The annual half marathon around Dorney Lake is a great opportunity to see how training has been going so far. The race takes place in mid-February, which allows runners to gradually work up to it after Christmas, and also it is a perfectly flat course around the edge of the rowing lake and so is traditionally good for setting a Personal Best time. I took part in the 2013 race and learned a lot about controlling my pace and running laps around a set course.
I decided to enter the 2014 race in order to compare my performance to the 2013 race, push quite hard to help improve my overall pace, practise the distance as I hadn’t run a half marathon since October, and also have a warm-up for the Silverstone Half Marathon. Over the past week the South East has been battered by heavy rain and gales but fortunately the event went ahead and on the day the weather was sunny although with a strong breeze.
My plan for the race was to push hard and see how long I could stay at that pace. I want to improve this year and need to be running at the limit as much as I can. I wanted to maintain a 4 minute 15 second per kilometre pace for as long as I could, back of slightly, and then go for a final push to finish in a total time of about 1 hour 31 minutes (8.64mph).
The race started well and I found a good spot near the front to settle in to. I noticed a large group in front of me who were running slightly faster than I wanted to but I tried to keep up with the back of them. They kept slipping away however and, after three miles of trying to keep up and dropping back, I decided to concentrate on my own pace instead.
The first lap was quite daunting as I knew how hard I was pushing and also I had forgotten how tough the half marathon actually was (as they can feel quite routine by the end of the year). The goal for the lap was putting down a solid foundation on which to work on and I crossed the line to complete the first lap (3.8 miles) in 26 minutes 35 seconds (8.92mph). Everything was going well so far.
We were being battered by winds up to 60mph and this was causing us all a lot of problems. This was particularly tough along the 2km stretch to the far end of the lake as the wind was coming from the west hence was hitting us diagonally from the left-front and pushing us both backwards and sideways. On the 2km run back the wind was slightly pushing us forward but the sudden intense gusts were still throwing us sideways. I felt like I was using 30% of my energy to fight against the wind.
The second lap was all about survival because the winds were affecting us more as the runners started to spread out, I was really feeling the effects from the fast opening lap, and I just wanted to not lose time so that I could push hard towards the end. I completed two laps (6.9 miles) in 49 minutes 11 seconds and so was now running at just over 7 minute miles (8.43mph).
I ran the first 10 kilometres in 44 minutes 23 seconds. This is the first time I have ever run a 10 kilometre split in under 45 minutes in a half marathon, it would have been my 15th fastest 10 kilometre time ever, and is just four seconds off my 10 kilometre personal best around Richmond Park. Despite this performance I know I need to run faster in order to complete a half marathon in under 90 minutes.
During the third lap I realised that the other runners around me were struggling with pace too. They would speed past me and disappear into the distance only to drop back a few minutes later and I would pass them back. I assumed that they were struggling with the winds and also were a bit rusty being so early in the year.
I started lapping back-markers at 53 minutes into my race. I have a huge amount of respect for back-markers as some were really suffering, will be running for much longer than I will, but nonetheless are fighting through it. One of my motivations is that if they are pushing to just complete the race then I should be pushing for a Personal Best.
I completed three laps (10.0 miles) in 1 hour 12 minutes 43 seconds (8.25mph) and could have easily stopped there. I was started to tire, I had pushed really hard to this point, and all of my leg muscles were really starting to hurt. The plan had been to turn up the heat for the final lap but the plan was now to just keep going and be able to finish the race.
I could hear the commentator preparing for the leader who must have been not far me behind and approaching the end of their final lap. I did not see the leader though and was extremely happy that I had not been lapped. Last year I was lapped at 11.7 kilometres into my race but I was currently at 16.0 kilometres and the leader was still four minutes behind me.
The final run to the far end of the lake was torture and many people on my lap ran past me as I was running at the pace of those who I should have been lapping. I just could not run any faster against the wind and so could not understand how other people were doing it. The turning point was sheltered from the wind and my pace went back up, and for the final 2km back to the finish I ran as fast as I could (which, in reality, really wasn’t much faster than before).
At the start of the final mile I ran past a very large group and one of the runners said “these people are running faster because they are on the last lap and want to sprint for the finish”. I felt like turning round and snapping “this is the slowest I have run all race” but I couldn’t speak. I just wanted to get to the finish as if I lost this pace went then that would be the end of the race.
I felt a great sense of relief as I crossed the finish line. I could not have run any further and I was in some pain. The time of 1 hour 37 minutes 38 seconds was a few minutes slower than I had wanted, and I had been beaten by many people who had pushed for the final lap, but I was so happy that I had pushed very hard for three laps and then just faltered on the last lap. I am 5 kilometres away from a fast time.
I know that, in order to improve, you have to train at the pace at which you want to run. Going to the gym every day and running the same distance at the same pace on the treadmill does not lead to improvement. I wanted to run as much of the half marathon at the pace I ultimately want to run the race at, and I feel I really achieved that. Also my legs have never ached so much before and they never normally ache during race itself. This has to be a good sign.