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.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...