My first race of the year was a small, local, low key half marathon in Exeter, Devon.
Why I historically avoid half marathons:
Worth noting at this point that previously I found half marathons unbearable.
Put simply, I hadn’t ever previously taken them that seriously and as a result they always seemed like a painfully long and painfully fast paced race and I’ve always gone out too fast and regretted it. I have never walked away with one feeling satisfied and content. So in the last 2 years I have only ran 2 half marathon races, despite completing 5 marathons. Time to reprogram my brain!
So what’s new?
So 2018 is the year that I wanted to crack the half marathon and really use it to understand pacing, assess my form, push my boundaries and get some race experience. As such, I had booked into the Exeter Half (February), The Big Half (March), and more recently Berlin Half (April) so that I can get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable! Ultimately it will serve a purpose for me understanding what I can do and help my longer term goals of running a sub 3 marathon one day.
Race Review of Exeter Half Marathon:
I ran the Exeter Half in 2016 and was attracted to it because it’s pancake flat, there isn’t much wind, not many people on the route so technically it should be a fast course!
After hitting a 1:28:44 in training over that distance in (December 2017) I knew I would end up running slightly further on race day and had the goal or a sub 90 minute half (1 hour 30 minutes).
With only 300 participants on the Saturday the race meet area was easy to park close to and number collection/bag drop was super easy just 30 minutes before the race start time.
I lined up at the start to hear that unfortunately the route had been slightly reworked due to some flood defence works that were being carried out. ‘No worries’ I thought.. ‘Lets get going’.
After a warm up and mild stretch off I was on the start line in no time and boom… we were running.
To hit a 1:30 half marathon I was going to need to average 6:50/miles or 4:15/km.
As expected I set off way to fast, something I still struggle with as everyone sets off in a flurry of excitement! Then I found a rhythm.
Here are the first few miles:
Who mentioned hills?
I didn’t realise that by altering the route they had also added some additional hills. Not massive ones but enough to make you puff and they took me by surprise a little! The next few miles were quite tough to be honest, I still new there was a long way to go, and due to my quick start I was being overtaken by people who had been more sensible about their approach to the first 2 miles. This has quite a negative mental effect!
Half way and so far I was well under the pace I needed, I was starting to feel it massively. This route was a two lap race, so I knew I was about to hit a few more hills. As a result my legs started to really tire, and mentally I struggled for a few miles.
It’s all going wrong!
Mile 8 was particularly slow, I think I just zoned out for a little while and just forgot how much I needed to keep pushing. I got comfortable just running along with the crowd and my average page really took a big dip at that point!
At that point I took a GU energy gel and hoped that would help pick me up once it had a little time to kick in and it worked a treat.
I knew I had to pick the pace back up and with just over a ParkRun distance to go so I got my head down and broke from the comfort of the surrounding runners and starting overtaking again, pushing hard!
By this point my watch was averaging 6:51 and I knew that any slower miles would result in me tipping over the sub 1:30:00 goal.
That’s when it happened.
The Turning Point
With only 0.1 miles to go I was confident that I had nailed it to run sub 90 minutes but I had not allowed for the extra mileage that was sure to happen on race day (due to overtaking and going off the racing line). I expected to see the finish line right around the corner…. I unleashed the finishing sprint but where the hell was it?
Absolutely hanging at this point I get around the next corner I glance at my watch and realise there is only 10 seconds left before the clock ticks to 1:30:00! I found my tiptoes and somehow found another gear, sailed into the finish straight and stopped my watch roughly 1-2 seconds after crossing the line.
At that point I knew it would be incredibly close to the mark, I saw 1:30:00 on my watch and could not believe it I must have done it, JUST, by the absolute skin of my teeth! It was a long wait for the results to be published the following day.
The result turned out to be 1:29:59 by the official race results, a new race PB! I’m delighted as that is 10 minutes faster than when I ran this race 2 years ago when my running journey had really just begun and this year was much hillier than the previous route too!
Beyond the finish there was a decent spread of fruit, biscuits and refreshments, along with possibly one of the cheapest finisher medals on the market. But in all honesty I don’t care for the quality of a medal (unless you are paying a massive amount of money for a world major marathon and want your efforts framed to show the grandkids in 40 years time) it’s really the significance of the medal that matters. And this one will always be the first time I broke 90 minutes!
I would recommend this race to anyone, well organised, well marshalled, easy to get in and out of and it has a friendly local feel to it too.
I no longer dread half marathon races, in fact I can’t wait to see what I can do with more confidence, more training and some added enthusiasm when I head to The Big Half in March!
See the full race route and mile breakdown with HR monitor on my Strava profile HERE.