it was complicated with the onset of a cold that I tried my best to ignore but couldn’t help but notice on my final run on the Wednesday a definite lethargy in the opening miles that only went away when I ran three miles at marathon HR, which averaged 5:55. If I put that lethargy down to post Japanese GP pseudo-jet lag, I couldn’t ignore the rather unpleasant streams of snot on my training top after a final hour on the elliptical trainer on Thursday. It was not a heavy cold but it was enough to potentially dent performance and by Saturday it still hadn’t shifted…

Part 2 – Pre-race Build Up

The packing was done Friday morning, the depart for Chester to take place on Saturday morning. I was taking the family and planned to spend the afternoon in Chester to get a taste for the city and to maybe see part of the route. The journey to Chester was easy enough – until we approached Chester and the traffic slowed to a crawl. Chester has perhaps a worse traffic system than Grantham and, rather desperate to find a toilet, parked in the first NCP car park I came to (Which was ludicrously expensive but I was past caring). We spent a few hours wandering around Chester town center, trying to stay warm as I’d dressed for temperatures in the high teens, but persistent cloud and mist left temperatures barely above ten Celsius. I doubt Wilson Kipsang spends the day before a marathon rescuing children from a climbing frame, but that’s the way I found myself resting up.

We weren’t staying overnight in Chester – hotel rooms were elusive when I looked a few weeks before the race. Instead I’d booked into the Dibbinsdale Inn lured by the establishment doubling up as a rather good looking Italian Restaurant – ideal for pre race carbo loading. Disaster nearly struck on our arrival when it transpired I’d forgotten to include our two children on the booking form. Thankfully the owners were able to transfer us to a different room than the one assigned to us that allowed the kids to be with us (By 10pm and the pair of them still jumping around like mad rabbits, we kind of wished they’d been forced to find accommodation elsewhere).

It wasn’t long before it was dinner, a meal shared with fellow Grantham Running Club member Mark Wilson, who was hoping to break 3:20. The restaurant was an Italian tapas restaurant, which meant the portions weren’t huge (I had to order two Margherita pizzas as they were only 5″ apiece) but the food was delicious and none of us could resist a more regularly sized dessert – I devoured the vanilla cheesecake.

We finished in time to retire to our rooms and wound down by watching Australia destroy England in the Rugby. I feared I wouldn’t sleep well, but with the ear plugs in and my head on the pillow by 10:20pm, I was soon asleep and before I knew it it was 5:50am and the alarm clock was ringing.

The race morning went very smoothly, the hardest part was trying to make a cup of tea at 6am in the dark trying not to wake anyone. I failed miserably. Mark and I left the hotel at 6:30am, still pitch black but thankfully not foggy. We arrived at Chester Racecourse at 7am. We were not the first to arrive, but it wasn’t busy. Two hours allowed a relaxing build up the race – a chance to get a £1 long sleeved technical top from last year’s race (A bargain!), to peruse the merchandise stands and use the Portaloos before the queues became long.

It was chilly, under 10C, so the bin bag I packed came in handy once I handed by bag into baggage storage and made a last trip to the loo. I emerged with ten minutes to spare, ducked under the rails on the racecourse and lined up right at the front of the field, save for around 20 elite runners who were ushered into their own little pen as the town crier made a largely inaudible speech, ironically enough.

Part 3 – The Race

Lining up at the start I caught a glimpse of fellow GRC second claimer Chris Limmer (Wearing his Hinckley top) and bumped into fellow Kenilworth Runner Stuart Hopkins. We very briefly discussed tactics: he was going to target 2:40 pace from the off; I was going to do my usual heart rate thing and see where that left me.

Whatever the town crier had been saying it must have excited the organisers because the starting horn fired two minutes early, which would have caught out a fair few. Running along the racecourse was an odd experience, it was hard to keep the tempo under control, I had a firm eye on the watch to make sure the planned 150 bpm wasn’t exceeded. The opening mile took us out of the racecourse, I had allowed a lot of runners to pass me but I wasn’t concerned. Indeed I was delighted to hit the opening mile split in 6:42 – which was near enough spot on what I’d envisaged.

