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Silverstone Half-marathon: Race report

March 11, 2012

Sometimes things just don’t work out as you would like. Sometimes things go wrong. In distance running, the chances are high that the wheels will come off at some point, so it’s important to work out what lessons you can apply to the next race.

Lesson 1: Turn up in time for the start.

Silverstone is, according to both Google and TomTom about an hour and a half away from home. So, setting off three hours before start time, I imagined that I’d have to sheepishly apologise to my girlfriend for getting us to the racing circuit much earlier than we needed to be.

All was going well until we got within five miles of Silverstone and spent the next hour and a bit sitting in traffic. The race was due to start at midday, which was roughly the time at which we finally found a parking space I dashed to the nearest loos for a pit stop and then ran the mile or so to the start line.

I was just able to squeeze into the 2-hour pen, while those at the faster end of the field were finishing their first mile.

Lesson 2: Be aware of hydration and the conditions of the day.

The day was warm with blazing sunshine. Sitting in a queue of traffic with a full bladder, I was cooking slowly in the car and only had a couple of sips of water before arriving at Silverstone. Where normally I’d have been drinking water through a warm-up, I arrived at the start line dehydrated.

Three or four miles in, I grabbed a bottle of water, but didn’t take a substantial amount on board. This pattern pretty much followed at every water station, so by the end of the race I was desperately thirsty.

While most races start early in the morning, the Silverstone Half’s midday start means that runners are out during the hottest part of the day. Regular sips of water in the hours running up to a race are essential and prevent you hitting the starting line with nothing left in the tank.

Lesson 3: There are no easy ways to make up a substantial amount of time.

There were gun-time clocks at every mile, so when I’d made it through to the first mile I could see that 12 minutes (and some change) had passed, despite a self-timed split of 6:02. I’d hung to the edges of the course and overtaken hundreds of people, but that wasn’t sustainable.

The Silverstone course (perhaps unsurprisingly) includes a lot of tight corners and a lot of narrow straights. Overtaking means weaving through gaps between people, and that takes energy. You also need to avoid the inside corners as runners bunch up and slow down at the turn, so you’re running a longer route.

When I run well, running is a meditative state. The regular rhythm and effort is all-absorbing and the miles slip past. The effort of constantly looking for paths through crowds of runners drags the miles out and makes the run a tougher mental game. By the seven mile mark the crowd of runners had thinned out enough for me to try to get a rhythm, but my head wasn’t in the right place.

Lesson 4: Seek out the positive.

The final four miles were tough, with some long uphills and no shelter from the sun. As I crossed the finish line, after a particularly tortuous final mile, the woman next to be bent over double and vomited up the liquid she’d consumed during the run. In the final mile I’d passed a lot of people who were walking – not all of them your typical ‘walker’ (as in someone who walks mid-race, not a rambler). The conditions on the day had clearly taken their toll.

Scott Overall, to date the UK’s only male Olympic 2012 marathon runner won the race comfortably in 69 minutes. I can’t make a comment on how hard he ran the race (he led from the start) as I saw none of it through the thick crowds of runners, but it’s interesting to note that 14 runners finished in sub-69 minutes at the Bath Half held on the same day. Is the Silverstone Half a tough course? I can’t say after the pig of a run I had today.

However, on arriving home I checked the results to see the damage. Silverstone listed times based on chip rather than gun, which is a small mercy. (Today was the first time I’ve passed the finish line with a time in the 1:30s showing on the clock in a good couple of years.) My chip time was 1:27:31, which gave me a finishing position of 104th.

So, my time doesn’t represent my current level of fitness, but my overall position wasn’t dreadful. I need to remember that with a more consistently paced run, a less stressful start, and better hydration I could manage the distance in a much better time.

My next task is to put the race behind me, move on and make sure this doesn’t affect my racing confidence. Fortunately, no cars are involved in the journey to the start line of the London Marathon (and our hotel is minutes away from the start line of the Edinburgh Marathon in May).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2012 8:21 am

    Good work! The important thing is that you leartnt something and are still healthy.

  2. domholdsworth permalink
    March 12, 2012 9:44 am

    Lewis – gutted for you – sounds horrendous. But congrats on digging out a respectable time despite the nightmare.
    Not sure one of your lessons can really be “turn up on time” – if you left yourself double the amount of time you thought you’d need (and were still late.)
    What I mean is: you can’t now say you should leave triple the amount of time you need. Then you just swap one nightmare (being late) for another (spending your whole weekend waiting, preparing etc).
    On a positive note: good to hear that running normally takes you to a “meditative state” and “the miles slip past”. Ah-hm, me too. D.

    • March 12, 2012 1:28 pm

      I’d leave a considered reply to this, but I’m on my way to the start of the London Marathon. I mean, sure, I’ll be six weeks too early, but I’ll definitely be there in time for the starting gun…

  3. March 12, 2012 9:55 am

    Agree with comment 2 – it was unexpectedly hot. And there’s no shade round Silverstone at all.
    Getting in is always a nightmare, and it really shouldn’t be – they get far more cars in (and out again) for most racing events with less fuss and bother.
    Looking forward to following the rest of the way to the marathon. And good luck!

    • March 12, 2012 1:30 pm

      Thanks Helen! I hope you had a good race on Sunday.

      It’s all a learning experience, so I’m going to put this event to one side and focus on the races that really matter… And put myself in a better mood by buying some new running shoes at lunchtime…

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