Keen devotees of Mckep may notice that my blogs have been something of a rarity recently. Owing largely to the fact that I only write up a race when it goes well, there has been something of a lay off whilst I returned to the fortress of solitude like Clarke Kent to consult Marlon Brando’s ghost about how to get faster.
However after a brief hike to Alaska (or wherever) it turned out that super powers were not available at this time, and that the advice was to go running more, and to start talking in third person…
Although Marathons had been the recent focus of attention, the goal of a sub 70 half marathon is also one that has occupied CJs monkey mind since running 1:10:20 in Reading 2015, a run which (following much negotiation) allowed him into the MCKEP fold. Subsequent attempts to better that time had led to the following failures, not getting particularly near to the goal despite feeling in good shape for these attempts:
GNR 2015 – 1:12:13
Peterborough 2015 – 1:11:45
Reading 2016 – 1:13:35
Anyway back at the fortress of solitude, the question from Jor-El was how much running had CJ actually done at goal pace in preparation for these races. The answer… ‘Not a fat lot’. A quick review of Strava showed that on numerous occasions even after one mile at 5:20 pace CJ was often ready to chuck it in and inevitably slowed down to MP in tempo runs, and in fact the 2015 spring was the last time that any meaningful runs at HMP took place.
Whilst running at MP had started to become automatic, running at HMP was proving a pain in the arse (and everywhere else), especially with traffic lights, dog walkers and the fatigue that comes from 100+ miles a week. Having highlighted in a smug post sub 2:30 marathon blog in 2015 that “running at goal pace is the most important thing” (see point 8 in “The Quest for sub 2:30“), he had then completely ignored this advice and hoped that a sub 1:10 half would materialise from willpower alone.
So, with the 2016 Berlin Marathon ticked off (it did happen – despite the lack of a report) it was time to plan for a proper, more structured assault on 1:10. This meant relegating London 2017 to a second priority with the hope that a good spring half would still give a chance of a decent London anyway. Having discovered that there were fewer dog walkers and cars on the running track, runs of increasing length (‘oi oi’ says Hywel) at goal pace were added every couple of weeks, starting with 3 miles and adding a mile or so each time.
The first of these was genuinely miserable, and only a near sprint in the last lap brought the session in on schedule. By the time the sessions reached 10k things were starting to click a bit more, and kudos should go at this point to Coritanian super-vet Gordie Lee for pacing these on a 3 laps on 1 lap off basis. By January these mind-blowingly dull sessions had reached 30 laps at 1:19 each, at which point a number of people (Tony who was trying to count the laps) suggested that attempting to run on the road again might be a good plan. After all, the race would actually be run on the road. Also, one leg was starting to get longer than the other.
Much to CJ’s surprise a 30 min tempo on the road then came in at pace, and belief began to creep in, like the hope that eventually kills you. This was backed up with a highly recommended session from Ludo’s online coach (and 2:10 marathoner) Ryan Vail of 4x2k (>hmp), 5 miles easy, 4x2k (>hmp). The theory was that if all those reps came in ahead of goal pace then the target time would be achievable.
Brighton had been targeted as a good flat course, and with storm Doris just clearing off in time for race day things didn’t look too bad. Stu Hawkes of Tipton was also in on the sub 70 bid, and having studied the wind direction rigorously, the joint plan was to stay with an appropriate 5:20 paced group (if there was one available) until 10 miles and then go all out for the last three (downwind) miles.
With 4 time winner Paul Martelletti and multiple 2nd placed bridesmaid Kevin Riojas both injured the race was an open contest. After the obligatory lone breakaway from some dude in the first mile, a group of 7 formed, running with the wind inside 5:20 pace to the first turnaround at 4 miles, whereupon breakaway man was reeled in and unceremoniously dropped.
The following 6 mile straight stretch was, whilst blustery, not a full on headwind, and the closely knit group of 7 continued making good pace with 5 miles passed in just over 26 minutes. A slight downhill to 7 miles meant that the pace stayed strong and somewhere around 30 seconds inside goal pace.
With a tougher wind now noticeable CJ found himself promoted from third wheel to driving the group from this point, conscious of the fact that, whilst this was increasing energy expenditure, it was also maintaining the pace of the group. It would, after all, be a long drive back up the motorway without a PB.
After 9 miles the second turn loomed, and still feeling reasonable, Jordan began to prepare what was left in the tank for a 3 mile smack down. As the tailwind took effect Hawkes moved through from the back of the group to take the reins and proceeded to lay down a 5:05 mile, which despite a sturdy 5:10 from CJ, snapped the elastic well and truly. The group was now decimated, and between 11-12 miles, breathing out of every available orifice to maintain 5:15 pace, Jordan capitulated and was passed by another three of the group, including eventual winner Jonathon Tipper of Kent.
Despite various irritating internal voices (or was it Macca?) telling him that he was done for in the last mile CJ decided he had run too far to give up at this point, and checking his watch more or less every other stride realised the goal was still on. The finish line, in view for the last half a mile or so, arrived safely in a time of 1:09:12 and 5th place, with a manic last 5k of 16:05. Kudos to also Hawkes for his second place and an excellent sub 69.
Meanwhile, back in first person…
Although this run represents the fall of a big barrier for me, training, races and words from people’s mouths all suggested that I could run a minute or so quicker than I did 2 years ago in Reading – it was nice to be able to hold lactate at bay until the last mile. The Hague Half now looms on March 12th, and at the very least I hope to prove this wasn’t a one off. For anyone chasing a PB the Brighton course is a good option as it is pretty well flat and features just two turns and almost 12 miles of straight line running. Just make sure you get in a group and don’t be the pace mule if you want to be on the podium!
Anyway, in conclusion here is my carefully considered advice for running a sub 70 half marathon –
1.) Train at race pace every week
2.) Each week, train at the pace you intend to race
3.) Regularly include race paced intervals in your training
4.) Don’t be shit, unless you’re being shit at race pace
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