Sub-1:50 half marathon: Week 8

There are now only 5 weeks to go until my target half marathon – eek! I have been getting really nervous this last week about the race. Up until now the race has sat quite comfortably on the horizon, but as soon as I turned my calender over to March I realised just how close the big day is and it made me nervous.

Over the last 6 months as my race times have improved I have had more and more running friends and acquaintances (of which I seem to have more than non-running friends and acquaintances these days…) tell me that a sub-1:50 half marathon will be a walk in the park (pun totally intended). But, while I really do appreciate their confidence and I value the advice that they give me, I am still incredibly nervous about the race and the challenge that I have set myself. I therefore thought that I would dedicate this week’s post to explaining why I am nervous and how I have attempted to counteract self-doubt these final few weeks of training.

First of all I think that I should discuss what exactly I mean when I say ‘I am nervous’. After all, ‘nervous’ encompasses a huge number of emotions that range from the important process of psyching oneself up for a banging race to the slightly more detrimental crapping yourself on the start line (actually or figuratively), having a panic attack at a water station and/or vomiting lactic acid. So perhaps saying that I am ‘nervous’ about the big race is a bit too ambivalent. Perhaps I should choose a better descriptor.

Intimidated: This word makes me think of school bullies. Bullies are intimidating – big and tough, they know more bad words than you do and they have mean tricks up their sleeves.

I do find half marathons pretty intimidating. It took me two years of trying and training and running 26 minute 5Ks before I finally snuck under 2 hours on the fourth attempt. That experience taught me that endurance distance races require a very different physical and mental approach than a shorter race might do. That is not, of course, to imply that a 5K or 10K race isn’t hard – they are hard, very bloody hard – but they are a different kind of hard.

I feel like I have come face to face with the big bully half marathon enough times to really appreciate what I am up against, and similarly I feel that I have run enough 10K races to know exactly what I am not up against. So upon reflection, am I feeling intimidated? Probably not. I know this bully, and I know that its big and tough, but I know what tricks it has up its sleeve, and I have an extensive list of bad words and positive mantras to shout back at it.

Daunted: I’m definitely feeling pretty daunted by the whole thing. ‘Daunted’ implies that the task or challenge ahead is a big one, and for me this challenge is a big one, both in terms of distance (I struggle to imagine a day when 13.1 miles will feel short) and in terms of improvement (it’ll knock nearly 10 minutes off last Spring’s PB). I also like this word because it doesn’t imply panic in the same way that ‘nervous’ does. Instead it implies facing a challenge head on.

However ‘daunted’ makes me think of a big obstacle, something that as you face it is so big it overshadows you and any hope or strategy that you may have. Don’t get me wrong, the challenge is big. But I think I’m aware enough of its magnitude to not feel so intimidated (see above) once I stand head to head with it. So is this race really that daunting? Probably not. It’s big and its overshadowing, but I don’t feel that it is so big it overshadows my strategies and my training plan.

Apprehensive: At first ‘apprehensive’ seems like a good alternative to ‘nervous’. It implies a sense of knowingness. It alludes to experience in ways that ‘intimidation’ cannot, and to the awareness of both task and tactics that I could not have if I were truly ‘daunted’. However ‘apprehension’ also implies a sense of defeatism that I definitely do not feel. I imagine that feeling ‘apprehensive’ on the start line would mean I take a gulp and run towards my inevitable peril.

But I’m not running towards my peril or towards my defeat. I’m running towards my… well… I guess that’s the problem – I really don’t know what I’m running towards or what I’m getting myself into. I’m going to be running a distance that I know to be really bloody far and I’m running at a pace that I will only ever have run for half of the total distance. After the 6 mile marker I will quite literally be stepping into the unknown and it is that ‘unknown’ that scares me, that makes me nervous, that intimidates me, that daunts me, and that makes me apprehensive.

