This weekend I faced the first major test on my journey to becoming a better runner, which I hope will lead me to physical readiness at Marathon Des Sables 2017 (six marathons in six days in the Sahara Desert). In terms of distance, taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon World Championships was a fraction of my ultimate goal, however it was a very important step along my path, where I learned some huge lessons. Lessons that, in honesty, I should have learned long before now.
I signed up to Cardiff Half Marathon only a month ago (thanks to Mudstacle legend Simon W), which didn’t leave me with an ideal amount of time to prepare. However, I was very lucky to have a four-week structured running programme set by my very own in-house running expert – the BMF Race Team’s runner extraordinaire and Ultimate Hell Week winner Clare Miller. The programme that she devised was very similar to the kind of thing David Hellard described in his interview earlier this week, and consisted of a variety of hill intervals, tempo runs and long runs.
I’ve never embarked on traditional running training of this kind. Like a lot of obstacle racers, I’ve tended to focus on a mixture of all-body work outs and trail runs. This more scientific approach to run training definitely made a lot of sense once I was in the swing of it, and particularly when it came to race day. The tempo runs prepared me for running at race pace, the long runs prepared my endurance and the intervals prepared me to push when I needed to.
From the beginning of the programme Miller suggested that we should target a time of 1 hour 45. It didn’t really mean much to me, but she seemed to think I’d be capable of achieving that in a month. It worried me a little, as she doesn’t really understand that she is super human and the rest of us are mere mortals, but in Coach Miller I trusted.
The day of the race was long, but an amazing experience. I’ve never taken part in a serious road race of that size (come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve taken part in a serious road race of any size), and I certainly haven’t run in the footsteps of Mo Farah and the world’s best Kenyans… The highlight of the day came on the train to Cardiff, when I asked Miller to remind me to get some Senokot when we passed a Boots. Thankfully Miller’s a Doctor and realised that I actually meant Imodium. Without her it could have been one of the most eventful races I’ve run… and I would probably be plastered all over social media for years to come…. Like this guy (Warning: I resisted the urge to embed the picture straight into this article for a reason).
Anyway, once all of the toilet humour was out of the way, we got ourselves ready for <REVIEW> racing at one of the best organised events I’ve ever attended. </REVIEW> We had decided that we would stick to the 1:45 pace for the first half of the race, which basically equated to 8 min miles or 5 min kilometres, no matter what! I was lost in the excitement and buzz, and the pace felt far slower than it had in training. Every time I edged ahead of the 1:45 pacers, I’d look back to see a disapproving look or finger waggle from Miller. I felt like a dog on a leash and was barely out of breath.
Once we hit the six mile mark, Miller uttered “Okay Pete, you can go at the pace you want now”. Oh boy, was I ready for that! I burst out of the blocks feeling surprisingly fresh, and massively upped the pace. I worried a little about overdoing it and burning out, but something inside me told me that I would be able to hold onto the pace for the entire second half.
As the remaining miles went past, the familiar feeling of fatigue crept into my lungs and legs. A feeling that I would normally get in the first half of a race, before fading away in a miserably painful second half. On this occasion though things were different. Pushing in the second half meant the end was always in sight and, by the time the pain grew to its worst, there would be no point slowing down or fading. Plus I was constantly motivated by the fact that I was now running faster than everyone else around me. So I pushed on and sustained a pace that averaged around 7 mins 20 secs per mile, which saw me crossing the line in 1:40 – after knocking off a whole 5 minutes from my pace in the second half. As you can see in the picture to the right, the final stretch hurt, but finishing at the pinnacle was amazing.
Clearly I could have targeted a faster time from the start and maybe we could have paced things a little better by going off slightly harder, but I love the way it worked out. I’ve heard talk of negative splits before (where you get faster throughout your run), but I have never had the discipline to try it for myself, but I am 100% converted! It takes so much of the pain out of your race – instead of slowing down through fatigue at the end, you have a chilled out start before blasting the second half – it’s effective and feels a lot better for your body.
I’ve always considered myself a “runner”, and I love running’s simplicity – for me to be a “runner”, I’ve just needed to stick some shoes on and start moving one foot in front of the other. However, I’m now loving learning more about the science, and what it takes to actually be good at it. For the first time I’m treating it like I would any other sport, by respecting it and learning to do things in the right way and listening to people who are far more experienced than I am.
I am loving the runner I am becoming, and I can’t wait to see how my developing skills translate to obstacle racing… it’s ultimately a runner’s game after all.