I've now had a few minutes to get my head round the fantastic experience which was the Chester Half Marathon.
My training had gone pretty well with a weeks break 4 weeks out from the race due to a fall while running.
My wife is a nurse and she did an amazing job fixing me up - I was back running pain free after 7 days.
My final week taper saw me reduce my mileage to around 10 miles before the big day.
The weather forecast had been suggesting light rain and winds during the week but the weather looked fine as I approached the Chester racecourse at 8.30am.
As soon as I got there I parked up and took my Sportlegs, a natural product, which I have found helps reduce leg pain on longer events.
My nutrition plan was to fill both my 250ml Fuelbelt bottles with the High 5 Energy Source 4:1 with 3 caffeine tablets (a total of 150mg) in each. I also took a caffeine gel with me just in case. For recovery I always use Torq Recovery.
With the weather looking windy but clear, temperature around 10C, I decided to wear just my running bib and shorts with my compression socks. I'm not sure they make any real difference but I think they might , so they must at least as a placebo!
Having completely failed to notice the massive Male Changing Tent sign, I managed to change in one of the toilets which was pretty warm, if a little cramped.
As the race time approached I downed 2 gulps of Energy Source I'd made in addition to my bottles, locked my car, took the key off - as I was going to have to carry it around with me, and walked the half mile across the race track to the starting area. I had brought an extra t-shirt with me just to keep the wind off so as 9.25am came round I took it off and tied it to a fence, for later retrieval. As I approached the start line, with the other 2100 people stupid enough to turn up, I noticed the timing sections laid out behind the line. I had been advised, my a friend to get as near to the front as possible but the idea of standing with the 1-1.15 hrs group seemed a little ambitious.
I decided the 1.45-2 hr group looked most inviting so off I went trying to get into that section.
The most striking thing about my fellow runners in the this section was the large number who were running with I pods and MP3 players.
I had already decided in the car to leave mine off both for safety reasons and so as to really experience the race. As things transpired I was very happy I had.
Feeling very nervous
Feeling very nervous and chilly
Feeling very excited
9.30 am THEY'RE OFF! - Yes those people up ahead are definitely OFF! I on the other hand am not.......
I still haven't moved yet
Nope, still not moving yet
I can feel that I might start moving soon - but not yet
I'm just starting to run now as I cross the starting mat and click my watch on.
The first few hundred meters of the course was heavily lined with friends and family, my family was almost certainly still tucked up nicely in bed, my wife is definitely not a morning person and had been suffering with the same head cold that I had for the last few days.
As the I started to see clear tarmac ahead of me I tried a best I could to keep my heart rate down. Trying to stay below 150bpm was my target for the initial few miles. This stratagy would leave me with some speed left to finish strong. Also following some other advice from a friend I targeted 8.50-9 min mile pace. As I came to the first mile post I was running at 9.04 pace. I was happy with that, as I had avoided any problems with the crowds and kept my HR down to 154 with a cadence of 81. This first mile had included the steepest hill in the course so that was out of the way!
As I made it to the 2nd mile post my pace was stuck at 9.04 and my HR was down to 151. I was reasonably happy but I knew I'd have to be a bit more active with my pace in order to do my best on the day. I started to look at my watch on a regular basis and upped my pace to 8.50. Took my 1st drink which went down well.
During the third mile I struck up a conversation with a guy who was looking to break 2 hrs for the first time. He seemed like a very similar kind of person to me. He'd always been active, which I have not, but he'd been bitten by the running bug in the last year. We ran together for a couple of miles at which point my pace required me to push on - so I wished him the very best and moved on. I would have been very happy if that had been the only person I had met on the day but that was not to be.
Mile 3 came at 26min 49 sec, a little beyond my hoped for 26.00 time but I was still feeling fine, not sore and I could push harder, so I did!. I upped my pace to 8.45.
Around half way through mile 4 I came across Paul, a guy from Wigan who I ran with for the next 7 miles. He was a strong runner but was clearly designed for strength rather than speed. We had a great chat as we ran covering both of our life histories. It is one of the enduring memories of this race and I feel very privileged to have met him.
The only downside about chatting while you run is that you pace tends to drift, and it did. Mile 4 was at 8.53 pace, mile 5 was at 9.02 pace and mile 6 was at 9.06 pace.
I hadn't worried to much about going out slowly as we were running into a 30 mph wind on the way out.
At the turn around my time was 58.50 with an average HR of 154 and cadence of 81. It had to be easier running back, no?
At mile 8 the time was 1.12:42 I was going to have to push on to get as far below 2 hrs as I hoped. I was feeling fine but I could tell I couldn't push too much more or I'd start to suffer. I'd been warned that mile 10 was a killer as the hill that we had run down during the second mile would feel twice as steep on the return. Just as mile 9 finished the rain started. Mile 9 at 1.21:54.
The rain was still only light and the wind from behind was really helping, I had been taking my drink regularly and I was feeling fine with no soreness.
Mile 10 at 1.29.54 the hill had raised my HR from 154 avg to 163 avg and my cadence dropped to 80.
Just after this Paul had to take a toilet stop and told me to go on, he'd see me at the finish.
Mile 11 at 1.37:50 I had a bit left in the tank so I decided to push on imagining I was doing a 5k. My HR was steady above 160 which meant I was going to be running out of energy soon - but how long could I hold on?
Just as the mile 12 sign came into view the hale started to fall. The hale stones felt like pins being shot into the back of my legs and neck.
Mile 12 in 1.46.50. Slower but I hadn't noticed.
The hale and rain now meant that I had to watch my footing on corners but I gave it everything I had as I ran toward the line.
Finish time 1.56.18.
I had done it.
I was completely wasted. I could still walk and as I walked back to my car to get my recovery drink my left leg started to cramp. Running as best I could I made it back to the car only to have to ask a passing person to open my car as my I couldn't grip with my hands to put the key in. The following moments were concerned with trying to get warm and stretch as much as I could in order to avoid cramps. I'm sorry to say, it was only later that I remembered Paul and tried to make my way back to the finish line. I never did meet up with him again but I think it's likely we may meet next year as he mentioned this race is one he does every year.
In conclusion, the Chester Half Marathon a good race? Would I do it again? You bet! It was a really fun introduction to racing at this distance and I met some really nice people. I made it a point to thank all the support staff on the road as I am very impressed with the work they do completely free of charge.
On reflection I have to do it next year so I can get a new PB