Back in July, I wrote about the latest race I’d entered, the Great North 10k back in the North East. In the intervening three months, I’ve been training for the logical next step up from a 10k - the half marathon.
I chose the Scottish Half Marathon primarily for the proximity to where I live; the race is held out in East Lothian, starting at Meadowmill Sports Centre and running east before turning back towards the city of Edinburgh and finishing in Musselburgh Racecourse.
Pre-Race Preparation and Targets
As this race was my first half marathon, my main goal was to enjoy the run out. Given the coastal route, I knew a lot would depend on the race day conditions; a wet and windy day could easily rob me of five minutes or so over the course. With that in mind, I decided my time goals would be the least important targets.
- No walking outwith aid stations
- Negative splits
- Strong finish
- Chip time under 01:55:00
- (stretch) Chip time under 01:50:00
I prepared a lot better for this race than I did for my previous 10k runs. I got a large meat-filled calzone pizza and ate half to carb-load the night before the race, saving the other half for my post-race feast. I went to sleep a little later than planned, but still managed to get in almost a full 8 hours. As the race had a slightly later start of 11am, I set my alarm for 07:30, leaving me plenty time for a slightly different than usual breakfast of a sausage and egg bagel before I left with a big bottle of water to drink on my way to the race.
I caught the bus out to East Lothian at around 08:30, getting me to the event probably a little too early around 09:45. I dropped my bag off and headed out to get warmed up (it was a pretty cold Scottish morning). I had estimated my time at 01:55:00, which put me in the surprisingly far back green wave, behind the elite white wave, and the red and yellow waves, but ahead of the orange and blue. As I walked past the corrals though, the white and red waves were pretty tiny, probably less than 200 runners total, which explained things a little. The waves all left pretty much one after the other, with minimal gaps between them, so I crossed the start line only a minute or two after the starting gun at 11am.
I’d decided before the race to try and keep a 05:15/km pace or better throughout, and my first kilometre matched that pace almost perfectly in 05:14. The weather was as good as I could have hoped for; still and overcast, so I decided to up my pace to closer to my 10k race-pace of 5 min/km and see how I got on. The course had a very flat profile, with downhill sections over the first five miles, so despite wanting to try for negative splits, I decided to get as much benefit as I could from the descents and keep a fast pace.
After shaking out the cobwebs and getting into a rhythm, I covered the second kilometre in five minutes exactly, spending a lot of time waving in and out of runners in my pen as we headed east along the A198 towards the village of Longniddry. The third kilometre was slightly slower in 05:07, and my fourth and fifth kilometres as I reached the village were both completed in 05:04. The first aid station was situated during kilometre 5, but I was in a good rhythm and barely slowed to drink the water as I passed through, preferring to keep my pace up and bank some seconds for later in the race.
There was a surprisingly high number of spectators along the course through Longniddry cheering on the runners; I love that sort of encouragement, and ended up inadvertently increasing my pace over the sixth and seventh kilometres (04:46 and 04:56 respectively). The seventh kilometre took the course out of the village and onto the seafront road, still heading east to the turnaround point partway up the road. From the course map, the bidirectional section did not look particularly long, but seeing the runners stretched out for what seemed like miles ahead along the coast was a little unsettling. In actual fact it was only about a mile each way, but as I turned the corner it seemed like a hell of a lot further.
Kilometres 8, 9, and 10 covered the entirety of the out-and-back section, and I spent the whole way focusing on my pace and staying in a good zone. I ended up keeping almost perfectly consistent for this section, with times of 05:01, 05:01, and 04:59. I had brought along an energy gel with me, and used that almost immediately past the turnaround point, about halfway through kilometre 9.
The second aid station appeared just as we passed the end of the two-way section heading back west towards the city, at almost the exact halfway point of the race. I decided to stop for a short walking section here, partly so I could take a decent drink of water, and partly because I was worried I was going too fast and would burn out before the end of the race. As I reached the aid station I was looking at a chip time of around 52:45; a whole two minutes and fifteen seconds in the bank to still reach my sub-01:50 goal! After drinking a whole bottle of water, I set off again, starting to feel a little stiff through the 11th kilometre, but still feeling strong and keeping my pace (05:13, although this included the water break).
