Leicestershire Half Marathon – my first race of 2019. The evening before I was not sure how I was feeling ahead of racing 13.1 miles. It had been a long and busy day volunteering at parkrun and then heading straight to work, I had been on my feet most of the day and not eaten well. I was slumped on my sofa and had to force myself to get up and find the energy to start to think and prep what I needed for race day. Pinning my race number onto my chosen technical t-shirt it felt like a long time since I had last ‘raced’. In reality it was only a couple of months, however this would be the first time in a while I would be taking part in an event pretty much solo. Of late I have enjoyed my local Lincolnshire running scene, as it means that even if I attend a race on my own, there are always people I know to bump into and chat to pre and post event. When my alarm stirred me on Sunday morning, I felt a little lost heading somewhere unaccompanied, and the silence in my car as I drove was a little eerie. I was in a bit of a sombre mood you could say and did not feel particularly like I was prepped or motivated to perform exceptionally well.
I entered Leicestershire Half Marathon as part of my Brighton Marathon training, and had used the race for similar purposes last year when training for the London Marathon. Thankfully a year-round the conditions had vastly improved; 2018 had been a bitterly cold February morning with a harsh wind whipping across the exposed grounds at Prestwold Hall. The wind was still apparent today, but a Spring like sunshine bathed us runners as we huddled around the race start. Being among this familiar crowd of people fastening on pieces of paper to their chests, munching on bananas and joining snaking queues for portaloos made me feel a bit more at home shall we say, and it lifted my spirits – it was a familiar environment for me to be in. A man on a tannoy began to announce starting waves, asking you to line up according to predicted finish time – what was I aiming for? My mindset was open, this was a bit of a benchmark event for me to see where my training was currently at, so I shuffled to join the sub 1:40 group, which I think deep down I probably thought may be a little optimistic!
The race starts and finishes alongside Prestwold Hall, starting along the gravel drive (more on that later!) and then initially weaves around a racetrack located behind the Hall. I had started quickly, my pace logging around 7:15 min/mile, but this almost didn’t feel right as I seemed so comfortable and in control despite my relative speed. The first 5 miles always pass by quickly for me during a half marathon, and I was enjoying the smooth racetrack tarmac for running which allowed me to keep my stride. Conditions were pleasant, warm but not hot, although the wind made itself apparent on certain stretches – I knew it would play a role later in the race as I began to tire.
After passing 5 miles I broke the race down into smaller chucks – my aim was now to try and maintain my rhythm, get to 7 miles and then see how I was feeling. This section of the course leaves the racetrack and is set along some rural roads, which I remembered from last year features a few undulations. I think these types of hills actually suit me – if that’s possible – I prefer more longer steadier climbs that short sharp bursts, and I tend to note I often overtake people on these tests. Along this stretch I also spotted a fellow female runner in the distance, her blue hair made her striking to remember, and I vowed to try and keep her in my sights as a bit of an additional pacing marker.
Passing 7 miles I still felt strong, and with my knowledge from last year, I knew I needed to be, as the course headed back to the racetrack with some tests ahead. The first challenge was a long stretch of tarmac which ran parallel to what look like disused lorries; it is not very motivating and the worst part of the course. I just focused on taking steps towards reaching 10 miles, which was my next milestone. To reach my magic marker I needed to get through mile 9 though, which was brutal last year, set against almost sheer wind resistance. As I turned the corner this year the wind hit me again; thankfully it was nowhere near as powerful as last year, but still enough to make my pace drop. This stretch is also slightly on an incline to make the challenge that little more tough. This was my slowest mile of the whole race, but I was shocked to see it was still sub 7.30 min/mile pace. This gave me the confidence I needed to know I could still kick across the final three miles.