The second mile was meant to see me not exceed 155 bpm, but this was hard as it featured one of the longest climbs of the race and then a brief tour of Chester City Center, which was full of people cheering us on – which stirred the adrenaline from within. So mile two as a result was a touch high on the bpm average (157) and a touch quick on pace (6:23, Strava GAP (hills) adjusted was 6:04). Mile 3 took us downhill initially, over the River Dee and uphill again out into the country lanes which formed the majority of the race. The max HR for mile 3 was set at 160 and this I achieved. I was pleased therefore with the mile split of 6:15.

From miles 4-20 the plan was not to let the HR exceed 165 bpm. At Rotterdam last year it was an effort to keep the HR down. This year it was difficult at times to reach that figure – the body far more comfortable at around 161-162 bpm. As long as the mile splits were reasonable I was happy with this – to me I felt it maximised my chances of staying strong to the finish. The field began to spread out, sitting in around 40th position, I started to pick off other runners. The sun was shining but temperatures were comfortable at around 12C. With very little wind, conditions could hardly have been better.

Miles 4-6 were uneventful – which is exactly what you want in a marathon. They were run in 6:06; 6:05; and 5:56, with the HR only averaging 160 bpm. This was pleasing. The left ankle was fine, the legs generally felt good and there was no sign of the cold I’d had lingering reemerging. I passed the 10 km chip timing mat in a shade over 39 minutes. The three runners ahead of me beeped reassuringly. As I passed over – nothing. My chip had not been registered. I looked around at the marshal who seemed as puzzled as I was. I made a point of showing him my race number so he could maybe take a note of it.

My mind began racing. What if my chip had failed? What if I got no time? What if I broke 2:45 but was denied a time due to some shoddy technology. What if they accused me of being the British Kip Litton? I could feel the adrenaline pumping and my heart rate racing. This wasn’t good for the race and it took a number of minutes before I bought myself back to my senses and reasoned I’d be able to argue my case if necessary.

I knuckled back down to the business of marathon running. The seventh mile was 6:04 (5:54 once hills are taken into account). I kept the pace consistent through miles eight and nine, 6:06 then 6:00 exactly. The tenth mile apparently took us into Wales, but I missed the welcome party and only sensed we may be in a different country from the Araf signs on the road. The pace wasn’t slowing much: 6:05; 6:06; and 6:09 for miles 10, 11, and 12.

Mile 13 saw a right hand turn and the start of a three mile loop which saw perhaps my best miles of the race. I went through the official 20k split in 1:16:53 and was delighted to hear the beep as I crossed the mat. I was officially in the race! It wasn’t long before I crossed halfway in 1:21:11, which meant a 2:42 marathon time with neutral splits, but I was hoping I could go a little quicker in the second half with the pace still strong. Mile 13 was 6:12 (6:00 GAP adjusted). I spotted Stuart around 300 meters in the distance and began the long gradual effort of chasing him down.

Mile 14 was 6:03 (5:52 GAP), and a net downhill mile 15 was 5:57 (6:07). We briefly crossed path with runners at mile 13 before heading on an undulating section of road, which tested the legs a fair bit. Still I was strong: mile 16 took 6:09 and mile 17 was 6:15 on the second hilliest mile of the race. It was here I passed Stuart, who gave good encouragement and I reciprocated likewise.

It was on the narrow relatively steep descent following a climb shortly before crossing a bridge taking us from Holt to Farndon and back into England, that I felt the first warning signs of trouble in the race. I’d eased up on the descent worried about cramping in the quads that has beset me over the past year. They were fine for now, but I began to feel a nagging ache in the right calf. Not enough to slow me at the time, but persistent enough to concern me.

I think it was around mile 18 we had the metric marathon runners join us on the course. In a way they were a good thing as it gave us other runners to try and tag onto on what was by now a spread out field. On the other hand it was difficult to know who you were racing against when people began coming past you. The eighteenth mile was 6:12, mile 19 6:10, and mile 20, the planned last at a 165 max bpm, was 6:02. We had the metric marathon runners passing us on the other side who were full of support and it was spurring us on. But I was beginning to struggle.

