Chasing 80 at Skagerakløpet Half Marathon 2018

Skagerakløpet is a race put on by the local football club in the Norwegian town of Skien, a couple of hours drive south-west of Oslo. The 2018 edition of the race happened on Saturday, September 29th, and in addition to the half marathon I ran, they also put on a 5k and a 10k. More on that later. I had heard good things about the race, and first and foremost it was the promise of a quick course that lured me into driving the five-hour round trip to run the race.

Training

After completing a full Pfitzinger 18 week plan peaking at 112 kilometres (70 miles) per week ahead of my marathon debut back in June, I have been kicking stones a bit with my training. Recovering from the marathon took longer than expected, and since that, I have hovered around the 90-kilometre mark (56 miles) in terms of weekly distance. The first month back, in particular, was characterised by a very unstructured approach to training. Since then, I have taken measures to make my training more efficient again, by planning out the workouts and overall structure for the week in advance, and making sure I run my easy runs and the appropriate intensity.

For a more detailed look into my training, check out my weekly training logs. But in terms of specific training to prepare for this race, I opted to use the final four weeks to get in four quality workouts at around what I hoped would be race pace, which was 3:50 min/km (6:10 min/mile) at a quite undulating loop. The aim was to progress from 2 x 4km with a 1k float by way of 7k and 9k continuous efforts and top out at an 11k continuous session a week and a half out from the race. I absolutely bombed that final session and had to tap out after just 7k. Not the confidence booster I was hoping for going into the race, but bad workouts happen.

Pre-race

As mentioned initially, getting to the race was a bit of a trip, with a two-and-a-half-hour drive each way. My wife and our six weeks old baby boy, or my support crew as I like to call them, joined me. The gun went off at noon, which meant we had to get up in the early hours because everything takes quite a bit of time when you’re doing it with a newborn!

Having suffered some gastrointestinal troubles in my running , I took this chance to test out a new race day strategy. This consisted of an early breakfast with a cup of coffee to get all systems going well in advance of the race, with the aim of hopefully not having to go during the race. Additionally, I drank a bit of Redbull and ate some light snacks in the car on the way there, to top off the energy stores.

Weather forecasts looked great in the days leading up to the race, with ideal temperatures around 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) and lightly clouded with no rain. Unfortunately, on the morning of the race, the forecasts suddenly showed a fair bit of wind at the time of the race. Very much the opposite of what I was hoping for, but absolutely not within my control, so I tried to push it out of my mind. Arriving at the start, I met up with a friend who was also running the half marathon, and we warmed up together before heading for the starting area.

Race

Although I knew it was a long shot, my goal for this race was crystal clear: I was going to give it all in an attempt to dip below 80 minutes. My plan was to try and stay at 3:50 min/km (6:10 min/mile) pace for the first 15k or so, and then try to push on in the final 5-6k to hopefully finish in 79-something.

Runner from Skagerakløpet half marathon 2018
Calm and collected just after the start of the race

1 – 5k

Just as with every other footrace in the world, most of the contestants start off at a completely unsustainable pace once the starter give us the signal. I make a conscious attempt to not get carried away, and start passing people after a few hundred meters. At this point of the race, it is all about trying to locate a pack of runners who will be running at around my goal pace. This can be a tricky exercise, but I quite quickly locate a trio in which I see two guys I overheard talking about going sub-1:20 before the start. My plan is to run a bit slower than average pace for the first three-quarters of the race, to avoid a blow-up if I’m not quite there, but I tuck in behind the trio to see how it feels.

Already in the third kilometre, I get a taste of what the race will be about. This part of the course is a long and steady climb with an elevation gain of about 17 meters (55 feet) and the whole segment is exposed to a significant headwind. I am happy to be sitting in a group at this point, and try to draft behind the others to give myself a tiny advantage.

Time: 19:11 total, 19:11 split for the first 5k

6 – 10k

Somewhere after the 5k mark, I realise that the pace is slowing down a bit, and I will fall behind my schedule unless I pick it up again. Going out on my own in these conditions is not an enticing proposition. But, I find myself running at a lower intensity than I want to be doing at this point, and I am unsure if I can make that conserved energy count later in the race given the current pace. I make a decision, and the guys in the group are thankful that I am taking my turn up front and eventually latch on despite the slight speed increase.