I began to drive for the finish from here; glances at my watch and quick mental calculations told me I was running close to PB pace, but I will admit I was too focused to waste energy working things exactly – I knew I just needed to keep constantly going and not fade. I also began to close the gap between myself and my blue haired runner marker. With a mile to go I fully went for it; an early kick. I was grimacing already, and it did hurt, but the feeling of being strong approaching a finish is much better than struggling to the line. With around 400m to go I caught up with my female marker and we exchanged a few words of encouragement to each other. The gravel drive then hit me again and it was so hard to run on. Tired legs trying to push powerfully off energy sucking stones; it felt like running on soft sand. I know my form went out the window at this point; I had been focusing hard all race on running well, but now all I needed to do was make it to the line. I crossed the line and before I even could look at my watch, I ground to a hault, hands on knees, catching my gasping breath. When I felt able to look at Garmin I was so pleased to see what it read – 1:35:23 - a new PB.
A PB was not what I aimed for or expected from today, but I had taken a minute and a half off my previous record and over 4 minutes off my course record last year. I also placed 11th female overall. It felt great – well it did after I had slowly shuffled my tired legs to collect my medal and ill-fitting finishers t-shirt – and as I reflected on my splits, the consistency in my pacing is what pleased me most, and my final mile split simply amazed me. I ran exactly 7 min/mile to finish the race, a split I struggle to hit at a parkrun sometimes at the moment, but somehow had logged at the end of a 13.1 mile race. Is it possible I am more proud of that?!
Leicestershire Half Marathon was a great start to the year; it has shown my training is going well, and I believe I am becoming both a stronger runner and more confident when racing. It still felt a little strange being ‘alone’ on race day, I much prefer chatting with people, but I am also learning how to adjust my race day mindset to this. I hope I can continue with this momentum for the rest of the year.
2018 can probably be summarised as a year of things happening that I probably never expected would – both good and bad! Needless to say, running has given me the ‘good’ unexpected outcomes of the year, and looking back at the races, experiences and PBs I have set across the last 12 months I am proud of where my hard work and dedication has taken me. Perhaps the standout of 2018 has to be my marathon PB in Sydney, the trip of a lifetime culminating in a finish time I am not sure I quite believed would ever be possible. Personally, the year has thrown some unexpected challenges; if you were to tell me at the start of 2018 that there would be a change in one of my closest friendships and the deep impact this would have on me, I would probably have not believed you. However, having gone through the past months, I now know that the loss of a friendship you value dearly can indeed cause a great deal of hurt and heartbreak. Throughout the hard times this year, running has been my constant, and alongside my family and friends, the running community of Lincoln has often been my reason to keep smiling and has offered me the support and encouragement to keep believing in myself. Although my legs do the miles, running is not a solo sport for me, and 2018 has shown me that more than ever.
Leicestershire Half Marathon - 1:39:15
My first race of 2018 set on a bitterly cold and blustery winter’s day. The conditions were harsh at times with icy rain, hail, and one mile in particular set against a brutally strong headwind. Despite the weather, I felt strong running and set a new PB, recording my first ever sub 1:40 half marathon.
Cambridge Half Marathon - 1:36:51
The build up to this race was filled with uncertainty thanks to the arrival of snowfall in the UK. I had been chained to a treadmill all week and was therefore exceptionally happy the race went ahead. Set loose on the streets of Cambridge, running on tarmac felt like heaven, and with my parents cheering me on, I felt unstoppable. I raced hard and beat my half marathon PB again.
Milton Keynes 20 Miler - 2:47:33
Or as it is otherwise known - the training run that turned into a race! I entered this as part of my training for the forthcoming London Marathon with every intention of keeping it steady. Swept up in the race environment, I ran a lot faster than planned and definitely paid for this in the latter miles. It was a great experience though, and an achievement that felt like completing a marathon.
London Marathon - 3:54:06
A race I will simply never forget and one of the hardest experiences of my entire life, not just in running. The hottest London Marathon on record, and with no acclimatisation to running in heat whatsoever, it was a battle from the start. How we all completed 26.2 miles I am not really sure, but I do know that when I hugged my friend at the finish I have never felt so much pride at what we had both achieved and also relief just to feel we were both ok. Hugging my parents as I ran over Tower Bridge is also a memory I will treasure forever. Whilst I did not run the time I had trained for or felt I was truly capable of, in the conditions the finish medal meant the world.
