When I crossed the finish line at Rocky Racoon 100k at the start of February, I certainly didn’t think it would be another 7 months until I stood on another race start line. Like all runners, Coronavirus curtailed all my 2020 race plans and I had one race cancellation after another. However, even with no races to train for, I can honestly say I’ve loved running and training more than ever in 2020. I knew I didn’t want to get involved in any virtual races or self-supported adventures, so I decided with Ian to use the months of lockdown and beyond, to just get some really good quality training in and focus on trying to get a bit faster.
in the absence of any races I did 1 mile Time Trials (horrific!) and 5k Time Trials (double horrific!) but they demonstrated that the training was paying off and I ran my fastest mile (5:44) and fastest 5k (19:24). And then in June I had an actual race confirmed! Iceland had done a fantastic job in controlling Coronavirus and Reykjavik marathon was given the go ahead. The summer was spent having a great block of marathon training, and as I was about to head into taper, I felt like I was in around 3:12 shape. And then Coronavirus stopped play….again! After a spike in infections in Iceland, and just 2 and a half weeks before the race, Reykjavik marathon was cancelled. Unfortunately, this is the nature of racing in COVID times and those simple days of booking a race, training for it and rocking up and racing, are a thing of distant memories!
By mid-August some smaller races had started in England, and Lee Valley Velopark Half Marathon at the end of the month seemed like an ideal return to racing and to test my fitness in race conditions. However, after months and months of uninterrupted training, I almost didn’t make it to the start line when a bad fall out running just 3 days before the race left me covered in cuts and a badly bruised knee.
Lee Valley Velopark Half Marathon is 13 laps of the Velopark and is put on by RunThrough and this was their third race back under new COVID guidelines – the main differences were that you had to give your estimated finish time (I’d put 1:31) so they’d allocate you a wave and order to start in, race numbers were sent out beforehand, and as opposed to a mass start, we were set off 2 metres apart. It all worked absolutely brilliantly and RunThrough have done a fantastic job of making races work within new COVID regulations.
Pre-race I thought I’d be able to run around 1:31 – it wasn’t a pancake flat course (there was about 50 feet elevation per mile) but I was pretty confident I’d beat my PB (1:33) which was the last half marathon I’d run in Worthing back in February 2018 where I knew I’d slowed down for 3 miles into a really strong headwind. Conditions at the Velopark weren’t ideal either as it was very windy and the course is very exposed. I don’t mind admitting that if I’m shamelessly PB chasing then I love a flat course and still conditions, however Coronavirus has taught me that we can’t be choosy with our racing in 2020, and to be honest, I was so excited to be back racing again none of this mattered!
I thought I’d be able to run around 7 minute mile pace and Ian told me to use the first lap to settle into what felt like half marathon effort. The undulations (a couple of short steep inclines and then a couple of long gradual downhills) and a strong headwind in some places and tailwind in others, meant it would have been impossible to hit an even pace so I ran the first lap entirely to feel and when I checked my Garmin at the end of lap 1 it told me I’d run it at 6:50 pace. I knew this equates to a just under 1:30 finish time and I definitely didn’t feel like I could run a sub 1:30 half marathon. However, my subsequent laps were all in this same ballpark and it was feeling super easy, so by the time I got to the half way point, I realised I was either on for a big PB or was going to blow up spectacularly!
As it turned out my laps just kept getting quicker and quicker, and with 3 miles to go, I realised even if I slowed down to 7 minute mile pace I’d still run sub 1:30. My final miles were the quickest and I ended up running a 30 second negative split.
My official time was 1:28:47 (a 4:30 minute PB) on a course that definitely wasn’t the fastest, and in windy conditions, and 1st female. I was so surprised by my finish time I had to double check at the end that my Garmin did say 13.1 miles as I was worried I’d missed a lap!
Some races everything comes together and Lee Valley was one of those perfect racing days. The way my training has been going, I did think on a flat course and in good conditions I’d be getting close to running a sub 1:30 half marathon, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon and for it to feel so easy.
It was the perfect return to racing, and hopefully bodes well for my next race in less than 3 weeks time which will involve a lot more laps – 24 hours of them!