I entered the Ealing Half with the goal of a sub 1:30 finish. Ealing would be my fourth half marathon having finished my first in 2010 in Bournemouth in 1:38:13, part walked the Southend later that year and returned to Bournemouth earlier in 2013 to record 1:32:29. I’m always amazed at how much detail other people seem able to remember from their races when writing race reports and for a similar reason I’m somewhat bemused by the inclusion of a scenery rating in runnersworld.co.uk event reviews. I can barely remember what happens to me in a race let alone take in the architecture and natural beauty en route. When running hard my perception of the world is limited to a sphere just a few metres in diameter directly in front of me and as the race gets harder the diameter of that sphere diminishes. Bear that in mind beyond this point …
Arriving in Lammas Park with my sister, and fellow runner, we found the “race village” to be varied and well organised. In addition to genuinely useful and/or interesting food concessions, sponsors, running related stands and sensibly geographically separate portaloos there was a slick check in desk for people, like my sister, arriving without race packs and a very efficient baggage drop and recovery tent. My sister and I were not quite so efficient in managing to meet up again after a prioritised visit to the portaloos. Despite choosing a unique landmark as a meeting point we managed to avoid seeing each other again until after the race. So hovering close to our nominal meeting point I joined in with the excellent, non-choreographed pre-race warm up by Roy Summers (@BodylineStudios) whilst looking out for my sister …
Comfortably warm I made my way to the start area drawn along by the tide of runners and supporters. The start was fairly narrow, perhaps only 15 runners wide, but clearly marked with times from 1:30, through 1:45 and 2:00, to 2:15. By about 9:05 I had joined up with a group of runners beneath the 1:30 marker on the right hand side of the course and, after listening in for a minute or so, joined in with their discussion regarding the absence of the 1:30 pacer. We were nervous enough that I checked with a marshal who reassured us the pacers would arrive in good time which they duly did. The pacers were provided by Xempo Running (@xempouk) and the one who joined our group explained that he’d be running an even pace, adjusted for inclines, and might pick it up a few miles from home, but would communicate this first. As well as wearing Xempo purple running vests the pacers also had helium balloons tied to their shoulders. There were two other 1:30 pacers on the left hand side of the start. I remember being quite surprised at just how close I was to the actual start line.
Notwithstanding my closeness to the start line I didn’t hear a gun, but was attentive enough that I was on my toes and started moving as the runners in front stepped forward. I adopted the group pace and ran close enough to the pacer that I had no concerns about losing him in the dense running traffic. I settled in and checked my watch much, much less than I do usually in a self paced race. This allowed me to focus more on form, efficiency and relaxing. On the occasions that I did glance at my watch it confirmed that I was averaging the required 4:16 per km which felt encouraging as in the opening kilometres I felt more comfortable than I’d anticipated. Whether there were mile markers or not I don’t know; I didn’t notice any and so the first time I checked my watch for distance I was a little disappointed to read 8.9k as I felt that I really must be in the second half. All the same I felt fairly good and drifted several metres ahead of the pacer as we passed through 10k or so. I knew from talking to the pacer at the start that the most significant incline was at mile 9 and as we reached that distance it definitely started to get harder. I’d already returned to a position just behind the pacer and had to work hard to hold on to the pacer group. At around 15k I decided that I had to let him go as the effort required to keep up could compromise me later in the race. This didn’t feel like a positive well considered decision, rather I felt disillusioned that I’d not been able to hold on to the pace. I soon found myself with a second pacer, but – feeling increasingly emotional – I let go of him within a kilometre or so. I seem to remember him saying that there was only a parkrun to go … The next few kilometres were very hard. I was aware that I was maintaining my effort and that my form hadn’t deteriorated completely, but I was only just functioning emotionally. I was very relieved when I was caught by a third pacer at around 19k and when asked if he was still on pace to be told that he was about 10 seconds inside 1:30. The relief, though I was barely able to sense it emotionally, that I was still on target so close to home revitalised me physically and I pulled away only to find myself despairing that the finish was never going to come. I think I shouted, almost certainly incoherently, to several marshals in the final kilometre asking “How much further?” Quite understandably I got no reply. Finally I saw a 400m marker only to find the third pacer on my shoulder again a few metres later. I matched my pace to his and held him on my shoulder; being so close to the finish I knew I should do it and and was relieved anew to see a 100m marker where I kicked for the line. I think the race clock read 1:30:05 as I ran under it, but my attention was entirely on my own watch showing 1:29:52. I knew that, even allowing for me being over keen to stop my watch, my official chip time would be within 1:30.
Over the line and I received a finisher’s medal, water, a banana and a Clif bar in rapid succession. I recovered my baggage from the tent and then lay down with my phone. After speaking to my wife, and still feeling the emotion of the race, I tweeted “Can’t quite believe I ran a big PB, & sub 1:30 TBC, @EalingHalf this morning. Emotionally & physically very hard from 14k. #EalingFeeling :)” Several people tweeted their congratulations and my responses continued over the subsequent hours and days;
“@SherwoodOADLZ Thank you 🙂 #heartfelt #stillwasted”
“@Cerithomas thanks 🙂 It’s amazing to me too #notblasé #stillwasted”
“@cgoodman3 1:29:52 TBC, but should safely be sub 1:30”
“Have to say I could NOT have achieved my sub 1:30 goal @EalingHalf today without @xempouk pacers – all 3 pacers really helped me …”
“@xempouk 1:30 team – THANK YOU :)”
“@robantonycope … feeling slightly lost without big goal of #90minHM, but sure #89minHM will become new milestone just as #19min5k has :)”
“Yesterday’s PB @EalingHalf confirmed as 1:29:53 #90minHM #tick :)”