tldr; I raced the Wimbledon Half yesterday and it was absolutely fantastic!
Looking back at the Hitchin Hard Half as a data point post-surgery, I targeted beating the time from that race (02:18:xx official race time, but I stopped to help someone and had to run back to the marshals down the hill to get official help, and my watch said moving time of 02:15:xx, so I'm taking that). It was very much achievable goal given the relative lack of hills at Wimbledon - the Hitchin route has 676ft total ascent and the Wimbledon one only 480ft of total ascent.
|You can see where I stopped to re-pin my number near the start|
The goal was to manage a faster average pace than 10:18/mile to beat that time of 02:15. The slight fun was that the first mile of the route is mostly uphill, so the first mile was always going to be slow as well as wanting to take it relatively gently for the first 20 mins or so.
The race was due to be started in waves separated by 3 minutes, the first of which for those expecting a race time of 01:40 or less. The following waves for 01:50 or less, 2 hours or less, 02:10 or less and then over 02:10. I decided to go in the last wave, mainly because people frequently over-estimate how quickly they will finish plus go off too quickly at the start so even with slower runners I'd have plenty of room at the start with people disappearing off ahead of me who I'd eventually overtake and beat in the end.
We jogged across the common from the Windmill car park to the race start/finish on the rugby fields and as we arrived and registered it started to drizzle. So we sheltered under the trees and drank tea while we waited the 45 mins or so to the first wave start. MrTOTKat had decided to go in the 01:50 or less wave so I'd be starting well after him and unlikely to see him again until the finish, given the route of the course. I hung back and decided to go for a final wee after the 2 hour wave had started only to hear that the final two waves were being merged due to them being so small. So I had to yank up my shorts pretty swiftly and trot swiftly to the starting arch to get going.
Given the uphill in the first mile, I wasn't too annoyed to see a 10:33 first mile given that I'd hiked a bit up that hill already to keep my heart rate down and save running effort for when I could do it faster than I hike uphill. There was also the few seconds I had to stop to re-pin my race number, having yanked it off with the thumb of one hand while over-enthusiastically swinging up arms up that hill.
Then I managed to keep a relative lid on things for the first 5 miles. The rain fell harder and harder and I was loving the route and the weather and feeling great, so I decided to wind it up a bit and carry on picking people off to overtake. Having started in the last wave I ended up making well over 100 places by always targeting the next 2 people in front of me and reeling them in. Hiking the steeper ups (a couple of smallish hills), taking the flats with a bit of push and enjoying the downs I made sure I kept pushing a bit all the way around the two laps. Mainly not looking at my watch at all until after half way, I ran on feel and my legs felt like they wanted to have a go.
The end of the first lap had a good 1.5 miles of full-on downhill which I bombed down the first time, hitting my fastest ever mile since coming back from surgery. Having practiced downhill a bit more than it appears a lot of people do, I flew past quite a few people on that first go down that hill. After that I kept pushing all the way; targeting the next person to reel in and overtake over and over again.
I unexpectedly saw MrTOTKat at mile 7-ish and waved - he was looking perky and I was slightly jealous that he had only 4 miles to go where the two bits of route touch each other and I still had 6 to go. Things got a bit tough in miles 9 and 10 and I slowed a bit around there as I fought with myself to carry on pushing. By that point I knew I'd be easily beating my 02:15 target as I'd taken a look at my watch and seen the average pace showing as 09:45/mile. But I zipped up the Yuki suit and got on with it, finding the love again quite quickly by mashing through the puddles that others were mincing around trying to keep their feet dry (pointless as there were unavoidable puddles later in the lap) and then thinking about that gorgeous downhill in the last couple of miles.
Mis-judging the last little bit of the race, partly because I hadn't noticed a landmark right near the start of the route, it was a few hundred metres further to go than expected when MrTOTKat (having already finished and come to the final water station to cheer me in) yelled encouragement that it was "4-5 mins to go!" - I was expecting 2-3mins at that point and the extra made quite a bit of mental difference.
Battling it out with a couple of other ladies around the final couple of bends, they were more timid about the surface and weather than I was, but then I almost killed myself on a slippery tree root when I saw the giant Womble cheering people at the final water station. Then just before the end, I had a tiny little blow-up; my legs decided they weren't playing any more and I even had to walk a few steps to avoid throwing up. Zipping up that Yuki suit again, I forced past it to run some more for the final 200m and had the only person to overtake me for the whole race go past at that point! Argh! Throwing myself headlong across the field towards the finish I did manage something of a sprint at the end, but nothing sustainable and really had to have a sit down pretty soon after crossing the line.
It was great that the rain started just before the race and then only got harder all the way through until it stopped about 10 mins before I finished. I love running in the rain and I'm totally happy to run through mud and puddles. Overall I'm very pleased with how the morning's running went. Having targeted 10:18/mile average as a target to beat 02:15 overall, and achieved 09:41/mile I'm really very happy with that - OK it was not quite as hilly as Hitchin, but that's still quite a difference (I officially finished in 02:06:44). I'm very happy that I managed to keep pushing the whole way round - something I've had inconsistent results with in the past (the main reason I don't get on with multi-lap courses - it's too easy for me to give up at the end of any given lap :o)) - I could easily have thrown in the towel after one lap and just been annoyed with myself later (I'm pretty sure the lovely route plus positive mind-set I set off with rather helped this time). What you have to bear in mind is that 5 months ago I was re-learning to walk after ankle surgery, and I've only been back exercising again for 4 months since 4 months off! (And I'm not a lifetime athlete, so I don't have years of fitness in my body.)
What's also awesome is that this race looks like it's run 4-5 times in the year from March to October so it could be a local fun series for future years too!