New PR at Fredrikstadløpet 2018 Half Marathon

April in Norway means the snow makes way for quicker running conditions. And, subsequently, it means that the outdoor race season is properly starting. Fredrikstadløpet is a local race which offers a 5k and a half marathon (21.1k), in addition to shorter races for junior runners. The 2018 edition took place on April 8th, and I opened my 2018 season by aiming for a new PR in the half marathon. Check the Strava activity for all the data from my race.

Training

I am currently neck deep in training for my first marathon, which I will be running in the middle of June. This race closed out week 8 of my Pfitz 18/70 plan. It was my first race of the year, and I was very much looking forward to seeing what the 15 weeks of base building and the first half of my marathon training plan had done for my fitness.

Laying out my plans for the year, I decided that if I could go below 1:24 in this half I would probably be in a good spot with regards to realising my big goal for the year, which is going below three hours in my marathon debut. My marathon training has been going well, and for the most part, I have been able to run a bit faster than Pfitz’s prescribed training paces. So I was starting to think that I perhaps had a chance of realising my season goal for the half here, which is to go below 1:22.

That idea didn’t stick for too long, because I caught a cold over easter, and in the week before the race that turned into a full-fledged sinus infection. I didn’t feel good and wasn’t able to run at all on the Thursday and Friday leading up the race on Sunday, and I was contemplating dropping the race altogether.

Thankfully, come Saturday, while my sinuses were still clogged, the rest of my body felt better, and I decided to race and treat the race as an exercise in mental strength. My biggest weakness as a runner, by far, is my tendency to worry about every little sniffle and niggle, and how it may affect my training or, worse yet, racing. Getting out there and giving all I had on the day, despite the sinus infection, seemed like a great way to challenge this bad mental habit. Plus, I could always just drop out if I felt too bad.

Pre-race

This race takes place in my wife’s hometown, which is about a one hour drive from where we live. I got up at about 9 AM, and packed my bag. Afterwards, I had a small breakfast and sat around impatiently awaiting us getting out of the house.

Once there, I discovered that we had taken off way too early, and we still had about an hour and forty-five minutes until the gun went off. Since my wife brought our little dog, I couldn’t bring them inside where I picked up my bib, so we ended up just waiting in the car for a while. With about 35 minutes to go I went to the toilet, before starting to get ready by doing some jogging and light strides.

Thanks to some heavy duty nose spray, my sinuses were alright if a bit sore. But, because of the sinus infection, I had decided to go out a bit conservatively, aiming to go below 1:24 if I had something in the tank towards the end. That meant targeting sub 4:00 min/km splits, and I did a few stretches at that pace just to get a feel for it. Went to the toilet once more, before lining up at the starting line.

Race

0 – 5k

As the gun goes off, I immediately notice that I’m way too far back in the starting field. It takes almost 10 seconds before I pass the starting line, and I immediately speed up to try and find the right spot in the field. This is a pretty small race with only a few hundred runners, so it’s not too much work.

After a couple of minutes, I spot the girl I know will probably be winning the female race, and in a time that’s beyond me as she ran 1:18 earlier this year. There is already a gap opening up between the pack around her and another cluster of five or six runners around 15 meters back. I’m coming up on the second group, and settle into a comfortable pace a few seconds behind them.

Just after the 2k mark, I see my wife and our dog and notice that her aunt has come out to cheer as well. That’s nice, and I’m all smiles as I give them a light wave. The race consists of a 5.27 km loop run four times, so I make a mental note of where they are for when I pass them the next couple of times.

Runner on crossing.
I’m all smiles as I pass my wife on the first loop.

Beyond that, the first loop was very uneventful. I kept my pace steady right where I wanted it to be, just below 4 min/km. The group ahead of me were running slightly faster, but I was very wary of overextending, so rather than hanging on, I decided to stick to my pacing plan.

Kilometre splits: 3:38, 3:53, 3:53, 3:55, 4:03 (19:24 5k)

6 – 10k

Seeing as how the marathon is my big goal this year, I wanted to eat a couple of gels during this race, just to get a feel for eating gels during races. I took the first one just as we closed the first loop. Despite it being a race and all, it just didn’t feel right to throw the GU wrapper on the ground like a hoodlum, so I ended up crossing the street and slowing slightly just to throw it in the garbage bin. Is it really OK to just throw wrappers on the ground during races?

The group in front of me keep running a bit faster than me. I’m probably ten to fifteen seconds off them when I see that the group further ahead, where the female lead is running, is probably at least a minute ahead. At this point, I’m thinking that this probably means that the guys in the group directly in front of me are probably the 1:20-22 guys, which justifies my decision of not staying with them. That is just out of my reach today, and given my infection, I am better off sticking to the plan.

As I pass my wife, her aunt, and our dog again I just give them a wink and little shout telling them that it’s feeling slightly harder now, but I’m still smiling. I also see my father-in-law out there and give him an affirmative nod when he’s asking me if I’m alright.

Runner on the road.
Second loop, and still smiling.

Halfway through the loop, a few guys from behind start catching up to me. I figure these are the ones that started a bit too slow and have turned it up a bit for the second time around the course. Towards the end of the loop, I start worrying that I’m actually running a bit slow, because the GPS is acting up and showing all kinds of paces, slow and fast, and more people are catching up and even passing me. The group I’ve run behind so far are drifting further ahead, and another group forms just ahead of me.

Passing the 10k marker, I notice for the first time that my legs are feeling a bit heavy. “Isn’t that a bit early in a half?” I ask myself, worried still that I’m about to blow up already. Thankfully, as the 10k split pops up on my watch, I see that I’m right where I want to be, and I keep it steady as we close out the second loop.

