The Leeds Half Marathon was the first organised running race I ever entered. My wife Helen and I both did it back in 2008 and to be honest we didn’t really know what we were doing. We weren’t part of a running club at the time so we didn’t have access to any advice so as far as training was concerned we did what we thought; we basically “winged it”. Nearly 10 years later we are still at it and what an incredible journey running has taken us on.
I can’t imagine what life would have been like if we hadn’t taken up this incredible sport. It is so much part of us now and like a drug it always seems to demand more. Unlike a drug, the lifestyle and health benefits are incalculable; it makes you feel really good when your GP tells you she can’t recommend any improvements to the way you live your life.
Back to the half marathon. This is quite a misleading description for a race. It gives the impression of something “half baked” or “half as good” something that takes half the effort maybe. I don’t want to take away from what is required of a full marathon, which is to be fair, another level, but a Half Marathon is something to be taken seriously. To put it in plain English: 13.1 miles, (and don’t forget the .1) is a bloody long way to run!
There is an expression among runners that “the first mile is not to be trusted” meaning that when you start off and feel fresh, you can run at a really fast pace and it doesn’t feel like you are expending much effort. You feel like you could carry on at that pace indefinitely and unless you have your wits about you, you can convince yourself that you can. Today, I managed to keep up with the 1 hour 50 minute pacer quite effortlessly until about mile 2 when it was obvious that while I might think i’m fit, I wasn’t that fit.
The Leeds Half presents you with a really nasty surprise after around 3 miles, where you have to tackle the “Killer Hill from Hell” that seems never to end. After that you get rewarded by a fantastically long drawn-out downhill stretch which in some measure makes up for this. Regardless of this, today I couldn’t make up all the ground I lost on the uphill but I was still able to keep going at a respectable pace.
When you are used to running races like half marathons, you can’t help your brain becoming a pace computer. As you approach the closing stages of the race and pass the distance markers you start working out how fast you need to run in order to meet your goal and you make a mental calculation as to whether its still achievable or not. The danger is that if you decide not, you can effectively give up and just plod through until the finish. Today at about three miles to go, I decided that getting under 1 hour 55 minutes was still on and it was this that kept me going. By then the going was tough, the heat of the day played its part and my legs were feeling the pace but this goal kept me focussed.
The end of the Leeds Half is deceptive to the uninitiated, you see the start gantry ahead and if you don’t know, you might assume its also the finish. What you then realise is that it isn’t and you have to turn left into a 200m finishing straight to a finish line that seems an infinite distance away. I looked at my watch when I turned into the finish and I saw I had a minute left to achieve my sub 1:55. Of course I knew I could do this but this didn’t stop that inner tension so I focussed and “sped” down to the finish line. Final time 1:54:24.
So, it would have been nice to get sub 1:50 but I had told myself that wasn’t going to be real today so I am really happy with what I did. Leading up to the Marathon in October I am in a pretty good place and, I will alway remember never to underestimate a half marathon.
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6 (NIV)