Thursday 30 September 2010

Kenilworth Half Marathon - or "Go Maureen!"

September 26th was the day.  When I entered this race several months ago, I knew I would be in for a PB.  I've been in great shape, have trained well, and knew the course from a few years ago when it knocked me on my metaphorical backside.  With good weather, I was on target to finally break 1:30.

Then, I suffered some calf issues due to a little too much time in flip-flops during my beach holiday in September.  I know, the sympathy violins are all being uncased now - sore leg caused by being a lazy article on the beach!  Sad, but true.  The only other possible cause was the increase in running and hiking during the first 4 days of my vacation, since I had so much free time and sleep.  But, it can't be more exercise!  It must be the flip-flops!  Anyway, the result was 5 days with no running, much to my annoyance.

Then, after only 1 run, I caught a cold upon my return to frozen England.  From 30 degrees (C) to 6 was a bit of a shock!  I have a rather nasty habit of turning sinus congestion into a chest infection, so I was pretty annoyed.  For once, though, I listened to the best practice of the entire running community and stopped running as soon as the cold symptoms moved below my larynx.  The good news was that this was enforced rest to allow the full benefits of my fabulous massage from Sara.  The bad news is that I was fit to run on Friday (very cold and rainy) before Sunday's race.  So, I decided to take the rest of the week off and waited until the race for my first return to running.

Given the poor preparation, I changed goals to:  finishing the race without re-introducing illness, run at my goal marathon pace or better, feel OK after the run since I was flying to Japan that night for a business trip.  On Sunday morning, I practiced as much of my pre-marathon prep as I could.  Breakfast of oatmeal at around 2 hours before the start.  I missed my energy bar at T-1 hour, since I was running a little late and was still driving.  Then, 1 Torq caffeinated gel at T-20 minutes followed by my warm-up.

The warm-up was a bit scary.  Within about 2 minutes I was up to 90% heart rate.  I normally have to push quite hard to get there in early warm-up.  So, I eased back a little and focused on getting all the muscles moving for a few minutes before ramping back up.  The unexpected jump in HR gave me a revised race plan of maintaining 80% heart rate for a few miles before re-assessing.

Then, the gun fired and we were off.  I kept an easy pace for the first mile (mostly up-hill anyway) and eased into the race.  Even with the gentle undulations, it was a struggle to stay at marathon pace, so I let my legs have free reign for a bit to see how things went.  As long as I kept below roughly 90% HR, I was able to keep a comfortable pace (with a bit more work down the hills where I could pick up time).  By 10 miles, I knew I was on for a pleasing time (no PB, but pretty good given the prep).  The run in for the last 5k is roughly 2 miles up hill, 1 mile down.  So, I kept pace as much as possible and aimed for around 1:33-1:34.  Since I've only beaten that once, I was in a good mood entering the last 5k.

At 11.5 miles, my knees started to complain about all the activity after a week off.  I pushed on, hoping to recover a bit of form and speed on the down hill.  It was, rather unfortunately, against a very strong wind.  So, my form remained ragged and my pace was still slowing.  I looked into the distance to see the guys I'd hoped to catch stretching away from me.  I'm pretty sure one of them (Ranjit Samrai) did the same thing to me a few years previously.  He'd obviously improved just as much as I had!  Then, we hit the flat, turned out of the wind, and everyone seemed to be shouting "Come on, Maureen!" or "Go, Maureen!".  I thought to myself, "I don't know who she is, but this Maureen is running strong and I feel like death warmed up, so I guess she'll pass me."

Then, my friend Dave, who had finished some 6 minutes earlier, started shouting some encouragement from the sidelines, including "Don't let her catch you on the line!"  That woke me up.  I usually have a pretty strong finish, and I reminded myself that I wasn't going to get caught on the line.  That's what I do, not what's done to me!!

Still, the shouts of "Go Maureen!" and "You can catch him, Maureen" were ringing in my ears.  Obviously, this Maureen was pretty popular.

Now, my aunt and godmother's name is Maureen (well, it's one of her many names, and one that she has been known to use fairly regularly).  So, I had a fleeting image of a venerable, six-foot tall, generously proportioned nun bearing down on me.  There was absolutely, positively, no way I was going to let a big old lady in a habit catch me in the finishing straight - no matter how much I love my aunt.  When we turned on to the grass for the final 0.1 miles around a field, I reminded myself that I am an off-road runner, and this was my territory. Some unknown roady wasn't going to pass me on a lumpy, difficult surface!

Cue the internal feeling of winding up a dirty great hulk of a machine to make it move slightly less slowly, and I pushed forward with what must have actually been a pretty imperceptible increase in speed.  In the end, I held off "Maureen" by a second (it turns out her name is Mallory - so my ears were obviously not recovered from the cold!).  Turned around, and noticed a young woman who had the look of one who had been using me as a target for quite a while.  I congratulated her on a good run and carried on towards the massage table hoping not to cough up a lung once I'd slowed down and they realized what I'd been doing to them for the last hour and a half.

In all, it was a good and challenging race.  The result was much better than I expected given my preparation (just under 1:35), so I'm hopeful that once I get over the Japanese food (yum!) I will be able to get into a good state for Amsterdam in a couple of weeks.  And to Mallory:  thank you for pushing me as much as I'm sure I pulled you towards the finish.

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