On 4th February 2018 I took part in my first race of the year, Watford Half Marathon. I took part this event in 2017 for the first time, and if you want to have a look back you can read my blog HERE. This was my second time running Watford Half Marathon, both times pacing 1:40 for Xempo. Although this was my first outing in 2018 it was my 41st time pacing and my 18th time pacing for Xempo.
As always I laid out my kit the night before to ensure I didn’t forget anything. I wore my new #runr top as I knew it was one of very few races this year I wouldn’t have a set top to wear. There are a few regular items in my kit lay shots, including my CEP socks, pacepockets, racecheck visor and I tried out some pinrace magnets for the first time.
I was particularly nervous before this event. I’ve not really ran much over the last few months and remembered this being a challenging course. I also find that when I am training it is more difficult to run fast, yet on race day everything comes together. There will be various factors here but most of all it will be in my mind I’m sure. Anyway, I turned up confident that I would deliver comfortably, that’s how you need to be pacing an event. Forget the natural nerves inside, no I don’t like hills, yes it would challenge me at times, but I knew I would be able to run with a smile and motivate those around me. People assume that pacers don’t get nervous before events, well we do, well I certainly do, because it is so important that we get it right.
It was bloody cold, but it was great catching up with lots of familiar faces, both pacers and runners alike. As always I took a few selfies before we started. I knew that it would be a challenging course so I wouldn’t be taking my phone out for pictures on route. Dan from Xempo selected a group of regular pacers for Watford Half Marathon, so I knew most of them.
We had the customary team brief at the start. This was pretty short as we had all done it before, but then there was the opportunity for the team photo.
This event is put on by runners for runners, and so it is full of club runners. It is not a course to PB on, but it is a lovely run. Because the park is too small to manage a mass start they split into two starts. Last year they split into a men’s and women’s start which I didn’t like. They need to find some way to split though and this year felt much better and I think it was split by age. I ended up on the VET side, I honestly didn’t know I just went to the other side because my fellow 1:40 pacer went the side I went last year. It was better having a more mixed group and I spent the beginning talking about my strategy. I explained that my target was 7:37 min miles, that I would usually aim for about 7:35 but I would be aiming to go slightly faster to accommodate the hills. My plan was to run on effort, so I would maintain effort up the hill which would mean I would slow down, and pick it back up going down hill. The reason I do this is to try and keep people with me. If I kept pace up the hills I would have to increase effort and that is the last thing needed if those around you are already pushing their limits.
I merged about 10 seconds behind the other 1:40 start pacer and maintained this gap throughout. The course is narrow in places but this doesn’t cause any significant delays and I was able to run at the desired pace right from the start. One downside to this course is the road conditions, it’s great having a closed road, but the roads were full of potholes. The marshals did a fantastic time throughout warning of any significant hazards. In fact the marshals are the unsung heroes. This course is challenging, and the support from people is minimal. The marshals were there throughout and gave many loud cheers of encouragement as we passed.
Although the course is challenging, this is why I like races like this. I like using pacing as training runs and having the hills throughout adds more challenge. The course actually wasn’t as hard as I remembered from last year. The hills were steep, but they were short, and the long declines more than made up for it. The first real hill was at 3 miles, at around 6 you have a sharp decent which should send warning signs of the immediate tough climb. The last steep hill is then at about 7.5 miles, there are up and downs throughout but there are only 3-4 big ones to deal with.
I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and it is a good quiet route with a fantastic group of runners. Water was in cups which is always a negative for me, and at the end they again have water in a cup. I also think we started to far forward. The mile markers were consistent, but felt a bit short from the start. So think we missed perhaps 100 metres. Mixed view on this so may have just been the race line I took.
Nice little finish with a cheeky heel kick caught on camera.
It was great at the end to have so many runners waiting for me to shake my hand. Lots of happy runners, and some PB’s which on this course is fantastic. Really pleased with my first race of the year, I achieved 1:39:30, and all the pacers did fantastic, well done all. Next stop for me is Hampton Court Half Marathon in 2 weeks.
Finally, I’ve been shortlisted for the Running Awards, I would appreciate a quick vote here. Just follow the link, it’s in online/publications, blog (personal), pickupthepacepaul. Thanks all.