As it’s a local race, and Shrewsbury Half Marathon was a personal best setter for me in 2018 (even with its hills!) I felt obliged to enter this year’s race as soon as entries were opened.

Despite promising myself I’d remain marathon fit after completing Edinburgh marathon back in May, I had let my long runs slip away, favouring the 10km distance instead (a little ironic, because I enter more half marathons than 10km races). I didn’t let this stop me from turning up on the day, knowing that my general level of fitness would get me ’round even if it wasn’t pretty at the end.

Because my training had been less enforced, I decided not to aim for a daft/unachievable time for completion, focusing on two more relaxed goals:

  1. Get round without crying; having spotted a male suicide charity runner at least year’s event, I spent the final 5 miles of the race crying. Although I went on to dedicate the race to my brother, and run Edinburgh in his name, I didn’t want to let tears get the better of me this year.
  2. Take a couple of minutes off last years time of 2:17:10 as a reflection of being in overall better shape.

With these both in mind, I started the race stood with the 2:15 pacer to keep ahead of my old time & aimed to just have fun. Looking back at both this race, and Shrewsbury 10km which I ran earlier in the year, this kind of start obviously suits me. Both times I’ve taken the relaxed approach I’ve not only enjoyed the event more but have exceeded all of my expectations in performance and time. Apparently being a stress-head all the time isn’t the answer.

The weather for the start was mild and clear, a welcome change from the downpours we’d had in the days prior. I wasn’t looking forward to potentially getting rained on throughout the race and having to stay soggy for 13.1 miles, but this wasn’t a problem; it stayed dry and we even had some sun in the first few miles.

Early on in the race I overtook the 2:10 pacer, and before long had the 2:05 pacer in my sights. I resisted the ‘urge to surge’ to overtake the 2:05 pacer, knowing in past races this has caused my breathing to go into overdrive and affected my long term pace, instead letting myself just naturally draw up level and eventually overtake. As with Shrewsbury 10km, my strength training and local hill runs give me a fantastic advantage over runners who only ever train on the flat, although I did get a little cocky when pushing up Wyle Cop and regretted it as the road levelled out but my breathing didn’t! Nonetheless, I managed to keep my pace surprisingly consistent throughout the race, even up the hills, with an average of 5:41/km.

I started to flag a little at mile 10, undoubtedly caused by not doing any long run training, but kept myself distracted by chatting to any runner who’d listen. Before long I’d caught up with a couple of runners from Broseley Joggers (my local run club) and that kept me focused on the final stretch. A lovely little sprint finish across the delightfully muddy field brought me in with a chip time of 2:00:04, over 17 minutes faster than last years time. Because I also managed to finish without crying, I ticked off both of my race goals and had a really fantastic time doing so.

This was a much easier, more relaxed event than my current personal best time at Lake Vrynwy, on an objectively much more difficult course, with not much in between the two times (less than 5 minutes). That makes me wonder if I’ve increased my fitness sufficiently to bring that PB time down further? Not sure I want to go full-stress-head to find out while I’m enjoying running at a more relaxed pace, though.

I did my best to shout thanks to as many marshals and volunteers as possible throughout the race, many of whom were offering words of encouragement and motivation as runners legged it past. It makes such a difference on course if you feel you’re genuinely being cheered on, and the marshals did a fantastic job here.

Likewise I cheered and encouraged other runners who looked like they were struggling (as well as congratulating the fastest runners as they pelted past) although not all runners seem to appreciate the encouragement. I know that I find it really helpful, but by the looks on some runner’s face it I’m not sure that’s a universal thing! As a runner with a club who prides itself on inclusivity, I know that support can make or break a person’s commitment to running, but I guess some people just find it unnecessary or patronising. People are, of course, welcome to tell me to fuck off if it bothers them :)

I can’t sign off this post without a special mention to runner Lee Groucutt, who was incredibly friendly and encouraging the few times I spoke to him during the race in Shrewsbury this weekend. Lee is running 40 races at 40 to raise money for the NSPCC & you can donate by clicking that link to visit his JustGiving page.

I have one more race in 2019 (Bridgnorth 10km at the end of the month) and then I’m committed to pushing hard on my powerlifting training with the aim of making 2020 my year for competing with my big lifts. London Marathon ballot results come out this week though…

Finish photo by Mia Harrington, lead photo by Charles Whitton Photography