When I first started running, I thought races were only for one thing – racing. Surely you only entered a race if you were chasing down a new Personal Best – else what was the point? As I have become more experienced as a runner, my thought process has shifted from this. It has taken some time, and I still find myself sometimes almost justifying why a certain race was not a new PB, however, I now know that a race can be whatever challenge you want it to be and serve whatever purpose specific to you.
The North Lincs Half Marathon was never intended to be a PB race for me, and my reason for entering initially was to simply give me some focus during my post marathon comedown period following the Brighton Marathon in April. As race day neared it however become more apparent to me that the North Lincs Half was in fact something I needed to do to restore a bit of faith in my body. Brighton Marathon had hit me hard, and physically I wanted a confidence booster to show me that my body was getting back on track, and I also just wanted to enjoy a ‘race’ occasion without any pressure.
Last year I had completed the North Lincs Half in scorching conditions during a period when an early heatwave had hit the UK – it was tough. Despite being quite a gruelling test, I had really enjoyed the course and the friendly, local atmosphere, so it had not put me off from signing up again. This year I also had my sister and her boyfriend with me, who were visiting for the Bank Holiday weekend, and I hoped they would find the race equally as enjoyable.
Arriving at the event village, based at Quibell Park Stadium in Scunthorpe, it was very evident conditions would not be anywhere near as harsh as last year – thankfully! The start line itself was a short walk onto a neighbouring road, and runners were escorted in a procession led by a man playing a bag pipe – do not ask me why! It made for an interesting sight, and I did have to laugh at what local residents must have thought to being woken early on a Sunday morning to some traditional Scottish music and a stampede of lyrca!
As we walked to the start I think it is safe to say that performance expectations were not overly high amongst the three of us – my non racing goals were clear, whilst my sister and her boyfriend had not ran a half marathon since last year and had been focusing more on 10k distances in training. All three of us were realistic in our minds about how we wanted to approach the 13.1 miles ahead of us – we just had to remain equally as realistic once we stepped over that start line.
Taking that step over the start, the first 3.5 miles of the course are set on a long straight road, which is wide enough to allow the field to thin very quickly. It is a perfect start to a race and allows you to get into a stride and feel comfortable. I found myself a little way back from the 1:40 pacer and knew instantly I did not want to be catching up this marker, or indeed over taking the pacer. I probably had the energy in these early stages to do so, but I was not confident my legs had the strength back just yet to maintain this into the latter stages of the race. Sensibly I stuck with my current running rhythm - my aim was to try and keep to strong and consistent pacing throughout.
The next 3 miles were set on another virtually straight section of road, which cut through some open countryside. It hit me here how very different conditions were to last year, when this exposed area had felt extremely intense. The weather this year was pretty perfect for running; cool but not cold and with only the slightest hint of breeze in the air, which had no real impact on running. Passing half way on this stretch I was still in a comfortable running rhythm and enjoying the relatively relaxed surroundings. I use the word ‘relaxed; as the setting is quite tranquil; the continued wide roads limit having to make decisions about where to place your feet or how to overtake etc. and the supporters which pop up sporadically along the course are not too ‘in your face’ but instead friendly and encouraging.
Miles 7 to 9 ticked along nicely and I was only awoken from my running zone by the sound of a spectator calling ‘Go Princess Leia’ enthusiastically after me. This obviously requires some form of explanation as I was most definitely not dressed as the character from Star Wars – I have never even seen a Star Wars film! On the Saturday before North Lincs Half I had run at Normanby Hall parkrun in Scunthorpe, and on ‘May the 4th’ the volunteer team had fully embraced the Star Wars themed occasion. Finishing as first female, the Run Director had named me ‘Princess Leia’ and said she would look out for me during the race. It was really lovely to be recognised and to feel some of that parkrun community spirit, however I am sure the name puzzled a few runners around me!
Hitting mile 10 that classic thought of ‘only a parkrun to go’ passed through my mind and it did give my legs a boost. I managed to keep my stride, especially as I remembered how much I had struggled on this latter part of the course last year. The strength in my limbs pleased me, and I called upon their power furthermore to tackle the singular hill test that arrives around Mile 12. It is only a short, sharp climb, but at this point in a half marathon it has the potential to finish off the legs. My legs held strong to the test and I was then able to focus on the finishing miles.
I picked up the pace for the final mile, driving towards Quibell Park Stadium and the track based finish. It felt like a long mile but I remained focused, excited by the thought of getting that track surface underneath my feet. Once I hit the track I was away, sprinting with as much power as my legs could manage. I was probably a little over excited as my surge in pace was more akin to the final 100m of a race rather than the 200 or so metres I actually had to cover! The sound of a fellow runner breathing down my neck kept me going through and I was determined to pip whoever they were to the finish – a little bit of competition can help at times!
My finish time was 1:41:02 – a very good result for me to be close to the 1:40 region when my body has not been feeling in peak condition. However, what pleased me the most was the strength and consistency I ran with – I didn’t fade, I didn’t have any miles where I hated running and wanted to stop and I just really enjoyed the whole 13.1 miles. I felt happy and with renewed confidence as I met my sister and her boyfriend, both of whom had also enjoyed a strong run and exceeded expectations in term of their own finish times.
At the end of North Lincs Half we had three happy runners – or should I make that four! One of my biggest supporters in running (if he didn’t know it before, he does now!) was also taking on North Lincs Half and I has been scanning the finishers as they came around the final bend of the track so I could spot him and cheer him over the line. We caught up at the end, and I was pleased to hear it had been another confidence boosting performance for him and that he had also achieved his own intended pre-race goal.
Four happy runners, self belief restored, personal targets met, expectations exceeded, shared race experiences, an enjoyable morning and a nice piece of running bling at the end – races are most definitely not always just about those PBs.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...