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The Running Man, covering the half marathon distance

Two weeks and counting until the I “compete” in the Roding Valley Half Marathon. Nervous about never before having covered the full distance for this event (21km or 13 and a bit miles) I took it upon myself to give it a go in advance. My worst fear on the day is not being able to complete the distance, a similar feeling I’ve experienced in the past prior to participating in the 1,500 meter swim on my first olympic distance triathlon. On this occasion a visit to the local pool to kick out the 64 lengths required soon reignited the confidence in my abilities to achieve the task in hand.

 

Like the swim I felt it necessary to boost my confidence pre-event in an attempt to help me deal with the psychology of it all during the half marathon itself. Rather than constantly wondering during the event whether or not I’ll actually be able to complete it, I thought it best to dispel this so my mind can focus on a specific goal. So, all I needed to do was set a date and time to get the job done.

As it would happen, quite coincidentally, my cycle commute to work is approx 22 km, a little over the half marathon distance. The route starts at Loughton, Essex and finishes on Blackfriars Bridge. Perfect I thought, I’ll run home one evening. With the distance sorted I extended the “home run” invite to my running/commuting buddy, Steve. His reasons for accepting the challenging were identical to mine, so we were on. The date was set and we decided to go for it on Friday 12 Feb.

I didn’t think about it too much apart from the practicalities of what to wear to work and what I’d be carrying back. I wore my running shoes in and jettisoned what I could from my bag for the home journey, carrying only jeans, shirt and jumper, the only other addition was a 3 litre Camelbak bladder that I planned to use to fuel me up for the run.

End of the working day arrived and it was time to set off to meet Steve at the rendezvous point 3 km from work. I tanked up with water, got dressed, packed the back, acquired my GPS signal on the Garmin and off I went. The route we decided to take didn’t deviate at all from our normal cycle commute so all familiar ground.

Keen to get to the rendezvous point I realised I hadn’t stretched prior to setting off, so I took it fairly easy. Thankfully I was first to arrive so took the opportunity to stretch at that point. With the first three km in the bag, only 19 km to go, Steve arrived shortly after and we set off. Between us we had slightly different ideas of the pace we should adopt, Steve thinking 12 km/h whereas I was thinking more along the lines of 10.5, maybe 11 km/h. We agreed that as neither of us had covered the distance before we’d try for a slightly slower consistent pace throughout, as long as we could sustain it.

By the time 8 km had been covered we were both surprised at how quickly we appeared to have done it, still feeling completely comfortable. At this distance we certainly weren’t  anticipating any problems having been used to running 12km at weekends on a regular basis. We soon established a very consistent pace at which the legs were just working automatically.

Approaching the halfway mark on the Lee Bridge Road we both started to tighten up a little and began to feel the effects. Whilst I took the opportunity to water a tree, Steve stretched out a little easing the tightness that had come on especially since the temperature dropped. We continued and whilst chatting comfortably decided to set some landmarks for us to aim which we hoped would keep us motivated. The first big one was the North Circular junction about 4km away. Running through the busiest section in the Walthamstow area, we were weaving in and out of pedestrians and stopping and starting for the many traffic junctions in the area. Glad to pass the bustle we were that much closer to our first checkpoint.

Arriving at our first landmark we’d covered around 14km, more than either of us had run in a single session previously. I needed to stretch as the calves were feeling tight and the knees a little sore. Continuing, the next landmark was only another few kilometres away, Woodford Green. From here we knew there was one more major difficulty to overcome, a long 2.5km steady incline towards Buckhurst Hill. On the bike this was a quick section and despite the steady slope it wasn’t too slow whilst running either. However, I could really start to feel the joints when hopping up and down the kerbs to cross roads, it was all starting to hurt, but so far in a manageable way.

Reaching the top at Buckhurst Hill we were well on our way with only the home stretch to complete. We had another 2 or 3 km left to run before we arrived in Loughton and whilst Steve tried to keep to the grass verge to minimise the impact of the pavement, I had found my stride on the tarmac and continued there rather than feel the slight resistance of softer ground.

By the time we started our decline down the steep High Road through the forest we were very much feeling the pain, and to the casual observer no doubt looked like a pair of geriatric hobbling our way down the hill at a pace we attempted as much as possible to keep constant to avoid the variance and accompanying pain. By this point the knees were taking the brunt of the impact. We could also feel the cold much more now that we were in the sticks and despite the merino wool base layers, were feeling the cold sweat on our backs. My back was being constantly battered by the loosely fitted backpack which was slowly put persistently bouncing off the same part of my lower back for the entire journey. It was only now that I started to feel the tenderness it was causing.

By this time we were both constantly looking at our watches to gauge distance. Surely that was it? but no, metre by metre we closed it down each time thinking it couldn’t be much further. Arriving in the high street my watch beeped to indicate 21km completed so we decided to call it. The moment we stopped running and slowed to a walk I experienced a sensation I’d never before encountered, my legs suddenly felt weightless as if they were levitating with every step I walked. Very strange.

Relieved, we congratulated each other and despite the fairly slow time were happy we’d achieved the half marathon distance. Then we began making our excuses for the time, traffic lights, running after a full day’s work, carrying backpacks, etc. All good reason why we might not have gone faster, but in reality we were both pretty content and also confident we couldn’t have gone much faster even if we’d tried. I’m just glad we went off at the pace we did instead of the more ambitious speed suggested at the start.

Overall we managed to run 22.03km in a time of 2 hours 21 minutes, averaging a slower than expected 9.4 km/h. You can see the entire route play out with split stats for each kilometre at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/24519443

If this has helped me in any way, it’ll be in the knowledge that I have achieved the distance, something I won’t necessarily have to worry about whilst competing in the real thing in two weeks time. Hope fully I can focus on a pace that is constant whilst aiming for around the two hour mark. If I hit that I’ll be very happy indeed.

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