For the second time in a three-day period I found myself huddled on the start line of a race. Two days prior it had been a Friday night 10k in Sleaford, and now on a more familiar Sunday morning, I was lining up to take on Newark Half Marathon. Whilst Friday night’s race was more of an event I entered just for fun, I had entered Newark Half Marathon specifically as part of my current Chicago Marathon training. This was my third consecutive year at the event, and each year it has formed a part of an Autumn marathon training block. I find a half marathon offers a good marker to both my fitness and progress toward the larger 26.2 mile goal, and I also just really like the Newark Half event!
Newark is another race which is fairly local to my hometown in Lincoln, and it felt good to be joined by a few familiar faces as I stood in the start pen. By my side was my friend and run buddy; I was really pleased I had convinced her to sign up to the event too, and it simply made me happy to have her there and to share another race day experience together again. I also spotted a few friends from the Run Club I am part of and gave them some encouragement before the start gun was fired.
I set off confidently but also with some caution; whilst the August day was not too hot at the 9.30am start time, there was a very apparent strong wind, which I knew would play a factor. The Newark course is fairly rural, taking on small villages in a large loop before heading back to Newark itself, and this meant it would be quite exposed to the elements. I did have a vague finish time in mind; I knew I wanted to be under 1:45, but ideally I felt I could log another sub 1:40 time. Rather than become preoccupied by pace though, I instead focused on finding a running rhythm for the early stages, ticking off the first couple of miles almost automatically.
After passing two miles the course turned onto a long stretch of road which continued straight for a few miles. Meeting us here was the headwind, and I knew there would be no escaping it. It was not brutal, but it certainly made things feel harder. From my past runs at Newark, I knew there were some undulations along this stretch, however this year they seemed more notable, probably due to the double whammy of uphill as well as wind resistance! Again, I remained calm, focusing on looking forward to changing direction and just keeping a steady running pace.
The turn in the route was not actually as welcomed as I thought; the wind was lost, however now the sun had appeared through the clouds and without the cooling effect of the breeze, it suddenly felt rather warm! Some more undulations came along this part of the course, and I poured water over my body to keep me cool at each aid station – it felt a bit like I was now running a completely different race!
Halfway came, and as the route turned on to some smaller rural lanes, which would head back toward Newark and ultimately the finish, I felt a bit of a struggle. I think the extra exertion of those first miles into the wind had taken its toll a bit and thoughts flashed through my head. Why did I race that 10k on Friday night? Do I need to walk? Can I do this? I hope my friend is enjoying this more than I am right now!? It was a few minutes of doubt that sometimes you have to learn to override as a runner. It didn’t help that I missed a bottle of water at a drink’s stations (which I have to say to the organisers were really well placed; plenty across the course and with good sized bottles) and this threw me a little more. Thankfully, a fellow runner must have seen my disappointment as I missed grasping a drink and passed me some of his. It was a small act of kindness, but it boosted me and broke me from my thoughts.
I always try to break a half marathon down into sections, and I now focused on getting to 10 miles. I still didn’t obsess over my pace, and I actually enjoyed these few miles, which were fairy flat and straight and were without too much wind or sun. When I hit 10 miles I am not sure what came over me, I suddenly felt refreshed and found an extra power in my legs to push the pace a little. This final stretch to the finish also coincided with the heavens opening – another weather condition to contend with! – but the coolness also helped me drive to the finish. I now knew I was running strongly, picking off runners in the distance as I made my way back toward Newark.
I knew what to expect from the finishing metres – grass. It’s a tough little test at the end of a half marathon, so I tried to make the most of every inch of tarmac before I hit the finish based at Sconce Park. Even though I was mentally prepared for the grass challenge, it didn’t make it easier; I gritted my teeth and dug into my legs, fighting against the terrain as I completed a small loop of the field before being funnel into the finishing straight. Due to the high winds, there was no finish archway, just a few timing mats on the floor, so I was a little disorientated as to which mat was actually the finish! I crossed some form of finish line though, and then quickly looked down at my watch. It read 1:38:52 – goal achieved, and I was really pleased I had accomplished it on a fairly challenging day for racing.
Quickly gathering my medal I didn’t even have time to process how I felt as I made my way back onto the grass finish section of the course to cheer my friend in. She was not too far behind me, coming round the corner with her familiar strong stride and athletic running gait, and I cheered enthusiastically before dashing back to the finish line to give her a final boost. She met her race goal too, going well under sub 1:50, and as we queued for a goody bag I also bumped into Run Club members again who had each recorded amazing times and PBs – I was so pleased for them all.
