The second of two planned half marathons before the Manchester Marathon and the last race before the 26.2 mile jaunt around the streets of Greater Manchester. The intention for this race was to run it as a 90-95% effort – harder certainly than at the Leicestershire Half Marathon which was run at marathon HR, but not absolutely flat out bearing in mind the need to continue marathon training immediately after the race and mindful that there had been no taper before the Retford Race.
There certainly was no taper, indeed the weekend before saw the biggest weekend of training of the year – the Saturday had me up and running at 6:20am to run 21 miles, including the hilly Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon course, completing that just in time to take part in Belton House parkrun, which I managed to complete in 17:54 before running 2 1/3 tough miles to run 26.4 miles in 2:55:46. Then the next day I ran a half marathon training run in just under the 90 minutes, including a 5:58 final mile to ensure I just ducked under that time barrier. The rest of the week was fairly easy running except two days later I had a 10 mile run with 7 miles at marathon pace, which I found hard going and included a weird spell of tightness in the left hip and glute which soon eased off but, in hindsight, was an indicator of some trouble that lay ahead.
In stark contrast to the year before, winter 2019 training had been relatively mild and dry – the odd bit of short lived snow and the odd cold morning, but nothing too harsh. Arguably the worst weather of the winter / spring actually came on the morning of the Retford Half Marathon, I woke early with the temperatures hovering around freezing and snow threatening. Indeed in surrounding counties snow had apparently fallen and settled, making driving treacherous. Thankfully as I drove up the A1 to Retford the rain occasionally turned to sleet but no snow fell. There had though been an awful lot of rain, which I found when I took on an easy two mile warm up that saw me having to skirt around some very large puddles. Very strong winds were also predicted, although I was mercifully spared these (a moderate to stiff breeze) until an hour or so after I finished.
Arriving extremely early (Over two hours before the 10am start) to ensure that I could utilise the car park right next to the start line and not have to use one some way away, I had plenty of time to kill, so spent plenty of time chatting to a few GRC members, visiting the toilet numerous times and generally killing time. At last the time came to race, I made the very short trip from the sports hall of the school to the start line and waited for the off.
It’s a bit of a weird start at Retford. You run away from the main road for only a matter of 50 meters or so before doing a big U-turn around a roundabout, doubling back on yourself and passing the start / finish line before heading out of the main entrance and taking a left turn to skirt around the edge of Retford town centre. With the tarmac slick it was a little nerve wracking getting around the corner without slipping, but I was safely around and quite soon into my running.
The field was a fairly good quality and I had quite a nice group to run with for the opening miles (the first mile made easier by a tailwind) before it thinned out considerably. The first couple of miles were solid – 5:44 and 5:46. I then had the first twinges of something amiss going on with the left leg. I felt a sharp pain radiate down from the middle of the hamstring down into the calf muscle. It didn’t last long and didn’t particularly slow me but it was unnerving. It happened again a few minutes later and proceeded to do so every few minutes or so for the entirety of the race. I was pretty sure it was a sciatica like issue so tried my best to ignore it and focus on the running.
Mile 3 slowed a touch to 5:48 and I went through 5K in just under 18 minutes. We were running along the old Great North Road, which was pretty straight, just about a neutral side wind and pretty flat aside from a bridge over the mainline railway. The weather took a turn for the worse with cold rain beginning to fall. I persisted wearing the sunglasses as I do tend to suffer with streaming eyes on cold, breezy, mornings, but I did get the odd comment here and there from spectators questioning whether they were needed.
More troubling was that the cold rain and wind with temperatures only around 3°C was that I was beginning to get cold. The upper half wasn’t too bad as I had opted to run with a thermal headband, thermal base layer and short sleeved club top. I was wearing my usual Skins compression cycling length shorts (Bought specifically for such weather after suffering badly at the Newton’s Fraction in 2017) and thick calf compression guards, but this wasn’t enough for the quads especially to start icing up.
