The result of my half marathon wasn’t quite what I hoped for. I’d gone into it with very decent training runs – the highlight of which was a session of 3x two miles which had been at 6:27, 6:32, 6:37 pace and consequently left me believing I might have a chance of breaking 1hr30 (6:52/mile). But it wasn’t to be and the run felt hard from start to finish as I ran 1hr33:43.
At eight miles I was just hanging onto 6:52 pace but there were hills to come and I faded badly. Reaching the 9th and 10th miles my quads began to ache and seize up. I struggled up the overcliff incline at about 7:40/mile with the added demoralisation of being overtaken by other runners. The steep descent down to Boscombe pier at mile 12 had the quads screaming as I hit close to 5min/mile and then there was the final run to the finish, again with runners overtaking me and barely able to summon a sprint at the end.
Going backwards isn’t a pleasant feeling but this was my 4th fastest half marathon ever and the 2nd fastest on this course – so it wasn’t a complete mess. And the other point of rationalisation is that six months ago, the aim of winter training was to improve my endurance base and I’m sure I’ve done that. My average heart-rate for the run came in at 153bpm which is notably lower than many of my past runs.
What went wrong?
At the start-line, I positioned myself near the front but my legs just never felt like they had any decent push. Usually if you’ve tapered well, when you get to a race you have to hold yourself back to avoid going off too fast. That simply didn’t happen and when I looked at the GPS data, I never went any faster than 6:40/mile apart from with the assistance of downhills. The mile down Alum Chine came in at 6:22!
Compare this to the training runs when I was doing back-to-back miles in training at 6:27/mile and there was something missing. I believe it was down to leaving my taper too late. Or more precisely that I barely did one. I’d been running fifty miles per week and then the week before the race was forty-five miles and then I only ran seventeen miles in the days preceding the race. It’s possible I dropped off too sharply but I’m inclined to think my legs never quite perked back up from some of the great training runs I did. I never felt the bounce of fresh legs going up and down the stairs at home.
Realistically legs being under recovered has always been a problem with my training and races. I tend to be a hard worker as I want to get the most out of myself. A few years ago, I used to know I was on the edge because the legs were sore, I got grumpy and couldn’t wait for the taper to begin. But these days it’s much subtler and I’ve gradually scaled back my efforts to account for this. But I simply didn’t scale back early enough this year. I felt I was flying in training and my legs were always feeling great. But the bounce disappeared about two weeks out which is when I started scaling back and I hoped it would return. It didn’t. On reflection, I should simply have gone out and jogged those last two weeks until the legs perked up. Even a three week taper wouldn’t be out of the question.
I don’t recall my quads ever hurting this much during or after a race. It may well have done but I don’t recall it happening recently – usually it’s my hips that hurt. I like to think this is a sign of how my running form is changing from the form drills I’ve been doing since October. It was the outsides of my legs that hurt all the way up to the glutes and I believe this is a sign I’m getting good hip extension. If I’ve got that right my stride should be lengthening as I push off more powerfully.
While I didn’t get the result I was hoping for I did come out of winter training with my primary goal met – improve endurance. I’m now ready to get back to training for speed as I hope (and expect) to improve my 800m time this summer. First I need a week or so to let the legs fully recover and then I’m going to start looking at hill sprints and other short interval work as a way to pick up the speed.