Monday 21 September 2015

Race Report: Lancaster Castle Half

What just happened?

Race number two of the holiday and it was another "enter on the day" jobbie.  This time a half marathon that is 99.75% flat with a 30m uphill in the final 400m; a little sting in the tail for those on for a PB or a particular time.

The Lancaster Castle Half Marathon (and 10K) is based in Lancaster Castle (prison) in the centre of Lancaster.  This means very few loos for 500 registered runners on the day (we found a pair and timed it perfectly as a huge queue formed behind us almost the moment we'd found them).  As people were heading up the hill into the castle grounds, almost everyone was saying "do we have to run up this?" as they skidded up the cobbles into the castle grounds.  Yes, not only a nasty little hill, but paved with great, shiny cobbles; perfect for skidding about when walking never mind running up it!

We found a coffee shop back in town, just a couple of hundred meters away, once we'd registered and there was an hour before the, quite civilised, start time of 11am.  Lucky we did too, though the coffee was truly awful, there was a loo to be taken advantage of.  And we did.  A couple of times each at least - having scoffed curry and a few ales the night before, there was a bit to let go of before running for a couple of hours.

The race seems pretty popular with local running clubs as there were a couple of coach-loads turned up from two clubs; one in red and one in blue, Blackburn Road Runners and Red Rose Road Runners.  We chatted to one of the race officials (the bloke doing the timing) as everyone was walking to the race start area, and he'd said there were 500 runners registered between the half and the 10K but there was unprecedented no-shows with no particular reason why.

The race start was down in a field near the castle.  We all ambled down the path to the field to then completely not hear the run briefing at all, and then we were led to the actual start line.  I was about  3/4 down the bunch of runners as we walked to the start line and then people ahead were suddenly, without any warning, just running.  Nobody knew where the start line was or when we should have considered the race to have started, but we all just pootled off over a narrow bridge and down the road into a new housing estate by the estuary.

I wasn't sure how I'd be only a week after what I'd thought was a pretty peppy 10 miler.  I kinda wanted to aim for a sub 2 hour half marathon but given how I'd not wanted to get out of bed and didn't much feel like running hard and sucking up any hurt, I decided to take the first mile as a warm-up and assessment and see what that pace looked like before deciding what to do with the other 12.1 miles.  When the beep for the first mile came, 09:22 was a bit disappointing and I thought "oh well, no PB for me today."

My half marathon PB at 02:03:05 at another spontaneous holiday race two years ago, when I was about 4kg lighter and had quite a bit of Ironman fitness still going on, seemed a bit ambitious to break if the first mile was 09:22 and I did some sums (always a bad idea when putting out effort - you should see some of the spectacular basic maths errors I make in that condition) which told me that even if I held that pace, I'd be on for just about squeaking in at 2 hours 2 minutes and change, but with the 30m hill in the last 400m of distance it'd be touch & go.  So I mentally gave up and decided to just take a look every mile and see what happened.

The route was pretty darned boring really.  Along a tow path in a housing estate, with the estuary on one side, then down a tree/bush lined gravel trail to a turn-around point and onto a road, over the canal, down a long road through fields into a headwind to a dead turn point and back through the fields, over the canal and along a main road back to the gravel trail and into town again.  Not much to look at, but it meant for concentrating on the runners around you.

Each time my watch beeped, it was showing 08:xx per mile from 39 to 53 as a variation. I overtook *tons* of people.  Apart from one little woman all in black.  She overtook me at around 3 miles in and I couldn't let her go after that.  My legs felt fine and I felt fine, overtaking ones and twos and the odd cluster of runners, but always that woman all in black just ahead of me who I couldn't pull back in.  She kept me honest for about 7 miles until, by surprise, I finally overtook her on the main road back towards the trail, at around the 9 mile point.  I wasn't sure if it'd stick, but it seemed to and she looked to have slowed down and run out of oomph.  When I next looked down at my watch at a one mile beep, it turned out I'd speeded up and had just hit a 08:39 mile.  I did more sums.  A sub 2 hour time was well on the cards and if I felt like it, I could slow right down to 10 minute miles for the rest of it and still just beat 2 hours.  But I didn't want to do that.

I carried on reeling in the odd runner here and there and was a bit smug feeling that I'd get through this race with not one person overtaking me.  Hah.  A bloke in a green top and a black Camelbak sneaked up, not long after I'd overtaken the woman in black and he pulled away a little.  Nooooo! And a mile later I had him back again and he said "final push now!" as I pushed very slowly past him, breathing quite loudly.  I couldn't speak really, but as my watch beeped and I saw it saying 08:37 I blurted out "oh shit!".  I couldn't believe I was not only still holding sub 9 minute miles but that I was appreciably quicker than that.

Carrying on sucking up the feeling like I was putting in reasonable effort, I made that overtake stick and kept motoring until the final stretch of road by the estuary where I suddenly lost heart and slowed.  I had two more people to overtake; an old fella in a running club shirt and a woman in black & white vertical stripes.  I just managed to overtake the man, but I couldn't muster up anything to push enough to overtake the woman.  Rounding the corner to run along the field we started in, I really ran out of steam, slowed to 09:20/mile pace and then walked a couple of steps up the bridge over the railway lines before the final slog up to the prison.

She was back!  The woman in black!  Argh!  She powered past me up the cobbled road to the prison gates and there was nothing I could do.  Then as I went through the gates I heard yelling that someone was right behind me and I could hear him.  It was the bloke in green I'd overtaken a little while back.  No way was he going to be allowed overtake me in the final few meters, so I broke into a sprint and just pulled away from him to cross the line.

Smashed my half marathon PB, despite that evil hill at the end (though I clearly lost heart a bit before that).  Official time 01:57:16 - a PB by 05:56.  And I negative split by 38s.

I had a good chat with the woman in black and the man in green and thanked them for keeping me honest - it sounded like they'd had fun too.  And then it was awards time for the winners.  In keeping with the spirit of local races with prizes donated by local businesses, the overall winner got a microwave.

It was definitely time for breakfast by then, having had only a cup of tea at about 07:30 and a mouthful of crap coffee from the coffee shop before the race.  So we adjourned to a nearby pub for Sunday lunch - 2 pints of ale for me, and pea and mint soup with bread and butter, then roast lamb with a ton of veg and a Yorkshire pudding.

I'm pretty pleased with that race.  Being about 4-5kg heavier than I want to be at the moment (mainly due to wine), having had ales and curry the night before, having only started back running again 5.5 months ago, after 4 months off and learning to walk again in March this year and I was in the top half of finishers, top 25 of 86 women and 6th V40 woman out of 28, and PBing by pretty much 6 minutes (so just under 30s/mile faster every single mile for 13 miles).  Yeah, pretty bloody pleased with that indeed.

Knee over ankle in the loading phase :o)