By Pete Mackrell
On Sunday, Simon and I traveled down to Berkshire to do the Reading Half. Simon was of course wearing his Herne Hill Harrier hoops, but since he bought me lunch and a beer, we can forgive him. The Reading Half race is one of the largest halves in the country with around 15,000 runners, and it tends to attract a good helping of fast runners due to its flat-ish course, its proximity to the spring marathons and its status as the England Athletics Championship.
The trip was Simon’s idea. We had both run 74-something at the Stevenage Half in 2013 and we decided it was time to find a faster course and try to run 73-something. For me it would show me where I am in terms of London training, whilst for Simon it was another chance to test himself over a longer distance than he normally races.
My confidence beforehand wasn’t high (is it ever?). I’d been feeling really good until a few weeks ago but the heavier mileage of marathon training had left me feeling jaded. Sometimes the hard miles pay off and once a race starts you can fly, but other times you just feel lethargic and under-perform. Which would it be today?
The conditions were pretty good, maybe a little warm in the sun and a little breezy in places, but nothing to get too worked up about. The course is not totally flat and there are notable climbs at 2.5 and 8 miles, but it’s probably about as good as you’ll get for a UK half. The aim was 5:36mm pace, which pleased me because it meant constant complicated mental arithmetic was required to monitor the pace, thus taking my mind of the daunting challenge of actually having to run 5:36mm pace! Forgetting to start my watch until about two minutes into the race was a bit of a schoolboy error, but at least it meant I was always further round the course than the Garmin said I was.
The start was frantic and the early miles felt hard at that pace, but gradually the body settled down and it became more comfortable. The miles started to be ticked off with surprising frequency and around six miles in there was a steady downhill stretch where my long legs saw me stride away from Simon. This wasn’t great for him since he was relying on me to monitor our pacing, sorry! But I knew he wouldn’t be far behind me so I might as well keep pushing.
In the second half I started to pick off some of the elite GB women, people I read about in Athletics Weekly, so that felt good. Gail was there supporting and when I saw her for a second time and heard her shout “two miles to go”, it dawned on me that I’d been running for over an hour and still felt ok. I kept pushing on the long straight stretch to the finish where you see the Madjeski Stadium from far away.
The race finishes inside the stadium and as I entered I saw the clock tick over to 73 minutes. I crossed the line in 73:18, with Simon 27 seconds behind in 73:45. Mission accomplished! Our placings were 109th and 115th, a stark contrast to that Stevenage race where Simon won in a slower time.
And so on to London with renewed confidence. Me… confident… pah! I’m just hoping I make the start line without my usual March mishaps.