Fredrikstadløpet Half Marathon 2019: Is This Thing Still On?

Where did the time go? It feels like I only dropped the ball ever so slightly on keeping you guys updated on my running. And then, here we are, two months later. Even though I’ve been busy and slacking with the updates, I have still kept running a top priority. Not only have I been training well, but I’ve run a couple of races, too. My first race of the year was Fredrikstadløpet Half Marathon 2019, which I ran on March 31st.

This race report has been sitting in my drafts folder, more or less finished, since only days after the race. Better late than never, however, so I’ve decided to publish it rather than letting a perfectly decent race report go to waste.

Observant readers will remember that I also ran this race last year. I had a great experience on race day. That said, everything soured a bit after it surfaced that the “certified” course had been 210 meters short. Regardless, I opted to return for a few reasons. The course is relatively flat, and, as I said, the race itself was an enjoyable experience last year. The fact that the starting line is less than an hour drive is, of course, a plus. As is the fact that I can pop over to the in-laws for a nice, post-race meal because my wife is from the race town.

Training

My lead up to this race was less than ideal. Back in January, I got hit with an overuse injury in my right knee. While I could run a little, recovery was slow and tiresome. As the 2019 edition of Fredrikstadløpet was coming up, I was only getting back to my average weekly mileage for the past year. Average weekly distance for the eight weeks before the race was only 55 kilometres / 34 miles. But the trend was positive.

Despite not running as much as I had wanted, I had been diligent with cross-training, with the elliptical being my choice of poison. Having never experienced any prolonged injury periods before, this was new ground for me. As a result, I found it hard to gauge my running fitness with any degree of accuracy. The primary purpose of this race, then, was to get an accurate indication of my fitness.

Race

Going into the race with so much uncertainty about my fitness, I was unsure of how to approach the race. Do I go for the high risk, high reward approach? That is, go out near the pace I may be capable of on a perfect day. Or, do I go the safer route and go out comfortably and aim for a negative split?

I was reasonably confident of being in shape to break 80 minutes, after failing to do so last fall. With the conditions looking decent for running fast, if a bit windy, on race day, I decided to make breaking this barrier my primary goal.

After warming up with a friend who wanted to run at a similar pace, we lined up in the starting area. I spotted a few familiar faces, threw out a few hello’s and engaged in some polite small talk. People were eager to go, and I noted that I’ve rarely been less nervous just before the start of a race before. A result of the relatively low expectations due to my injury-ridden lead-up, perhaps?

1 – 5k

The announcer clues us in that the start is only 10 seconds away, and before I know it we’re off. I know there will probably be a group of runners looking to run just under 80 minutes. With a significant headwind through the more exposed parts of the race, I want to find this group. Working against the wind on my own will slow me down.

Runner from Fredrikstadløpet Half Marathon 2019
Feeling good a few kilometres into the race.

I latch on to a group quite quickly, and the first couple of kilometres indicates that I have found my crew. As we hit the headwind, however, the group splits, and I find myself at the tail. I decide not to go with the guys who break loose.

Time: 18:56 total, 18:56 split for the first 5k

6 – 10k

With the first 5k split coming up, however, I am starting to regret that decision. We are trailing my target pace with about 10 seconds, and I feel comfortable enough that I want to be running target pace at this point. After finishing the first of the four laps, I set out on my own and up the speed to catch up to the two guys ahead of me.

Much to my dismay, these two guys don’t seem to be running much faster than the group behind. I chalk it down to the headwind, which appears to have gone up another notch. As we are working against the wind, a side stitch creeps up on me. Gradually, it worsens. At eight to nine kilometres, I am hurting and struggling to breathe well.

I am seriously considering dropping out at this point. The thought of my wife and her family waiting to cheer me on through my third loop pushes me to give it a bit more time. I try to straighten up my stride and focus on taking deep breaths. Before too long, the stitch disappears as quickly as it came.

Time: 37:56 total, 19:00 split for the second 5k

11 – 15k

Just before embarking on the third loop, two more guys join our group. I recognise one of the guys. He’s the one who clipped my heels in the wind for half the race, before leaving me behind during my last half marathon. Perfect! I am a little behind schedule at this point, and I need a back to hang on to if I am to make it up.

Hanging on is what I have to do, as these guys up the tempo significantly. The pace feels hard but sustainable, so I decide to take my chances. As we hit the headwind once more, I shamelessly avoid doing any work at all. Sorry guys, I’m just here for the ride.

Time: 56:23 total, 18:27 split for the third 5k

16 – 20k

After passing through the finish area for the third and penultimate time, my company decided to turn it up yet another notch. I immediately feel that this pace is a bit too rich for me, but I desperately try to hang on. With around four kilometres to go, however, a gap opens up, and I don’t have another gear.

The result is that I find myself utterly alone as I round the corner and into the wind exposed part of the course for the final time. I am battling hard into the headwind, but unable to keep my pace from slipping ever so slightly.

Time: 1:14:55 total, 18:32 split for the fourth 5k

21.1k

Through the final stretch, the course runs along the river for a few hundred metres. Afterwards, you run back on to the road, before a sharp right turn sets you down the home stretch. Along the river, I check my watch and realise I am on for a decent time. The stretch of road before the home stretch has a small incline, and I work hard to keep the pace up. Running solo here is not helpful, but I am happy with my effort.

Runner on the last lap of Fredrikstadløpet Half Marathon 2019
The sun came out towards the end of the race, but the wind persisted.

Turning on the home stretch, I try to muster up a final kick. It isn’t pretty, nor particularly fast, but it is something. As I cross the line, I see the big clock and realise that I will be going below 1:19. After finishing, I immediately have to lay down. I am exhausted, which confirms that I have run a race close to my capabilities at the moment.

Time: 1:18:52 total, 3:57 split for the final 1.1k

Post-race

Finally breaking 80 minutes in the half marathon feels like a big step forward. I am also happy with my fitness at this point, given my troublesome lead-up. That said, it is clear that the injury setback has halted my progression. My goals for the year are looking a bit too ambitious after this result.

Looking at the aim of going below 2:40 in the Berlin Marathon, I am probably a minute and a half behind where I should have been at this point in the half marathon. There is little I can do to make up this beyond training as planned, and see what happens.

Regardless, this race was a positive experience. I executed well, and I came close to my maximum potential on the day. Perhaps I could have shaved off a few seconds during the first 10k, but we’re talking seconds, not minutes.

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