On Sunday, I ran what turned out to be my goal race for this quarter – the Fleet HM. As you may remember, the actual goal was the Annecy HM last week but temperatures soaring into the 20s/late 70s made actually racing that beautiful beast impossible. So I signed up for a HM in the cold, damp UK the following weekend – and Fleet was it.
Fleet is interesting. I thought the town would be a bit non-descript but in actual fact it’s a lovely little place with gorgeous tree-lined streets and some pretty countryside around it.The race traditionally takes place in March – it’s a popular warm-up race for London – but the Beast from the East meant it got cancelled and rescheduled. I was lucky enough to get some of the extra places made available.The forecast was cold, potentially drizzly and with a notable breeze.
My goal for this race was simply to race it hard and see what I could do. I hoped I could do between 1.55 and 1.57. I actually secretly wanted between 1.53 and 1.54. In the end, I hit 1.56 but was hugely disappointed with that time – so clearly I’d been deceiving myself about what I really wanted. But there we are.
Race morning dawned unnecessarily early. Mornings are light now, it’s bright daylight by 5.00am and I was awake at 5.30 although i managed to pretend otherwise until 6.30. When I woke up, I was knackered. I’d been sleeping poorly all week – these bright mornings mean I’ve been waking up much earlier than usually (about 5.30) but not going to bed earlier to make up for that lack of sleep. In particular, the Saturday night was dreadful. The Dude got growing pains so I was up comforting him for half an hour. The cat was feeling needy and woke me several times by batting me on the face just to put my arms round him and snuggle him, and I had those pre-race nerves. So I woke feeling awful. I continued to feel exhausted as I drove the hour and a quarter up to Fleet. Just knackered.
Fleet HM impressed me from the start – they posted me my number last week, along with a tag for my drop-bag. I found parking easily in town (I arrived at about 9.30 for a 10.30 start – and be sure to take a pound) and wandered down to the staging area at the local park. It was much bigger than I’d expected. There was a big drop-bag tent, there was a local running retailer where I picked up a gel, there was a coffee truck, an ice-cream van, tents for charity partners…and it was heaving. So many people! I found a warm-ish corner in the tent, sorted out my clothes and, with about twenty minutes to go, handed over my drop-bag. I hoped that race energy would rub off on me. One final loo-trip and we were all heading over to the start (a minute away). Some endless huddling and chatting to a nice man and we were off.
The course is very pleasant. It winds through some houses at first, then does a loop before heading for a second time through the town centre and out onto the surrounding roads. The crowd support was fantastic right from the start – people stood outside their houses cheering, there was a crowd in the town-centre yelling for us and all along the route were regular groups of people cheering. Local stood outside with jelly-babies and water – one little boy shouted a triumphant ‘yes’ every time someone took his jelly-babies. I was really blown away by the number of people stood outside on a cold morning cheering for us. Our names were on our bibs and I was also incredibly touched by the number of people who cheered me by name – as I was there alone, this meant so much to me.
My own race started off decently. There was none of the effortless flying of the Salisbury 10 but I felt like I was running solidly and at a good pace. My Garmin was covered by my arm-sleeves and I had no intention of looking at it during the race. The race is gently undulating – there are definite ‘hills’ but nothing hard at all and always followed by a steady downhill. By the second mile, I knew I’d have to work for today’s result but I was prepared to put the effort in. I reminded myself of all the hard work that had gone into getting here – four months of running in freezing temperatures, of long runs in the snow, hill repeats in the rain. I wasn’t about to give this up without a fight.
For the first nine miles, things were solid. Looking at my splits later, I averaged 8.41 which was all I wanted. At one point, I passed two women and one said ‘Look at that lady, she’s like a machine’. I didn’t feel like a machine but their encouragement meant the world at that moment. They remarked on my fast leg turnover; they thought it was because I also cycle (well, I used to) as opposed to me basically having short legs. But their words made me feel like a badass and kept me going for a good few miles.
I didn’t notice when the wheels started to come off but according to my watch it was very clearly M10 when my average pace shot up to 9.26. There was technically a small hill but it was the kiss of death. My run became a zombie-march as I slogged back …8.57, 9.04, 9.39. I knew I was slowing but it was beyond me to do anything more. I just stuck my head down, smiled at the crowds as they encouraged me and crossed the line, grateful to be done.
The clock was 1.57 when I finished but I knew my chip time would be less. It wasn’t for several minutes that I had a look at my Garmin. 1.56.02. I was disappointed and sat there for a while before changing out of my cold damp clothes, getting coffee and driving home.
As I walked back to my car, I walked next to a lady whose phone pinged as she got final time as a text. ‘1.49’ she exclaimed, ‘I’ve finally done it’. She was so excited and so proud of herself. I told her that was my big goal too and congratulated her on achieving it. She told me she’d been working for a year to hit that goal. Seeing her delight made me want that achievement for myself all over again. I still want that totally random time. I’ll keep working.
Notes on the race
This was an excellent race! The organisation was impeccable. Plenty of aid stations (water), a jelly baby station at M10, loads of encouraging marshalls, great crowd support, a buzzing staging area. The medal was one of the nicest I’ve ever had and I had the choice to save money and opt out of the t-shirt, which I appreciated. The course was pretty and honest – with about 450ft elevation gain it’s not flat but it was very PR-able if you were properly trained. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this race.
Reflections and new focuses
I think it’s okay to be disappointed in a time that was less than I’d hoped for. It’s only running, it’s not important in the grand scheme of things, but I worked hard and I hoped for better.
There are several factors that contributed to today’s poor performance. I don’t mean to make excuses – I ran as hard as I could on the day, I have nothing to be ashamed of – but I want to note them here and then think about them over the next week.
- Lack of sleep. I have not prioritised sleep at all and I think tiredness kicked in today.
- I’ve been eating too much and I am overweight.
- I’ve been drinking too much, especially these past few weeks with guests.
- April’s running was a little messy. March was cracking (149 miles) but then in April I tapered for Salisbury, crushed Salisbury then spent a week recovering. Then I tapered for Annecy, finished Annecy and then spent a week recovering. My last 15-miler was 30th March and I haven’t done much speedwork/hillwork in April either. I think that the disruption to regular, structured training was detrimental.
Those four things are actually quite easily rectified. So my goals between now and my next HM (Lacock on June 10th) are:
- Prioritise sleep.
- Eat less. Lose those silly pounds that have crept on.
- Eat better. Less cake.
- Cut back on the wine.
- Train my socks off in May. No practise races – just work hard and work steadily over the next 6 weeks.
Those goals are a little woolly but I’ll make them more specific in the next day or so.
So there we go. 1.56. Meh.