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.

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!

A Challenging Half at Oslo Marathon 2017

Oslo Maraton is the largest and most prestigious race organised in Norway. On September 16, 2017, I took part in the event and ran the half marathon (21.1 km). You can visit the race website for more information about the race, and if you want all the nitty, gritty details on how my half marathon unfolded you can view the Strava activity.

Training and background

I started the year with a goal of running a half marathon under 1 hours and 40 minutes. I had been running between one and three times per week, around 40 km/25 miles weekly, and wanted to motivate myself to keep that up. I was able to regularly hit 30 miles per week the first few months of the year, except the weeks where I prioritised cross-country skiing instead. When I managed a 1:06:40 10 miler back in May, I decided I should probably set a slightly more ambitious goal for the half, which was still a few months away back then.

After that, life took an unexpected turn for the worse. In June, my wife gave birth to our firstborn daughter, the most beautiful girl I ever saw. While our little girl was perfect, this world was never good enough for her. Just a week after she was born, our baby passed away, and our whole existence was turned upside down. As this is a race report I will try not to talk about this too much, but it is impossible for me to discuss this race without offering some context.

In the aftermath of losing our baby girl, I felt no desire to run anymore. I had been looking so much forward to my running becoming a daddy and daughter thing, bringing her along in the stroller, and as that dream broke, so did my motivation for running. But I decided I had to do something, anything, so I decided to run anyways. Well, run is probably inaccurate verbiage, as it was closer to a molasses-like dragging of feet because my body was absolutely ruined by the turmoil. The first couple of days, running did nothing, but I was doing something. So I kept doing it, and to my surprise, I found after a couple of weeks that running became something like recess amidst all the grieving. All the thoughts were still there, but like Murakami describes, they lost their weight while I ran, and became clouds soaring past for a little while.

So I kept running, every single day, for that moment of relief, and to some extent, I think it safe to say that running kinda, sorta saved me from drowning in grief. And all the while, I also had that thought in the back of my mind, that no way was I going to let my little girl become an excuse for not doing something. In the middle of July, my body started to respond to the training again, and I started to think that maybe 90 minutes was possible after all, and I decided to go all in. I increased mileage from week to week topping out at about 80 km/50 miles, all the while sticking religiously to two workouts and a long run. I devoted all my free time to running, reading about and thinking about running because it was the only thing I was able to focus on.

And after everything that had happened, a few of my friends suggested that we make the race weekend a weekend with the gang, and five of them decided to join me in running the half. This added an extra element of competition to the race. While none of them are active runners, they stay in shape through a variety of activities, and I knew at least four of them could probably post sub-90 times in the half with a couple of months’ dedicated training.

I tried to focus mainly on my own goal though and became a bit deflated when the race announced a new course profile with two 60 meters / 200 feet climb. There goes my goal, I thought, but still I ran, posted my miles, and for the most part, my workouts and long runs went reasonably well. A workout in my final week before tapering, where I did somewhat comparable hills over 13 km and held 1:30 half pace quite comfortably, gave me some hope as I began to bring down my miles, and lower the intensity during the final two weeks. And then, a week before the race to the day, I got struck by a cold, which still lingers, and my hopes deflated once more.

Pre-race

I met up with my friends on Friday, and we had rented an apartment for the weekend for all of us to stay in. Those of us who were running did a little shakeout in the evening, before we ordered pizza, ate and played cards and generally just had a great time. During the night my cold felt like it worsened, I was restless and had trouble sleeping. At 4 AM I had to get up and take some Ibuprofen for the lingering headaches. Not exactly an ideal night before a big run, but hey-ho.

The starting time of the race was 1:30 PM, which had me a bit nervous. Because I’ve had some stomach problems while running, every single long run I had ever done before the race had started early in the morning, fasted. The late start meant that I had to eat something after waking up, and I worried that it would mean my stomach acting up during the race. I had a few slices of bread with some chocolate spread and drank some OJ at around 9 AM, and hoped that my stomach wouldn’t object while I was running. I went to the toilet at least four times between waking up and the race, but I have to think that was down to the nerves.

Race

With the new course profile for the race, I divided the race into four parts while planning the race: The start and first climb (5km), the flat between the mountains (6-14km), mount doom (15-17km) and run for your life (18-21.1 km). I made meticulous pace plans for the differing parts, and like all good plans, they went straight out the window as soon as the race started. One thing did work well during the race, however, was writing down my estimated max times for a sub 90 minutes finish at various parts of the race. It was great to have those handy (He-he! Sorry, but I’m still a dad now, so I gotta point out those) when running such an unevenly paced course.

For all of you who operate with freedom units, I apologise in advance as I only share my KM splits here. But for some reference, a 4:00 min/km is equivalent to a 6:26 min/mile.

The start and first climb (Start to 5km)

The plan was to get warm during the first two kilometres, and then keep a comfortable pace during my first climb. I knew that the four of my friends also aiming for sub 90 would be going all out from the get-go, but I was determined to run my own race. Especially during the first climb, I was very wary of getting carried away. I knew running too hard there, would be costly later in the race.

Right after the countdown, and almost before passing the starting line, I noticed that my heart rate was already way above my planned race HR of around 175, sitting above 180. I thought the cold, which I obviously hadn’t shaken entirely, might be the cause, but I was comfortable and tried to focus more on perceived effort. Being that I was comfortable, I stuck to the relatively quick pace I settled on during the opening for the first two kilometres, with my friends in sight. As we reached the first climb, I slowed down and let my friends go, but I still clocked the first 5 kilometres quite a bit faster than expected with 20:22, and more than 2 minutes below the max 5 KM time in my hand. Still, I didn’t feel that I was struggling at any point during this part of the race, and felt I had gotten off to a promising start.

