Saturday, January 25, 2020

Wokingham Half Marathon

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So today was the start of my 2011 season, with a little run around the Wokingham half marathon. This was designed to be more a test of pre-season / post base-training fitness than an all-out 'race' (I'm no distance runner...).

Having completed the Swindon Half Marathon in 1:33:52 in October 2010, the challenge was to see how much improvement I had made over the winter training.  After discussion with my coach (Mark Shepherd, @gobi_one), we settled on a target time of 1:28:00.  A definite challenge, but one we felt was within my grasp if it was "my day".

The weather wasn't the best: cold, wet and gusty. But obviously it's the same for all runners, so you just deal with it. It did lead to a bit of umming and ahhing over what to wear - and with hindsight, I would have lost the base layer that I opted to wear.

The race started well, my coach pacing me into a steady 6:45 mile pace - challenging for me, but it felt okay.  I chose to skip the first water station at around the 3 Mile mark - I was feeling okay and generally I tend to spill and choke on 'cupped' water rather than getting much benefit from it.

I chugged down an SIS gel at Mile 5 and felt it kick in a few minutes later.  My pace did slow a touch but never dropped below 7 min per mile and then recovered by Mile 6.

At Mile 8 I took the second gel, this time a High5 Isotonic gel (designed to be taken without water).  Admittedly, I broke the cardinal race rule here and tried something new on race day.  Stupid me to think one gel was much like another!

So there I was at about 8.5 miles and I got the worst double-sided stitch I think I've ever experienced.  I tried running through it, but my pace and HR just fell through the floor.  No matter how 'hard' I tried, I couldn't get my HR above 170 (average up to then was high 170s) and my legs just wouldn't turn over. There was nothing for it (that I could think of anyway!) but to breathe deep and just calm down as much as possible to help the stitch pass.

That first mile of having the stitch took around 7:53, over a minute slower than my previous miles and it didn't get better until after mile 10 when I made some gradual improvements. The stitch never went completely, but subsided sufficiently for me to turn my legs over a little faster and get my HR back into the mid-170s.

My goal of 1:28 was shattered, and 1:30 was looking all-but impossible. I just dug as deep as I could and slowly my HR and speed began to return.  I was panting like an idiot running a 5km sprint, and it hurt like hell (psychologically) to be getting passed by many runners. Eventually, as we passed Mile 12, the thought of crossing the line won over my physical state and I managed a 6:59 for Mile 12-13 with a strong sprint finish for the last 200 metres, claiming back just a few of the places I had lost in the preceding miles.  If nothing else, at least I could finish in style (and by style I mean with a sprint, I don't think there was any 'style' to the look of agony on my face!). 

Final chip time 1:31:35.

Still a PB by over two minutes in less-than-ideal conditions, but I was totally gutted that the race had been lost between 8.5 and 11 miles by a self-destruction that I am still at a loss to explain.

I've run over many possible explanations in my head:

1 - should I have taken water on at Mile 3 - maybe?!
2 - could the caffeine in the gel at Mile 5 contributed to stitch - maybe?!
3 - should I have stuck to a brand of gels I normally have no issues with - yes, definitely!
4 - Was I simply pushing too hard for my current fitness level - maybe?!

I guess the chances are it was a combination of factors that caused the double-stitch, and I'm just going to have to put in down to experience.

However, if I was doing it over, I definitely would look at the points above - take on water whenever it's on offer, stick to gels I know, perhaps not be quite so ambitious on pace.

Ultimately, I just have to accept that today was not 'my day' and that instead it's better to look at the race as a valuable training experience.

As my coach said after the race, "That was one ballsy effort, Matt". I learned that despite experiencing a level of pain I've never had in a race before, there was no question of quitting and that as soon as my body responded to my urging it to go faster, that's what I did (my mile splits and HR graph make for very interesting reading!).  From mile 8.5 through to 13.1, I was in a world of pain - but never was I going to quit.  That's got to be a good thing to know if I ever experience a similar feeling again - and thank God today didn't really 'matter'.  I'd rather blow up in training than when I really need to lay one down!

Lessons learned?  Don't forget the cardinal rules of race nutrition - they're there for a reason!  No matter what, I can run through pain if I really have to. Get better at taking on water (both when to take and not choking/spilling it)!

And positives to remember:  I set a new PB by over two minutes (on a crappy day); I still managed a 6:59 mile average (even with a couple of miles near 8:00 pace); on 'my day' a 1:28 is definitely acheivable.

I'll be back to give the Half Marathon another go at Reading in March; but now the focus is definitely on the Tri season, so 5km and 10km running times are what count.  Today was just another valuable step towards a faster season. 

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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