If last week's half marathon was all about running fast and having fun, this week's half marathon was all about moderation and keeping the pace.
Also, who knew I'd turn in to the type of person who casually says 'last week's half marathon' and 'this week's half marathon' like a half marathon is no big deal?! Half marathons are a big deal! Running 13.1 miles is a big deal. It's like I'm living in some weird parallel universe.
Anyway, this week I schlepped over to Eton Dorney to run four laps around Dorney Lake alongside 600 other people, while trying to maintain steady 10 minute miles. I have a habit of getting excited at races and bounding over the line like well, Flora. Spaniel pace is good for lots of things, but probably not a marathon. This was my opportunity to hit that habit on the head and employ a sensible pacing strategy.
The Garmin Race Your Pace Half Marathon is all about getting your pacing on point - which is the secret of race success. The pancake flat course is ideal for finding your perfect pace, there's lots of support from the Human Race pacing team and regular timing mats mean you can get detailed post-race pace analysis. Plus Garmin were on hand with lots of GPS watches you could play with while running the course (I opted to stick with my Garmin Forerunner 10 - one of the best GPS watches on the market, in my opinion, and affordable at under £100).
Kicking off at 10am I stuck close to the 10 minute mile pacers. 10 minute miles felt crazy slow for a race and my legs were desperate to go faster. I had to physically put the breaks on and spent half the race staring at my watch making sure I wasn't getting excited. I know what it sounds like when I say I don't want to run fast, but it's part of the transition to longer distances and my legs need to learn what's realistic for different races.
I somehow managed to loose the pacers after a mile. I don't exactly know what happened, I don't think I was running too fast, I think they slowed down to adjust the pace, who knows. Anyway, for the next 12 miles I was alone, obsessing over my pace and occasionally getting confused about how many laps I'd done (DT who was watching from the comfort of Eton's boathouse also lost count).
The obsession paid off, although I was a few seconds fast, my pace was more or less consistent for the whole race. Apart from the last mile. Then I got over excited and bounded towards the finish line spaniel style. It needed to be done.
4 laps around Dorney Lake is a great way to learn how to pace, but it's a bit bleak. Especially on a grey, slightly damp day in February. There are very few supporters, making racing there a very different experience to Brighton or Birmingham. It's a real exercise in getting your head down and focusing on the task in hand. On one level it's great training for the harsher, lonelier points that are inevitable in a marathon. On another it was a opportunity to catch up on my audio book (Born To Run).
As usual Human Race did an awesome job organising this race. It was a low key, relaxed event where everything ran to plan. The pacers were friendly and knowledgable, the marshals enthusiastic and the medics lovely (I didn't need their assistance, they were just chatting to everyone). There were lots of loos, an indoor bag drop and a cafe for supporters to hang out in (note it only takes cash). The water stations were every 5km and offered cups of energy drink, gels and water (as usual I was self-sufficient so didn't take advantage). The only downside was the site wasn't accessible by public transport.
This isn't a race I'd recommend as a first half-marathon. For a newbie I'd always suggest a big city race with lots of distractions and celebration. But it is fantastic if you're training for another event, it's a great opportunity to focus on the more technical elements of your run in the build up to your 'big' race. Plus you get a cute medal. Which is always a bonus.
Running a race like this alone was also an opportunity to really listen to my body and check in on how it's feeling 12 (!) weeks into marathon training. Over the last couple of weeks I've noticed my quads have been getting tighter. A rather painful sports massage this week suggested my ITB has been feeling a little bit of strain. Nothing's broken yet, but I do need to up the ante when it comes to foam rolling and have invested in a knobbly orange torture device that makes me squeak as I inflict pain on myself while watching House. I know how to live.
*Many thanks to Human Race Events for inviting me along to Race My Pace. As always all opinions are my own.*