Monday 8 September 2014

2014 Kenilworth Half Marathon: Sub-1:30 at Last!

I've heard about races where runners go in with a plan, do it, and come away happy.  I've seen proper athletes interviewed on TV talking about how they executed their plan (always seems to be sprinters, but there you go).  Me, I do the normal endurance runner thing of go into a race with a plan, watch it fall to pieces, drop back to plan B, etc.  Races longer than a mile seem, for me, to be all about revising the plan to manage some unexpected difficulty.  That's part of the fun of running long, isn't it?  For this year's Kenilworth 1/2, I had a plan, painstakingly worked out over several weeks, with margin built in to make sure I finally broke the 1:30 barrier that I've been intermittently attacking for the past 6 years.  As you can tell from the title, I got there.  Finally.

The plan was pretty simple:  aim for a 6:45 pace from the start.  The route, though, is pretty lumpy, so it's definitely much easier said than done.

There are two ways of taking on a lumpy course.  Option 1: keep the pace steady, so you're pushing hard up the hills and easing off on the way down.  Option 2: keep the effort steady, based on your flat route pace, and expect the slower uphill segments to be balanced by the faster downhill segments.  Based on my race in the Hilly Hundred this year, where I ran mostly on feel, I decided to stick more to Option 2.  So, I practiced on a short loop starting outside my front door where I could judge how much time/distance I would lose on the ups and whether I would be able to get it back on the downs.  Training said it was possible (in fact, I actually beat my 10K PB in one practice session).

After spending the race briefing in the front row of the pack (I'd left space for 60 runners to line up in front of me and they all waited until the last moment to move to the start line), I set off on pace.  On each uphill, I let the gap between me and my virtual pacer grow, and wound him back in on the flats and descents.  The pattern continued as expected, finishing the first 3 miles on pace.  Contrary to my memory of the course, the next 4 miles included more up than down, so I watched the gap to my pacer approach 100m, and had to hold my nerve and avoid chasing, having faith that I could pull the time back over the return the start.  Much to my delight and relief, it worked out and I hit 10 miles as planned, just ahead of my computerized rival.

I knew, at that stage, that I would get my sub-1:30, and that I might just have enough in the tank to hold on to my plan-A pace.  As one would expect, the final 5K was quite hard.  The final hills between 10 and 12.5 ate a bit into my time, but I had a good downhill to take me into the final half mile, and finished with a nice acceleration to the finish line.  I tried to sprint, but there wasn't much sprint left, and finished dead on 6:45 pace - 1:28:26.  I don't know if I'll ever execute another race plan so accurately.  In fact, I'd be shocked if it ever happens again.  That said, sometimes plans work because they accurately reflect training rather than just being a hopeful plucking of numbers from thin air.  Now, if I can just manage that at Rocky Raccoon 2015...

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