Two hours after the gun for the full marathon, I lined up to run out the gate for the half marathon. I was warm and ready. The start area was literally on the beach. I don't like running on the beach. But beggars can't be choosers. After heavy rain the previous day, the sky was set for a good run. It wasn't cold. It wasn't warm. Just like the Rotorua Half, the event which was my other downgrade from a marathon, the weather was perfect.
And just like Rotorua, I'm pretty satisfied with my run although as usual I keep thinking about what might have been. My net time (i.e. the time between my passing beneath the Start arch and Finish arch) was 1:36:33, which if offered to me as my next half marathon time I would have taken with open arms. That's about 1 minute 40 faster than Rotorua on a much more challenging course. (And a lot faster than my previous half mara.) I cut a further 1 minute 20 off my fastest 15km time set just a few weeks ago. And that was all with injury thwarted preparation in the last 3 weeks.
But I am a chronically fast starter. I ran the first 5km at 10km pace, again. I just got with a "nice crowd" that felt like a good pace. MapMyRun's vocalisations made it quite clear that my pace was unsustainable but I just couldn't back off from my own momentum. That "nice crowd" left me behind on North Head. Though not going to the top of the mountain, it's quite a speedbump. After descending, I I got with another "nice bunch" that I was either in front of or behind till the 18km mark. These nice bunches were really pushing me to (and apparently past) my potential: I was running still at 4:31/km pace for the course to that point, a pace until recently would have been unthinkable. At 18km I just had to keep it going for the last three and a bit to record a sub-1:36 time.
It wasn't to be. There was a downhill, a hairpin turn, and a run back uphill and then that "nice bunch" who accompanied me for the last 8km cruised past me, and my next split came in at 5:00/km! And the next one, too. I just couldn't keep my speed and basically had given up a minute of time over those two kilometres relative to my pace thus far. It was a moderate "wall" which I was hitting. It gave me a brief rest though and in my 21st kilometre I recovered to record my 9th sub 4:30/km split before splattering on that last stretch, the finish line up a steep hill from the beach.
All good fun. I'm still proud: 4:34/km pace for 21.1km is sensational for me at this time. 9 of the twenty one kilometre splits were below 4:30/km, 3 of which were under 4:20. For reference, in Rotorua, I only had one split under 4:30 - and that was the final sprint to the line where you can just go crazy without fear. Even in my fastest 10km training run ever just a week ago, only 6 splits were below 4:30 pace. (Incidentally that run might have been the one psychologically was the most important in the lead-up. It told me that: (a) I can run with my niggly knee at high pace; and that I had a new reserve of energy that could just keep going and going, that I didn't have before.)
Browsing back over my runs for the year, I've got a lot to pleased about 3/4 of the way through the year. I have another 8 weeks before I potentially run in the Auckland Marathon to make up for missing this one. As long as I shake off this niggle, I'll advance a little more by then and be very ready for my first full marathon. Thinking back, Rotorua could have been, but it would have been hard. North Shore could have been, and I would have been well set. If Auckland comes to pass, I'll be one of the most prepared with an almost 12 month preparation. (And touch wood I get to the starting line and physiologically all goes well.)
I made something of a breakthrough in July when long runs, hills and intervals all brought a very noticeable jump in my times. Provided my knee continues its healthward trend (touch wood), I'll get back on that track and perhaps try a half marathon in three weeks (Onehunga and Devonport are around the corner). In them, I'll try to keep myself to 4:30/km for the first 5km and then see what I can do after that. I was lucky this time that in a 21.1km event, an reckless pace only had a small penalty and one that I could recover from. In the marathon, reckless pace for any of the first 35km could make for the most exquisite pain to end.
This year of training has been a marathon. I really want to get over that line.