Wednesday, 21 September 2011

It's a mad world inside my head

I was looking forward to the new-this-year, National-Trust-organised Crathes Half Marathon, as it had the potential to be (a) a lovely race on country roads, starting and ending at Crathes Castle, and (b) a reasonable PB opportunity. It was allegedly flattish, unlike any other half marathon I have done previously, and weather permitting, I thought I had a good chance of taking a few minutes off my PB, maybe even achieving the coveted sub-2. I'd trained assiduously and I felt in reasonably good form.

Rocked up to the castle about 11am and caught up with various Fetchies, including Ultracat, weekatiepea and family, Mother Duck, Nywanda (resplendent in skull print leggings) and family, AngusClydesdale, JohnRitchie, and Corrah and Duckinator who were on Fetchpointing duty.

The weather was pretty good, certainly compared to the previous day and night when it had bucketed down ceaselessly. Maybe a smidgen warmer than would have been ideal, but certainly nothing to complain about (or use as an excuse).

Everyone milled around the start line and the pipers piped and the announcer announced and we were off. I set off with a determination to stick to my pace. The beginning was fairly narrow and congested, but soon spread out and I ran the first mile in a pace-perfect 9 minutes. The second one was 8:32. Oops. But it did contain a fair bit of downhill. Third and fourth were 8:50 and 8:48, and I was ahead of where I needed to be for sub-2. Maybe I'm going a bit quick. But I felt comfortable enough and was thinking (oh fatal error!) that a bit of time in hand may stand me in good stead for the later sections of the race.... Thinking, I might actually do this. Just got to keep going at 9-and-a-bit mile pace. I can do that.

However. Miles 5 and 6 were getting slower - 9:20 and 9:46. Mile 7 was slower yet at 9:52. I was still just about on target overall, but no longer ahead of it, and the splits were deteriorating. Maybe I set off too quick. But it wasn't that quick - it's not like I was doing 7-minute miles. I know I can run at that pace for longer than that. Still, something wasn't right. Mentally, I didn't feel good. I had half the race still ahead of me and it felt like a long way. Why? I can run 13 miles - I can run considerably further. But I was bottling it. I knew if I started to take walk breaks, it would be fatal. I started to take walk breaks.

The remaining splits make painful reading: 10:10, 10:35, 9:29, 11:17, 10:54, 10:17. Not only was I way off sub-2, I wasn't even going to get a PB. I needed to HTFU but neither brain nor body were co-operating. Around 10-11 miles I started thinking Dark Thoughts, along the lines of "Why am I doing this when I'm clearly rubbish at it? I can't run fast and I have no endurance. I should give up trying to do half marathons and marathons. In fact I should just give up running altogether and concentrate on something I'm actually good at. Tetris, or crosswords, or something. I'm never doing another race." I did snap out of it somewhere between mile 12 and the finish line. But quite clearly, I need to work on my mental toughness.

That said, it was a lovely race in many ways, even if I spent a lot of it head down, just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. It was well organised and the location was fab. I spotted various local landmarks en route, eg Claramac in multiple locations, MikeR on his bike at mile 3, and Duckinator and Corrah Fetchpointing just before mile 10! I didn't register till later that Duck was videoing throughout... Also heard someone bellowing from behind at me to get a move on at around the 11 miles, which turned out to be Sophster! She came breezing past shortly after. Chatted with various folk in the second half, mainly about the not-quite-as-flat-as-we-were-led-to-believe-ness of the course, although to be fair, looking at the elevation profile afterwards, you could hardly call it hilly. I got a rather too late second wind at about, er, 12.75 miles, spurred on by the proximity of the finish and the final downhill, and coasted back to the castle with a disappointing 2:07:03 - over a minute outside my PB, which was set earlier this year on a hillier course and hotter day.

Everyone else did well - PBs for Mother Duck (2nd lady), JohnRitchie and weekatiepea, and much all-singing all-dancing entertainment was evidently had en route by Nywanda (doing it as a marathon-training long run) and AngusC (doing his first half in 20 years).

All in all, this would have been a great race if I'd just been doing it for fun and not worrying about a time, but given that I was hoping for a PB, it was a bit of a disappointing day for me. People keep telling me it's mental. (Or maybe they're saying "You're mental".) Either way, they're probably right. However, it's made me more determined to crack it next time, and my plan of campaign is, in a nutshell, "train like mad" ahead of the Fraserburgh Half on 20 Nov. I'm thinking a lot more race-pace runs to give me confidence....

And I have no doubt I will be back to Crathes next year for another crack at this race and another very nice t-shirt :)