Normally at 20 miles I’d give it full beans in terms of effort and heart rate, but the right calf was beginning to get worse. I was also beginning to get tell-tale signs of cramp in the quads. Mile 21 though was still okay – 6:13. I’d hoped that after mile 21 the road was going to be a gradual descent to the finish. There were descents but there were plenty of upward undulations too. Mile 22 was 6:09, I was still just about able to ignore the calf pain as I took my last Powergel (The first had been taken at 3 miles with subsequent gels at four mile intervals, with a 3 mile gap after mile nineteens).

Mile 23 was tough: 6:20 (6:10 on GAP), but I was just about holding it together. Mile 24 and the pain was starting to really take over. I was able to just about maintain pace but I didn’t want to push the calf too much in case something popped and I was unable to run (Monza 2008 and Windermere 2009 sprung to mind – the last time I’d suffered a right calf problem). The 24th mile was a 6:22, but with an unexpected uphill section into the city center at mile 25, the pace slowed significantly. It was now a case of survival as the calf sent shock waves of pain with each stride and the quads began to show signs of wanting to cramp dramatically. Mile 25 was 6:45, the equal slowest of the race, matched by the subsequent and thankfully last full mile of the race.

If I was feeling good, mile 26 would have been blissful. Dropping down past Grovesnor Park and along the narrow path by the River Dee back towards the racecourse, the atmosphere from the crowds were sensational. There was no doubt they dragged me along to another 6:45 mile – the calf in particular felt it should not have been running at all.

The spray painted 500m to go marker on the footpath towards the racecourse was a most welcome sight. Confident that even if the calf popped I could make it to the finish, I began to pick up the pace. With 300 meters to go we returned to the race course and I could see the finish line around the gentle bend. Spurred on I began the best sprint finish I could muster under the circumstances. With just under 100 meters to go I spotted my wife and children, and gave them a beaming smile and a wave for the official clock had not yet struck 2:44 and I had less than 20 seconds left to run.

With the crowd cheering, the announcer shouting my name, I sped to the finish. I stopped my watch and looked at the finish time: 2:43:41! Project Sub-2:45 had been successfully accomplished! I beamed, I looked to the sky, I turned around to check the official clock just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. I wasn’t. Sub 2:45 really had just happened.

I shook the hand of someone official looking and then collected my t-shirt and medal. A Lucozade and a (not particularly good) official post race photo later and the race experience was over.

Post Race

Me and Mark Wilson
Me and Mark
Me and My Medal
Me and My Medal
Me and Stuart
Me and Stuart
Me and the kids...
Me and the kids…

I  heard Stuart’s name called out a few minutes after I finished. I headed to my family who greeted me warmly. Stuart and his girlfriend came to join us and we shared race notes and took post race photos. My youngest daughter took too much of a liking to my post race Lucozade and couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to chase her playing tig.

Thanks to modern technology we were able to track our club mates as we approached the finish. We missed Chris, who came home in a fine 2:55, but cheered loudly as Mark came home in a superb 3:11, nine minutes up on his planned time and a well deserved Good For Age place at the 2017 London Marathon is his. The last of the GRC clan, Penny Hodges, was a little further down the road. I would have waited were it not for the kids demanding lunch and generally entertaining. So it was with a tinge of regret we left without seeing her finish in 3:48. I did though manage to meet up with Mark, who was suitably delighted with his performance.

And then we were off on the long journey home, stopping at a country pub for some lunch and entertaining of very tired children, and then stopping again for some ice cream at a very popular ice cream shop. By the time we approached Nottingham I was the last one awake (Which was just as well as I was driving). We were home just after 6pm.  I looked through my emails and a link to the official results had arrived. My time was confirmed as 2:43:41 (Chip), my finishing position a very creditable eighteenth and (whisper it) I was third V40 finisher. No prizes though for third, alas.

And once the kids had been fed and put to bed and the champagne (it was some rather cheap Cava) had been poured, my achievements toasted and the glasses raised to the hard work and subsequent success, it was declared that the adventure had ended.

Project Sub-2:45 was over and done.