Kilometre splits: 3:50, 3:56, 3:54, 3:55, 3:57 (19:34 5k)

11-15k

Getting the confirmation that I am running according to plan helped my confidence, and I am now feeling pretty good. The new group that has formed ahead of me consists of about five people. These guys are running more or less exactly the pace I want to keep, but I am starting to feel like passing them and trying to catch up to the group ahead of us. The same one that I was barely hanging on to during the first loop.

But I don’t want to blow up, and I keep telling myself that I got to earn the right to up the pace. And I earn that right by getting through to the final loop with fresh legs, and ready to go. It’s getting harder now, but I still get the feeling that I have something left to burn during the final loop, but I need to keep my cool.

As I am thinking about all the great things I am going to do in the final round, two guys in my current group pull ahead. I am sitting at the back of the group and, panicked, I try to follow. These guys have really upped the pace, and are clearly trying to catch up to the group ahead. As I realise, I remind myself to just wait for the bell. I got to earn the right to up the pace!

So I end up running alone, in a kind of no man’s land for the last stretch of the third loop, reminding myself to stay cool, earn the right, and wait for the bell. I am somewhere between 50 – 150 meters behind the now sizeable pack ahead of me, and I think that I have what it takes to catch up to them. I consider dropping the last gel to avoid losing any time at the water station. But then I tell myself that I’m running this race to prepare for a marathon, so I had best eat that gel. I eat the gel, and once more cross the street and slow down for the trash can.

Kilometre splits: 3:57, 3:59, 3:48, 3:43, 3:57 (19:26 5k)

15 – 21.1k

At the aid station and just past it, I lose a bit more time to the group ahead, as I try to practice spilling water into my mouth instead of all over me. I fail. But we’re now on the final loop, and I’ve earned the right to turn it on. So I turn it on.

It doesn’t take more than a couple of hundred meters before I see the back of the pack ahead of me again, and I am gaining fast on them. The group probably consists of about 10 people at this time, and a couple of runners have gotten loose and are currently getting away. This probably means that the group isn’t speeding up a whole lot for the final loop, I think, and this is confirmed by how quickly I catch up to them.

As I approach the group my first thought is to just hang on, and see if I can perhaps pass a few of them on the final stretch. But as I have to slow down significantly to sit with the group, I remind myself that I’ve earned the right to run with what I’ve got at this point, so two seconds later I reconsider and decide to just go past the pack and run on my own. I am also one corner away from seeing my cheerleaders again, and the idea of turning the corner and smiling at them all on my own sounds nice. So I do!

At this point, all I am thinking about is whether someone from the group will be following me. It is getting rough, but I find that I can maintain this faster clip without too much trouble. From what I can tell, nobody is breaking from the pack behind to follow me, so I instead set my sights on the two guys ahead who broke away from the group before I caught up to it.

Catching up to the first guy goes surprisingly fast, but the second guy keeps looking back to see how far behind I am. He obviously doesn’t want to concede his position, but I am reeling him in, albeit slowly. Now, I should make it clear that at this point I am starting to properly struggle. I have no idea what time I might be chasing, and I do currently not possess the mental capacity to try and figure that out. So it’s just a race between me and the other guy at this point, and when I pass him and I see that he doesn’t have any response, I can feel myself easing up on the gas ever so slightly.

I am around 2k from the finish, and I am completely on my own. All I can do to keep it up at this point is to tell myself that the guys behind might not be dead yet, so I have to step on it and make sure that I don’t get overtaken. What place I am running for, I don’t know. But at this moment it is very important to me that I get this spot on the results list and not the one below, so I manage to keep applying pressure and maintaining a pretty decent pace.

Chip time as I cross the finish line is 1:20:30, and that made me 26th overall. That’s an almost 8-minute improvement from my half back in September, which was admittedly on a harder course.

Kilometre splits: 3:57, 3:59, 3:48, 3:43, 3:57 (18:45 for a new 5K PR!), 3:44

Post-race

After the race we I took a few minutes to collect myself, and judging by the look on my face it seems like I realised I had run a race beyond my expectations even at that point. After that, we headed to the in-laws for dinner, which was on the table by the time I had finished my cool down run. What a luxury!

Runner after crossing the finish line
Tired and confused, but happy!

Obviously, the race went beyond my expectations, both in terms of what I thought I could do on the day, but also what I thought I was capable of at the moment. I don’t think the sinus infection took anything away from my performance, because the nose spray helped clear it up while I was running, and my body otherwise felt fine. In fact, the notion that I might not be a hundred percent probably helped me race smarter and better and got me closer to my potential than what would’ve been possible if I had gone out there thinking that I was ready to give everything.

Hopefully, I am able to learn from this and remember in the future that good race experiences come from smart racing. I passed every single runner I could realistically pass, as the next one on the results list was more than a minute ahead of me, and it felt really great to close up a race on a strong note like that!

This race also has me feeling quite comfortable with my sub-3 goal for the full in June. If I get back to training properly now, as my last two weeks have been slightly derailed by the cold and subsequent sinus infection, I am feeling quite good about my chances to get it done.

This race report was originally published over at r/artc, a great running community that has been invaluable to me as I’ve tried to progress as a runner.

UPDATE: News have surfaced that the course for this race was 210 meters short. This is very unfortunate for the race organisers, as they had been branding themselves as a certified course. As it turns out, they had made some changes to the course from last year, when it was certified, and they ended up shorting it down from the required 21098 meters for a half marathon.

This does of course mean that my breakthrough was a little less impressive than first assumed. Extrapolating the pace of the final kilometer, I would’ve run 1:21:17 on a course that was the full distance. It is annoying to not be able to claim that chip time as a proper PR, as this was supposed to be a race with a certified course. But all it really means is that I have to run another half this year to prove that I’m good for it on a properly measured course!

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