Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Race Report: The Hexham Half Marathon

On Sunday I lined up for my first official road half in about 4 and a half years. It's no secret that my heart is on the trails, and I tend not to enter road races. However, I wanted to support what was a new event for Hexham, and it was a good opportunity to put the current block of training pre-Robin Hood to the test.

There had been some problems in the run up to the race, which I'm not going to go into but which can be found on Facebook for anyone who's morbidly curious, and I was somewhat apprehensive regarding the organisation. For the most part, however, everything turned out ok. Clearly not enough portaloos at the start, but that's a common enough complaint at races, and I didn't need to avail myself of the facilities in any case. I collected my number (13!) and lined up ready to go, sporting for the second time my NFR vest. It wasn't a fell race, but never mind. What else was I going to wear?!

The gun was fired, and we were off. I quickly found a rhythm and tucked in as part of a breakaway group behind the front runners. I had designs on a sub 1:30, and that meant I needed to average 6:52 m/m. To give myself some cushioning my plan had been to aim for 6:30m/m, but a quick check of the watch showed something in the region of 6:05m/m! I did think to myself "Hmmm... this is a bit hot, so far as pacing goes... Maybe I should slow down?" but it actually felt pretty comfortable, so far as these things go, so I went with it.

For the first 5 miles or so I seemed to be leapfrogging with a guy from South Shields in 5th and 6th place respectively, but he opened up a lead around half way (I think) and I was at that point running solo up until the hill at mile 9. For someone who has spent most of the last few years running on hilly courses, particularly trails, my hill legs were sorely lacking. The downside of specific training: Robin Hood is relatively flat, and so I've been working on leg turnover on track and flat tempo runs. Consequently, I had nothing on the hill and had to take a tactical hike, which I would never normally do in a road race. I was overtaken by a guy from Durham City Harriers with much better hill legs than me, but fortunately didn't lose any more places.

The course being made up of several loops, by mile 11 or so I was running with the back of the pack who had yet to complete one of the loops. This resulted in a "navigational error" whereby I followed the marshal's direction to turn right without thinking about it (the route map was utterly unintelligible so I had no real clue where I was supposed to go and when, despite being a local) and would have added 4 miles on to my race if it hadn't been for spectators, presumably who had already seen me go past once, shouting to me that I should have carried straight on to finish. I lost a few seconds but, again, fortunately no places, and that was the only real hiccup of the day. Some of the marshals could have been clearer in their directions, but this was the first running of the race and marshals are volunteers, so I'm not going to gripe!

I was definitely feeling the pace and the undulating course by this point, and was ready to finish, so as I approached the chute to be told that I needed to complete a there 'n' back along the lane parallel to the finish my heart sank. Pretty demoralising, that! I eventually crossed the line in 1:26:18, so comfortably under my target of 1:29:59. Added to which, I was in 8th place. Needless to say, I was pretty chuffed with another top ten finish, albeit in a relatively small field.

All in all, the training appears to be paying off and, whilst I don't really enjoy doing them, I can't deny the efficacy of track repeats when it comes to improving endurance at speed. Holding that kind of pace for twice as long at Robin Hood is going to hurt, but it definitely feels achievable at this stage.

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