Five Hundred and Seventy Five Days in the Making

Sunday 30th September 2012

On March 6th 2011 my wife started a photo project entitled ‘Project 365.’ The idea is simple; take one photo every day for a year. In fact, she got to 365 days and decided to keep going and is now well into the second year of the project (email me if you want the password). By coincidence, this was also the day when I set a personal best for the half marathon, taking roughly 200 seconds off my previous best time. My first feeling was that of complete elation and surprise at the time I had run, but a few weeks later this gave way to a feeling that this particular PB, being so much better than my others at the time, was going to cast a big shadow over my running. Recently I put in a good spell of training and got myself into what I thought was the kind of shape that would allow me to beat this time.

The time in question was 70:57 and the race I was planning to run was the Bristol Half Marathon, a race known for having a fairly quick course and a deep field. No excuses then. I went down the day before to stay with my friends Mark and Holly, who got married the previous week. Mark was also running the race. That’s right; honeymooning in a way that only runners know how. We made our way down to the start and dropped our bags off. The conditions were cool and overcast, ideal for road running. The first 8 miles are an out-and-back along the river Avon and the remainder of the course takes you through the outskirts and centre of the city.

Predictably, about 100 people charged off ahead of me at the start, whilst I tried to ease into the race. I wore a watch, something I rarely do when racing, in order to help me keep myself in check at the start. I passed the first mile marker in 5:30 and found myself on the shoulder of the three leading ladies, all of whom I guessed were from Kenya. The next was slightly downhill and a bit quicker and I got to 3 miles in 16 minutes exactly, which is 70 minute pace. Our group consisted of me, the three Kenyan ladies and a couple of other athletes, one of whom I vaguely recognised from Birmingham. Just ahead was a group of about 8 men, but was diminishing by the minute as some of the runners started to pay for their enthusiastic early pacing. We turned back on ourselves in the 5th mile and passed 6 miles in 32 minutes. Shortly after, the women dropped off the back of our group and the Birmingham athlete and I found ourselves together gradually working our way through the field. Though my ‘A’ goal was to run a PB, I had a vague hope that I could run under 70 minutes, or 5:20 per mile in runner speak. We got to 9 miles bang on pace but I was also aware that my calves were really starting to tie up. “Just focus on the people in front and keep the cadence up,” I told myself.  We got to 10 miles in 53:30.

The next part of the course is rather less appealing than the preceding 10 miles. The combination of cobbled streets, narrow winding roads and wind exposure as a result of the field thinning out meant I really needed to grit my teeth and work much harder. By 11 miles the pace had slipped and sub 70 started to look pretty unrealistic. I was also starting to get dropped by the athlete I had run most of the race with, and for the first time in the race was completely on my own. At 12 miles I turned a corner and got blasted by a gust of wind, which is the kind of thing that would normally make me give up and jog to the finish. I knew that I was still on for a PB so I kept pushing. Shortly after I passed a radio van which was blasting music out and had on board one of those very irritating, overfriendly you-can-do-it-mate presenter types who would normally annoy the hell out of me. He did make me chuckle though by praising me for both my headband and my beard. Hardly textbook motivational speaking but it seemed to do the trick. I pushed on once more until I was on the road towards the finish. I checked my watch as I passed the 400 to go sign and though it was about to tick from the 60s to the 70s I knew the PB was still on.

I stopped my watch at 70:50, which was given as 70:47 in the official results. So I got what I came for 575 days later, a personal best, and was happy that my longest standing one had now been broken. However, I couldn’t help but feel dismayed at the fact that I had worked so hard just to switch a 5 for a 4, rather than smashing it to pieces like I did when I set my previous best. At least it’s progress.

Mark set a PB too. What better way to celebrate his first week of marriage!

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