I should now have done enough half marathons for the specialness to have worn off. But that’s not the case. They’re a contest. An experience. An I-against-I. A measurement of belief vs reality. The ceremony around it only makes that sense thicker.
I charged through the finish gate 1 hour 40 minutes 3 seconds after running through the start gate. That was about one and a half minutes slower than the previous year but on a totally different course. Last year’s course was flat,fast and all road. This was hilly, rough and on very uneven surfaces. To be honest, even though I may have charged through the finish gate, my body was quite a lot more broken than when I’d started. I had a sore hip flexor and a painful shin but more on that later.
Every race has its story. This one started off with me rolling with the 1:40 pacers. 1:40 had been my target for a half marathon with my current fitness although knowing that this course was hilly I’d prepared to try for that pace on the first flat 5km and then take time over the hills in order to have a fast final 5km. I started drifting back as soon as the hills came.
The first hill was a massacre. Usually you need to wait for the final half to start passing people. At 5km, I passed a glut of runners that had gone off too quickly. One of them was walking. It was steep though and we’d hit the unsealed section. At 6km we finally had some descent and that was when I felt the hip flexor start to be really sore. I’d just gained this problem recently in my training but in training it’d be sore to start and then fade. This wasn’t fading. And that made sense: a hip flexor helps adjust your leg on uneven surfaces. It must have been working overtime. It was so early in the race and past a level of discomfort that would have stopped a training run. I thought about pulling out but was in the middle of nowhere. I decided to keep plowing on.
I got passed by those I’d passed on the hill but they became my running bunch and targets for the next 5km. “Big Rig” was the most dominant of them early on. He slowed on the ascents but powered the descents. I passed him in total about three times but overall lead our bunch for most of the second quarter. I slowly worked my way through the others “The world’s fastest Indian”, “dropsy” (who dropped his energy bar and never caught back to the group) and “The worlds fastest Indian pt 2” (different fella). We had a lot of a mild ups and downs and if my hip flexor wasn’t enough, my shin pain from two weeks ago returned. Both were just manageable.
The second sharp rise put an end to my current collaboration. Big Rig wasn’t seen again and for the third quarter I was tracking with just one runner “Lofty” who had been in my group earlier on but had probably stayed with the pacers for longer. (I didn’t see them till the end.) He set my pace until the third sharp hill which marked the three quarter mark. I didn’t see him after that.
Going down from that hill I only had two other genuine companions: Fluro and Action Man. Fluro was the kind I call a “late starter”. A late starter is the kind who comes out of nowhere in the middle of a race at an unreal pace and blows by you, as if he or she were a pro runner who started late. He passed me on the downhill making some comments on how shocking the last ascent was and then speeding onwards. He was in the distance for quite sometime indicating that he was slower on the flat.
Before he left my sight he just had passed Action Man, and we all entered the confluence of the Quarter Marathoners and walkers (coming the other way). This is a dangerous phase because there is more dodging but also fewer true visual cues for pace. If you have a half marathon competitor near you you can pace off them but in a sea of runners for other competitions it’s tricky. But at this stage it was almost totally downhill.
I finally overhauled Action Man as we were literally “coming out of the woods” and thankfully hit the paved and sealed sections. He was bizarre though running with surges to overtake me sometimes going quite far into the distance before cruising. My slower but steady speed was fast enough to get him every time. He probably passed me and fell back five times. He was great to have because he kept me pushing in the final kilometres right to the final stretch. At that point I started my final sprint and he wasn’t able to close the gap 6 seconds behind me. I don't know if he imagined it as a duel, but it helped me sustain the speed to the end.
And then I was done. The body was sore but I hope neither of the two issues are long lasting. I’ll try some easy running soon to loosen things up again. I’m so glad I stayed the distance. 1:40 on this course is an achievement. I crunched the numbers and found I was the slowest 42nd place getter in the last 6 years. Usually that runner would get a 1:30 time. So maybe the course could be said to have a 10 minute handicap to a runner of my pace.which makes me feel good till I think that I’ve never run below 1:35...
My body was smashed but I smashed it. I’m glad to be a runner.