For the first time since before April this year I stood at the start of a race under damp, cool, grey skies with goosepimpled skin. I have nearly become accustomed to race days involving dodgy tan lines, 20 plus degree heats and pouring copious amounts of water over my head in order to survive. This almost felt new! The Newark Half Marathon was not a new event for me though, I had taken part last year when I had used it as more of a training run in the lead up to Berlin Marathon. I had entered Newark Half Marathon again this year as part of my Sydney Marathon training, but this time I wanted to race. The weather conditions meant I felt I could test myself properly, and after weeks of logging solo long runs, I was also ready for a different challenge.
The race started at Sconce Park, but in slight difference to last year, the organisers had moved the startline a little further back to limit the length of the grass finish at the end. This pleased me; organisers acting on runner feedback, and overall, I was really impressed with the friendly but efficient organisation of the whole event. I found myself quit near the startline with people seeming a little reluctant to be bold with their finish time aims. I guess this is actually quite refreshing as we all know too often people can place themselves quite obviously in wrong start pens. This meant as the start signal was given I was soon racing off the line, and racing I most certainly was.
I strode from the start, checking instantly into my running form; I have been focusing a lot recently on my arm action and I wanted this to be strong from the start. The first couple of miles passed by very quickly and the course soon left Newark, leading out to a village called Hawton and then heading over the A46 and onto more rural roads. I remembered from last year that the first half of the course was very long and straight, with many miles logged on the same couple of roads. Last year I found this a little demoralising, but this time the course seemed to compliment my running. The long stretches of open road meant my stride was unbroken and my running pace remained consistent, I was in the zone you could say. This first half of the course also featured a few longer, drawn out hills, some more obvious than others until you began to climb them. I found myself driving confidently up these challenges, even against the moderate breeze which was blowing into my face. I was picking off runners on the ascents and striding out of the decents unaffected. Things felt good and my pace was around 7.30 min/mile pace or just below. I kept a mantra in my head, setting myself the goal of completing just a few more miles at this pace, then asking myself to dig in for a few more.
After passing the half way point the course turned onto some smaller rural lanes. I had a brief moment of struggle here. The wind vanished and suddenly the day no longer felt cool, but in fact quite muggy and intense. Thankfully a water station appeared and I dowsed myself with water, took on some energy and refocused my mind. It was around this point I realised that since probably the first mile I had not seen another female runner either in the distance or had anyone take over me. I am not really sure what this told me, it was just an observation at this point! However, between miles 8 and 9 a marshal informed me I was 10th female. 10th! I could not believe it and I was even more determined not to drop pace now.
Whilst my position in the race pleased me, what felt even more satisfying was how I was physically feeling. I was not looking at my watch religiously as I could sense my running was consistent still; my stride was powerful, whenever my arm action began to tire I immediately felt it and regained my form, and most importantly I was enjoying my running.
Hitting ten miles I told myself just three more miles to tick off and passing through Hawton village again and re-joining the same roads the race started on, it really felt like I was on the final stretch. Perhaps the only disappointment I have from my performance was when I passed 12 miles; mentally I wanted to push for that final mile, but physically my legs did not have a mile-long kick left in them. I tried, but they were unwilling. This final mile therefore felt probably the longest of all, as for the first time I was not running as I wanted.
As I neared the final turn to re-enter Sconce Park, a male runner caught me up and ran by my side. ‘Just the grass to beat’ – he said, ‘We can do it’ I confidently replied. The grass finish was still hard, even though I was very grateful it was considerably shorter than last year. My new friend urged us on - ‘Come on sub 1:40, we can do it’, again my reply was confident ‘We can beat 1.40 easily, come on!’ Sprinting on grass does not feel like sprinting, it is energy sapping and definitely not smooth, but my new friend and I powered as fast as possible toward the finish arch and crossed the line almost exactly together. My time was 1:38:23 – I turned, smiled, and shook the hand of my finish partner ‘sub 1:40’ I simply beamed.
My finish time was not a PB, although is my second quickest half marathon time to date, but it felt such an achievement. I think I felt more pride from how good I felt running and how much I enjoyed the whole race. I was very happy to place 10th female too, a simple bonus. The Newark Half Marathon is a race I think I may be growing to love…
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...