Well, that was an unexpected PB! Sheffield Half Marathon 2019

Well, that was an unexpected PB! Sheffield Half Marathon 2019

I spent a bit of 2018 and early 2019 feeling a bit like my PBs were behind me. 2018 feels on reflection a little lack lustre compared with the avalanche of PBs I got in 2017 due to the training for the Amsterdam marathon. Since then, progress, and consistency was kinda sparse. My running picked up at the end of 2018 specifically just so I could hit the arbitrary km target I’d set, but I did manage to maintain that momentum somehow. Combined with Sheffield Running club starting to throw me into races, and my own group of friends starting to get excited about the Spring trail running opportunies, things started to fall into place again.

I wasn’t even going to run the Sheffield Half this year. I’d done it once, back in 2017 and although I didn’t expire, I felt kinda close by the time I’d finished. It was a hard hard run and although I PB’d my half marathon distance on it, I didn’t want to go through that again and miss out. What a pussy 😀

Also, it fell right in the middle of the Dark and White Spring Trail Series which I was hoping for good times in, so again seemed like a bad idea. But.. you know.. It was there in the background, nudging at me. And then people starting talking about it on Tuesday nights at the Sheffield Running Club intervals I’ve been doing. Mostly, Afif, yeah, it’s his fault. Afif was chasing 90 minutes, and he kept telling me I could do it to as we run pretty similarly in our intervals.

After my holiday, he nudged me about it again and I decided to buy a ticket. Why not. Screw it. It will be fun right? And then he suggested we do a hill recci the week before. This sounded like a good idea, but was in the same week as the second Spring Trail Series Run at Grindleford. Again I couldn’t resist, and to be honest, it was a bloody good idea. Ben from SRC also came along and we cruised up the hill while Afif pushed ahead a bit trying to get his pacing right for it. It was a really good reminder that although it was a big hill, it did give you the odd moment to recover along the way. More importantly, it reminded me of the hill and flat section in the second half. It was here where my previous attempt went from “hard run” to “pain cave”, and I feel like was the key to a better run this time.

“Pain Cave” point!

Roll around race week, I’ve just done a bloody tough trail 15k in Grindleford on the Sunday, and I’m tired. Although I was planning on my usual interval session on the Tuesday, a massage booking stopped that. Probably a good thing! I intended on going out for a quick run on the Wednesday while I was at home, but had a visitor over during the day so didn’t make it before climbing. The next opportunity was a Thursday evening 10k after a long day at work and I still felt pretty tired. I entered the weekend with quite a bit of trepidation. Had I recovered enough?

Come Sunday, the weather was a pain in the bum. It was that temperature of ~7C where I’m never really sure if I’m going to be cold or not. Without a breeze, I’ll heat up too much, but with one, it will be cold! I opted to wear a tech tee with my SRC vest over the top and my Ron Hill joggers. I was my usual dopey self leaving the house in the morning, forgetting the extra loo roll I’d grabbed and my bottle of water, but nipped into Tesco in town and picked up some there. It didn’t take long to find some of the SRC runners in Tudor Square, but while they assembled for a group photo, I ended up stuck in a loo queue. Boo.

Once done there, I dropped off my bag, and headed over to the starting areas. It was about 20 mins left to go so fancied finding my spot. Once there, I sat down to sort out my shoelaces and then realised that I’d left my gel belt in my bag. Argh…. I had a bit of a “ah screw it, I don’t need them..” moment before telling myself to stop being so daft and going back to the bag drop to see if they’d help me out. Luckily, the area with my bag in was very quiet (compared to the other tables) and they were nice enough to faff around for 2-3 minutes to find the bag. Phew! Clipping the belt back on, I made my way back to the starting area which was filling up quite a bit. I quickly found Ben, James, Rachel and Rob from SRC in the mix, but couldn’t see Afif at all or our 90 minute pacer. Turns out Afif had muscled his way to the very front. I guess that’s having confidence in your convictions.

Teeny bit of air.. Official shot by Marathon Photos

Soon it was time to go and I elected to stick with Ben to start off with. He led the way, with a pace that initially set my brain in a bit of a panic. Hang on, this seems quick… hitting Eccelsall road, I realised we’d settled down to my tempo pace which seemed to make sense on the slight upclimb and I started to settle into it a bit better. Soon we hit Hunters bar and started the climb up the hill.

I remember thinking back to the recci, and the 2017 run and deciding that I needed to try and keep this sub 5mins/k where I could, and using the flatter points to recover a bit. I took the lead on the hill ahead of Ben at first, trying to keep us to this pace, and ignored the first water station not wanting to break our stride. At this point we both noticed Spiderman! He was ahead of us, in a St Lukes charity vest. He was enjoying the climb, stopping every now and then to high five kids who were screaming out his name as he came in to view. It was a little disheartening to see a superhero just able to stop and start on the hill like that without it affecting then. I guess that’s why they are a super hero?

