Chester Half Marathon – A Masterclass in How NOT TO Prepare

Having spent last night in London at a family celebration and then driven north, battling the M1 roadworks to arrive at 2:30am, I wasn’t looking forward to the alarm. At 5am!

A couple of hours sleep is not what I need. I woke up, bumbled about making little sense and could not stomach breakfast. Not a good basis on which to race.

I needed to collect my race number this morning. I knew there were fewer parking spaces than originally intended, thankfully the organisers notified everyone a couple of days ago. I knew I was going to need extra time to get my head in order for this one. The only way was to go for a criminally early start.

Parking turned out to be no problem at all. This event really is well orchestrated.
I headed down to the racecourse to find the race pack pickup. Another seamless exercise. Spotted Chris (race organiser) and said ‘Hi’. Then I wandered about trying to wake myself up.

The atmosphere was quite relaxed at the start. The pens aren’t so much pens as areas near time targets. I parked myself in-between 1h30m and 1h40m. If it’s a reasonably flat one, that should be the achievable range depending on how I feel once I get moving.

Just as with the Chester Marathon back in October, the town crier was master of ceremonies and did his turn. The gun went at 9am on the button and we were on our way.

Then it went a bit awry…

You see I hadn’t bothered to look up the elevation. Why bother, it’s only a half! I wish I had though. Given the benefit of hindsight it might have put the course elevation into perspective.

The race can be best described as:

Gun fires
Run through start gantry and out of the race course
Turn right
…for 13 miles
Cross finish line

And I’m not joking!

The route just seemed to always be going uphill. Never particularly steeply (aside from a 10% gradient up the bridge over the bypass of course!) but just consistently. There was brief (and I mean brief) respite from climbing in a couple of places, but they were so close to flat and so short I barely noticed them. By 8 miles my legs were burning with the unending punishing incline. This one was really tough!

Allow me to explain my game plan…
Run, comfortably until half way and then push on as I usually do. The elevation was a complete unknown to me though. At 3 miles I was thinking to myself ‘it can’t possibly continue going up’. But it did. At half way I was starting to feel the beating in the legs. There was no pressing on to be done. I just had to keep going. Any dreams of a 1:35 or faster were long gone by this point and I resigned myself to the fact that it could quite possibly get worse. It didn’t, but it did just keep climbing. You’re probably asking ‘what is he whining about?’ but if you’ve ever been on a gentle incline for several miles, you’ll know how tiring it becomes eventually. As it turns out, the Chester marathon is basically a small gradient incline for pretty much the whole course. It’s felt like I was in an Escher picture! There is no end to the climb.

The moral of the story is to never think ‘it’s just a 10k/half/5k/other run’ even if you’ve done plenty of them before unless you’ve checked the details/elevation/weather/whatever. You may live to regret it!

On the plus side, I ran 1h38m even given the gradient so I feel in quite good shape. I also ache like I’ve never ached before though!

The next few days get interesting now…
I have the Civil Service Jubilee 10k on Thursday with several of my colleagues and then the Great Manchester run (10k) on Sunday. My challenge is to potter round the first so I can do well in the second. We’ll see if I can hold back.

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