  • 1 km: 3:55
  • 2 km: 3:49
  • 3 km: 4:03
  • 4 km: 4:17
  • 5 km: 4:12

The flat between the mountains (6km to 14km)

The flat actually started with 3 kilometres of moderately downhill running, to make our way down from that first climb. I still felt fresh and managed to post splits below my target for the downhill portion. All was good until the 10th kilometre, where we went out into the open. With no buildings or trees offering any sort of shade, the sun really made its presence felt, and it instantly became harder. I did have one of my friends in sight at this point, however, and as I was reeling him in it was obvious that I was not the only one struggling. I passed him at around 11 kilometres, and he said in an exhausted manner that he was shot, and I told him to not think about the others and just find his own pace. Shortly after I saw another one of my friends, and I locked on to his back.

Mentally, this was, without doubt, the hardest part of the race for me. My pace was dropping towards the end of this stage, and my mind went all over the place. I started to think about my little girl, and all the runs we would never get, and, in a sort of runner’s delirium, for a moment it kinda felt like this one was with her, so I held on. The groups of cheerleaders around the course also cheered me up to no end at this point, as they would shout my name and cheer me just because I smiled at them, so I held on.

  • 6 km: 3:57
  • 7 km: 3:57
  • 8 km: 3:52
  • 9 km: 3:52
  • 10 km: 4:08
  • 11 km: 4:06
  • 12 km: 4:02
  • 13 km: 4:13
  • 14 km: 4:15

Mount Doom (15km to 17km)

As we started on the 15th kilometre, and the first hints of the final climb, I had gotten something of a second wind. I had more or less closed the gap to my second friend, whose back I’d held for a good while, and I felt ready to rumble. About halfway into the climb, I passed him, and I felt really good as I held my planned pace through the ascent, despite being three minutes ahead of my schedule for sub 90 when passing the 15 kilometres mark.

When one of my friends who were among the spectators shouted to me that another one of my running friends were just ahead, I got another boost. I passed lots of people, felt like a boss, and when I crested the summit of the final climb I started thinking about what my finish time could be if I managed to run just a little bit faster than my scheduled pace for the final 3.1 kilometres. I feel like this is a good point to excuse myself and remind everyone that this was my first ever half marathon.

  • 15 km: 4:23
  • 16 km: 4:41
  • 17 km: 4:42

Run for your life (18km to 21.1 km)

Like already mentioned, I felt good as I passed the final climb, and that feeling remained for the first two kilometres of the descent as well. While I would’ve like to increase the pace just a little bit more than I was able to, I essentially held my scheduled pace. Until I didn’t. I can’t tell you exactly when and where it happened, but I suddenly noticed that people were passing me. A lot of people were passing me. This happens sometimes while I run, I lose concentration and forget to increase the pace again after a small incline, or my mind just wanders off, so at first, when I see people passing me I think “Oh, gotta up the pace a bit!

It takes a couple of seconds before I realise that nothing is happening. People are still passing me, and my body is obviously in some kind of lockdown mode at this point, because I simply can’t up my pace, and the more I try, the more I start to feel absolutely terrible. I remember looking at my watch and seeing that there are less than 2 kilometres to go, telling myself I’ve got this, no need for panic, before a split second later realising that holy sh*t I have to throw up.

At this point it takes all the willpower I can muster to go on, even if I knew that quitting was never an option. Before reaching kilometre 20, which took forever, I kept repeating to myself that if only I got to 20 I would have almost less than 1 to go, and I can do that no matter what kind of condition I’m in. I felt myself slowing to what seemed a glacier-like pace, but all I could do was reassure myself that even if I had to stop to puke, I was still going to finish sub 90. Both of my friends that I’d passed earlier in the race flew by me at some point during the last kilometre, but there was absolutely no chance of me responding. I was so beat up at this point that the thought of being beaten by them made absolutely zero impact on how I felt. During the last few hundred meters, I literally felt myself groaning out loud in pain. Watching the TV broadcast this morning, I cringed upon seeing that they caught my finish on TV. I looked just as miserable as I felt “running” the last 100 meters up until the finish line. But I knew I would finish sub 90, and that was all I could think about at this point.

  • 18 km: 4:10
  • 19 km: 4:07
  • 20 km: 4:16
  • 21 km: 4:43
  • 0.1 km: 28 sec (4:40 pace)

Finish time: 1:28:13

Post-race

Immediately after crossing the finish line, I was overcome by emotion, and all I could do was sit down and let the tears out. Exactly why I was crying, I can’t really say, but it was clear that a lot of the grief I’ve been carrying these past few months had been tied into my running. I felt happy that I’d managed to reach a goal I’d set right before my life became my worst nightmare, but I also felt an intense sadness that it was over, an emptiness and a feeling of “what now?

After that initial burst of emotion, I wandered off totally exhausted, caught a subway and went back to the apartment for a hot shower and some rest. I forgot that I had agreed to meet the others. We were supposed to spend the evening out dining and then partying like we do when we travel together, but we ended up back home and in bed by midnight. Some top-notch adulting, that, on a Saturday night!

Now, having had some more time to reflect upon the events of the race, I’m obviously very pleased to have smashed my goal in a relatively demanding race. But I can’t help but wonder what the heck went wrong at the very end and feel a little bit disappointed for not being able to stay the distance and realise a 1:26:xx finish time. All the way until I bombed, I felt like I had run the race perfectly, and to the very best of my abilities. I’m an inexperienced runner, so I don’t have the knowledge to tell from feel what exactly happened. Tips welcome!

If you’ve read this far, thanks for taking an interest in this very mediocre runners’ escapades.

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.