Four runners at Skagerakløpet half marathon 2018
In front, towing the rest of the group

We are now on the second time around the 5k loop which makes up the course, and I become acutely aware of the fact that the 5k race has started. The course, which for the most part consists of relatively narrow walkways, is absolutely packed with other runners. I am glad that so many people have come out to run the race, but selfishly I feel a bit miffed as I expend a lot of energy weaving my way through the swathe of people. My head even drops a bit at this point, and I suddenly allow myself to think that sub-80 is probably not on the cards for today.

Time: 38:25 total, 19:14 split for the second 5k

11 – 15k

Our little band of four is down to three people at this point, and at some point, one of the two remaining guys steps on it and moves past me. I immediately try to hang on, but it quickly becomes clear that this guy has been running the first half of the race with brakes on. Hanging on is not an option, and in the process of the discovering that I also lost the guy behind me, so I am now well and truly isolated. I kick myself for not keeping my cool and expending so much energy up front to keep the pace up when this guy has been absolutely cruising behind me.

Either way, it is too late to change that now, so I try to refocus and settle back into my stride. The course is less congested on the third lap, but between the irregular hills, crass turns and wind exposed areas, any sort of rhythm is still hard to come by. In fact, for the entire race, no two subsequent kilometre-splits are within five seconds of each other, which illustrates just how difficult it was to settle into a rhythm.

Time: 57:41 total, 19:16 split for the third 5k

16 – 20k

Because of the uneven splits all through the race, ranging from 3:40 to 4:00, I have no idea how of how I am doing compared to my plan at this point. Regardless, the plan was to take up another notch at this point, but that is simply not something I am capable of here today. Instead, this part of the race becomes a bone hard struggle to avoid slowing down.

A couple of hundred meters ahead of me, I notice a guy I know is running the half, weaving through the 10k runners who are now out on the course. He is clearly struggling at least as much as I am at this point, and I make a conscious decision to try and catch him. I put my head down, and embrace the grind.

Time: 1:16:48 total, 19:07 split for the fourth 5k

21.1k

When I saw that my time at 19k was exactly 1 hour and 13 minutes, I knew that sub-80 was not going to happen today. I simply did not have the legs to even battle for that through the final 2100 meters, and this was enough of a mental blow that I let my head drop a bit during the home stretch. In hindsight that was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the race, which was emphasised when I was surprised by how much pop I had in my legs to kick in the final uphill towards the finish line.

Runner out on the final lap of Skagerakløpet half marathon 2018
Going out for the final lap, with energy drinks all over my shirt

A bit of an anticlimactic finish to a race that I would otherwise characterise as very well executed. My official finish time was 1:20:45 for a new PR, which I am quite pleased with given the circumstances. And that guy I was chasing through the final lap? I never managed to catch up, and finished about fifteen seconds behind him for 10th place overall.

Time: 1:20:45 total, 3:59 split for the final 1.1k

Post-race

My wife and our little one greeted me at the finish line, and we went inside the local mall for some respite from the cold. I stretched and gathered myself for a bit, as she found my official finish time. Initially, I felt a bit disappointed to have missed out on sub-80 this year, as this was my last half marathon of 2018. After talking it out for a few minutes, however, I came to the conclusion that I did most things right on the day. I ran as per my plan, I just didn’t have the legs to up the pace to bring it home in under 80 minutes. Instead of a sizeable negative split, I only managed a three-second improvement as I finished the second half of the race in 40:21, versus 40:24 for the first half.

The one call from the race that remains questionable is whether or not I should have gone up and set the pace of the pack I was in as early as I did. The guy who sat back and then eventually upped the pace in the second half had a finish time of 79 low. While I had no chance of following him at that point, if I had sat back and waited a while longer, perhaps he would’ve been forced to up the pace a notch earlier.

To speculate even further, I think this performance is indicative of sub-80 shape in more favourable circumstances and on a faster course. Regardless, it is certainly an improvement over my previous half marathon, which I ran back in April on a much easier course. And at this point, I am just really pleased to get confirmation that my post-marathon training has not been for nought. And that sub-80 barrier? I am going to obliterate it next year.

For more detailed splits and much more data, check out the race activity over at Strava.

2 comments

  1. Can’t win ’em all! Still, sounds like you raced well, and in the end you can only run as fast as possible in the circumstances you are presented with on the day. I’m certain you will go below 1:20 the next time you race a half mary.

    Keep it up!

    1. Thanks for that, and for commenting! Yeah, I’m quite confident I’ll be able to break that 1:20 limit after a winter of training, and I’m very motivated to put in the work. So, as long as I’m able to stay healthy, I should be able to do it come spring.

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