Great Birmingham Half Marathon

I entered the Great Birmingham Half Marathon with some trepidation several months ago.  Up to now the biggest event I'd ever entered was the Derby Ramathon that had 3,500 entrants.  By contrast today's race had circa 18,000 entrants so was on a completely different scale to anything I'd ever experienced.  In my mind I'd always viewed events such as these quite negatively so it was going to be interesting to see how the event compared to what I was expecting.

My Derby Ramathon time was 75.16 so my main priority was to beat that time and come in under 75 minutes, if not a little quicker.  That said, I knew the course was going to be tough, lots of little undulations plus a 40 metre climb at mile 11.

I got to the start about an hour before the off and frankly the weather was bucketing it down.  Eventually the rain eased off so at least all of the waiting before the start was going to be in the dry.  I had a number that meant I was classified as a 'Faster Paced Club Runner' and so was going to start in a fairly small pen just behind the elite athletes.  After the off it only took 3 seconds or so to get over the line so I was pretty well positioned.

About to start - I'm just below the second zero.

In all honesty I probably got a little carried away at the start although did try to make a conscious effort not to push too much despite it being a mostly downhill mile.  I went through in 5.28 which was far too quick so I tried to ease off a little.  Already I was way back from the elite men so hadn't got a clue what position I was in, but what I did know was that I was ahead of the elite women as I could hear a televised motorbike less than 10 seconds behind me.

Video of start - I'm on the right hand side in the blue vest.

The second and third miles came and went and I soon realised that compared to the Derby Ramathon which was more or less pancake flat this course by contrast had lots of little strength sapping inclines and that was without the large hill at mile 11!  I was slightly concerned by the second mile split as I was only a couple of seconds further ahead of 75 min pace which wouldn't be enough for the tougher second part of the race.

At some point just before the fourth mile I was overtaken by the motorbike and the leading two ladies went past.  I did wonder whether I was going to have my moment on the TV, but at the same time was still worried that my pace wasn't all that great.  Despite being overtaken, we soon came to a reasonable hill and all of a sudden I had regained my ground and was alongside the motorbike again.  That was shortlived though as when back on the flat the leading lady overtook me and that was that.

Getting overtaken by the motorbike. My moment of fame on Channel 5!

After the hill when I overtook the motorbike again.  It really goes to show how terrible I am running downhill.

Miles 4, 5 and 6 were done in 5.41, 5.43 and 5.46 so in fact I'd lost a net 1 second to my 75 min pace, but still up by 25 seconds overall.  I didn't feel all that great and frankly looked like I was already on the slippery slope.  Despite this I was now running with the 2nd placed elite lady and could still see the motorbike for the leading lady about 30 seconds up the road.

Miles 7, 8 and 9 went quite a bit better in 5.32, 5.38 and 5.19.  It was more of the same in miles 7 & 8, still running with the 2nd placed elite lady and I felt slightly more enthused by bagging a few more seconds ahead of 75 min pace.  I'm not sure what happened in the 9th mile - it involved doing a loop around Edgbaston Cricket Club and for some reason I pulled a reasonable lead ahead of the lady I had been running with.  It was at this point I thought, ok I'm now 68 seconds ahead, 4 miles to go, so would only need to average 6.00 min miles over the last 4 miles.  It felt achievable even if I knew that I was going to lose a chunk of that time up the hill.  That said, I also knew that at about mile 10 at the Ramathon the wheels started to come off and I was really starting to puff - that 9th mile took its toll out of me.

I cant remember too much about mile 10 other than losing a chunk of time for no apparent reason - I was thinking oh no the wheels are starting to come off!  The 11th mile was in 5.40 and I was relieved to see that I had banked a few extra seconds and was now mentally calculating what I needed to do in the last two miles.  Surely I could average less than 6.10 in the last two miles even with a hill?

The 12th mile started with a climb out of an underpass which itself was really testing.  It then flattened out, before the climb proper started.  Straight away I could just tell my pace had slowed considerably and my legs felt like lead.  I could also feel the runners behind starting to catch me.  Frankly I just wanted the mile to be done and just hoped I would still have something in the bank for the final mile.  I eventually went through in 6.19, so I had just 18 seconds to play with in the final mile - all to play for.

The final mile was modestly downhill with just a small climb out of an underpass before the final 400 metres to the finish.  With about half a mile to go I got overtaken by two male runners, and then the lady I had been running with for a good chunk of the race overtook me as well.  With the finish now in sight I made an extra effort to try and get in under 75 minutes as I could only see the part of the clock that said 74.xx.  It was only just after overtaking the 2nd lady I could see that I was going to comfortably beat 75 mins and I crossed the line in 74.38 and 23rd position overall.

About 100 metres from the finish

Coming in to the finish - just about stayed ahead of the second lady.

My first emotion was that I was really pleased to beat 75 mins as quite early on I thought I was going to be miles away from that time.  It was also good to beat a benchmark that is considered the difference between a good runner and a fast runner.  At the same time though it also shows that I've only improved by 38 seconds since the Ramathon in June even though I have really ramped up my training.  That said, I suspect the Birmingham course is a lot slower than the Ramathon so perhaps on the right course I could have been a lot quicker.  Who knows?

One of the benefits of my time is that I have achieved the Championship standard for the London Marathon so I have automatically qualified for the event over the next couple of years should I want to run it.  I have no desire to do it at the moment but its nice to at least have the option.

My preconception about big events such as these was well and truly blown away.  The crowds were amazing, lots of bands playing, loads of people on the route although in fairness most of the clapping was probably for the female runner next to me!  I've been told I made it onto the live coverage which doesn't surprise me at all as I was with the camera bike for a few miles and about 30 seconds behind for the last few miles, plus finishing a few seconds ahead of the second placed athlete.

I have the Petzl Nightrunner in December next which is just a fun event and have nothing else planned this side of Christmas.  Longer term I'm contemplating a marathon in April but need to decide in the coming weeks whether it is something I want to do.


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