I wasn’t meant to be doing a half marathon this year. After last year’s London marathon, I swore off distance running for a while to focus on bringing down my 10k time and somehow discovered a love for speed. In the intervening months I ran 2 10k races and managed to PB at them both bringing my current 10k time down firstly to 51:46 (Liverpool – July) then to 50:55 (Rockingham – November, thanks to super pacer SPFC_2014).
Somehow in the meantime I had decided to enter the Mablethorpe half marathon in October. Seduced by my improving speed I reckoned I could finally get under the 2 hour mark for a half marathon so although I had swore off distance running, off I went, and came in at 1:55:26. So the competitive person in me immediately decided I could go under 1:50. However! There were no plans for another half in 2016, until Fitness Rewards ran a competition for places to the Liverpool and Bath half marathons. I’m a very competitive person, and the competition was all about earning my weekly activity points as part of my life insurance policy and tweeting evidence to them in the #RacetoGold so I was thrilled when I won, except it meant I had to run another half marathon.
In the meantime, at the end of October, I had started a runstreak with my husband so although I didn’t follow a specific half marathon training plan, I did a few long runs and was building strength and endurance through running every day so I decided to go for it and aim for under 1 hour 50 minutes.
The day arrived and the competition place included hospitality from Vitality, so I wasn’t even standing nervously near the start line, I was in a VIP area with Dan my husband, who had also won a place, thinking about my race strategy – which was essentially very simple. Find the 1:50 pacer and hang on for dear life! A strategy which may or may not have worked, but became irrelevant because I made the start line with one minute to spare by leaping over the fence into the pen, startling two ladies, just before the airhorn went off. Luckily we had done a mile warm up 20 minutes previously so we could practice the finish – it was cobbly!!
So we were off. I had no pacer to gauge my speed so instead I kept a close eye on my watch (I’m currently testing the Epson Runsense SF-810) to ensure I was running at 8:19 minutes per mile. The first mile or so of a long race is always a bit frantic as runners settle into their comfortable paces, and this was no different with runners zig zagging in and out, trying to find their own space to run in, particularly around the traffic islands. There were 6500 of us at Liverpool so not a massive race but still a fairly crowded start.
The first mile included a short hill up to Upper Parliament Street which slowed my pace a little but I still did the first mile in 8.26 so was pleased to see I wasn’t far off pace. I tend to take a few miles to warm up properly, so concentrated on my cadence as I usually do to make sure my pace didn’t drop too much and I had the view of the magnificent Anglican cathedral to enjoy. The hill had taken a bit out of my legs but by mile 3 I was back to a comfortably hard 8:17 average.
At the 3.5 mile point we began our circuit of the beautifully green Sefton Park. I had run my July 10k PB here so was looking forward to coming back and running here again, as it’s a beautiful space. Th route took us around the edge, through the middle, and then back around the other side and it’s quietly undulating so you don’t really notice an incline, it just feels more of an effort to maintain your pace. I knew I was slightly off my 1:50 goal pace and would have to work hard the last few miles but I knew they were flat. However, I also had the niggling beginnings of blisters on my big toes which I was trying my hardest to ignore.
Mile 8 was my quickest mile at 8:14 and looking at the elevation graph later it’s clear to see why – a lovely downhill through Otterspool park, another beautiful green valley through the city which spits you out in dramatic fashion on the Mersey. What a view greeted us as we zigzagged out of the little green oasis to suddenly see the sun glinting off the river and turn into the Promenade for the last 4 miles.
By this point in the race I was flagging as I had forgotten to pack any gels. Normally at the 8 mile point in a half marathon I would have taken a gel to give me a boost for the final few miles. I didn’t know how much of this is placebo or whether they actually help me, but I gradually started to slow down. A combination of the self doubt demons, the heat (I was so uncomfortably sweaty I was tempted to dive into the Mersey to cool off – not recommended!) and my blisters which were verging on the painful edge of uncomfortable.
My last three miles were my slowest of the race, at 8:34, 8:36 and 9.05! However I think this is because as I passed through the 10 mile mark at 1:24, I told myself I could still PB even if I ran a 30 minute 5k which I knew I could easily do. So I gave myself permission to give up on the 1:50 goal for today, and just focus on a PB. I even stopped briefly for a little drink at the last water station.
The last mile always feels so far, and I didn’t particularly appreciate the cobbles underfoot on the waterfront, or having to dodge bollards (one bloke just behind me ran right into one – ouch!) and watch out for lots of kerbs and speed bumps – there were a lot! However, I could now see the Albert Dock and knew I was home, so a quick burst of speed and I round the corner at the museum of Liverpool. The crowd was amazing there! I had no idea what time I had run by that point, but just concentrated on picking up my legs and rounding the last corner. What a surprise when I saw Dan waiting there for me, just before the finish line. He grabbed my hand, and we did a strong finish together, smiling for the camera! I was done!!!!
At the finish I saw Erica, who I hadn’t seen since last March at the UKRunChat Anglesey weekend. So we had a lovely catch up while we collected our medals, a lucozade sport, a bottle of water, a goody bag, and a tshirt (our second of the day as we had also been given Vitality tshirts to run in as part of our prize).
We then headed back to the VIP area where there was a feast of sandwiches and cake laid out. I had a cup of tea first though!
All in all a wonderful day out. The sunshine made the city even more beautiful than it already is, and although there wasn’t much of a crowd along the route, there were nice pockets of cheering at the park and along the promenade. The route was quite winding and included a few tight spots, my least favourite of which was the underpass at Aigburth Road where we had to slow to a walk to get in and out. There also seemed to be an awful lot of kerbs and street furniture to have to look out for. And my poor blisters didn’t appreciate the cobbles at the end.
All in all though, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you Liverpool for having us, and thank you to Fitness Rewards and Vitality for making us feel like VIPs.
It was also lovely to see lots of fellow ukrunchatters there on the day – Chris, Nic, Helen, Rob, Mike, Jon – and a few others who saw me but I didn’t see.