About four months ago I wrote excitedly about a handful of upcoming races that I was looking forward to, and mentioned a couple of PB aims – sub 50min 10k, sub 1:50 Half and a sub 4 hr Marathon. And now it feels like it the racing season is coming to an end already and (whisper it) it’s starting to get warm and humid again and oh no it’s too soon too soon and what have I even got to show for all this running?
Well I missed the sub 4hr marathon by more than I’d have liked. And haven’t run any 10k’s, so no gold medals there.
But! RRRRRRRRRRRRRRAK! Rah Rah RRRRRRRAK Attack!
Or, to express myself more articulately using real words rather than throaty Katy Perry-esque purrs and growls, on Friday I ran the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon and finally ticked off one of the season’s 3 goals. A sub 1:50 run, and the first PB of 2015! I’m beyond thrilled.
I hadn’t intended to pursue a PB because I’d concluded after the Dubai Marathon, with counsel from folk much wiser and more experienced than me, that my main problem is lack of endurance. And to rectify this I need to A. run more miles, and B. run more slow miles. And that I really should be tackling this asap seeing as I’m having another tilt at the elusive 4hour Marathon goal in just a few months’ time.
So I’d duly settled on a strategy of running at marathon pace with a strong finish. Then I binned this plan literally as our club mini bus was pulling into the athletes’ village car park. Real flibbertigibbet style. I can’t even blame naughty bus buddies for influencing and persuading me to join the 1:49:59 Have-A-Go Crew. I overheard a bit of ‘Are we trying for it?’ chat, and that was it, I was in, faster than an elastoplast being ripped off a bleeding nipple.
No time to reflect on how this approach is contrary to all sensible running advice ever, because it was less than 40minutes til Go time, and Admiral Pacer (not his real name) was set and ready to run.
So off we went! First two miles were 8:31 and 8:21 and I was thinking “Cr*p, I can’t do this, it’s too fast”. And I started to prepare for 11 miles of misery, and a lesson horribly learned about why only the pea-brained change their gameplans at the last moment. Then a downhill came along, and the gravity-assisted 08:04 third mile felt a lot easier than the previous two, and made a big difference in helping me adjust to the pace and work with it rather than stress against it. After that it was a case of settling into a rhythm and ticking off the miles at around 8:15 or so.
The race experience was fairly uneventful in a good way; warm conditions but well manned water stations every 2.5km, pretty flat apart from the one slope mentioned above, a bit exposed but quite pleasant. However the big, nay huge, point of note was that this was my first experience of running with a pacer. Not an official RAK-appointed pace group leader, but a pal from running club who’d generously said he’d run a 1:49:59 Half and support anyone who wanted to have a go at that target time. Man alive, what an incredible difference it made. Unbelievable. If someone had asked beforehand how mentally resilient I thought I was on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d probably have said about 7-8. I thought I was quite disciplined about maintaining focus and pace when running got tough, and more than capable of pushing myself to the close edges of my best . And I also thought that once I’d reached this point, no amount of cajoling, charming, or outright stern shouting from anyone, would get me to deliver more. Either you physically can or you physically can’t. Someone suggesting that you might want to try harder won’t change anything at all. Black and white.
Well, old me was talking rubbish. Proper delusional nonsense. Admiral Pacer (not his real name) was a wonder. No crazy dramatics, just steady, even, comfortable running with the occasional positive update on progress to goal – ‘20seconds ahead of target’. Passing extra water bottles to me so I didn’t have to disrupt my stride. And occasionally asking ‘All ok?’ with a sideways glance to check that my form was alright and to make sure my gurning face contortions hadn’t reach haunted levels.
From the 10mile point, I’d have started to negotiate with myself re sub 1:50 if it wasn’t for this reassuring yet challenging presence alongside me.
The last 3 miles were that standard horrible “I don’t want to, I can’t, who says I have to anyway” kind of running that we’ve all been through at some point. I wasn’t allowed to take my foot off the gas for even a few seconds. Admiral Pacer (not his real name) moved ahead of me with just under a mile to go and effectively forced me to chase him to the finish line. He didn’t even turn his head as he shouted (in tones that made it very clear that non-compliance wasn’t an option) “COME ONE! DON’T SLOW DOWN! RUN FASTER! KEEP GOING! YOU CAN GO FASTER THAN THAT!”
In this last few hundred meters, all I could think was – “I have to do this. I can’t let my friend down now” (my second thought was, “I’m definitely going to throw up when I stop”, but I digress). And that was so interesting for me. I felt awful, my legs and feet were sore, it was hard to breathe properly, and I was increasingly nauseous. But my overriding feeling was, I didn’t want too disappoint this person who’d paid their race fee, got up insanely early, travelled quite some distance and put their own race aside to support someone else.
Not startling at all that in running, as in so many areas in life, you don’t want to let other people down. But it was an interesting personal learning for me that I’m clearly a lot more willing to push myself harder and embrace more pain when in the supportive company of others than I am when I’m solo, which I wouldn’t have thought was particularly the case. Not enough to make any kind of significant difference at least. There we go.
That said, there’s no way I was sharing my finisher’s Mars bar. Are you kidding, after all my hard work?