Thanks to Paul K. for his review of the Strathaven Half Marathon which was contested in tough conditions yesterday. Well done to everyone who took part and thanks to Paul for his excellent race report. First time we’ve heard of blogging as a race completion strategy.
Well that’s the first race of the year for me under the belt, and what a way to start. I had a plan to run hopefully four or five half marathons this year and, both wanting to start early and keep some motivation over the winter, had signed up for the Strathaven Striders Half.
This had, pretty much, kept me going over winter and, with my trusty training partners Finola and Kirstin, helped me run some ridiculously early Sunday long runs. If I never see Stewarton Road again, I’ll be a happy man.
As everyone does, it’s weather watch time in the week running up to a big race. Last year had, apparently, been predominantly snow and there were multiple warnings about the conditions in the briefing emails. Given that it was a) February and b) in Strathaven going towards the windfarm, I was under no illusions; a sunny, balmy race this wasn’t going to be.
I dressed on race day with a short sleeved base layer, t-shirt and shorts, but had about three different outfits in a bag with me. Registration over, and the long-sleeved base layer was quickly donned. Training had been going well but looking at the conditions (and having had a sore throat last week) my approach was planned and a revised, conservative, time of under 2 hours was agreed on (I was, of course, arguing with myself in my head). There was a good Runbetweener turnout as well, although a few were masquerading as Bella Harriers!!!!
We set off, walking, from the school – behind the obligatory piper – and round to the start. Pre-race briefing had been held indoors. Overcast and blowy, it was a sign of things to come. The race was off promptly at 10:15 with a wee wriggle round some houses and side streets, and we were then out onto the country lanes.
I’d talked to a few folk that had done this before and knew that the outward half of the loop was uphill, and that was true. I can think of only one proper downhill section in the first half of the race. Although appearing to be always on the up, there weren’t any significant hills to start with (I’m thinking of Stewarton Road again), but the problem was the wind. The race’s tagline was ‘Run With The Wind’ and they weren’t wrong. I’m told it was, in parts, around 20 mph gusting to 40 mph – and you felt every bit of it from about a mile out, until about four and a half miles. It blew into you, or across you; there was no respite or let-up – it was constant. I started writing this report in my head at this point to take my mind off it.
The weather made the view bleak and other than one family cheering on Carol (I hope she did well) the only other spectators were three horses and some sheep. I must mention the very patient cyclist who got caught up with us near the start. He graciously freewheeled until there was a clear space to pass, rather than weaving in and out. He also appeared open to bribes for a backie. Although bleak, there was a good bit of banter on the course, especially when the forecasted rain started. I felt my decision not to race hard was vindicated.
At four and half there was the first significant hill, but in the blink of a 90 degree turn, the wind died. Wow, I couldn’t believe the difference, and wasn’t bothered about the hill either, longish as it was taking us up to the water station at roughly halfway. I found it getting a bit busier on this hill, passing folk who’d started off too fast. However, in turn, I found a few passing me.
The water station also coincided with the top of a hill and a nice big downhill section followed. I fairly flew down this, and nearly paid for it later, bit it felt good. Downhill, over halfway, no real wind – what could go wrong? Plenty, as it turned out.
With the out part being uphill there is a reasonable assumption that the back part was predominantly down, but that didn’t feel like it was the case (Garmin & Strava will call me a liar though). I’m beginning to think of Arran last year which appeared to be 13 miles all uphill despite starting and finishing at the same point.
Country lanes had, momentarily, turned into farm tracks, but still flat. At just over 8 miles I took a gel to help with the final section. But half a mile later I was in trouble – the wind was back, with a vengeance, and so was the uphill nature of the course. One corner almost had me at a standstill, and a post race look at Garmin (eventually) showed that, albeit briefly, my pace had dropped to 10:53 a mile! It had been 6:35 a mile on the downhill at half way, and was roughly 2 minutes a mile slower than training pace. Iron Maiden’s ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ popped into my head and I was acutely aware of the lack of support in terms of my training partners, or friendly faces. Race days are definitely different to training runs.
The wind so bad, directly into my face, that at this point I was questioning my own sanity, and post race discussions found out that I wasn’t the only one. It was also at this point in the race that I lost my target runner. I spent most of the first part about 20 to 30 metres behind her, but had overtaken her before half way. She passed me and was off, and I felt absolutely spent. The wind didn’t die again until about 11 and a half miles and, hand on heart, I can say that those three miles were some of the toughest I’ve run. The mantra of one foot in front of the other was so appropriate. Thankfully the course began to level/go down and allowed a measure of control to return.
The legs were heavy as we entered the last mile, but I knew that bit was downhill and I was determined to finish as strong as I could. Entering the park with 200 metres to go, all over thickish grass, it was hammer down and making the whole thing look like a breeze. You need to put a show on, after all my kids were watching.
I’ll be honest to say that I found the race tough, as did many others. Brutal (in terms of the wind) was an often used, but apt, word. Without the wind, I’m sure that would be a different race, but it’s fair to say that the race is definitely a test. I was glad of my training – especially Stewarton Road, and would have struggled on this occasion without it.
One final surprise, seven seconds off my PB. That’s my 5K and Half PBs broken this year already. Don’t know how I managed it, can’t explain why, but I’ll take it. Don’t know what that says, though, about either my performance or my previous PB, but I look forward to answering that question throughout the year.