Monday, 22 February 2016

RACE RUNDOWN: Wokingham Half Marathon 2016

It seems like it was only five minutes ago that I started my Hal Higdon half marathon training plan. After a failed attempt two years ago at Reading to secure a sub 1.45, I decided to follow a plan for Wokingham Half Marathon that I entered for 2016. 

I won't go into too much detail on my training as this post is more about the race itself but you can see my progress in previous posts documenting this journey. However, to summarise, I took the method to follow a plan which focussed around me running a 7.55 mile pace come race day. It consisted of paced and tempo runs, speed work and long weekend jogs. I also incorporated a swim each week to bring in an element of cross training - something I highly suggest for anyone following a half marathon plan. 

I have really enjoyed the last 12 weeks and come race day, I was feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Would I break the dreaded 1.45 barrier - something that haunts me. Or would I creep in just over again? The latter terrified me.  

Wokingham Half Marathon has been running for 30 years and has become a very popular race for club runners and those looking for a PB. Described as 'fast and generally flat', I was instantly attracted to this course, especially as many fellow runners at my club had secured their best times here. 

On race day, the skies were grey but the temperature was mild. Despite it being dry (yay to no rain!) the winds were incredibly strong, which concerned me. Parking in the town centre, we had a 10 minute walk to the start line, which was in Cantly Park (it may be quicker but we were fighting gale force winds!). The main base is rather small and basic, but has all the amenities you need (changing tent, kit drop off and several port-a-loos). The start line itself is very long and narrow, with pen markers for you to line up beside. Sadly no pacers are at this race, which can be a concern for some, so it was super important we line up in our correct time slots. I popped myself in the 1.45 pen, which was very far down the track. When the gun went off, it took me three minutes to cross the start line.
Starting off, we set headed down country roads with the first mile and a half feeling slightly downhill. I resisted the urge to set off too quick (my biggest fail at Reading 2014). It was quite busy in the first couple of miles and I did find myself weaving in and out of a lot of people who, I presume, did not place themselves in the correct pen at the start. This peeved me a bit but by 5K, it had petered out. I was relieved to feel no winds what so ever and the first 10K whizzed past. Running down mainly country roads, we passed through small villages where locals came out to cheer. Most of the course seemed flat, with a few short uphills to cross a couple of motorway bridges. I found myself running 7.35s and whilst I was concerned this was way too quick, it felt really comfortable. The water stops are at 3.5, 5.5, 7.5 and 9 mile markers. These are simply water in plastic cups, which I do struggle to drink whilst running so I did find myself stopping to have a quick gulp. I also took an energy gel between miles seven and eight. 

So, as I say, by 10K I was feeling fresh and strong. However, this suddenly changed as we turned back on ourselves to make our way back up to Cantly Park. It seemed that we had ran the first half with the wind behind us which only meant one thing - facing it head on in the second half. My god, was it strong! It also seemed to get worse the closer we got to the finish. Miles 7-10, it was bearable and I managed to run 7.50s but the last 5K was hell on earth. The winds were houling and at times, I felt myself swaying and trying to not topple over. To add to this, the course was starting to become a climb uphill, crossing back over the motorway bridges and taking some long, subtle uphills back up the roads. I dropped down to 8.15s and was absolutely shattered. Not only were my legs heavy as lead, I felt like I was running through treacle fighting the gales. Everyone around me was the same but we all trooped on. By the time you reach the 13 mile marker, you turn a sharp bend and the finish is in sight.  With all my might, I sprinted (well attempted to) to cross the finish in 1.42.40. 
Overwhelmed with joy at my time mixed with stress from the last 5K of windy torture, I felt delirious crossing that line. There was a good bunch of crowds around, which including my parents who were waiting on the sidelines for celebratory hugs. After dropping my chip in the buckets provided, I collected my medal and skipped round to the side where the crowds were standing to cheer in my friend that was also running. Once she had crossed the line, we walked back to the base camp to have a quick change and collect our bags. We also treated ourselves to the tech t-shirts on sale that had all competitors names printed on (short sleeved: £10, long sleeved £15). I opted for bright orange. 
To summarise, Wokingham Half Marathon is a lovely race that has the perfect balance of popularity yet intimacy. I loved that it was much smaller than the big wigs in half marathon events (e.g. Reading, Bath, Bristol etc..) yet it had a brilliant turnout of dedicated runners. There were around 3,500 runners, with most of them being club runners. Despite this though, there were a mixture of abilities making it a great choice for anyone. The course itself is very open, with the right amount of turns to keep you interested. After Reading and the dreaded dual carriageway at mile 11, it was nice to have a course that gave you lots to look at. The only downside for my race was of course the crazy winds but this cannot be helped. Although I do wonder if I could of got a faster time if these had not be so disruptive...

If there was anything for race organisers to improve on it would be to maybe introduce pacers, mainly due to the fact that runners of all abilities were mixed together, which meant chaos for fast runners caught up with the slower ones. However, this is only a minor criticism. Overall, I would highly recommend Wokingham Half Marathon. Priced at a reasonable £24 (£22 for affiliated runners), it offers a great PB course for anyone looking to secure a shiny new time. 

To read more on this event, you can visit the website here


Course: 4/5
Scenery: 5/5
Facilities: 3/5
Water Stations: 3/5
Medal & T-Shirt: 4/5

My time: 1.42.40 (February 2016)


Lipstick Runner.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

TRAINING UPDATE: Week 10 of half marathon training

I can't believe I am in the last days of my training. Wokingham is now only two weeks away and I have been in the final stages of race prep before I begin to wind down and taper. 

