The Sheffield Half Marathon was a race I hadn't run before. It began at Don Valley Stadium and ran through the city centre before a gradual incline up the vibrant Ecclesall Road. At the junction of Brocco Bank, runners turned back along the same route all the way home to the stadium.
|Warm up track - a good find.|
I was surprised by the "big race" feel in the stadium. Don Valley is about to be retired, not even Jessica Ennis can save it. I suppose this race was a stadium swansong and there were around 6,000 runners at the party. The stadium seating was occupied by thousands of spectators which helped to provide a good pre race atmosphere. I found a quiet room complete with indoor warm up track and did a few shuttles before moving to the runners area below the stands. I decided to get on the start line earlier than usual, it was a mistake. I shuffled in among my compatriots a good ten minutes before the gun but the race start was then delayed. There was an announcement that there were cars parked on the route which the Council was in the process of removing and the race would not start until they were gone. I regretted taking up position so early because my pre-race hydration efforts came back to haunt me.
I stood on the start very close to the line and wondered if I had time to get out, "unhydrate" against a stadium flood light or similar structure and get back into the throng at a respectable position towards the front of the field. As I pondered with increasing urgency whether to take a toilet trip, there followed the next announcement, "will runners please come to the line", I would have to wait. We shuffled towards the line, an official starter dressed in a red suit authoritatively fired the starting pistol and we were off to run what for me personally turned out to be 13.1 miles of misery.
The golden rule of racing is not to set off to fast, if you do you will likely suffer in the later stages. I had run a marathon pb three weeks earlier and had spent the weeks since the marathon generally basking in my success and enjoying the sacrifices that I had missed during pre London training. I had indulged in treats like alcohol and cake and alcohol. I decided to exercise the golden rule with vigour setting off at a very reserved pace and I became concerned after five miles or so when, despite the lack of effort I began feeling sluggish, lazy and tired. If you go off too fast, at least you can slow down.
I tried to put my toilet needs out of my mind usually when the race gets underway you have other things to think about but at Sheffield I lost the mental battle. I was feeling tired, I couldn't find a pace and knew the race was going to be a struggle. I had entered Sheffield to take advantage of my London marathon fitness. I didn't pay much attention to the type of course but I wanted to do a half marathon soon after the marathon to see the pb fairy would visit again. I can now confirm, the pb fairy doesn't visit the undulating streets of the city of steel.
By sixish miles I threw the towel in for the first time by running off course for a whizz. It's a long time since I have stopped during a race and as I perched against the wheelie bin watching the race by pass me I felt a bit guilty and wanted to get back on the running stage. I had a little word with myself and was soon back among the racing masses and determined to to be more positive.
The crowd support in the city centre was good. At the other side of the city we ran up Eccleall Road, a vibrant road flanked by bars and restaurants. I'm not very familiar with Sheffield but if you lived there I think Eccleshall Road would be a good place to live. Half way along the road the front runners began to return in the opposite direction. The first runner wore a neanderthalic beard. He looked liked he was chasing an antelope for tea. He was way ahead of second place and later finished in an astonishing time of 1 hour 6 minutes. I enjoyed watching the elite as it diverted my attention from the misery which, despite an empty bladder, I was still experiencing.
The second half back to Don Valley became more and more difficult, there was simply no pace or energy to be found. By ten miles I'd really had enough and I was surprised at how my body began to tire. Not three weeks earlier I had breezed through 13.1 miles of the marathon feeling great and ready to tackle another 13.1 back to the Mall, at Sheffield I was questioning whether I could finish a single half. The physiology and psychology of running is an odd thing, either I had not recovered from London or I had recovered too much!
As we approached the welcome sight of Don Valley I saw runners adjacent to me on an underpass below, entering the stadium behind a fence that I couldn't pass. I had not gone wrong but it became apparent that we needed to do an external lap of the stadium which would then bring us to the other side of the fence which by that point we would be perhaps 200m from the finish. This was obviously the race organisers illustration of how to kick a man when he is down. They thought it appropriate to finish the race within a stadium that you can see agonisingly close but yet distant for at least the last 3 miles of the race, only to find that when you reach the golden target you have to run round it before you are let in...that in my knackered view was entirely inappropriate.
|Sulking on a seat at the back|
I wasn't the only person struggling. As I turned into the stadium I almost tripped over a guy that had come to grief. He had fallen and was surrounded by medics, never a good sight to see. I staggered onwards. I was so tired that when I saw a cup of abandoned water on a fence post in front I stopped to drink it, most unlike me, especially with about 400m to go.
I crossed the finish line with some relief and walked on to retrieve a goody bag with sweets, biscuits and a decent medal enclosed. The t-shirt stop was next, a fairly decent white technical top. I'm not keen on white tops so I exchanged my large for extra large so I could at least sleep in it. I swayed across to a lone chair in the stadium, stuffed the biscuits in my mouth all at once and reflected on what had gone wrong. In hindsight I ran 1:32:20 across a fairly undulating course so I can't beat myself up too much, it was just harder than it should have been.