Thursday, January 23, 2020

Wokingham Half Marathon 2012 Race report

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If I’m honest; I’m not quite sure how to start this race report! Normally with a triathlon or duathlon there’s plenty to talk about: the transition, the different legs, the conditions etc etc. By comparison a simple ‘little’ road race seems, well, insignificant!

But here we go.  After the disappointment that accompanied my self-combustion at Wokingham last year, I had a score to settle in 2012.  Although the ‘official’ plan was simply to go sub-90, in reality I wasn’t going to be happy with just that.  I kept it to myself, but sub-88 was the bare minimum and sub-86 was the ‘golden balls’ target.
Training had been going well in the last few weeks, comfortably hitting some of my coach’s pacing targets on my interval and tempo runs.  As he said to me on race morning, there was no doubt I had the aerobic fitness for a sub-90, I just needed to make sure I had my head in the game. 

Race morning dawned cold but clear; near-perfect conditions.  Staying at a hotel nearby made the trip to Wokingham short and painless and I arrived in plenty of time to warm up and do the all-important queuing-for-the-loo ceremony.  I don’t know why, but still I seem to always get runner’s tummy ahead of big races.  Maybe one day I will be less nervous...

One thing I had been trying at recent races, and I will write up a review soon, is drinking a new sports drink called 'Drip Drop Sport' before the race.  I'll explain more in the upcoming review, but essentially it is a carb drink with added lactate buffering properties. Basically, I sipped on about 500ml of this from waking through to about 30 mins before the race.

The start
I elected to start right on the sub-1:25 marker.  Admittedly a little faster than I really intended to go, but I knew from the previous year that people have a tendency to over-estimate their abilities, which leads to quite a traffic jam in the first few kilometres.  This year turned out to be even worse.

I heard the klaxon go off ahead and we started to very slowly shuffle towards the start line. Eventually, about 45 seconds later, we finally hit the timing mats and I started my watch.  Even running down the starting chute I was already beginning to trip over slower runners. Very frustrating!

This led to a very erratic first kilometre. I was conscious that I didn’t want to go off too fast, but I was also painfully aware that time lost now would have to be made up later. I wanted to set a hard limit of no slower than 4:13 for each kilometre and it looked like I was going to miss this right from the beginning.  I started accelerating into gaps when I saw them and then easing off a little.  The first km was dispatched in 4:09; nice and relaxed, no problems.

The next five or so kilometres were just as busy, again having to take regular avoiding action to miss slower runners acting as mobile chicanes (guys, for gawd’s sake, stop blocking faster runners by over-estimating your abilities!). I guess with close to 3,500 runners it was always going to be a busy start, but I was surprised that it was at least five miles into the race before I actually felt like I had any space on the road.

Around mile three, the first water station loomed.  I knew I could run 5km without water and could sense runners around me slowing to grab a cup so I moved to the far side of the road to get out of the way, good move as runners and water were going all over the place!

I did grab a gulp or two from the next two water stations though, mindful that even just a few sips would be better than nothing (I am notoriously crap at drinking from a cup on the move, usually choking up more than I swallow!).
In the first 10km or so, I had to keep checking myself to make sure I wasn’t going too hard.  I was mindful of coach’s warning that I’d pay for any over-exuberance later in the race.  So seeing the kms reel off at 4:09, 4:11 etc was just fine (well, in all honesty I wanted to go faster, but I had to tell myself it was fine!).

Hitting 11km was a good feeling; I was over halfway and the body still felt pretty good.  I had a niggle in my left ankle, but otherwise the knees were holding up okay and my breathing was still nice and relaxed. I did have to catch myself once or twice; after the initial bun-fight as things settled down I did let my mind wander a few times and had to remind myself there was a race to run and focus was required!

I tentatively sipped on a gel between mile 7 and 8, mindful that this was the point where I exploded with a stitch last year. In the end I only took about half the gel, feeling I had ‘enough’ to make it to the end.

My instructions were to pace it conservatively until an hour into the race, then if I felt good I could open the taps a little.  That equated to around about 14kms steady and then free rein.  The Garmin splits show that’s exactly what I did – km 14 dispatched in 4:12 and then km 15 went straight up to 4:04. 

Coming into the last five kms and there was no disputing that my body was feeling tired; I just don’t run that far that often! But again my splits show that I actually did a pretty good job of upping the pace for a negative split in the last five km (4:09, 4:08, 4:00, 3:56, 4:00).  It was nice to back in over-taking mode for the end of the race, having had to concede some places earlier on in order to remain disciplined and stay with the race game plan.

Sprint Finish?!
Coming into the last 1.1km I’d love to say I found new energy reserves and sprinted for the line. I’d love to say that, but I can’t! My legs were toast. Interestingly, I think my aerobic system had plenty more to give but the legs had given their all, so a half-hearted sprint for the line was the best I could muster on the day.

I could see 1:27:xx on the official race clock as I got close to the line, so knew my ‘chip’ time was faster than that.  That gave me the impetus for a final spurt towards the line. Pausing my Garmin as I crossed the line, I saw 1:26:36. Result. Job done. Goodnight Vienna.  A new PB by five minutes over the same race in 2011.

I had stuck to the game plan and achieved the target.  Secretly I was a tiny bit miffed I missed the 1:25:xx secret target I had set myself. But really I had nothing to complain about.  I could have possibly done the 1:25 target had I taken myself to the very ragged edge; but as it was I took a controlled approach and still beat my target time.

Takeaways? Well the start was stupid. Too many people placing themselves far too far upfield and actually causing real issues for the runners behind them who actually started where they should have. I could have possibly pushed a little harder a little earlier on, and I probably should have had my ‘full’ gel portion.  Other than that, it really was a pretty text-book race for me. Conservative but effective.  Maybe next year I will have a go at sub-85! ;-)

Finally; thanks to the race organisers and many volunteers who marshalled the route. Efficient and friendly as always, and very much appreciated.

Next up is the Chilly Duathlon on Sunday 26th Feb. See you there!

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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs