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.

2012 Kingston 16 Mile Challenge

The Kingston Run Challenge is an annual race which starts in Kingston and heads out to Hampton, with several different categories covering various numbers of laps, and today I took part in the individual 16 mile race that consisted of two laps.

The course started in Kingston town centre, headed across the bridge and then took the river path down to Hampton. The route then headed over Hampton Bridge, down to Esher, and then along the Portsmouth Road back to Kingston town centre.

The 16 mile race started at 8.30am and at that time Kingston was covered in fog and was very cold. I decided to spend as much time warming up as I could – I’ve spent too much time waiting at start lines cooling down after a good warm-up.

The problem with starting at the back was that I had to overtake so many slow people, which was particularly difficult along the river path down to Hampton, although I eventually found myself some space with people running at my pace.

The route to Hampton was quite scenic and it was nice to try something different. The run through Esher and Ditton wasn’t particularly stunning and we didn’t see the river again until shortly before Kingston but it was nice to see somewhere different.

The first lap went really well and I felt very comfortable. It was a bit hard running past the finish line to start the second lap but at least I was halfway and so knew what I had to do all over again to get back there again.

The second lap was a lot harder though. At the ten-mile marker I started to feel a twinge in my right knee that didn’t go away and so I stopped and took a few minutes to exercise and stretch so that cramp didn’t come on. Fortunately it kept away.

I started to fade though and many people who had been running at my pace ran past me and into the distance. I pushed hard and was occasionally able to run at pace but kept dropping back. I wasn’t sure why this was happening.

After what felt like an eternity I finally saw Kingston Bridge in the distance and gradually approached the finish line. The last mile felt like three miles but eventually the finish line came into view and I crossed it in 2 hours 22 minutes.

This was a good event because the distances were slightly irregular – they were multiples of eight miles rather than the classic ten kilometres or half marathon, so let you try something different, and you were running alongside people on different laps.

There were very few spectators though – the Ealing half-marathon a couple of weeks ago had thousands of people lining the streets but I saw barely two hundred people watching this event. We did appreciate the spectators though and some of them were very enthusiastic.

There was no medal at the end, which was a bit unusual, but there was a commemorative mug for all finishers which was a nice touch, as well as unlimited water and Lucozade.

I enjoyed the event and it felt like a comfortable training run. It was nice to check out a new area and try a new distance. I think it could have been better publicised, both for participants and spectators, but those who attended had a good time.

2012 Richmond Park Half Marathon

I took part in my first half marathon on Sunday. I wanted to see what the distance was like, as I felt ready to step up from 10km, and get in a practice run for the Silverstone half marathon this coming weekend.

The course consisted of two 6.6 mile laps around Richmond Park, which I know very well after many 10km training runs, and I found that knowing the route made a big difference as I knew exactly where the difficult bits were going to be.

Due to park regulations the competitors were staggered at the start rather than having one big rush. This meant that I saw few other competitors during the race, and hardly saw anyone at my own pace, but it did let me concentrate on my own race which is what I wanted.

Things started well and I tried to run at a consistent pace, although I accidentally managed to set my fastest kilometre split right at the start. I found the first few miles quite easy going, although I’m used to kilometre marker boards so having to count in miles felt much further!

The first low point came after about 3.5 miles, right on the other side of the park. It suddenly hit me how far a half marathon actually is and the hardest part of the course was just around the corner. I was determined to keep going although wasn’t sure how far I’d actually make.

The steep hill went okay and there was a water station at the top. I deliberately took water at each station this race and made sure not to get dehydrated and I really felt the benefit of this in the latter stages.

The final third of the lap is a relatively flat stretch with a slight incline towards the end and a deceptive extra half mile were the junction looks like the one further round. I was able to get back into my rhythm along this section.

As I crossed the line at the halfway point I felt a sudden surge of energy. I don’t know where this came from but it was like KERS refilling on a Formula One car. I was now determined to have a really good go at the second lap and I knew what to expect from the course.

The rain soon started to fall however and it got heavier and heavier, and ultimately it did not stop. I didn’t mind though and fact didn’t notice it too much. I just concentrated on my rhythm and on running just a little bit faster.

At the 9 mile point I started to feel really relaxed and confident, but also sloppy. I stopped paying attention and got a sudden pain in my right knee. I tried to run through it but it wouldn’t stop, so I eased back slightly and it gradually subsided.

I learned at this point about the importance about being focused and that if you do not pay attention then you can easily make a dangerous mistake. From this point on I was focused and very careful.

Now I was running further than I had ever run before and the rain was falling hard. This was completely unknown territory. I was shattered but also easily able to keep going. I wasn’t having to think about actually running – that was just happening automatically – I was thinking about pace, energy levels and motivation.

I saw from the clock that I completed my first lap in just over an hour (1hr 3min 45s according to GPS) and so I was secretly hoping to break the two-hour barrier, and so was subsequently pushing a little bit harder on this second lap.

Over the final part of the lap I was able to keep a consistent pace and felt as though I was pushing really hard. Strangely, looking at the GPS, I wasn’t running as fast as I thought I was, so have learned more about how the mind plays tricks on you over long distances.

I struggle to finish races as I always want to stop when I see the finish line but sheer determination kept me going this time – I made it to the finish and was ecstatic to cross the line. The photographs of the final metres showed I was a lot more tired than I thought.

The total unofficial time was 2 hours 9 minutes and 17 seconds. I was disappointed to not get under 2 hours but conversely extremely happy to finish and learned loads in the process.

I also realised how your energy levels fade and your mind plays tricks on you later in the race, so these are areas I need to work on, but at least I know I am ready for the Silverstone half marathon next week. Well, if I can move by then.