I’m doing everything that I can to counteract these feelings of course. My training plan was thorough and, though I wrote it myself, I think it’s pretty darn comprehensive. And both this week and last week I ran (and quite frankly smashed) two time trials, a 5K and a 10K respectively. Everything points towards that sub-1:50 half marathon finish being within my sweaty reach, but the memory of those failed sub-2hr attempts don’t fade and, just like a school bully that tries to intimidate you, they have to be confronted. And, just like a school bully, when the cause of your concern is (or has been) so very real there really is only one way to beat it: take comfort in the fact that you are prepared for the experience to hurt and to suck and to be really very horrible, and to then take a deep breath and hope for the best.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about race day this week, because it has been a scheduled recovery week. This meant less mileage and only two runs in preparation for Sunday’s 10K time trial. Here’s how this week went down:

Monday: Hill sprints
I wanted the week to relax as it went on, so I scheduled the hardest session for Monday: 10 minutes at threshold pace, 5 x 200m hill sprints with 90 seconds recovery, followed by another 10 minutes at threshold pace. These hill sprints went really well and I felt super strong. I really love the feeling of power that comes with sprinting and it put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

Tuesday: Rest
I skipped my usual Tuesday weights session this week as I wanted to take it slightly easier. Hill sprints are sort of a strength training anyway, aren’t they?

Wednesday: Mile reps
I wanted to run a few threshold reps this week just to get some speed in my legs before Sunday’s time trial, but I still wanted a vaguely ‘endurance’ focused session. I adjusted my training plan slightly and ran 3 miles at the lower end of my threshold pace with 2 minutes active recovery between each mile. I’ve had a pretty stressful week and so a manageable session that still left me puffing was absolutely perfect for my mood.

Thursday: Rest
Thursday is a regular rest day as I have a very long work day. I treated myself to a sports massage in the evening, much needed after a few weeks of niggling knee pain. The physio, Michelle, found some ITB tightness in my left leg and some awful knotty tightness in my right quads. My legs were left pretty bruised, but I’m going back for another beating, ahem… sorry, massage in a few weeks.

Friday: Rest
Friday was an additional rest day as part of my recovery week. Normally I do my long run on Fridays and I really, really look forward to a couple of hours when I do not have to do work, or reply to emails, or do laundry, or deal with any other Life Crap. Instead of a run, my girlfriend and I planned a London Day Out so that I could still avoid doing my laundry. We went to the Grant Museum of zoology in Central London, where we saw lots of Victorian-esque specimens in jars (not for the faint hearted I’m afraid) with surprisingly funny descriptors, including a jar of moles (I assume the poor dears had been used for dissection) and a coral that looks like (but should not be confused with) a brain.


After an hour of smearing the glass cabinets with our greasy fingers and giggling inappropriately we headed to the Sweatshop on Rathbone Place to get the GF fitted in a decent pair of running shoes after we finally agreed that her gym trainers were simply not going to cut it for the 13.1 mile race and the next 5 weeks of training. As expected, we got top service at Sweatshop. I’ve bought trainers here before and so I know that their staff are properly trained for fitting running shoes and that their customer service is second to none. But the GF didn’t quite believe me when I said that our visit would be worth it. I think she was genuinely quite shocked at how much care the sales assistant took in fitting her in her new Mizuno Wave Riders (turns out she’s a well formed neutral runner, lucky thing…). The staff also humoured me as I poked at their performance shoes and tried on a pair of Brooks Ravenna (didn’t like them – they felt too restrictive).

Saturday: Rest/Volunteering at parkrun
I offered to volunteer at this week’s Finsbury parkrun so that I could a.) give back to the parkrun community (vom… I know… but it’s true), and b.) so that I could watch the GF run in her new shoes. She ran wonderfully, setting a new PB (unofficial as she had no barcode) and the shoes looked fabulous.


Sunday: 10K time trial
Today was the last in the series of 10K races that the Mornington Chasers host in Regents Park and it was my last scheduled time trial before the half marathon. I wanted to get as close to my December PB as possible, just to check that my training is indeed improving my fitness and not just wasting my time. The morning did not start particularly well as I turned off my alarm and woke up 20 minutes before I planned to leave, breakfasted on (puny) cornflakes rather than (hearty) porridge, and didn’t drink as much water as I would have liked. I did however get my (now slightly ritualistic) 2 cups of coffee (one at breakfast and one en route to the race HQ), run some drills, and squeeze in (or out, depending on how you choose to think about it) two toilet trips.

The race itself was tough as I staved off nausea from 2km to 6km, battled heavy legs at 3km to 5km, floated in and out of the zone from 7km to 8km and dragged my sweaty ass through kilometres 9 and 10 to finish with a stonking new PB of 46:33. I was certainly not expecting that and, though it by no means guarantees me that much sought after sub-1:50 half marathon finish it does make it slightly less intimidating/daunting/downright terrifying.




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