All week I had been excited about the prospect of running my first race of 2018, the Leicestershire Half Marathon. Race day arrived, and as I sat in the car with my friend on the rather exposed grounds surrounding Prestwold Hall, watching a mini wind turbine spin ferociously on its stand, I was slightly debating why I was so excited about running 13.1 miles on a bitterly cold February morning. It is what I love though; and even as we walked to the race village, queued for a portaloo, fussed with pinning on our race numbers, and battled baggage drop; I remembered why I look forward to a race so much.
The weather was undoubtedly harsh; bitterly cold and with a strong, very apparent wind. My friend and I stood huddled in the small patches of sunshine we could find in an attempt to keep warm before the start. I was not really sure what I was expecting from this race; I had signed up to it to fit with my London Marathon training as a fast 13 mile long run. I was going to push myself enough to demand more of my body than I would do on a normal long Sunday run, but what finish time this would equate to would be left to be seen!
From the start I ran strong; my first five miles were at a quick pace and glancing at my watch I was shocked to see the splits tick over at sub 7.30 min/mile pace. I had some doubts as to whether I had in fact gone off too quickly, however, forgetting actual numeric paces, I felt in control and comfortable. The initial parts of the course looped around a racetrack situated behind Prestwold Hall, and as the route shifted directions, the strong wind hit me, giving an indication of the battles to come. The route also passed a ten mile course marker quite early on, which filled me with a little bit of dread at the thought of having to eventually circle around these sections again.
After the first five miles passed, I broke the race down into another five mile section. I vowed to try and stick to my current running pace, make it to ten miles, and then see how I felt then. These next five miles were on more rural roads, taking in a few smaller villages, and were a little undulating at times. This felt slightly harder; especially when the wind was in my face, but nothing too draining and I kept my pace up. I lost my bearings a little as we ventured through this section; I knew we would head back to the racetrack at some point to ultimately meet that 10 mile marker, but I had no idea which direction that was in!
Eventually the route did turn back into the racetrack, which led to probably the least inspiring part of the course; a long stretch which seemed to take us behind some disused lorries and not much else to look at. Aside from this part though, the half marathon route was reasonably interesting, with a mix of terrain, gradient, and surroundings to make it appealing enough to run through. What I am sure no one in their right mind would find appealing are the running conditions we met from mile 9 to mile 10 though.
As I turned a corner to start this mile the marshal warned me I would need to ‘dig deep’. It was instantly apparent why. The headwind here was brutal, almost like running against sheer resistance. I muttered swear words under my breath and had to tuck my head down toward my chest as it was hard to even look straight forward, let alone run! My pace obviously dropped for this mile, but it was just a case of keeping moving until the course changed direction again.
Turning out of the wind was a huge relief, and passing the previously spotted 10 mile marker meant I could now focus on the final three miles. I had been glancing at my watch sporadically throughout the race, but now I paid more detailed attention. I realised at this point if I maintained a sub 8 min/mile pace I would be heading towards a good PB, which currently stood at 1:42:07. With two miles left I realised if I kept well below 8 min/mile pace I would be able to run under the 1 hour 40 mins marker. I really drove for the finish from here on; I sometimes lack confidence in my legs at the end of a race, but today I felt I wanted to prove myself wrong. I left the small group of runners I had seemed to naturally have been sticking with and really tried to see what I had left in the proverbial tank.
With one mile to go I was really powering, I could feel that I was and the enthusiastic encouragement from the supporters lining the final mile told me I was too. Even as the wind lashed icy rain and hail into my face, I didn’t stop. Looking at my splits later I actually ran my fastest mile in this final push to the finish line. The gravel paths that lined the final few hundred metres felt a little precarious as I tried to maintain my speed, but I resolved not to slow down. I crossed the finish line in 1:39:15 - wind battered, slightly bedraggled, but very, very happy. I then quickly skipped through the finish area, rushing to capture my friend‘s finish. My little jog to squeeze into a spot on the barrier at least told me I had not completely wrecked my legs in the process of running a new PB!
So my first race of 2018 saw me leaving with a new PB and running under 1 hour 40mins for the first time in a half marathon. I really enjoyed the Leicestershire Half Marathon, even in the extremely challenging weather, and I think the conditions actually make me feel even more proud of my time. My body felt strong throughout, and compared to the last half marathon I ran, which was only a week after taking on the Berlin Marathon, it was unsurprisingly a much more pleasurable experience! I love a race day, especially with my friend, and even in some questionable conditions, Leicestershire Half Marathon was a pleasure, and importantly also very good training on my journey towards the London Marathon.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...