Miles 4 and 5 remained consistent – 5:51 and 5:49. Up to now we had been running on good quality A roads. Indeed what I took from the race afterwards was how high grade the roads were and what good value the race was at £18 to have such roads mostly closed to traffic. The sixth mile saw us literally take a turn for worse – a sharp left into a narrow country lane just before we reached Toworth. As they had warned us before the start the heavy overnight rainfall had left a section of the course flooded and it was here where we were faced with a stretch of around 100 meters around a corner where we were faced with the choice of either running through ankle deep water or risk ankles and limbs on the grass verge beside the road.
The runner ahead of me opted for the grass. Seeing him struggle I opted for the flooded road after just a few strides myself on the grass. This proved to be quicker as I caught him and soon past him, but it did leave me with soaking wet trainers. The sixth mile was a touch slower at 5:53, the undulating seventh mile was a fraction slower again at 5:54. This part of the course had us back on an A road and featured a dead turn at seven miles where we would head back and past runners coming in the opposite direction for mile 8. It was here at some point I spotted the rapidly improving GRC runner Ian Williams who was running his first half marathon in a couple of years and looking to significantly improve on his 85 minute debut. I did some mental maths and reckoned he was on for something around five minutes faster, which is what we had estimated beforehand.
Going through the 8 mile marker in 5:50 the ninth mile was mostly downhill and was a touch quicker at 5:48. Having enjoyed a mile of watching runners head in the opposite direction I was now running alone, with pretty much no-one as far as the eye could see in front of me and no-one directly behind either. By now I was not feeling great. The cold, wet conditions, the cold my daughter had passed on to me and probably the mileage in the week before was beginning to take its toll – mentally perhaps more than physically.
Mile 10 had us briefly back on the old Great North road before heading right onto the Old London Road. This proved to be a tough old slog. There was a steepish ascent up and over a railway bridge which was followed by a very gentle climb that went on for the best part of two miles. Not being able to push on the pace slowed a touch – 5:58 for mile 10 and 6:08 for mile 11 before the twelfth mile saw me rally slightly with a 5:52, thanks wholly to the last third of a mile being significantly downhill and aided considerably by the westerly wind blowing directly on my back.
This wind and the descent was so much of a help I the pace was under 5:30 for the a fair chunk of the final mile, before it took a hit with the little steep rise I had rehearsed during my warm up. Just as in my warm up we had to run on the pavement here as the busy A road had not been closed to traffic. This wouldn’t have been an issue were it not for a number of pedestrians and their dogs going for a leisurely stroll, most oblivious to the race taking pace, making for some hairy dodging as I tried to maintain the pace to the finish line.
With a 5:44 final mile I sprinted as best I could back to the Academy and the finish line, clocking 1:16:56. Although I would have liked to have gone a bit quicker I was content with this considering how cold, wet, and somewhat miserable I was during the race, with the added hindrance of the leg pains shooting from hamstring to calf. Half marathons in the middle of marathon training are often curious affairs. They can often prove to be the fastest of the year thanks to the mileage volume in the legs or the hardest, sometimes the slowest, thanks to the mileage volume in the legs.
Straight after the finish I headed back to the Academy entrance to see Ian come home in 1:20:41, I hung around a bit longer to see Tony, Holly, Joss and Sam finish before I opted to retire to the gymnasium to warm up and prepare for a warm down. Thanks to some efficient production of results on a notice board I found out I had finished sixteenth, and I had come second in the V40 category, again things I should be pretty pleased with really.
The warm down however turned into something of a disaster! Feeling the left calf tighten, I stopped to perform a hamstring stretch which saw the whole leg tighten enormously with pains shooting down the leg. I then proceeded to hobble the remainder of the mile in over nine minutes before making it back to the car. Thankfully after a lot of massage in the next few days I was able to start running on the Wednesday, although I only ran once more on the Friday – this being more due to working crazy hours for the Australian Grand Prix!