This September, I’ll be taking part in the Great North Run, one of the biggest half marathon events in the world. I’ve never been to a running event of that size before, and as I don’t know when I’ll get the chance again – standard entrants are selected by ballot due to the numbers involved – I intend to make the most of it. That, among other things, means being able to run the distance as well as I can.
With my half marathon events so far, there’s definitely been a lot of learning involved. Following a virtual HM just after lockdown in 2020, my first official event was in November 2021; running in freezing conditions, I set off too fast, and finished the course barely able to speak, feeling a bit sick, and unable to properly appreciate my time of 1:49:39. For my second HM event in January, I was able to keep a better eye on my pacing thanks to the smartwatch I got for Christmas; I finished slower at 1:52:02, but feeling a lot happier. Then things went downhill again at my third event in Morecambe, where everything seemed to be going against me: it started raining (after a week of fine weather, naturally), I got cramp early on, and we had to run on sand at one point. Reduced to walking by the end, I was surprised to finish in 1:52:05.
In the last few months, however, I’ve gotten into a different place with my running, through a combination of regular push-ups and dietary recalibrations. I’ve been setting some great parkrun times, and before taking on the GNR, I wanted to know I could run an HM where I set a time in line with my current abilities without totally exhausting myself. So I signed up for the Windmill Half Marathon in Lytham, setting a personal target of 1:45, roughly eight minutes per mile. Based on my more over-enthusiastic training runs, I might have been able to go faster, but taking things gradually is another lesson I’m currently taking onboard.
If everything seemed to be wrong at Morecambe, then everything at Lytham looked perfect from the get-go. There were no problems with getting there or parking, and the weather was clear and bright, with an excellent view of Southport across the Ribble Estuary. Setting off, I quickly settled into my chosen pace and felt fairly comfortable. The route was mostly flat, and with plenty of spectators cheering everyone on. The main difficulty was having to run into the wind for about half of the course, which required a significant effort on the second lap of the two-lap course. Yet even this wasn’t all bad; the wind kept me cool in the sunshine, and also happened to be behind us following the turn-around point – you could both feel and hear the difference.
By Mile 10, I felt like I was cruising steadily. By Mile 12, I was definitely wanting to finish, but wasn’t feeling so bad that I had to slow to a walk. The sorest part of my body was my feet; I wouldn’t want to be feeling that way at the halfway point of a full marathon, so I can only hope that the necessary training will toughen them up. (Plus, I suppose, I won’t be going quite as fast.) The final quarter-mile was mental agony, as it was a straight stretch toward the finish line, which was looking very far away. Following some advice I’d recently received on finishing the GNR, I tried not to look at the finish as I ran the final section.
In the end, I accomplished exactly what I wanted: my chip time was 1:43:39, better than I expected and well beyond my previous PB – and while I certainly felt very tired by the end, it wasn’t to the point of feeling like I was dying. It was a great run, one which has definitely boosted my confidence leading up to the GNR. In the meantime, I have more parkrun tourism planned – including a visit to Bushy Park, the location of the very first parkrun – before the fun in September!