Last Sunday I took part in the Royal Parks Half, which is a lovely run through Hyde Park and the central parts of London. Despite a quagmire of a staging area, the rain held off for the race itself, and the family came down to support Lewis, Dre and myself.
Finish time was 2:01:07, missing my target of 1:55, but still a PB and 2 seconds faster than when I first ran a half marathon in 2013. I was a little disappointed not to have improved, particularly because I’d followed a hard training plan for 16 weeks, obsessively planned the day, negative splits and all. But I know there are plenty of ways to improve on that for a future race (yes, we’re already thinking about the next one!)
I followed the intermediate training plan from the Royal Parks Half team. This was easy to fit into my routine, with a long run at weekends, and a couple of faster sessions during the week.
Looking back at the runs, the plan was great, but one of the main reasons my time didn’t improve was strength training and stretching. That manifested in the last few km, when I ran out of steam and started to get a cramping feeling at the top of my calf and in my hamstrings. I had to stop at the 20km to stretch it briefly.
On the plan, strength training was pencilled in for the off days, and other than one brief session of running drills after a midweek run, I didn’t do these. I should have realised that this was a missing element as my times weren’t really improving along the way, and the drill session did hurt in new places. That should have been a sign that key muscle groups were being neglected. I had a good post-run stretching routine, but again, a couple of areas were missing. I’ve always neglected warmups too, thinking that a brisk walk and a calf stretch would suffice.
With all that in mind, a 5km run the night before to get the blood flowing was probably a little much. A sports massage is another thing that would possibly have helped, if I’d had the time last week.
Gait is probably the most common aspect of running that seems to require a bit more homework. I can see from some of the photos that I appear to be overstriding, so I’m not getting the most efficiency out of each stride.
E.g. my leg is fair too straight for heel contact, and is staying that way throughout. Other motions in the cycle, such as lifting my heel and knees, are not high enough – again, something I should have realised from the drills! Fortunately, there are loads of guides out there for adjusting, which I’ll be studying closely.
The negative (splits) and the positives:
Planning for a 1:55 finish, I’d aimed to run faster in the second half, aka negative splits. That means starting at a pace of 5:32/km and gradually increasing pace to 5:22 by the last 5km. That’s about 1% negative, and I managed that in the first half, spot on at 5km (27:40) and 10km (55:04), so I was very pleased about that. However the form problems noted above probably mean that I’d burned out with that push, so in the end the second half was more like 3% negative, counteracting any good time built in the first half!
I don’t know how much of a placebo running gels are, but having trained with and without them I played safe and used 4, more or less every 5km. Possibly one more gel towards the end with a bit of caffeine might have helped, who knows?
Oh and the music was great – I realised after my test run that it was going to be hard to get “perfect” songs for a particular beat, so didn’t worry too much. I did work out that quiet, classical soundtracks which have been fine on long training runs are no match for a noisy crowd!
All in all, a great experience, especially as over £1000 was raised for Child Bereavement UK. I’ve got a benchmark for improvement, and will make sure there isn’t such a long gap before the next race.