“Does it ever get any easier?” I pondered and then put to the ultimate running coach Tom Craggs. His answer was something I only wanted to half hear. While your body gets used to training at a harder rate, you’ll always want to push yourself that little bit more. You become more experienced so know what to do but, in short, the answer to this question is a resounding no.
There you go people who say to me after all those marathons that a half marathon is a walk in the park. It’s not because I don’t just want to run it, I want to race it and beat my PB.
And there’s always a race that helps you remember this? The adidas Silverstone Half marathon 2014 was this year’s eye-opening experience and a reminder that racing is a whole different ball game when you’re a PB chaser.
As part of my marathon training, I have been upping the mileage, bouncing around London in my adidas boost (yeah, it’s a namedrop but it’s also true) on either a Saturday or Sunday to get in my long runs. Being off the source since January has definitely helped my efforts alongside the training sessions with Tom Craggs and the Mornington Chasers.
I’ve also participated in X Country, when I can, to build up my strength and balance. But if you were to ask me whether I’ve run any longish races in a while, I’d have to say no. In fact, my last long race was the Royal Parks Ultra back in October.
Don’t get me wrong, I am training hard at the weekends but there’s nothing like a long race and the mentality that goes with it to get your head straight and focused. This year’s adidas Silverstone Half was exactly that – a time to really test my pace over a longer distance in preparation for the 26.2 miles in April.
The Silverstone Half is not an unfamiliar race. Having competed there twice before in 2009 and 2010, I know that the billing of it being a “flat course” is a bit of a white lie. In the right conditions, e.g. sunshine, little or no wind and a fine spring day, it can be called a speedy course. When faced with the other end of the weather spectrum, this race on tarmac is tough to say the least.
Unfortunately, the sun didn’t shine on race day and the wind was fierce making the adidas Silverstone Half marathon 2014 a tougher than expected cookie to crack.
The course itself is pretty much as you expect – tarmac, jam-packed with people for the first four miles at least and meandering like a river. If you start in the middle, as I happened to, you’ll find that you will spend the first few miles weaving in and out of people, apologising as you squeeze past and generally trying to find a natural and comfortable pace.
It’s not all bad though, this focus to get ahead motivates you to push out the fast miles at the end and if you’re lucky you may pass someone that you know. In my case, this was the gorgeous Charlie of therunnerbeans. I heard a “Becs!” from Charlie as I went past. It’s always good to recognise a friendly face among the crowd.
Talking of the crowd, the atmosphere at adidas Silverstone Half was pretty serious. Then again, it was a cold day, very windy and you know people are there to do the mileage for the big one. I think this is fair enough as admittedly I’m one of them.
By the halfway point, you’ve pretty much found your crowd and it’s just a countdown until the final mile. Or so I thought. As the story goes, there’s always one leg of the race which you remembers. Enter mile 10 to 11 of adidas Silverstone Half marathon otherwise known as the mental mile.
Why the mental mile?
Up until this point, I was pretty happy doing my thing, keeping up with a group of fast men, showing off my adidas marathon kit in its full glory (I don’t care if I’m flashing my flesh, vest and shorts is the only way to go for me when competing in longer races). Then I came across the block; that mental part of the race when it becomes tough. The exposure of this part of the course, coupled with tarmac and the force of the cross-winds blew me completely off my stride. No matter how hard I pushed, I could feel my legs getting heavier. It was a wake-up WTF call? I was only (I say this as a long distance runner) 10 miles in. How to get over this monstrous mile?
Focus. Focus. Focus and relax. I switched up the volume on my iPod and mentally switched into toughness mode. No way was I going to be defeated by some poxy puffs of wind. It could blow me over for all I cared but I was going to finish this race in a decent time. Hell, I shut my eyes for a second, tried a few yogi breaths (seriously, I did) and carried on. And you know what? From that moment, the race became easier.
Thank god, the mental mile was over and I was back on relatively less windy turf.
Heading towards the finish line, I felt reasonably ok. My legs weren’t aching, I was a bit tired and couldn’t wait to have a sip of water. I crossed the line in just over 1:38, collected my medal and a goody bag full of “healthy” treats such as bacon-flavoured peanuts and chocolate biscuits and headed to find one of the Food & Lycra girls (they are top lasses), who I’d joined on the “Fun Runday bus” with adidas.
The aftermath of my windy tale
While racing doesn’t get any easier, your body does however adapts to the training and recovers more quickly. I can say I’m in a lot better shape right now. The day after this year’s Silverstone Half, I cycled to work, went for a swim and a short 5K in the evening. No sweat. This is a far cry from my first half marathon when the day after my poor boyfriend had to give me a piggy back to the tube because I couldn’t walk down stairs. Running simply enters into a different league and not to get all philosophical about it but it really is the challenge that pushes me on. It mirrors life. Some people are happy treading the same ground, which is fine. Others always want to search out new adventures and are motivated by challenges. I fall into the later camp.
And I love running, I’m competitive and I always want to see what time I’ve done and push myself to the realms of beyond. For the record, I did the adidas Silverstone Half Marathon in 1:35:52 and came 29th woman overall.
Could I have done better? Of course I think so but then again I’m always going to think that.
A huge thanks to the adidas team and the Food & Lycra girls who made the day so enjoyable, hope to see you guys soon.