This is the first time I’ve run the Oxford Half, an unplanned addition to my racing calendar after coming a cropper at the Maidenhead Half in early September.
Before the race
I gave myself a week’s rest prior to the race, after a bit of trial and error, I seem to do better on fresh legs. I used the Park&Ride and was at the race village in plenty of time. I had to pick up my race number, a painless process. In a sign of things to come, it was already raining quite heavily by now. After changing and donning the traditional pre-race thermal layer (ok ok, a black bin liner) I wandered around a bit then sought shelter in the beer tent! I was in good company, it was packed out with runners biding their time. I eventually had to brave the elements, heading out to get warmed up. A bit of jogging about, some dynamic stretches and a couple of sprints were enough to get the juices flowing.
The race village was about a 10 minute walk from the start zone so I schlepped over to arrive at about 9:15. The start zone was divided into several areas based on target times, pretty standard for the larger races. This was my second race using gels. At the Maidenhead Half in September I had three during the race at approximately 6, 12 and 17k. This time I had four gels, I scoffed the first one just before the start then planned a similar pattern for the rest. It’s hard to tell, but I think they do give me a boost over this distance. The start gun went on time at 9:30 and the start pens ahead of me drained pretty fast, I was across the line at 9:32:13.
In theory, it should be a nice race, snaking as it does around the historic streets of Oxford, past ancient colleges, chapels, bookshops and the like. In practice, I didn’t see any of it. I didn’t see any of the race signage either. In fact, I could barely see the other runners! Not being equipped with windscreen wipers, my specs were either rain coated, steamed up or often both. It lashed it down the whole way. Large puddles were unavoidable and my running shoes were quickly sodden. It didn’t seem to matter. I planned to run negative splits as this approach has worked well for me the last few races. It’s often tricky to stick to the plan in the first km due to crowding but I had no such problems this time, there seemed to be plenty of room. In fact, for the first half of the race my issue was keeping a lid on my pace, my legs wanted to go faster than the plan so I was worried about having enough gas in the tank for the last quarter of the race. Having downed a gel at about 6.5k, I finished the first 10k in good shape, 41 seconds in credit compared to the plan.
As the stretch from KM 5 to 13, all planned at 4:45, came to an end, I was still feeling strong. At Maidenhead, this was the point in the race where the wheels started to come off. No sign of any difficulties here, my breathing was under control and my legs were still obeying instructions. After dropping a gel at 13km and another at 18km, I managed to stay fairly on track for the next section, KM 14 to KM 19, all planned at 4:40. The slight increase in pace was not overly troubling. I remember thinking at the KM18 mark that I just needed to turn in sub 5 minute pace for the rest to be sure of beating my goal of 1:40. That seemed very achievable and while KM 19 and 20 were a little over the plan I still came out 40 seconds to the good overall.
It’s not quite true to say I strolled the final 1.2km, but certainly it didn’t feel like much of a strain. I was breathing more heavily, but in control and still strong in the leg department. I had set myself what felt like a fairly aggressive pace target of 4:30 for the last couple of km but KM 21 came in just under that and the final dash for the finish, the final couple of hundred metres, was done at 4:05 pace, better than 5k race pace for me.
A strong finish to a strong race, my official chip time coming in at 1:39:15. I broke the 1:40 barrier and also shaved more than three and half minutes off my distance PB.
Just outside the top 10% overall, just outside the top 20% for men, and just inside the top 15% for men of my age category. Not bad!
The contrast to Maidenhead is quite stark. My hydration needs were likely a lot lower due to the lower temperatures and cloud cover, but I stayed on top of it and also took on some electrolytes, courtesy of some Nuun mixture at a couple of the water stations. No doubt the extra four or five weeks of training helped too! I’m very happy with the result and have seen the benefits of sticking to a sensible strategy for both training and on the day.
I am happy with my cadence as well, pretty consistent throughout, nudging towards 180 as I picked up the pace towards the end.
My focus is shifting to longer distances now, but after such a good race, I am left wondering if 1:35 is an achievable goal for me at half marathon distance. In theory, the training plan I have followed is good for between 1:30 and 1:45, so it should be possible. Maybe, maybe….
How is your running going?
I’ll be back soon with news and thoughts on the training plan for the Brighton Marathon.