Week nine was an interesting one. I had ended week eight with a 10 mile training run. I luckily had my best friend join me and we tend to chat ALOT when we run together so the mile pace for this was a very casual 8.50. The following day, I didn't ache exactly but I did decide to give my body a rest from cardio and instead I did a small weights workout. I am now successfully using my 5KGs at least once a week which is huge progress given that I was struggling to lift them only weeks ago. 
(10 miles with my bestie!)

By Tuesday, I was starting to feel the familiar feeling of training fatigue. I always get this towards the end and I was also experiencing a very busy period in my job which doesn't help. Cycling home that evening, I couldn't be arsed to go out for my paced run and when I got in, I decided to skip it. However, as I started to get changed out of my cycling kit, guilt flooded over me and I fought the urge to slob on the sofa and told myself to get into my running kit and get out the front door. 

It was hard but I eventually was outside, Garmin set and starting off on a four mile paced run (it was meant to be five but sod it!). Despite feeling absolutely shattered, I decided to take a different route to  my normal one to change things up. This one turned out to be bloody hilly! My god it was so hard. Up and down, up and down. It was endless! Time managed to pass quickly though and I was super chuffed to see that I had finished with an average mile pace of 7.38 (faster than it should be!). I was ecstatic and so glad I had plucked up the courage to head out. 

Come the next day and elation had quickly turned to pain. I woke up with the most painful shins. Even to lightly touch them made me wince - it was horrid. Every step I took was agony and I found more comfort on my bike than actually putting my feet on the ground! By Thursday, it was even worse (it always is the second day isn't it?). I was worried I had come down with the dreaded shin splints but after much research, I think I had a bad case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Still though, it was awful and I decided to skip training for three whole days. 

By Sunday, I was down to run 13 miles. Ugh the dreaded long run of my training plan. Luckily, my shins were feeling OK by this point but the weather outside was greatly putting me off. It was chucking it down with rain and I could see trees bending over backwards from the strong winds. Seeing my husband snuggled down in the duvet, I begrudgingly got out of bed and changed into my kit. I opted to wear my new Mizuno Breathe Thermo Wind Running Top (shop here). I got this for Christmas from the hubby and it is a beautiful piece of kit. It works to keep you dry and warm during the winter months as the yarns captures escaping heat. I was a little hesitant of its thickness and that I would overheat but it turned out to be an absolute lifesaver! The rain was awful and it kept me dry up until 7-8 miles before I started to feel slight dampness on my skin. I think that is good going though!

(wearing Mizuno Breathe Thermo Wind Running Top)

Going back to the actual run, I found myself going at quite a good pace. I was ranging between 8.10 - 8.40 mile pace and it felt comfortable and controlled. I ran all over North London and then ventured down to Angel and St Pauls, followed by running up the Southbank and over to Buckingham Palace. Doing 13 miles on my own was a bit lonely but I kept myself busy taking in some of London's wonderful sights. 

(Sunday morning practise for the Queen's guards)

By the final mile, I dug deep to try and do it at target half marathon pace (which I did) and found I finished the whole run in just over 1.48! To say I was chuffed is an understatement. I was surprised at this time as I did try to go at a pace that was casual and not overly strenuous. I'm pleased that this turned out to be faster than I expected. 

Coming into week 10, I didn't feel too tired from my long run. Again, I made Monday a weights day and headed out for a paced run on Tuesday. This did come out a lot slower than all my previous ones (and I mean ALOT - my average mile pace was 8.58) but I do think my legs were a bit heavy from the 13 miles two days previous. Due to social commitments, I skipped sessions on Wednesday and Thursday but switched them to Friday and Saturday. First up was my weekly swim session (which went well) and then early Saturday morning I headed out for a speed session.

I opted to carry out the pyramid session my club had done at training on the Thursday I missed. It involved started long and slow, then getting shorter and faster and going all the way back up to the top again:

1200m (half marathon pace)
800m (10K pace)
400m (5K pace)
200m (sprint!)
400m (5K pace)
800m (10K pace)
1200m (half marathon pace)

(60 seconds rest between each set)

I love doing these as at the time they feel bloody tough but you know you are pushing your body hard. If you decide to do these sessions, make sure you follow the correct pace. Try your best to go fast on the shorter distances but remember to reserve energy for when you are back up to 1200m. That last set burns! It totals just over 5K and I was happy with my average pace and mile splits:
The next day (today) it was my weekly long run. Now I was actually supposed to be doing the Regent's Park 10K race today but I felt like I needed to get another long run in for practise. So, I headed out on this gloriously sunny day to take on 10 miles. I managed to keep similar pace to last weeks 13 miles and again felt steady and controlled. Opted to do the last two miles at target half marathon pace and ended up doing them much fast than anticipated! Wahoo! The weather was so beautiful today too so London's sights were in their true glory. 

(Left: St Pauls, Right: Buckingham Palace)

So this brings me to the end of week 10! Looking back on my whole plan, I do feel pleased with where I am. Yes, I have missed a couple of sessions and maybe tweaked a few too many paced runs but overall, it isn't too shabby. Do I think I can secure that all important sub 1.45? At this time, I honestly don't know. Whilst I feel happy I can do the distance, I am a little fearful I will run out of steam at mile 9/10 and end up wilting away in the final stage. But, this could be mind over matter and I will need to ensure on race day my head in screwed on properly and ready to take on the challenge and reach my goals. 

Lipstick Runner.