The hill ploughs on, with me a few steps ahead of Ben trying to keep the pace high. I don’t really remember many of the less steep bits; I’m guessing they didn’t feel as restorative as I remember. About half way up, Ben just behind my left shoulder is starting to suffer a bit. “Keep focused! Keep going!” I call back. 5 minutes later, he’s ahead of me and I’m struggling. We’re just on the last drag up to the Norfolk arms, which is a long, straight drag with a bunch of rolling hills in it’s continued climbing and I’m feeling like I’m done for. Time for that gel perhaps? I’m reasonably practised now at eating them and keeping my pace up and I think it was enough of a distraction from the pain in the thighs and calves for me to keep my pace up and hang on to Ben. Finally the hill evens out and we swing left, ignoring the hand outs of the over sweet High5 gels at the feed station, and start the rolling hills of Sheephill road.

I felt like I took this part of the race a lot more steadily than I did the previous time, but comparing the activies that isn’t the case. I remember previous pushing the pace up quickly, but being caught by the first hill on Sheephill before the gradual descent which turns into the big downhill onto Hathersage Road. This time, although my paces for km’s 9 and 10 were the same, I eased into the hill a bit more gradually. Perhaps my quads appreciated it? It’s an odd part of the course though, you’ve just climbed a monster hill, and suddenly you’ve got flat and downhill sections, so you’re mixing up a bit of recovery time along with trying to start to make time up. Though the 10th km I started to open up the stride a bit, leaving Ben behind me a touch and started to properly enjoy myself. It was feeling pretty good, but remembered that from last time so reined it in a touch. We passed the official photographers and then swung left into the first BIG downhill.

Here was where I went wrong last time. Last time, I did this k in 3 mins and 36 seconds, which was going some. I’d overtaken the pacer and tried to put loads of distance in. This time, I was very wary of the little hill in Dore, so just let the hill take me, not pushing it too hard. It was still a quick km, in 3:45, but not the quickest km in the race like last time. The following 2k were a teeny bit slower this time as well, but I really wanted to avoid burnout like last time and it worked.

We wound through Dore, turned left onto Rushby Road and climbed the hill. I shortened my stride, slowed down and trotted up it, knowing that there was a descent on the other side, a good bit of knowledge from the recci. As a consequence, this km was 7 seconds faster than last time, I didn’t feel dead! Bonus! Hurrah!

The run back from this point was a completely different race to last time. I was dying at this point in 2017, feeling close to quitting. This time it was glorious. I felt really good and didn’t feel like I was struggling at all. I had my last gel (a little early I think, but I was confused about how far along the road I was) and enjoyed it. At some point, Spiderman reappeared, continuing to stop for high fives and then reappear. How was he doing that?

1km to go and still looking pretty fresh? Shot by Zaheer Mahmood

Then we hit Ecclesall Road south which was my fastest km of the run. There were SOO many people out, and I was running with Spiderman. It was pretty deafening. Loads of people calling out for… Spiderman! Spiderman running ahead and getting high fives. Spiderman pausing to shake a hand then catching me back up again. Spiderman doing the Mobot. Damn superheroes. It was pretty inspirational though and thoroughly enjoyable.

I hit Hunters Bar and then I knew I had a bit of work to do. This should be a really quick bit of road, but I was starting to tire. It was strange though, I was pushing to keep my pace below 3:55min/k, but it kept drifting back up to over 4. It wasn’t hurting and my breathing was fine, it was just that the legs couldn’t hold the speed I was ordering them too. It was about this time that I started to realise that 1:30 had been possible, but it was starting to slip away from me, so I kept pushing the pace up to see it drop off. Hitting the roundabout at the end of Ecclesall road, I managed a wave to Zaheer who was taking photos and a push to try and put in a fast last km, but it just wasn’t to be. The gradual hill which helped on that first 1km right at the start of the race took it’s toll and I just couldn’t keep the pace up….

…until the Sheffield Strider overtook me. What?! We can’t have that! We’d just turned the corner onto the last 200-300 metres to the finish when he overtook me on the outside. I knuckled down and took the position back, finding that fast finish I usually have, finishing JUST ahead of them. (Turns out they were faster on chip time, but it felt good to be over the line first! 😀 ).

It was a teeny bit disheartening when I first saw the timer ticking away the seconds over 90 minutes, but then I realised just how big a PB this actually was and it felt pretty good. Stopping to catch by breath after the line, I realised that I’d beaten Spiderman (although he probably had saved a couple of people on route as well as high fived almost every spectator….) but saw him finishing so waited to congratulate him. Ben finished then too with a course PB for him.

Wow. 1:30:42, pretty much 5 minutes faster than last time, and I’m pretty sure I could have run another 5km too. Life in the old dog yet. I feel like I ran the race really well, made the right pacing and effort choices along the way and as a result got a great time. I’m pretty sure all the SRC intervals I’ve been doing have helped as well though too!

Next race? Stage three of the Dark and White Events at Tideswell. 2 weeks to recover. Fingers crossed!

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