Sunday 29 May 2011

Malvern Half Marathon - the perfect birthday present?

Today was the Malvern Half Marathon, in aid of the Acorns Trust.  It is also my lovely wife's birthday.  So, as any good husband would, I offered to pace her to a PB.  The Malvern course is gently undulating, but stays away from the famous Malvern Hills.  With the knowledge that she is in the best shape of her life (this is her 5th half in as many months), I figured it would be easy.  I had forgotten that, no matter what is going on elsewhere, Malvern is always windy.

The Birthday Girl!

 Nic's previous half marathon PB of 2:05:35 came towards the end of 2009.  She would have managed around 2:03 or so, but got a bit excited at the start and ran out of steam with a few miles remaining.  So, my main job was to keep everything under control in the first half so she would have something left in the tank for the final miles.

The race went off easily, and we managed to keep on plan for a sub 2:00 without much effort.  I had the watch, and Nic's job was to enjoy the run and let me know how much it was hurting on a scale of 1-10.  It made for a few strange conversations that went along the lines of "6 or 7?", "6", "Ok, we're well on target." or "Still 8?", ", , yes", "OK, you're doing great, the hill is almost over".  I'm sure the runners around us thought we were ever-so-slightly mad.

Nic easily managing the first few miles.

The first half of the race is pretty quiet, allowing some nice views of the surrounding hills (and rain clouds looming).  We reached Upton-upon-Severn with time to spare.  I allowed Nic to run freely on the downhills at a "6", which gained her the minute or so that she would need later in the race to get that Sub-2:00.  Then, we turned to the North and managed to keep with a quartering tail wind.  We reached the 8 mile marker with Nic spending more time in the "7" range than "6", a few uphills negotiated, and still holding onto that minute and a bit of spare time.  Everything was looking good for her target finish.

Then, we turned to the West and lost any advantage that the upcoming downhill section was going to offer.  Nic was still feeling well enough to keep an eye on her surroundings, and picked out Lucy (of the very wet tent at The Edge) cheering on her fellow Malvern Joggers.  I waved and said "hello".  Nic tried to engage in conversation and almost ran off the road...  The wind picked up, was mostly directly opposing our progress, and started to drag the remaining energy out of Nic's legs.  We dropped about 15 seconds of our buffer over the next two miles before climbing the course's steepest hill and then turning South.  One of Nic's colleagues was waiting to cheer us on (Thanks, Lynn!).  The encouragement broke through the mask of pain developing on Nic's face (we were now creeping into the 8-9 level of discomfort) and helped her get her pace back up. 

The strong gusts made it hard to keep a rhythm.  In spite of passing many tiring runners, we continued to lose our buffer.  By the end of mile 12, the 2 Garmins I was wearing agreed that we would have to push on with the pace, but were still on target to dip just under 2:00.  The road began to drop back down the hill, and a hedge appeared to offer some shelter from the wind. 

By now, Nic was digging deep within herself to hold her pace.  I'd been offering a mix of encouragement and exhortation for a few miles, and now resorted to running backwards a few yards in front and cheering her on face-to-face.  She kept her pace, and we hit the 13 mile mark with a slim chance of hitting that target time.  Then, I looked at my watch, looked at the distance left to the line, and realized that the Garmins and the course markings disagreed by more than 100 yards.  I shouted to Nic to sprint the final .3 miles with everything she had.  It was going to be touch-and-go.  I could see the effort going in, but the open, windy finish straight was going to take around a minute.  Then, my Garmin claimed that we'd finished the race (1:59:47 - right on target).  Unfortunately, we still had about 150 yards to go. 

In the end, Nic finished with 2:00:30 - a 5-minute PB and a huge achievement.  She confirmed that there was nothing left in the tank by eventually lying down in the grass to have a rest while I picked up some warm clothes and recovery shakes from the car.  I don't often run as a pace-maker - it's a difficult job to do.  Today, I was very happy with my race plan, and overjoyed at being able to help Nic to knock an average of 23 seconds per mile off her previous best.  Now, I guess it's time to get some speedwork into her schedule!

1 comment:

  1. Well Done & Happy Birthday