Pleased. As I entered the final stretch going from a slightly ragged gait to a sprint to beat a fellow runner through the finishing arch, I saw the numbers 1:38:27. It was far better than I'd imagined. I'd hoped to break 1:40 but knew it would require optimal pacing, good conditions and my body to hold up. In actuality, it was a flat course permitting runners to run naturally; conditions were perfect, dry and cool; and though the body had a touch of misbehaviour, on the course I was fine. All in all, what could go right, did.
My lead-in started the day before. As planned I went for what should have been an easy jog. It was easy - but afterwards I noticed with a touch of dread that a tendon in my arch felt twinged. I gave it some treatment but the night before and on the morning of the event, it was still evident. These niggles can magnify over distance and 21 km is plenty of time for it to happen. The night before I did a set of stretches for all muscles, added heat and foam rolled them.
The next morning I got up at 5am. This was based on something I read: Get up 3 hrs early to eat, digest and warm up. Apparently if you eat later, your body is hooked into burning glycogen and blood glucose and not fat. Giving yourself three hours means your glycogen is replete but your body won't burn it first. Anyway, I ate, drank, went for a run walk, stretched, foam rolled and got dressed. I left my dynamic stretches till 20 mins before the start.
And then it was the start! As I feared and as I tend to, I got off to a quick start, roughly 4:34/km for the first 4km. I'd planned to keep my pace within 4:46-4:52 for the first 5km. I kept telling myself to slow down but like a swimmer in a current I struggled to decelerate until I bumped into another runner, "Pink Asian girl", who was falling back. I ran with her for a couple of kilometers and it got me to the pace I was planning. Perhaps some misinformation helped, too. The course map had implied a hill which wasn't there - I slowed preemptively but it never came.
Either way I churned through the distance with my running app chirping updates with each kilometre. As I went I swang from one running companion to another. After "Pink Asian Girl", it was "The Argentine", who I chatted with. He was doing his first half marathon but did triathlons before. He said we should push forward but I declined and slipped back. "Nondescript Man" caught up to me and we exchanged some weather-related small talk.After he pushed on I was without a partner till "Platinum Headphones" I kept pace with her for a while before thinking that I was going too slow and decided to take a corner to push past her. I knew my time was just about on target for my target time and needed to keep up the pace till the end. It was in the last 5-6 km's that I met the two people who'd be my most important pacers.
"Little Boy Black" was a teenager dressed in black t-shirts and shorts. He was an early companion around the 6km mark that I accompanied for a short time before passing. He must have paced the race well because he grinded past me at about the 16km mark. Or perhaps I was what kept him going. We all pace each other. In the final stage of the run, he was just a little bit faster than me but keeping up with him as much as I could helped me to maintain the speed I wanted. Though he was faster he didn't leave my view until the last stretch. In his slipstream I came within 10 metres of "Balding YMCA". He was pretty quick, probably in my division too, and for a time, I never seemed to be catching up to him but I kept pushing with both of them as my targets. "Balding YMCA" stopped completely for a drink and I shot by him. He then overhauled me briefly within a kilometre but he couldn't maintain it and I grinded past him and never saw him again. While "Little Boy Black" was there, I knew I was certain of a good time and it was important to have him in the last five kilometres. My splits kept coming in below 4:50, mostly in the low 4:40s.
The final 5km were made easy by the fact that they were the same as the opening 5km. The familiarity meant you knew exactly how long it was to the end, and when you're running faster for the distance, you cannot wait till the end. With 500m to go, I felt like I was on the verge of being completely spent. Perhaps it's just because my legs knew it was so close to the end. Surprising the final kilometre was my fastest split, 4:20. The fact was that despite me feeling like I was out of speed, I was speeding. And with the line begging, I broke into a spring to overhaul the runner in front of me. According one app, I ran the last 30m in 3:48/min - a pretty fast sprint when I'm fresh.
Overall, this is going to be a high water mark that will be hard to surpass, at least in the short term. I'm unlikely to have such a flat course with such perfect conditions. But I feel like I've still go space to improve. This year will still be the year that I conquer the full marathon and this performance puts me in pretty good stead to do it with the endurance and power to achieve it. Fingers crossed I can keep my improvements up without injury.