The mixture of rain and pouring water over myself in the earlier sections of the race meant after the running endorphins had died down a little and I had finished congratulating my friends, I realised I was absolutely soaked to the skin! The facilities at Newark Half race village are great though, and my friend and I were able to go into the pavilion and change into some spare clothes before walking to the nearby café to enjoy a post race drink.
I had such a lovely morning, I had run well again, enjoyed time my with friends, seen others achieve great goals, and had another bit of bling for my medal board of course! With a very enjoyable Sleaford 10k on Friday night, a happy spell volunteering at my home parkrun in Lincoln on Saturday monring, and now a pretty perfect Sunday race day at Newark, I drove back home to Lincoln feeling a sense of real happiness – it might be tough at times, but I do love running and all it adds to my life.
The words to this blog have been whirring around in my head all week, and one of the reasons why I maintain this log of my running is sometimes just to help me get those thoughts written down. In the end I have finished with a part personal reflection/part log of my week of training.
The start of this week marked the beginning of my next cycle of marathon training – sixteen weeks until I take on another 26.2 miles, which will hopefully be my 10th marathon event. I will be very honest; at the onset of the week I sat contemplating another training block and I was not really sure how I felt about it. The past few weeks since completing the Brighton Marathon I have surprised myself. Despite a little wobble the week after the race, I have coped fine without a structured training plan in place, whereas in the past I have been lost, and this has often led to me feeling quite down.
The truth is, I have not needed marathon training to make me feel happy. This is massive progress for me and perhaps why I was not feeling that desperate longing to begin another training cycle, as I have been in the past. A few things have helped, and one of these in particular has been embracing the other non-running aspects of my life and finding a healthy way to balance still being a running mad individual with being able to celebrate friends’ birthdays, go to a concert, eat that massive ice cream sundae with my sister etc.
It is not just the past few weeks however where the change in me can be seen. Those who have been following my running adventures for a while now will probably not be surprised to read that last year was tough for me personally, and there were times I really was not in a good place mentally. I was pretty much relying on running to keep me going. I am pleased to say I feel a long way from that person right now - I still love my running! - but it feels somewhat like I am also free to feel and be truly me.
Unsurprisingly, I therefore have hopes for this block of training as well as goals for the marathon itself. My hope is to try keep a happy medium between enjoying my training and enjoying my life outside running. I believe it is possible – in fact, I know it is – I just need to learn to let it be possible. My goal for the race itself remains the same as with Brighton Marathon earlier this year – I will be PB hunting and aiming to edge closer to the 3.30 marker. This is a goal that still scares me, but one I will keep trying to strive towards, and my efforts at Brighton have not done anything to dampen my belief it might be possible one day. The journey begins…
MONDAY: a muggy double strength session with Strength and Conditioning followed by Body Pump.
TUESDAY: the lingering muggy air was eased slightly this morning with the welcoming feel of some light rain – much preferred for my first interval session in a few weeks. I ran 5 miles with 4 x 800m reps; I pushed hard and was happy to set benchmark rep splits of all under 7.20 min/mile.
WEDNESDAY: I found myself in the small, somewhat tucked away place of Yarnfield today for a conference with work. I had stayed here before, so had a rough running route in mind, but was still pleased I only had 4 miles on my plan to try map out. The run became a tempo session as my slight nervousness at running on unknown rural roads and then into a bit of an industrial estate meant I pushed the pace!
THURSDAY: a double run day with an easy 4 miles in the morning followed by 3 hilly miles at Run Club in the evening. I was Run Leader for this session and had set quite a tough hill challenge involving repeated figure of eight loops. I enjoyed seeing others draw on their determination to test themselves and realise what they could achieve and also got a good few hill reps in myself.
FRIDAY: Rest Day
SATURDAY: with possibly my favourite running event ahead on Sunday – Round Sheffield Run – I opted to volunteer at Lincoln parkrun today in the glorious sunshine. The sun tempted me out for an easy 3 miles of my own at lunchtime, and in the 25 degree heat I was pleased it was just a few miles!
SUNDAY: Round Sheffield Run – this is such a unique event I don’t think I can ever do it justice in writing (although I will try in a full blog soon!) A multi staged trail challenge, equating to nearly 12 miles of distance and featuring lot of hills along the way; it is not my regular thing, but maybe this is why I love it so much. The best part is being able to compete in the event as a pair and this was the 4th year I had ran with my friend at my side. This year’s event was possibly my favourite in terms of the simple fact we just had a great time running together and wonderful day out in all. Sat next to my friend in a deckchair whilst sipping a post run beer at the race village, it felt like I was setting a benchmark I needed for the weeks ahead – run hard, challenge myself and see what I can achieve, but take opportunities to relax, enjoy life and embrace those within it too.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...