March Half-Marathon Madness – part 1, Coventry.

As a part of training for the Manchester marathon, I knew I was going to have to do some longer runs. I therefore came up with a plan to enter three half marathons in March. This would force me to get the runs done whilst picking up some bling along the way.

I had only done two half marathon races before, with the last one being in July 2014. Both of them took me longer than two hours to complete, but since I had been sticking to the training plan so far (having clicked up over 100 miles in both January and February), I was hopeful the two-hour mark could be beaten.

Sarah had run Belvoir challenge the day before and was not a happy bunny when she got home. This required the purchase of medicinal brandy, which was probably not the best pre-race lubrication the night before.

The race was due to start at 9am, so I set alarms for 5:00 and 5:30am on my iPad, figuring that I’d be able to ignore then, but still manage to get up around 6:00am when my clock radio went off. Something went wrong with this plan as the first interruption to my sleep was the radio.

I rapidly showered, changed and grabbed some cereal, whilst trying to ensure I was sufficiently hydrated for the race ahead. With at least a 40 minute drive ahead of me, I decided to retry the fuelling strategy I’d tried prior to Rockingham… A McDonalds breakfast! With that consumed, I hit the motorway, relying on the SatNav to deliver me to a city that I’d only ever been through on a train before.

On arriving at Coventry City centre around 8:00am, I was concerned there appeared to be large queues for the car parks. I had deliberately selected the car park with the most amount of spaces and hadn’t really entertained the possibility that I’d have an issue parking. Fortunately the hold up was a large people carrier trying to negotiate a tight entrance with the help of a parking attendant!

Having parked up, I headed for the exit, following the few runners in front of me. Unfortunately, the air of confidence they were projecting disappeared a couple of steps outside the car park with a comment of “Right, which way now!” Fortunately, it was fairly easy to find the race village and having got my bearings, I headed towards the loos. After a short walk in the right direction, I soon had to turn around as I realised that there was a heck of a queue!

Following a visit to the green TARDIS (which was definitely not larger on the inside), I dropped my bag off and was just about to head in the direction of the start line when I heard my name being called. It was nice to have a quick chat with Lorraine and Emma Chambers before we all headed off to our respective start pens.

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The sub-two hour starting area was on a side road, so the start wasn’t visible from where I lined up, although a clock on a nearby building told us how close we were to race-start as concerned runners waited for their watches to pick up satellites. All of a sudden, the air horn sounded from round the corner and… nothing happened!

Slowly, the queue of runners started to shuffle towards the start and it was a little concerning to note that somehow the 2 hour 15 pacer had started to make his way towards the start line as well… In front of me. That wasn’t a time I was planning on being anywhere near.

As I approached the start line, I was quite surprised to find that the gun time was already at five minutes – thank goodness for chip timing! As we crossed the line, I started my watch and almost immediately, the runners parted, a temporary island had been set up to allow the race photographers to grab a shot of everyone before they had the opportunity to get tired (although this picture suggests otherwise!)
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The first mile was a tour of Coventry City Centre. I joked as I passed the unmistakeable green curly wig of Walsall parkrun’s own Usingh Bolt and I was also relieved to pass the 2:15 pacer. I went through the first mile in 7:40, which was faster than I was expecting (and led to the inevitable thoughts of “Have I gone off too fast”.)

We headed away from the city centre and it wasn’t long before we came to the first water station. I was surprised to see that I’d also caught up with the 2:00 pacer. On the main road towards Allesley, I thought I caught sight of another photographer. I can never tell whether they’re getting a shot of you or of runners in front of or behind you, I gave a thumbs up just in case and carried on.

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It was a really nice day for running and before I knew it we were approaching the water station at five miles. Up until this point, I hadn’t really noticed any uphill bits (although for it to be ‘all downhill from mile 8’, there had to be a bit of climbing to be done!

The first bit of climb I noticed came from about mile 6 and, to my surprise, I found I was still passing some other runners. I was enjoying my run so I made the decision to give the other runners a little Bon Jovi at half distance. I’m not sure the girl who I’d just passed was that impressed as she let out a scream as I belted out the chorus of “Living on a Prayer”! One of the other runners complained I had too much energy, but then it was time for another hill.

I then came across a runner who might as well have been singing “I want to be your drill instructor.” He appeared to be coaching another runner round and was barking orders about arms and stride length. He was also trying to encourage participants who had taken a walking break (although I’m not sure the encouragement was welcome given the manner of its delivery!)

The people of Coventry and surrounding area were really supportive of the race, with many standing outside houses giving out jelly babies and other sweets. Around seven miles there was a cute kid with their mother encouraging runners that they were nearly at the top of the hill. This was good news!

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Just before eight miles, we reached a main road and on turning the corner, you could see runners stretched out for ages… Going downhill! It was a nice change of pace and soon we were at mile 10. I’d pretty much ignored my watch since just before mile 8, but a glance at my watch suggested I was on for a good time

Around this point, I started trading places with a runner wearing an Equinox t-shirt. This made me smile as that was a running weekend I’d really enjoyed last year. The trading places wasn’t deliberate, it just seemed that every time he passed me, he’d slow down again.

The final water station looked familiar. I realised that we had run the section before, but in the opposite direction, however approaching a corner, my brain realised two thing. The first was that the was a hill coming up and the second was that there was a great downhill section all the way to the finish. At this stage, I was ahead of Equinox guy and pressed on up the hill, which appeared to have caught some other runners out.

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We were now half a mile away from the finish and I sped up! In a way I was surprised I still had something in the tank to put a sprint finish in, but I could visualise the rest of the course and just wanted to get it done. My watch buzzed for 13 miles and Equinox guy came caning it past me. “Fair Enough”, I thought, “I don’t have that much of a sprint finish available!”

Heading towards the line, the gun time displayed on the gantry was around 1 hour 54. Something felt wrong with that time, but the priority was to finish. Crossing the line, I stopped my watch and realised the issue with the gun time – the five minutes it took me to cross the line at the start. My watch was saying 1:48:36 (official chip time confirmed at 1:48:38).

I was over the moon! My previous PB was from Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool Half at 2:01:06, so I’d taken nearly 12:30 off my time and I still felt good! I’m clearly getting stronger, so maybe 26.2 isn’t out of the question!

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