I left Peterborough at around midday on Sunday 14th October and drove home, cold wet and pretty miserable, caring for little other than a warm shower and to try and move on from what had just taken place over the past one hour and fifteen minutes or so. I should have been close to euphoric. I’d just my second fastest ever half marathon (fastest if you go by what Power of 10 reckons I’ve raced…) and claimed my best ever age grade race result by pretty much one whole percent yet all I could think about was what could and should have been the best race of my life.
The Perkins Great Eastern Run (GER) had been my target race for the autumn pretty much as soon as I’d self inflicted a prolonged summer break from racing with injury at the Woodhall Spa 10K. This half marathon in Peterborough has a reputation for being the fastest in the region; what it lacks in beautiful scenery and rolling countryside it makes up in near pancake flat roads as it takes you through a sometimes dizzying tour out of central Peterborough and to the outskirts of the north of the city and back.
The summer holiday 21 10 mile+ runs had seen me in great shape and ever since I’d clocked a surprise 17:00 at Belton House parkrun it had been a case of trying to just do enough training to prolong the form. As the race approached I felt perhaps I’d lost perhaps just the tiniest amount of pace (Not helped by some tough weekends of F1 work) but still in decent enough shape to be looking to at least crack 75 minutes at the GER and hopefully beat my HM PB (set at Grunty Fen) of 1:14:46.
Given that 2018 has been undoubtedly the year of racing (or not being able to race) in extreme weather conditions, it should have come as no surprise that the GER would be struck with some pretty inclement conditions. Driving down the A1 not long after 7am with the rain battering my windscreen did not fill my heart with joy, especially as the forecast had predicted this weather and was very confident indeed that it would remain wet, at times very wet, all through the morning and well into the early afternoon.
Some people would rejoice at some conditions – the rain after all does do a great job in keeping the body cool so if you are a runner prone to overheating then if you can live with the discomfort of being wet then these conditions could be seen as close to ideal. The wind, although not still and at times noticeable in the race, was barely a factor and the official temperature was 14C, although it was most likely around 10C when the rain fell at its strongest.
History has suggested that I don’t race that well in very wet conditions. I don’t necessarily mind running in the rain – a bit of light drizzle is perfect in my eyes (not literally though, that is a bit of a nightmare). It’s when I am racing and I am struggling to stay warm in heavy rain that I feel I am losing out to the weather, especially when it is cold. The worst case was the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon of 2017, so cold and wet it was that my quads all but locked and led to me now always racing in my compression shorts. Even the race I won in the rain (the Stilton Stumble 10K) I suffered badly from quad cramps, and it actually stopped raining not long after the start.
I arrived at the race venue two hours ahead of the race start. The car parks were already starting to fill. I had a little panic over which car park I was allowed to be in having booked it online. I don’t think it made a difference but the little panic as I moved car parks hoping I wouldn’t violate obscure T&Cs kept my mind occupied for longer than it should have. Walking to the the race village it soon became clear that the race wasn’t really geared up for preparations in heavy rain. There were no official changing facilities, people huddled under any place they could. I, and many others, sought sanctuary in the information tent, where far too many people in too small a space tried to keep warm and / or get changed into their race kit.
Kit changed and the first trip to the portaloos done, I returned to the car to sit around for a bit. I hadn’t seen any of the 40+ Grantham Running Club members taking part in the race, I can only assume that they, like me, and many others, were waiting in their cars until the last possible minute before making their way to the start or a queue for the toilets.
An hour before the start I went for a one and a half mile warm up which did little to warm me up, especially when I was soaked to the bone by a large car that went through a very large puddle at undiminished speed, putting my already questionable mood into a state of near gutter level gloom – gutters that were struggling to contain the volume of water that was falling. Back at the car I stripped out of the soaked tracksuit bottoms and top, deciding as it was still not actually that cold to go with the GRC T-shirt, rather than long-sleeved top, and gloves. I also opted to keep on the racing cap I’d worn during the warm up. The last time I race in this I think it was the last really warm London Marathon (Not this year’s the one before, years ago). I think it was a smart move, although I did struggle to keep it on at times!
I returned to the race village and queued again for the portaloos, shivering quite uncontrollably, spending longer on the toilet than I needed to just because it was somewhere warmer and drier. I then returned to the car (again!) as I’d decided that the gloves I was wearing, now soaked as though they had been in a washing machine that had forgotten to spin, were as useless at keeping my hands warm as no gloves at all. The car park was now fairly flooded, I made my way carefully to avoid the worst of the puddles, which was fairly pointless really as my trainers were already saturated.
I made one very last trip to the toilets, making my way to the start line around ten minutes before the start. I got myself pretty close to the front, not with the elites, who had their own pen to warm up in, but up and close with runners who looked pretty serious in their club vests and very flat racing flats. Me in my Hokas, t-shirt, shivering uncontrollably, could not have looked more out of place, frankly.
Five minutes before the off we were walked to the start line, trying our best to skirt the small pool that covered the road. The start should have been at 10:30 but it was delayed by five interminably long minutes as I assume they were ensuring the roads were closed and cleared. I seem to recall some small talk with a fellow runner who also appeared to be suffering a bit with the cold. I think we said the usual cliche of we’ll soon warm up once we get running, before we were finally called to our starting orders.
I think I made a terrible start, one of the worst I’ve made in recent years. It was terrible in that it was tardy, very slow to pick up the pace, feeling so cold and stiff, then having to work really hard to get into a decent rhythm. Looking back with the benefit of a few weeks’ hindsight, it may have actually been quite a good start, easing myself gently into the race rather than trying to hit race pace from the off. The mile split was 5:48, but given that I was well over six minute mile pace for the opening minute or two it showed I had to run a fair bit quicker than that in the latter part of the mile to bring the split time down.
Mile two was a little better (5:44), but still the HR struggled to get up to what I’d expect it to in a half marathon. I did though benefit from some advice to hug the inside of the road on a never ending left hand bend around Central Park, which saved me several seconds over those who were taking the go-kart line (that’s the outside of the bend) perhaps because it was so wet and rainy. Mile three I began to get into the race. I’d got into a group of around eight runners, one of whom (Portuguese I think) was keen to get a rapport going between the runners, very eager to have the pack share the pace making, but annoyingly appearing to slow down in front of me when he took the pace.
Mile three was 5:35 and I felt warmed up and ready to race. Not enjoying tripping over the runners in front of me, as we hit a little rise crossing over the A47 (probably the biggest climb in the race), I pushed on the pace to see who would go with me. Around four did, none of whom were willing to help share the pace. So, having run a 5:34 mile four I deliberately eased up to force someone else to take the pace on. This they did and for another mile or so I continued to run well, strangely enjoying the numerous twists and turns as we ran from one housing development to another.
Mile 5 was 5:39, mile 6 slowed to 5:47, but it was the most uphill mile of the race (Barely uphill though to be honest) and I recall we faced the worst of the headwind as we went along the seemingly never ending Lincoln Road, with the rain falling heavier than ever. As we went through halfway I seem to recall the official clock had us going through just ahead of schedule to break 75 minutes, but a few moments later a runner I was with asked me the question ‘are we on to break 75 minutes?’ My watch (Again running the awesome Peter’s Race Pacer app) said we were due to finish in 1:15:20.
He seemed to heed this warning for as we turned right into David’s Lane (Which felt more like a footpath, covered with fallen leaves) he pushed on the pace a touch, taking with him most of the remainder of the group (including the Portuguese runner). Had I been in a more fighting mood I think I would have gone with them. But I was cold. I was wet. I was looking at my heart rate. The average had barely gone above 168, which is right at the lower end of what I’d expect in a half marathon. It was beginning to drop. Mile 7 averaged 166, then miles 8 through to 12 averaged 165. That’s my marathon heart rate. I can only assume that the cold weather was seeing my body divert resources from the act of running fast to the act of trying to keep warm. As the rain continued to fall hard, there was little I could do but try as best I could and ignore the fact that I was feeling really cold, my trainers were dying, and I was still on target to finish just outside 75 minutes.
Mile 7 was 5:41, miles 8 and 9 5:37 and 5:42. In hindsight these aren’t bad miles but I felt like I should have been running quicker. By now I was more or less running alone, just one guy who I traded places with on a few occasions without actually helping pace one another, who I remember because he was wearing a lurid fluro pink t-shirt for a charity which appeared to have a lot of local support.
Mile 10 was 5:44, mile 11 5:43 – it was here we ran back on the roads we went out on at miles 3 and 4 although I can’t say I really recognised them – there are very few memorable features on this course. The only reason I knew we had run on them was because there were backmarkers heading in the opposite direction, culminating with the sweep vehicles, one of whom almost literally did sweep me up as I took a right hand turn into the path of a street cleaning vehicle.
It was at around this stage that I caught what I believe is the second placed woman, who I quickly made the effort to pass and pull clear of, not because I have any sense of needing to beat a female, but because she had an awkward running style that appeared to have her knees twisting at all sorts of funny angles and given that I’m pretty screamish about knees, I knew I couldn’t stick behind her.
With her passed I set about making it to the finish, constantly looking at my watch which resolutely predicted that I was going to finish in 1:15:20. Mile 12 was 5:40, the final mile appeared to last an eternity as we sploshed through near flooded roads. I latched onto the back of a runner who, wearing a black and white striped vest, I assumed, wrongly, ran for Shaftsbury Barnet Harriers (The colours of the pacers at the London Marathon). He carried me from mile 12 almost to the end, except he was able to put a sprint on from the 400 meters to go sign and I simply wasn’t able to, the problems this time were feet that were beginning to go numb from the cold and a stomach that really didn’t like the cereal that for some unfathomable reason (I have a bad history with cereal and racing) I’d decided to have for breakfast.
I crossed the line in 1:15:17, I made three seconds up on the time my watch had predicted I would finish in since halfway. I must have been annoyed/cold as I totally forgot to stop my watch for around half a minute after I crossed the finish line – the first time I can ever recall doing this (It’s an action more autonomous than breathing). Annoyingly the Portuguese runner crossed the finish line in 1:14:57, I think all the other runners I was with at halfway broke 75 minutes – if only I’d just been able to keep with them at mile 7. I think I would have stayed with them to the end.
I picked up my medal, bag, and other bits and bobs then hot-footed it as quick as possible to the nearest portaloo. From there it was straight to the car and home. I had left before 1:24 finishers had crossed the finish line. I felt bad that I wasn’t around to cheer home the 35+ GRC runners, but I was very cold, very miserable, and wasn’t willing to stand around in the rain for a second longer than I had to. I think I made the right choice to head home – my lips were still purple two hours after I had got home….
A few weeks to reflect has eased the disappointment a touch, but I am still full of what if? and if only? The fact it was my highest ever age grade (83.92%) eased the disappointment a little but if I’d run what I think I was capable of I think 85% was on the cards. It was my second quickest half marathon but I’ve waited years to be able to run the quickest half in the region and I am still a bit gutted that I couldn’t quite perform to the level I think I was at, possibly because, once again in 2018, the weather has consigned to be against me.
I didn’t have too long to feel down because my next race was in two weeks time – and it was one of my favourites!