The reason the half marathon has become my favourite distance is because it is a two-fold challenge: the distance needs to be conquered (it is long enough so that there is always a degree of unpredicatbility how things will play out no matter what you put in) and then there is the challenge of dictating a not so convenient pace for nearly two hours, which is quite taxing aerobically. It is a distance that a lot of people can conquer but only a few can run really well. Mo Farah has come an all-time close to running the Great North Run half in just one hour (only missed that by one minute).
3 days ago, I ran my fastest half marathon in Budapest, in one hour 45 minutes, a time I thought I could only dream about previously. This also means that I shaved off 3 minutes my PB I set on the Windsor trail half only about 3 months ago. In fact, this year I am setting PBs after PBs.
So what’s happening?
For many years, I have dreamt about running a quick half. I just had this idea in my mind that achieving 1:45 would be a respectable time to do it, but I never came close to it, I had always stagnated around 1 hour 50 minute mark. I trained hard, I trained shed loads (!), I religiously read all the literature about running a fast half marathon.
Finally, this year the penny has dropped. Firstly, running well should never be about quantity but about quality and being smart. It is not about how much time I have but how I use the time I have. Secondly (and this is no rocket science), I must train fast so that I can race fast. I really needed to be comfortable about not being so comfortable during my runs. Another element to this is that no matter how hard I train my body, if I do not train my mental muscles, I can’t win. In my opinion, the brain is the most powerful muscle in the body – and scientists still cannot fully understand everything about it. Self belief is a fuel that turns aspirations into reality.
So throughout my training, I believed in myself and visualised myself countless times running through the finish line in that time. I could see it, feel it and smell it. It was so tangible I started living it whenever I set out to train. This image was the rail I held onto when I felt close to falling off the wagon during training. The night before race day I also dreamt about this.
The 29th Budapest Wizzair half has been an amazing race, with a record turnout of 13,500 runners, out of which 9,250 were individual runners, and 2,609 were women. My overall position was 178th, and I came 32nd in my age category out of 480 runners.
Race day was a humid, cloudy morning, with the promise of rain in the air any minute. This of course did not stop me from having a fantastic time! When my Mum dropped me off at the busy City Park, home of the race HQ, I arrived just in time for a fun crowd warmup session. The guy who introduced the session was really funny, encouraging us not to wear more clothes than absolutely necessary 🙂 I felt very excited as the starting time was coming close, with the usual butterflies flapping their wings in my stomach. After the warmup, there was just enough time to walk to the starting pens and find our starting zones based on our predicted finish times. I positioned myself so that I could see the 1:45 pacers’ white coloured balloons in front of me. The race started at the sound of drums and loud cheering coming from the spectators, and even the sun came out for a moment from its hiding place behind the thick clouds. The long serpentine of runners started to flood onto Heroes Square, then onto Andrassy Boulevard and down to the Riverside.
Get ready, set, go!
Heroes Square here we come, no turning back!
Onto the Riverside via Andrassy Boulevard
Only after a few km’s I found myself being drenched in sweat, it was so humid and I was glad I had not overdressed (taking the advice from the loudspeaker guy earlier LOL). I kept myself bang on pace all along, carefully glancing at my sports watch upon reaching each km marker, to make sure I was spreading my energy evenly. Until about 14 km’s I was gliding on autopilot. The low point came between markers 14 and 15 km which felt like a neverending section, watching the serpentine of faster runners in the other lane, already running in the opposite direction was a real mental torture. At that point, it started to feel harder to keep my pace and the physical challenge turned into a mental challenge. However, I felt confident that I had trained well and enough to tackle such situations (having learnt some lessons at half marathons I did earlier this year) and just carried on, taking it km by km. Not reaching 1:45 was never an option in my mind, that was exactly what I had come for and it would have been a real shame to succomb to tiredness when I had done so well so far. At that point, my tummy had already shrunk to the size of a peanut and taking in an energy gel was a risk, but which I took as not doing so would have definitely meant running out of fuel quite soon. ‘Push the tempo’ and ‘just another 20 minute trot and I am done’ were my mottoes as I was counting down the final km’s. Knowing the race route from the full marathon I did two years ago also helped.
The nice views helped take my mind off tiredness
If there had been a prize for the quirkiest outfit…
The breeze coming from the riverside was a relief
The final stretch became a blur in front of my eyes and the countdown drummers at Heroes Square gave me one final shot of energy to burst through the finish line with a bold sprint. I do not think I could have run a single metre longer! As I sat down feeling totally exhausted by the side just after the finish line, I looked at my time on my Garmin watch and my eyes welled up. Earning my race medal at the end had never been a prouder moment! I felt exhausted, yet elated. Walking out of the race HQ to meet my Mum at the Clock shaped statue by the car park was like floating on air, even though I felt completely spent physically speaking.
Here is a video of the finishers – I can be spotted coming in at 1:46:46 (which was the gun time, not my actual time):-
And here is another video giving a flavour of the atmosphere of the event for those of you who are tempted to do this race:
I broke through a new barrier – both in the physical and mental sense and this is a moment I want to cherish for a long time and look at it as the start of a new season in my running. My next challenge is the Valencia Marathon mid-November where my target time is sub 4 hours, but if I want to be very exact, I would like to bag a 3:45 time so that I can auto-qualify for the London Marathon in 2016.