I had hoped that passing the halfway mark would lift my spirits somewhat, but the course itself managed to do the exact opposite. The next two kilometres were through dreary winding woodland, with no indication of how far it was to the next town. The monotony was unhelpful, and while I just about kept my pace (05:06 for both the 12th and 13th kilometres), I was already looking forward to the next aid station just to break the drag.
The third aid station came along surprisingly quickly, at the tail end of the 14th kilometre. This aid station had energy gels as well as water, so I again walked for a spell as I drank and finished my gel, finishing the kilometre as my slowest so far in the race at 05:23. My speed in the first half of the race was starting to catch up with me, and I was starting to struggle to maintain pace. My walking section had led me into starting the 15th kilometre, which I clocked at 05:20, probably spending a good 30-35 seconds drinking and taking my energy gel. Maybe it was a good thing I’d banked those two minutes in the first half.
15km to finish
The 16th kilometre wound through Cockenzie and Port Seton, leading out onto the road to Prestonpans, the penultimate village in the race. I could feel my feet starting to blister at this point, and knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain anything close to five minute kilometres for the rest of the race. I entered Prestonpans with a 05:12 kilometre time, and saw the ‘5km’ sign from the Scottish 10k race that had taken place earlier in the day. This gave me a boost; 5k? Easy. I pushed on through the village with a 05:11 17th kilometre, starting to sense the closeness of the finish line - but also acutely aware of the painful blisters forming on the outside of both my feet.
The 18th kilometre took the race out of Prestonpans, and the final aid station was situated right at the end of the village. I took the opportunity for another walking break to try and rest my feet a little, and as I did in the previous aid station ended up walking my way into the start of the 19th kilometre. The crossover gave me identical times to the 14th/15th kilometres (05:23 and 05:20), and although I knew I was close to the finish, I also knew I didn’t have a great deal of energy left in the tank. I figured that if I could at least maintain a 05:30 pace for the final two kilometres I would still reach my target, so with my head down I pushed on, clocking 05:15 for the penultimate kilometre just before I reached the roundabout for the final straightaway to the finish line.
I had actually thought the finish line was at the east end of the race course, so my heart dropped a little as I rounded the corner to see the flags way off in the distance at the other end. I looked at my watch just as it ticked over to 01:44:00 - I could do this! I started to increase my pace a little, hoping to manage an under five minute final kilometre to finish. Not quite - 05:07 - but I still managed a strong 500m finish with about a 04:30 pace as I crossed the line. I knew as I passed over the timing mats that I would have reached my target, and my phone buzzed seconds after crossing with my provisional time - 01:48:48!
Post-Race Results and Reflections
From my targets:
- No walking outwith aid stations. Yes, although I ended up walking a lot more than I wanted in the last two aid stations.
- Negative splits. No; my second half was about three minutes slower than my first half, give or take a little. A big chunk of that was spent walking in aid stations rather than drastically losing pace in fairness.
- Strong finish. Yes, I crossed the line strong and the final kilometre was at a decent pace.
- Chip time under 01:55:00 Yes.
- Chip time under 01:50:00 Yes.
Despite having to hobble over to collect my medal and t-shirt, I was much happier at the end of this race than I had been at either of my previous races. I knew I’d failed with my negative splits, but I had honestly not expected to be able to do better than about 01:53:00-01:54:00, so a whole minute under my stretch target was better than I had hoped for, even as I’d lined up in my corral at the beginning of the race.
After three months off, I’ve managed to get myself signed up for three races on consecutive weekends, so this week will be a recovery week, maybe a short run with Charlie before the 10k out in Glasgow on Sunday. I’d initially set myself fairly conservative targets for that race, but after the half marathon, I think I’ll be pushing myself.
|Overall Finish||663 of 2619|