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Southend Half-marathon: Race report

June 12, 2011

A marshal directs runners around the final turn in the Southend Half-marathonMid-June at the British seaside. Of course it’s windy and spotting with rain I think as I get out of my car and start to warm up for the Southend Half-marathon. The posters directing drivers towards the car park and the numerous marshals ably providing traffic directions give me hope that this will be more successful than my last half-marathon.

Since running the Virgin London Marathon in April, my training has been a little unstructured and has tended to include more in the way of long runs and less in the way of tempo runs and speedwork. Today’s race should be a diagnostic to see where I am fitness-wise and to help me work out what I need to do to shoot for the 80-minute mark at the Royal Parks Half-marathon in October. Knowing that I have a tendency to bolt off too fast at the start of a race and pay for it in the latter miles, I decide that I’m going to start in the middle of the pack of 1500-odd runners. Dodging round others will help me to cap my speed while I settle into my rhythm.

The first part of the course contains a few tight corners as the pack wends its way through a few residential streets. Despite the fact that there were two permanent toilet blocks and some port-a-loos in the runners’ village, several men break away to urgently water some plants against a wall. We’re not even a mile into the race. Internally I tut.

Although we’re into the summer months, the temperature is a thoroughly manageable 15°C and the smattering of rain just feels refreshing rather than annoying.

I’m running comfortably and finding the pace easy as the crowd thins out and I have to dart round fewer people. Coming out on to the sea front for the first of two laps up and down the esplanade I’m hit by the wind, but can’t really decide if it’s a head wind of a tail wind. It’s blowing fresh from the sea, but seems to be mostly side-on.

And so the miles pass. I pass more runners, gradually edging my way up the field and focusing on closing down gaps one by one. There are a few hardy spectators lining the course in windproof waterproofs. The marshals are supportive and encouraging at the turning points and water stations. I focus more on my technique than constantly pace checking – trying to land mid-foot and leaning into the wind – but I’m conscious that I’m hitting some very consistent splits.

The double-lap of the esplanade means that I can see how the front of the race is unfolding, and also see the swelling and subsequent thinning of the field of runners. It’s beautifully peaceful by the sea until a man behind me yells at someone in the stream of oncoming runners to inform them that they have (and I quote) ‘amazing tits’. Another man peels off to go and relieve himself in a park. I’d sigh or shake my head if it wouldn’t affect my running.

After the 8-mile mark I decide to have an energy gel, although I’m still feeling fresh and finding the going easy (better too soon than too late, I tell myself). I wash down the orange-flavoured gloop with a plastic cup of water that I manage to drink and breathe in roughly equal measures.

Kite surfers at Southend-on-Sea

The kite surfers were out in force in the inclement weather, just the other side of the car park

After the final turn, the wind hits me head-on. It’s changed direction to become a real headwind and appears to have picked up in strength. I’m conscious that things are feeling a little tougher around the 10-mile mark, but I’m still running comfortably. A couple of minutes later we hang a left for the final couple of miles of the race. It’s at this point that I lose track of the mile markers, but follow close on the heels of a small pack of club runners.

As with the start of the race, there are tight corners at the end, and some slightly uneven surfaces. I try to pick up my pace in the final mile, but nothing much seems to come of it. A few more twists and turns pass and the finish line hoves into sight. I feel good, but seem to be lacking any explosive power. The race photographer yells at me to raise my arms and for some reason I do peace signs. I never do peace signs. I can see the word ‘idiot’ plastered on the photographer’s face and I can already feel the deep sense of shame I’m going to feel when I inevitably see those photos…

On the plus side, I feel good about the race and I’m far from shattered at the finish line. I could have run harder, I could have run faster, but I doubt I could have run a better strategic race.

And so the postmortem…

As I was running I had a feeling that my splits had been pretty even (something that relatively rarely happens to me, unfortunately), so I was looking forward to checking out my splits when I got home. And lo, indeed they were pretty even:

Mile 1: 6:43; mile 2: 6:18; mile 3: 6:27; mile 4: 6:27; mile 5: 6:27; mile 6: 6:24; mile 7: 6:27; mile 8: 6:24; mile 9: 6:23; mile 10: 6:36; mile 11: 6:35; mile 12: 6:24; mile 13: 6:21

My Garmin puts my finish time at 1:24:41, which is about 25 seconds outside my PB. Given that I felt recovered quickly at the end and felt strong throughout the race, I think any training schedule needs to include a healthy dose of speedwork and tempo runs to pack some power into my current fitness levels. Most importantly, though, I can think of few other races that I’ve enjoyed so much and I’m excited about lining up more races this summer.

A small pack of runners on the final stretch of the Southend Half-marathon

'It was this big!' Some fishing yarns take a good 13.1 miles to tell.

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