On 10th June 2018 I took part in the St Albans Half Marathon. This is the third year in a row I have taken part in this event, each time pacing 1:40 for Xempo. Last year I found the combination of the hills and hot weather really tough, you can have a little recap HERE. This was the 52nd event I have paced, 22 of which have been with Xempo.
Naturally I got my kit together the night before to ensure I had everything I needed. I forgot my pace pocket, but was able to pick one up in the morning. Because I was wearing my oofos when packing I almost forgot my trainers, now that would have been an issue.
On race morning I made my way nice and early to meet the rest of the pacers. Parking was easy and within 5 minutes walk to the park, and the conditions were beautiful. It did start to get a little warm for my liking, making it great spectator weather, but it wasn’t as hot as last year, or other races I’ve taken part in recently.
It is always great to catch up with the other pacers at the start, and speak to other runners as they arrive. We had a little while before we had to get going, as it is a later start than normal, with a 10:00 start. They have a 5k before we start, and before that they set off the half marathon walkers. A great way to be inclusive and it is lovely to see the walkers when we caught them after about 7 miles. Some were a little frustrating in narrow parts as they ignored instructions to walk at the side and some took up the whole road. This was few and far between, and didn’t cause me any issues personally, but I know some others were bothered by it.
When it was time to line up to start it was the pacers that helped set the start zones. There were not any markers to say where to start, so we spaced ourselves out and it seemed to work well. I had a big group around me, many of whom were aiming for sub 1:40 for the first time. There were also a few who had ran 1:40 previously, but never on a course like this.
When we set off it was really narrow to start. Instead of trying to rush off to desired pace we sat a little slow for the first half a mile, but this was fine whilst everyone was getting their pace right. Before long we were at our desired pace. I had explained at the start that this would be a hard and hilly course, with 3 challenging hills. My strategy would be to run slightly faster on the flat and down hill, so we would be able to run up the hill at a more gentle pace. I knew that if I maintained 7:37 min miles going up the hill I would lose everyone, and it really isn’t necessary. Instead running 7:30 when there is an opportunity to do so meant that everyone was much more likely to hit their desired times.
Most of the course is on narrow county lanes, and it is so beautiful and peaceful. Often the only sound being the sound of footsteps. Much of the route was quiet, but there were plenty of marshals with jelly babies and lots of groups of supporters throughout. I was impressed this year that the organisers responded to the lack of water, and issues with them being in cups. Instead they gave out water in small bottles. On top of this they had water really frequently, it felt like every mile there was a water station. The water stations were not long, so I missed water at a couple as it was difficult to get the water where it was busy. I also try not to take water if I have a big group also trying to get water, as I would rather those around me get what they need. If the water was not frequent then this may have caused issues. However it really didn’t matter, if I missed one I knew there would be more coming up ahead so I just made sure I got some at the next station.
Gels were being given out as well, but I didn’t take any personally. It was good to hear around me people sharing gels and water.
It was a warm day, so difficult at times, especially at the long hill between 6-7 miles. This isn’t the steepest hill I’ve ran up, but it certainly does go on a long time. I dropped my pace going up the hill to try and give confidence around me, allowing a few to pull past me, and give hope to those who had started to drop behind. But as I always say, what goes up also comes down, so it wasn’t long until we had some relief of a down hill.
One memory that’s sticks with me today is the smell, we ran past some cornfields, and the fresh corn in the heat smelt like popcorn.
Although we battled through a tough course, the last mile and a bit was a welcomed easier section. Once we approached mile 12 it was a long down hill section. At this point I lost everyone, but in a good way. I managed to keep a lot of runners with me, and at this point if you were with me you had made it, and I encouraged people to push on. It did mean that at the turn for the last incline before the home stretch, I no longer had a group with me, but it was good to see them all coming back on me. We then worked our way round to the finish where I picked up more along the way, making sure everyone got in front of me. Lots of runners came from nowhere to dip ahead of me and make it under 1:40.
At the finish it was great to see runners waiting to tell me how they got on, with many getting PB’s and sub 1:40. Many of the runners who pushed on actually came in with a 1:37, which is fantastic to see, especially on this course. I did disappear briefly at the end to see the MC who was telling everyone how the pacers were all coming in late as he was using the gun time rather than the chip time. Even after I told him he continued to do it, an awful MC all round according to the people who had to hear him throughout the day.
So despite the MC saying I was 20 seconds late, I was really happy to come in 11 seconds under with a time of 1:39:49. It was a lovely race, on a lovely challenging course. At the end you get a decent medal and finishers tee, and of course the ice lollies.
A good thing about this race is that there is plenty for the family to do whilst you are running. This is always something I consider before races, and it was good to hear that there was free face painting.
Overall a great day. Next up will be Shrewsbury Half next week where I will be pacing 1:40 once again. Who will be with me?