The latest venture in my masterplan to run twelve races in twelve months was the Leeds Half Marathon. This was the first half marathon I have run in over twenty years, the last one (actually three of them) being run back when I was a teenager in Sixth Form College. So that was the challenge – 13.1 miles of hell around a circular course starting and finishing in Leeds City Center, with the first 6 or so miles containing several uphill sections of varying length and difficulty (aka steepness!) The Jane Tomlinson charity, Runforall, took over the organization of the event this year, and it was well subscribed with over 6000 competitors taking part.
Once again, I stayed overnight with my running buddy, who lives in Leeds, and pondered tactics. The expectation was for people to take off really fast at the beginning. They always do, and I end up overtaking them later on. And this time was no different, although we were left in the starting pens for ages in the cold wind, so I suspect many got off to a flying start both to warm up, and also to get as far forward as possible early on, so they could stop at the side and empty their bladders – such was the length of time we were kept waiting, and people couldn’t duck out and use the provided toilets! Of course, that’s not a criticism of the organization; it’s a tough task to get 6000 people lined up in the right place, I guess.
My tactics were mainly to take things nice and steady, and make sure I got to the finish line. So my friend and I set out and it was quite amusing to see just how many people were either ‘done’ before we’d got to the 1-mile marker, or they were lined up behind bushes answering the calls of nature. It was also really nice to see so many spectators out lining the streets to shout support to us runners. Large sections of the course were outside the city center however, so support was thin on the ground or non-existant there. Thankfully, after the rather undulating first 6 miles, the quiet sections of the race were downhill or flat.
I felt great after the pesky hills were behind me, and found a great rhythm between miles 7-10. I had set myself a pace of ten minutes per mile, aiming to complete the course in about 2 hours 10 minutes. It seemed I might even be able to better that as I clocked up some fast miles (sub-9 minutes) on the flat parts, but at around the 10-mile mark, I began to lose steam. My legs were starting to stiffen up in the hip flexors and I just felt energy-sapped and heavy-legged. Maybe I was running at a pace that was a little too fast, or perhaps those hills at the beginning were starting to take their toll. In any case, I hadn’t really done any proper hill training, and I had only done three 20-km long runs (a half marathon being over 21 km).
So those last three miles were a real killer. Trying to find the energy to lift my legs was a battle I felt I was losing, and I combined running and walking, desperate to get just to the next water station on the long trek down Kirkstall Road back to the city. Finally I took heart when I got to the 12-mile marker, and convinced myself to get those legs running for the entire last mile. But of course, there was that final uphill bit before the final drag; I had a quick walk break, poured the last of my water over my head, and picked up the pace again.
The sound of the crowds was extremely welcome once I was in the final streets of the city center, and I veered to side to exchange a few high-fives with spectators holding their hands out. And then one final humiliation; the crowds cheering for Mickey Mouse. Great – just great! Now I was going to get beaten by Mickey Mouse and I couldn’t muster up a last charge from my stiff and screaming legs. Oh well, kudos to a guy who can run 13.1 miles in a hot Disney character suit wearing a giant Mickey Mouse head. I barely made it to the finish line, and I was dressed for running.
Those last three miles hurt quite a lot, and my pace dropped. I had made it! And my time was not dented massively. I didn’t get my target 2:10:00. Instead I traipsed home in a fairly pedestrian 2:11:16 which I was fairly pleased with for a first go. I reckon with a bit more training and a lot more weight loss, I could get the sub-2 hour. Just not this time. Here’s an official video clip from the Runforall Events Team. I think a lot of people had a great time on the day. I’m not on the video, but I certainly had fun and a nice warm sense of achievement afterwards.
This will probably end up being an annual event for me, as I enjoyed it so much – especially the downhill bit! The only really disconcerting thing about it is that they organize a corporate relay event at the same time. I’m not sure how many relay legs there are, but every now and then, usually while I was struggling badly, there’s a sudden burst of scores of runners overtaking. They all seemed so fresh-legged and fit, and then of course, I remembered that’s precisely because they were! I’d just clocked up ten miles and they had just managed their first ten yards. Nevertheless, I still found it kind of discouraging, as there’s always a temptation to pick somebody, and use them as a pacer – and I couldn’t. They were too fast by those latter stages of the run.
But anyway, here’s my first proper medal for running an organized event. I’m proud of it, and I’ll have to get training for next year and see if I can force my carcass over the finish line in under 2 hours next time.
I’ll probably end up posting here which training plan I use for next year’s half marathon training, so if any of you eager folks want to join in with a sub-2 hour group in one of your local half marathons, we can all cheer each other on!
In the meantime though, if you are just getting started in running, try out some 5K training and maybe find a parkrun near you to get running with other people – there’s something so great about running with a whole bunch of other like-minded people, I find it addictive.