Two years to a new half-marathon PB

I haven’t run many half-marathons. I kinda skipped over that distance and went from doing lots of short-distance races to marathons. I have only run 6 half-marathons, and not properly raced most of them. The last half that I raced was in November 2015 at the Central Coast Half (in Australia), where I came away with 1:41:41. My running has come a long way since then, so 2017 was high time to crack the 1:40-barrier.

Yesterday came that opportunity to set a new half PB at the Thames Meander Half Marathon. The event also has a marathon, I’ll admit, it did feel strange not to be participating in the full distance for once! The Thames Meander is organised by Hermes Running, and takes place three times a year in March, August and November. It is a flat course which runs along the Thames from YMCA Hawker in Kingston to Kew for the half, or Barnes for the full. What I didn’t realise is that the Kew turnaround comes at 9.3km, and you then have to run an additional 2.5km out-and-back section past the finish line to finish. That bit nearly ruined everything for me!

I really wanted to run a sub-1:40 time. There were a few external influences spurring me on to achieve this, namely that this was the only half I had signed up for in 2017, so essentially my only chance to run a PB. I was also going to head out to Bures in Suffolk straight after the race to cheer on my friends Mel, Mark and Emma as they ran the Stour Valley Path 100km race (LEGENDS!), and in order to get to them in time I had to be on the bus from the race exactly 2hours and 4mins after the race started at 10:30. If I didn’t PB, I probably wouldn’t have enough time to get my medal, collapse a little and pick up my bag without missing the bus. So it simply had to happen.

It’s interesting how these things can help you through tough points in a race. If I hadn’t had those reasons to finish quickly, my brain would have come up with any number of excuses as to why I could slow down. I was sick last week, I ran a fast session two days ago, I haven’t done tempo running longer than 10km, etc. etc. etc.. But as it was, I had to PB. That was the only thought in my head, and it really got me through the tough points in the race when I wanted to give up entirely.

Spoiler alert (if you haven’t guessed yet): I made it! I ran 1:39:57, meaning I came in three seconds under my goal time. I have never scraped in so close to a goal before in my life, but it doesn’t matter: sub-1:40 is sub-1:40 is sub-1:40 no matter how many seconds it is by!

I had a really great race for the first 15km. Just before the start of the race I ran into my friends Alice and Ben, who I hadn’t expected to be there. Ben was accompanying his brother on his first attempt at the distance, but once Alice heard my time-goals she decided to run with me (despite not having trained for it). It was lovely to have her company for the first 6-7km as we navigated our way along the trail beside the Thames and avoided running through puddles. After that point she dropped back a little, but I was feeling strong and kept pushing ahead.

My plan had been to start at 4:45/km pace for the first 5km and then speed up a little for the next 15km. Inevitably, this didn’t quite happen. I think we did manage a few 4:45s at the start, but still came through 5km in ~23:30. The next 5km was my fastest, and I crossed 10km in ~46:30. Bit fast, but of course when you’re only halfway through you think “ah, but I still feel good!”. I really should have learned by now that this always bites you in the butt at the end of the race. Clearly haven’t though! The next 5km passed in ~23:30, slightly more reasonable again. At this point I was looking at a ~1:38 finish (alas!).

At 15km though, things weren’t going so well. I had taken a gel at the one-hour mark, but it didn’t seem to be working and I was a bit hungry. At the 14km aid-station I had also succeeded in spilling most of the water in the cup I grabbed, and had only drunk a small sip of water. The sun had come out by now, which made for great scenery and wonderful spectating, but I was quite hot. I needed a moment to gather my thoughts, so stopped and walked for 10-20m. That walk-break did me good, and I pushed through to the next aid-station at the finish line at 18.6km, where I had decided to take another walk-break and ensure that I properly drank some fluids.

Between the 12km and ~19km I had some darker moments, but none as bad as what was to come. I had managed to push through those by reminding myself that I had to finish in sub-1:40, and also by focussing on swinging my arms. I’m sure I looked absolutely ridiculous as I pumped my arms back and forth, but it’s amazing how that motion then also works to get your legs pumping again. I highly recommend it if you find yourself unable to move at speed any more.

The last few kilometres was the out-and-back section which took you past the finish line. It was brutal, mostly because the turnaround point never seemed to appear. I kept checking my watch and checking my watch and it felt like each 100m was taking minutes to pass. The route was quite twist-y at this point, and around every corner I expected to see the turnaround and it was never there. I became so demoralised that my pace dropped dramatically until I was just jogging along, and possibly even walked a bit more. FINALLY though I saw the turnaround, just as some guy in orange said ‘come on, you can do it’. Ok, maybe I could.

Once again, I used the arm-pumping trick to get myself moving and with some encouraging pace-stats on my watch I started to think that maybe I could still scrape in under time after all. We turned the last corner to see the finish arch with still a minute of time left and I put on a massive sprint. I had nothing left as I crossed that line, but that didn’t matter because I had done exactly what I set out to do!

That dark voice in your head that tells you to slow down, that you can’t keep going at pace, that makes up the excuses to justify your decisions has gotten the better of me so many times, and I’m really happy that I could overcome it this time. Sure, it almost won out a few times, but I got up and fought back and that’s what matters the most. Plus: NEW PB YES!!!!

As for Alice, she ran a great race to finish less than 10 seconds after me. Ben and his brother both finished the race well, and my ex-coach Justin who was also there finished within 30 seconds of his goal (and overtook me with 4km to go!). The Thames Meander was a well organised event along a pretty course (you have the Thames on one side the whole time), and the medal is gorgeous! With three events throughout the year, it offers a great opportunity to see how your times are progressing.

I’m super pleased with my run. That time is a good indicator that I may yet be able to set a PB at Amsterdam Marathon, although I definitely have some work still to do on improving the last quarter of my races across any distance. Final icing on the cake: I came 10th female and 4th in the Senior Women (SW) category!

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