Eleven Bay Run Half Marathons – a retrospective

This year was apparently the 39th running of the Bournemouth Bay runs. I did my first in 1996 but it was almost a decade before I got back to it. My sporting time back then was dominated by playing and coaching volleyball; as well as going to circuit training and just about any other sport that I could find to fill my time with.

In 1996, like the majority of runners in yesterday’s race, I did a couple of months’ worth of basic training registering 10-20 miles per week at most in my preparation. I’d run my first half marathon at Portsmouth a month before and, in the lead-up to that, my only training aim was to do the distance in training albeit at a slow pace. I recall running on the February 29 (leap year) from Bournemouth pier to Boscombe pier and back (I reckoned it was 3-miles – not bad given it’s actually 2.85!). Then from Bournemouth pier to Shore Road and back (6-miles estimate, actually 5.6) and then another run to and from Boscombe pier to take it out to twelve miles which with a bit of distance to and from the car parked up on the East Cliff gave me confidence I would manage the distance. Then I went to Poole Sports Centre and played a volleyball match. That’s how I rolled in those days, cram in as much sport and activity as possible. No thought or understanding for recovery or the impact of doing too much.

I didn’t worry about how fast I was running, it was all about completing it. It was a time when my legs were big and strong from all the volleyball jumping and on race day I felt I couldn’t run any faster. I now I understand I simply didn’t have the aerobic training required for a fast half marathon and that reflects in my average heart-rate being in the 170s during the 1996 race. I distinctly recall running along, feeling comfortable, chatting to the chap near me and saying my heart-rate was at 177bpm and him replying “That sounds a bit high”. I’d tend to agree with him now!!

YearTime (HH:MM:SS)RankPace (min/mile)Avg. HR
19961:50:3510th8:26170-175
20051:54:46Slowest8:45
20061:49:559th8:23
     
20101:38:304th7:31
20121:31:08Fastest6:57160
20131:39:436th7:36159
20161:40:178th7:39157
20171:35:373rd7:18157
20181:39:547th7:37158
20191:39:345th7:35155
20221:33:432nd7:08153

By the time I ran in 2010, I’d given up the volleyball and while my legs were still big I was running more regularly yet rarely more than twenty miles per week. I’d run a 1hr16 ten mile race three weeks before and most of my lunchtime 6K training runs were all-out efforts with a long run on the weekend. That was a game changing race as I set off fast from the beginning where previously I’d always lagged back then enjoyed working my way through the field. When I ran 1hr38 I was somewhat elated to take over ten minutes off my previous best.

It was late 2011 when I started taking running seriously and building my aerobic base. So at this stage, I still had the strong legs and while I didn’t fully understand how to train, I was beginning to learn. It led to my fastest half marathon ever and two-plus minutes ahead of this year.

What strikes me about most of the intervening half marathons is they’re all grouped around the 1hr39 mark. This could be a coincidence but I don’t think so. I’m sure it’s some kind of indicator of my natural level when I’ve done some training but not too much. The halfs in 2013, 2016, 2018 were all coming back from injury during the month or so before.

The one recent outlier is 2017 (my 3rd fastest) when I had deliberately done lots of jogging in the two months preceding it (400+ miles) and less than fifteen total miles at race pace. The result was good but I paid for it in the following days with soreness lasting until Thursday. Even so when I’d recovered three weeks later, I found myself running a 2½-mile effort run at 6:30/mile – significantly faster than the 7min/mile pace I had been running it in the weeks before the half.

Comparing 2012 vs 2022

In 2012, the average heart-rate was 160bpm and I spent fifty-nine minutes above it, maxing at 170bpm! Compare that to yesterday where my max only touched 160 a couple of times. It’s clear my aerobic base is improving yet that isn’t the only part of the story even for a half marathon. I was able to run a faster half marathon in 2012 with a worse base but the faster speed wasn’t there. I’m fairly sure my legs didn’t have enough taper from all the training but had I done so, I might have been in record-breaking form.

The flipside to the heart-rates is when I look back at my early Bay runs, I didn’t have enough of an aerobic base to run these sort of times. The high heart-rates in the 170s demonstrate that. There’s some kind of balance to be found.

Mileage isn’t everything

Another point of interest when comparing my 2012 and 2022 runs are my training logs for the preceding weeks. In 2012, my average weekly mileage was 33½ – 39, 26, 30, 36, 39 and 32; which is about 50% less than what I did this year when I was averaging 50.

I seem to run much better off lower mileage – perhaps in part because it leaves less to recover from. In those days I would take at least one day – Friday – off each week; this year I’d been running every day for over two years until I rested the two days before the half marathon.

I’m increasingly conscious that while some bang on about doing high mileage – it is not the be-all and end-all of running success. And certainly not critical if all you’re interested in is a parkrun or 10K race. Get quick over the shorter distances and the mileage will naturally increase.


I‘m hopeful once my legs recover I will be in a position to surpass everything I did in 2012. Back then I spent the year running sub-20 every Saturday at parkrun and training hard to break nineteen minutes but it never quite happened until the end of the year – after I’d done a block of endurance training. I always knew endurance training was important but could never quite understand how, ten years on I do.

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