Thursday, January 23, 2020

Race Report - Cheltenham's Half Marathon - 15 Sept 13

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I know what you're thinking…  Yes, it has only been 48 hours since I raced the ITU Age Group World Triathlon Champs in London. But in all honesty, that was always only ever going to be a sideshow, a nice distraction from the main focus of middle distance racing.


So it wasn't exactly surprising when Dave Newport told me to get myself entered into the Cheltenham half-marathon, on the Sunday following Friday's triathlon.  Well, at least Friday's race was only a sprint!

I hadn't done a middle-distance running race since the 10-miler in Salisbury six months ago. So we were overdue a benchmark on how run training how been going.


I'm always a little nervous about run races as I never feel particularly confident in my ability to pace myself. It's relatively easy in a triathlon, you assess how good you feel after the bike and run accordingly (or in my case, not!). In a road race you need to be mindful of pace from the get go - too fast and you'll blow up, too slow and you won't do yourself justice.


As such, I admit I was looking for people to run with.  Dave suggested Shona Crombie-Hicks, an ex-Commonwealth games athlete and a younger chap named Gavin.  We duly met up at the start of the race and after a little wait, it was time to go.


I had it in mind that I wanted to get close to a 1:24 time, my previous PB of 1:26:xx having been set back in 2012 at Wokingham (jeez, that means today's race was my first 'proper' half marathon - outside of a middle-distance triathlon - in 18 months!).  Running with Shona would help guard against me going off too fast.  I knew she was looking to go sub 1:26, so I figured we could work together.


I'd chosen to swap out my usual trusty and loved Skechers GORun2 shoes for the GORun Speeds - a slightly harder shoe that is definitely best saved for race days only. But when I'd worn them before they felt 'fast'!


The gun went and we were quickly across the line and onto the course.  As expected, Shona and Gav kept me honest in the first mile and we settled into a steady pace.  I was pleased that my breathing was nicely under control and despite my calves feeling really tight from Friday's race, the body seemed in pretty good shape.


We stayed in close formation until about mile four, when I could feel I was dropping the guys slightly.  Mindful of Dave's instruction to stay in a group and work together, I dropped back to pick them up.  We were about 15 seconds up on target time, so all was looking good until we hit an uphill drag that eliminated our little time buffer.  I kept waiting for Shona or Gav to come through and take a turn on the front, but it wasn't happening.  So I kept checking over my shoulder every 30 seconds or so to make sure we were still together.


I have to confess by mile six I was getting frustrated. I felt like I could be running faster and we were losing time on the downhills and flats when we could have opened up a little.  But I didn't want to break up the group or let Shona down - I knew from the shouts of support that she was currently second woman and felt an obligation to help her consolidate the position and finish strong (the bad thing about running just in front of the woman in second place is that she got all the encouragement and they kept yelling at her to overtake me!).


Coming up to mile eight I could feel the 'elastic' stretching again but this time I was really reluctant to slow down again to pick up Gav and Shona.  I felt I'd done my bit to set the pace and so rather than slowing up I just continued at my own pace, feeling like I'd at least set Shona up with a decent first two-thirds of the race.


Unfortunately I probably chose exactly the WRONG time to push on as I soon hit a hill before then diverting into the Cheltenham racecourse, which was exposed to the strong wind and really energy sapping!  By mile eleven my legs were feeling super heavy and it was a real struggle to maintain pace.  I just told myself that I only had two miles to go, c'mon!


The climb back out of the racecourse to the mile 12 marker was just horrible, slow and into to the wind.  But I could sense I was making a little ground on a group ahead of me.  Out of the racecourse and it was downhill to the finish - time to stretch the legs and get some of the lost speed back.  I could see I was about 30 seconds down on my target pace of 4:00/km.  Time to make as much of that back as possible.


Being unfamiliar with the course, it was a shame there were no "400m to go" type markers in the last mile, as I left it too late to put my surge in. I nearly caught an RAF guy, but he just held me off to the line.  Still, I'd crossed the line in 1:23:43 - comfortably inside my old PB, and on a less-than-ideal day.


I waited at the finish line for first Gav, then Shona to finish.  Gav had also set a new PB and Shona had indeed held onto her second woman position - so hopefully everyone was happy.  Personally I think I had a 1:24:00 in my legs today, but I can't complain with a sub 1:25 with today's chill, rain and wind.  Official results put me at 7th in the M40 category and 33rd overall.  Not bad considering it wasn't that long ago that I was happy with top 100!


The Skechers GORun Speeds had been great. They really reward good form so I think for the most part I was striding well and kept a nice fast turnover - Dave Newport even tweeted: "you almost looked like a runner!" - praise indeed!  They're a hard shoe - by which I mean they don't have the slipper-like feel of the GORun2, they are much more like a traditional racing flat, with a carbon strip in the sole - but for race efforts it's hard to fault them.  I'm not sure if I'd trust myself in them for a middle-distance triathlon yet, but my feet still feel fine, so they certainly are good for up to half-marathon distance.


Anyway, hopefully I'll get a little rest this week (I will, working in three countries this week!) and then it's time to start prepping for Ironman 70.3 Texas in Austin in late October.  Time to prove to myself I CAN run a sub-1:30 marathon off a 90km bike!  No excuses now, right….?!

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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