North Lincolnshire Half Marathon -1:41:28
Two weeks after the heat on the streets of London I put myself through nearly the same pain again – a hot half marathon. It was hard, as to be expected so soon after racing a tough 26.2 miles, let alone when running in heat again, but I really enjoyed the challenge. I think mentally the race was also what I needed to get back out there after the intense emotions of the London Marathon.
Liverpool Rock'n'Roll Marathon - 3:48:39
This was probably my biggest challenge of the year – a marathon just four weeks after my last. I was very scared at attempting this race, and to make matters worse in the build-up I suffered from a bad cold, whilst race day itself was very warm – again! It felt a little like things were conspiring against me. However, I treated the race like a long run, savoured the wonderful if not slightly hilly course, embraced the support from my sister and her boyfriend, and ran a mere 35 seconds away from my marathon PB. I went from being unbelievably scared to unbelievably proud across 26.2 miles.
Woodhall Spa 10k - 43:57
More heat and more illness, with suspected laryngitis meaning I literally had no voice and slightly troubled breathing, but with a stronger mind and boosted confidence, I raced hard. Tactically definitely not my best 10k performance, but in terms of refusal to give up, one of my best. I gritted my teeth to a new PB.
Round Sheffield Run - 1:41:32
This event is growing rapidly in popularity and having taken part since 2016 I can easily tell you why. It is a test like no other and a concept like none I have seen before with timed stages combined with the ability to run as a pair ticking numerous new boxes. My friend and I took 5 minutes off our previous course PB and enjoyed a wonderful day out; it remains one of my happiest memories of the year and one of my favourite events.
Lincoln 10k - 44:29
If I thought Woodhall Spa 10k was hot, this race was like running a 10k on the sun; somewhat comical considering this was the rearranged date after snow had postponed the event earlier in the year. I love Lincoln 10k day, my hometown event, and as my sister pointed out, I know so many people running it has a special community feel. This year was another one for the memory bank.
Newark Half Marathon - 1:38:23
A cooler day – hallelujah! – and after weeks of long solo training runs for my forthcoming marathon, the chance to race a half marathon distance excited me. I got into a real zone when running, I could feel the strength my training miles had given me, and I was really pleased to log another sub 1:40 finish time.
Sydney Marathon - 3:40:30
My fairytale marathon. The whole thing still seems surreal if I am honest. A massive new marathon PB, achieving my goal of running a Good For Age qualifying time for the London Marathon, running in Sydney, simply being in Australia… the list could go on. The emotion I felt at the finish line was so raw and so personal. Life had been tough before leaving for Australia and it seemed like I had earned this moment more than ever.
Hedgehog Half Marathon - 1:43:20
A new race for me and one I also completed with a new focus on what a ‘race’ actually meant. I approached this challenging course with no pressure to perform to any standard, pushing myself enough without caring what the clock read. A complete freedom run which I enjoyed immensely.
Doncaster 10k - 43:16
Another event in which I put no pressure on myself, but this time left with a shiny new PB. The strength of my performance and the consistency of my 10k pacing filled me with pride, as did seeing my friend’s mum complete her own 10k after struggling with injury niggles. I may have got a little competitive with a running ‘friend’ too which had spurred my running on even more!
Santa Fun Run, Lincoln
I won a race! Albeit a festive fun run, but it was a nice surprise to be crowned the speediest Mrs Claus in Lincoln and also share my love of running with work colleagues and friends.
parkrun has changed my life and I could probably write a book about the amazing experiences, memories and the people I have met through a weekly 5k. This year's standout moments have been new tourist experiences at Ipswich, Southwark and Normanby parkruns, as well as unforgettable international tourism ‘down under’ at Coffs Harbour and Lawson parkrun. The latter was where I ran my 100th parkrun, and I probably never thought I would achieve this milestone wearing a sparkly cape bearing the numbers ‘100’ whilst running trails in the Blue Mountains! I also have set a new 5k PB of 20:22 – which again I am not quite sure how I ever ran that quickly, but I am determined to try challenge the marker one day soon! Meanwhile my home Lincoln parkrun goes from strength to strength and most importantly remains my happy place.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...