Monday 20 May 2013

Tewkesbury Half Marathon - A different kind of running goal

Yesterday I had a nice run out at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.  My friend Tim has been targeting this race for about a year, probably from about 3 minutes after he finished last year's edition.  Originally, he was going to finally crack the 1:30 - something we've both been circling around for far too long.  Then, in December, he was diagnosed with cancer.  Within a few days, he had changed his goal to getting through the treatment and then the race.  Not long after that, I changed my goal for the weekend (usually spent playing at the Hilly 100 relay) to be making sure that if Tim got to the start line that he made it to the finish line.  His attitude to getting to Tewkesbury on race day has been amazing, but he has a weak spot at races of going out faster than he should, and I knew that as much as anything else on race day, he would need someone else's pace strategy if he was going to get around.  I never doubted that Tim would make it to the start line but I wasn't so sure he would be able to make the finish line without some company.  With some great care and a dose of good fortune, he got the all clear a few weeks ago and has been ramping up the training steadily ever since.

Pre-race was a pretty good atmosphere.  Plenty of club members turned out to support Tim.  Most would be racing as normal and then cheering him in at the end.  Others were going to run with him for a while and then see how things went (some would speed up, others would slow down).  My official job, reinforced by instruction from Tim's wife, Mandy, was to make sure that Tim finished in a fit state to enjoy the rest of his day.  My unofficial job, reinforced by the knowledge that Tim is a stubborn so-and-so and deeply competitive, was to make sure that Tim finished in a state only just fit enough to enjoy his party, and just exhausted enough to know that he'd actually raced as well as his body would let him.

The man of the hour surrounded by friendly support. (courtesy of Steve Sandalls)
The race started easily enough.  We headed for the back third of the pack to make sure there were plenty of obstacles to keep us from rushing off the line.  The hundreds of runners in front of us kept things nice and tidy for the early miles.  Tim and I were joined by Sue, Caz, Katy, and Chris, which made for a nice sociable start.  I spent a lot of time looking at my Garmin to make sure we kept down to 8:30 miles or slower, and Tim spent a lot of time looking for Mandy and their son Ben, who were waiting along the route to cheer him on.

I'll be honest, I don't much like the Tewkesbury race, and would never have entered in normal circumstances.  So, I'm pretty sure I groused a bit for the first mile or two as we made our way up the non-descript main road towards the motorway.  Once we got out of town, I lightened up as we continued to play the "slow down, there's a long way to go yet" game.  Caz and Katy eased off the pace a bit, and I made an innocuous comment about the weather that inadvertently triggered a short burst of speed.

Have you ever accidentally caused a fellow runner to engage in a monologue about something really quite dull and pointless (i.e. something not related to running, food, running, beer, or running)?  Well, at around 10K we got to hear all about how Kit Marlow wrote most of Shakespeare and how the Titanic didn't sink.  Personally, Marlow and Shakespeare are rather long dead, so I'm pretty convinced that it doesn't really matter to either of them who gets the credit / blame for creating Romeo, Othello, and Bottom.  As for ship conspiracies, they happened in the water, and I'm not a big fan of water, so I'll steer clear, thank you very much.  Anyway, you get the picture.  Tim and I gently increased the speed until we could return to our own very enlightening conversation (it may have been about running, or possibly beer, who knows?) - it was the only time all morning that I didn't tell him to slow down!  We lost Chris at this point, and I wondered if perhaps she now had a new friend to chat with.

The sun continued to shine, Tim unsurprisingly started to tire, and I continued to yap inanely as we made our way to the finish line.  We sent Sue on her way to chase down a negative split and a PB.  With the benefit of a steady first half, she nailed it.  Having done very little training during his convalescence, Tim held the 8:30 pace remarkably well until 10mi, where the course's only uphill comes to play.  We eased off for the final 3 miles, with a few short walking breaks to keep things under control.  It was interesting to watch Tim manage his resources.  Under normal circumstances, he would have been willing and able to dig in and keep close to that 8:30 pace in spite of the pain and fatigue, and I would have been quite happy to push him through the barriers.  For this one race, though, the time was secondary. This race marked his return to running as a healthy man, and doing unnecessary damage just to go slightly less slowly would have lessened the achievement. So, we ran, walked, jogged, and chatted as we pushed just enough to cross the line with the right level of exhaustion.

At the end, Tim insisted I finish next to him or in front of him.  He knew full well that I would quietly drop behind him in the final yards, and let me know that wasn't going to happen. So, we made our way across the line side by side as family and friends cheered him on.  He needed a good sit down in the shade for a bit, but wasn't so tired that he couldn't worry about some of the club who were still out suffering on the course (and later at the finish), so it seems we judged the effort about right.  For my part, I'd had a good run out with a friend and managed help him achieve his worst ever half marathon time (1:55).  Maybe next year we'll manage to pace each other to that sub 1:30.  If we do, I can guarantee it still won't touch the satisfaction of yesterday's race.

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