2013 Dorney Lake Half Marathon

Dorney Lake, which was known as Eton Dorney during the 2012 Summer Olympics, is a stunning venue. The length of the rowing course is 2.2 kilometres and the path around it is mostly flat, apart from a few bridges, making it an ideal long-distance running venue too.

I heard about the 2013 Race Your Pace Race event a few months ago and signed up immediately. I had been looking for different races to take part in and also wanted to see the venue properly as I was not able to get tickets for the rowing during the Olympics.

The race – four laps of the lake – was advertised as the perfect venue for setting a Personal Best, and so attracted the sort of runners who were keen to set a fast time or were new to running and looking for a gentle venue as in introduction to their first race.

In the build-up to this race I had worked on consistency by running long distances at about 4:50 per kilometre, and also worked on stamina and breathing by cycling and cross-training long distances at high resistance.

My plan for the race was to run under 5:00 per kilometre consistently for most of the race, push hard over the final two kilometres with what energy I had left, and aim to finish the race as far under 1:45:00 as I was able to.

The start of the race was very congested and so I had to wait a moment in order to get onto the running path, which was frustrating as I initially got caught up amongst slower runners, and also I was now some distance from the 1:45:00 pacemaker.

I quickly found some space, got into a comfortable rhythm, was pushing reasonably hard, and completed the first kilometre in 5:03. I knew I could push a bit harder but I really wanted to run consistency so aimed to keep up this pace.

The course is ideal for pacing yourself as it is always possible to see the next major landmark – the main bridge, the boathouse, the bare tree, the water station on the far side, the distance markers along the far side – you always know where you are and how you are doing.

I could see the 1:45:00 pacemaker in the distance and so set myself the goal of catching up and passing them during the race, as then I would definitely beat my target time and also have some time in hand as I had started the race some distance behind them.

I quickly worked out that I was naturally running at a 5:05 pace so was deliberately running a little bit faster than I wanted to in order to ensure that I was always under 5 minutes. This also meant that I was putting by a bit of spare time in case this was needed later.

I overtook a lot of other runners – I found that generally people started fast, dropped back, and then pushed hard in bursts. My technique of running consistently meant I regularly overtook people and then was infrequently overtaken back by someone making a short burst.

Running consistently at pace meant I had to change my style as the race went on. Initially I was running in my regular training style, but my legs started to tire after ten kilometres so I increased my stride length and concentrated on pushing forward horizontally for efficiency.

As I began to tire further I pushed a little harder in order to stop myself from tailing off. I concentrated on running short faster bursts for a couple of minutes and then dropping back to my regular pace for the rest of the kilometre in order to get some rest.

I was lapped by the leader after 58:05 seconds, at 11.69 kilometres into my race, and watched in awe as he flashed past into the distance. When really struck me was that I could hear him coming as the contact between his shoes and the ground was very loud.

Soon afterwards, at 1:05:30, I lapped the runner at the back and I really found it strange that she may now be looking at me in awe in the same way I had watched the leader run past just a few minutes beforehand. I tried to look as professional as possible.

I could hear the split times being read out by the iPhone app that I use and I was really pleased to hear they were consistent – the first 19 x 1km splits were 5:03, 4:55, 5:01, 5:02, 4:58, 4:58, 4:51, 5:00, 5:01, 4:52, 4:58, 4:57, 5:02, 4:51, 4:58, 4:58, 4:51, 4:53 and 4:53.

I just couldn’t close up on the 1:45:00 pacemaker though, which was really frustrating me, so I decided to increase the pace over the final two kilometres to use up everything I had left and see if I could replicate training by running at a 4:30 pace at the end of a long run.

I overtook a lot of runners and eventually closed up on the pacemaker with one kilometre to go but realised I still had some energy left and was running exactly how I do in training so continued at this pace all the way to the finish line.

I crossed the line with a start-to-finish (chip) time of 1:43:32. I was extremely pleased to beat my target time, although secretly slightly frustrated not to get under 1:43:00 as I knew that would have been my absolute limit.

A lot of people sprinted the last few hundred metres. I think this is really dangerous as if you suddenly push a lot harder then you run the risk of damaging a muscle, you obviously were not pacing yourself well, and also this creates a lot of congestion around the finish line.

I felt great when I crossed the line and knew I had run a careful, considered and controlled race. I felt like I could run another lap, although with hindsight I couldn’t have done. I knew I had pushed hard though so carefully warmed down to avoid later pain.

The race went almost exactly to plan. The first 18 x 1 kilometre splits were within 12 seconds (4%) of each other, 12 of these splits were below my target time (on average 4 seconds below), and I dropped a total of just 9 seconds from missing my target time across the other 6 splits.

My first 10 kilometre split was 49:39 seconds and my second 10 kilometre split was 49:04 seconds – both of these times were within 6% of my Personal Best for a single 10 kilometre race – and then I ran the final kilometre of the race in 4:06.

What can I improve on for the next race? I would like to consistently be setting kilometre split times of 4:50, rather than wavering around 4:57, and this would gain me another two minutes. Also I need to be surrounded by people who run at my pace.

I am totally aware that this PB was set on a flat course – I need to do more hills in training in order to not lose time on uneven courses and so I will train using more hill climbs and gradients and also do even more resistance work on the cross-trainer and exercise bike.

My next half marathon will be the adidas Silverstone Half Marathon 2013 at the start of March, another route that is generally flat and a course I knew extremely well, so I would very much like to complete that race in under 1:40:00.