Running a half marathon

A year ago today I ran the Hackney Half Marathon – my first race at that distance (actually only my second true race at any distance). I was fit – a week before I’d done the Finsbury Park Parkrun in 23 minutes and 17 seconds, a PB I am yet to beat. I felt great at the start and ran fast – too fast, as I even knew at the time but couldn’t get myself to slow down properly. I ran the first 10km in what was, until a month ago, my PB. If I had kept that up I’d have finished somewhere at around 1 hour 50 minutes.

By 15km I was slowly badly, by 17km I was desperate. By 19km I could run no more and was walking. I did run most of the last 1000 metres and I certainly ran over the line, but I was in a terrible state and nearly fainted. The finishing time – 2 hours 15 minutes – was a real disappointment, but at least I had done it. But never again, surely.

My second run at this distance was the Royal Parks Half Marathon last October. For the first 10km I followed the 1 hour 55 minutes pacer but after that I couldn’t keep up – I had not prepared as well for this race as the Hackney half and that fundamental lack of fitness had let me down, but still I wasn’t doing too badly.

Coming into the final mile both my legs buckled. I knew I had to walk. After a few hundred metres I tried running again only to get a very painful attack of cramp. I walked to about the 800 metres-to-go mark and started running again, slowly. I made it over the line. But whereas I’d got to 20k in 2 hours and a minute, it was 2 hours and 12 minutes before I finished.

And now I had really injured myself quite badly. Not badly as in get to hospital but badly as in blisters on both feet (don’t rely on Nike’s running socks), bad chafing – something like this – fixes that and most seriously of all, I had very painful Achilles’s Tendons. I didn’t run again at all for two weeks and, effectively, my 2014 running season was over.

Roll around 2015 and two big pieces of technology come into my life. Firstly the Garmin Forerunner 10 – a simple but very easy to use runners’ watch which meant I could really judge my pace properly and then, perhaps even more importantly, a Karrimor Roller which has worked wonders on my legs and hence my Achilles’s Tendons.

So, last week I ran the St. Albans Half Marathon. I had a realistic target – a 5′ 50″ per kilometre pace – and a means to judge whether I was hitting it or not. That wouldn’t take me under two hours, but it would take me close and it was realistic and achievable on what was a very tough course. I prepared properly – tapering even when I wanted to run. And I did it: 2 hours, 3 minutes and 34 seconds – a 5′ 50″ pace.

I still made mistakes – too fast (about 5′ 40″ pace) for much of the start and running the end in a semi-zombified state due to, fundamentally, mental weakness. But it was good.

Even better – I’ve run 30km in the last week – so no injuries.