What seems like ages ago, I booked myself into a couple of half marathons to make sure my training didn’t drop off as Ironman got closer. Unbelievably, the first one of those – the Cambridge Half Marathon – has already come and gone, and now I just have the Bath Half to look forward to on 13 March.
It felt strange to be taking part in an event where I knew the course very well, and it was strangely satisfying to know just how far away the finishing line was. Stupid really, when you have all of the stats on your watch anyway, but it does make a difference.
I’ve deliberately not been running long distances in order to concentrate on speed and strength through short runs and interval training, and to minimise the risk of injury. I can’t remember the last time I ran 13 miles, so the Cambridge Half was a good test of my resilience. It was also another test of nutrition and hydration, and to check my clothing choices were right (no chafing, blisters and so on).
Thanks to Andrew (see my Schwinnona Rider blog) I now know I will be starting my Ironman with honey on white toast at around 04:45 on the day of the race, and washing it down with water, some Isotonic gels and a banana or two before the start.
I’m still working on what food to eat during transitions. James from Tri Harder related the story of one guy who unwrapped a cold Big Mac, full of much-needed calories, with the simple explanation that he needed a treat and it was something to look forward to during transition. Not sure that’s for me …
I’ve also been warned about over-relying on sweet snacks and gels, which can just become unbearable after hours on the course, so I’ve been experimenting with chicken sandwiches which seem to pack a decent amount of carbs and protein. Again, I’m happy to hear advice from anyone who knows different.
Anyway, back to the Cambridge Half. I’d set myself a target time of 2:10, with the aim of running each mile at a little under 10 mins to give myself some slack. That would have been an improvement on my previous PB (in Leeds last summer) of 2:14. As you can see from the splits below I started with a steady 9:55 first mile – not a lot of choice considering how many people were on the course – but after a few miles I began to settle into a decent rhythm and was really surprising myself to see I was comfortably running miles in the mid to low nines.
With about four miles to go, I began to realise that if I put in some extra effort there was a chance I might – just might – finish in under two hours. I remember the thought process as a mass of confusion: sudden realisation that it might be possible (because I’d never even contemplated it); annoyance with myself that if I’d thought I could have done it I would have set off quicker on the first mile or two; more annoyance with myself for not knowing what average split times I could (and now should!) have run to get sub-2hrs; and bamboozling mental arithmetic as I tried to divide the number of minutes left on my watch by the number of miles left to run and work out by how much I needed to speed up!
With what looked like a couple of miles left, I still had 17 minutes to go, which I thought was just about doable, but it was not to be. I crossed the line in 2:00:46, having forgotten to take into account two important calculations.
First (as I’d learned on the Virgin London Marathon last year) because you never run the actual shortest line on the road, the miles showing on my watch were not the same as the markers on the road. So when my watch said I’d run 12 miles, there were still a couple of hundred meters to the 12 mile marker on the course.
And second, a half marathon is of course 13.1 miles, and not 13 miles.
I don’t think there’s much more I could have done anyway, but those little miscalculations meant the finishing line was tantalisingly out of reach as my watch ticked past 2hrs with the finish line some 300m away.
This may not mean much to you, but it’s hugely annoying to me. It’s important for me to remember the bigger picture, and I’m sure people are bored of me telling them that every single piece of training or event in the last couple of years has all been for Sunday 10 April. But I was always taught at school never to get yourself in that situation of not quite failing but not quite succeeding either (‘if you need a C grade, aim for at least a B grade and you’ll be ok’), and I was annoyed to have found myself in this very place on the Cambridge Half as a result of my initial lack of ambition.
But not so annoyed that I didn’t really enjoy the experience of what felt like gliding around on a beautiful sunny day in a city I know very well and putting all that wonderful training into practice.
I learned loads more stuff too.
Wearing the tri suit I’ll be wearing on Ironman (the very same one I wore for the VLM last year), the energy gels I’d carefully packed in the hip pockets both slipped out and I was lucky I managed to retrieve one of them. That hasn’t happened before, and there’s no way I can afford that to happen on Ironman. (I’m thinking of some Velcro solutions …).
And I bumped into Neil Marsh before the event, whose spin class I first joined when Val and returned to Cambridge from South Africa in 2012. Neil is a personal trainer who has since founded Neil Marsh Health and Fitness, and he completed his first Ironman last year. When I discovered it took him 15hrs 50mins to finish – he’s a fit guy – it made me seriously wonder whether my own target of 15hrs 30mins was anywhere near realistic.
I’m always asking advice and keen to hear how other people got on. Neil told me he hit a bit of a wall about half way through the marathon leg when his energy levels dropped off dramatically. He knew he’d finish, but it was tougher than he’d thought. He’d already completed a couple of half Ironman (70.3) events in the months before that, so he was fairly well prepared for the Ironman itself. Ironman South Africa will be my first ever triathlon …
With Cambridge behind me, I have a 100km bike ride planned for this Sunday (6th March), and the Bath Half Marathon the week after, then that’s it as far as organised events go.
I’ve already been goaded into trying to break 2hrs for the Bath Half, and am keen to prove a point to myself. But I feel like a pilot trying to land a plane in a snow storm. My legs are beginning to ache, but I need to keep training to make them stronger. I’m plying myself with protein and carbs to rebuild muscle, but I still need to lose 2kg to reach my pre-race target weight. And I need to start tapering soon, to give my body chance to recover.
It feels strange. I’ve had to be uncompromising to get to where I am now (with a lot of support from the important people in my life). But as we get closer to Ironman, now it seems it’s all about compromise, and time is running out quicker than a sub-2hr half marathon …