Stafford Half Marathon

First blog of the year, partly by design, partly enforced and partly down to a couple of niggles.  Post Valencia on the 1st December I was next scheduled to do the Wheaton Aston 10k on the 27th December which has become a bit of a tradition for me.  As it turned out it got cancelled due to flooding.  I then went on our annual New Year break to Yorkshire and decided to enjoy the trails and skip the New Year fell race.  However the terrain pretty much destroyed my calves and I suspect the tightness caused some knee pain that I have had to contend with ever since.

For the first couple of weeks in January I was confined to gym work only as the pain was too much but it has gradually eased enough that I was content to just tick over with easy treadmill running.  However, it never felt good enough to go outside or do any of the devilish treadmill sessions that probably led to my 2.20 at Valencia.

So whilst I've never been unfit, until the beginning of March I've been pretty much just ticking over, but still doing 70-80 miles albeit without the long run.  I was scheduled to do the Vitality Big Half a few weeks ago but I skipped it as I felt I just wouldn't have don't it justice.  Since the beginning of March I've turned a corner and I've been confident to do some proper sessions albeit without the long run and I even managed to complete some of the hard treadmill sessions (in fact even going a step beyond my pre-Valencia build up).  This all felt pretty confusing as in theory I should have lost fitness and being a few lbs heavier than I've been in recent times seemed to be testament to this.

In the last few days London Marathon has been put back; in some ways a relief as I've been umming are ahing about whether I would be ready, especially since the longest runs in recent weeks have been about 15.5 miles.  The decision is now taken out of my hands and now that it seems most future events look set to be cancelled for the foreseeable.  Since my last race was December 1st, I decided to have a quick look to see what was on and only this Friday did I decide to enter the Stafford Half which is one of the few events still going ahead this weekend.  I suspect this could be my last race for another few months due to Covid-19, so it was a good opportunity to just blow a few cobwebs away, have a blast and tell me where my true fitness lies.  I wasn't expecting a fast time as I had already done a hard session on Tuesday and Thursday and had already accumulated 65 miles so far during the week.

Shivering at the start.

The weather was about 7 degrees, but pretty windy in places with gusts up to 30mph.  There was also loads of standing water on the course, drizzly and we were informed that there was a forced diversion that added 50 yds to the course.  Combined with quite a few climbs here and there I knew it wasn't a PB course, not that I felt I was race sharp enough to trouble my current PB of 68.11.  I thought sub 70 would have been a fair effort.

At the off I was positioned in about 8th and already some way down after a few hundred metres.  Straight away I felt like I hadn't felt this uncomfortable for a while but I soon settled and moved into 4th after the first km.  I was about 10 metres down on two others with the leader stretching away about 15 metres future ahead.  As we started the first short climb over the railway line I caught 2nd/3rd and decided to continue the chase as the leader was pulling further away.  Clearly this was going to be a race...

After about 3km and a further gradual but long climb I caught the leader and at first I thought that I would hold onto his shoulder for a bit to recover after putting a bit of effort in to close the gap (I was slightly concerned that I had put in a bit too much effort to close him down).  As we came off the top of the hill and started the descent, he pushed on and a small gap formed but nothing of note and my sixth sense told me that I had the measure of him.  Over the next couple of km I led and he was a few metres behind which told me that he was probably struggling to hold on.  At about 5km the lead cyclist went the wrong way at an island, but I noticed in the nick of time a sign pointing in a different direction so thankfully I lost no more than a second or two.

A couple of miles in on the downhill section.  Courtesy of

As we came off this section I knew a couple of climbs were to come (one called Radford Bank which says it all!), but before these came I started to quickly drop the other runner.  What probably helped was that kms 5, 6 & 7 were done in 3.04, 3.06 and 3.02, all more or less on the flat which was kind of scary fast.  I worked the hills as I normally do and soon enough I couldn't even see anyone beyond me so from this point onwards it was just a time trial.  Despite the ups and downs I was typically running in the range of 3.10 - 3.15km to about 15km and felt in control.  It felt nothing like Lake Vyrnwy where I was really struggling from this point.  That said my km pace started to slip a bit on a couple of climbs, particularly in exposed sections where I was running head on into gusty wind.  This resulted in 3.20 - 3.25km and my watch was still predicting a PB, but any thought of this disappeared at KM 19 where I had to go through an underpass that involved five hairpin bends on the way down and same again at the other end.  I lost 15 seconds in this section alone and frankly if I was PB chasing I could have done with someone else to work with.

About 800m from the finish.  Perhaps not taking it quite so seriously at this stage!

It was then just a short blast to the finish and to be honest despite any idea of a PB had come and gone I still felt strong and I crossed the line in 68.24.  Whilst 13 seconds outside of my PB this was a far stronger run than Lake Vyrnwy for several reasons:
  • The course today had loads of ups and downs and slower sections (130 metres of total climb).
  • I ran 10 miles by myself.
  • The extra 50 yds because of a diversion due to flooding on the course.
  • I felt far stronger at the finish and I could have continued at this pace for much longer and perhaps could have gone best part of a minute quicker if there was someone to work with.  By comparison at Lake Vyrnwy I was struggling in the last quarter and virtually keeled over at the finish.
  • Apparently I beat my 10k PB by 43 seconds (31.28 vs 32.11!) according to my Garmin!  It probably just demonstrates how weak my current 10k PB is, but also reflects that I rarely race the distance.
Final straight. 

Arm aloft!

For winning I got a nice glass trophy and a £250 voucher for Velorunner based in Stone.  All good stuff.  Most importantly for me it have given me a boost in confidence and it tells me that I'm in far better nick that I have been giving myself credit for.  Slightly bizarrely this is also my first ever Half Marathon victory!

Prize giving.

Interviewed by the Express & Star.  I was asked about Coronavirus - I cant complain with how I was quoted but easy to read it the wrong way.  If I wasn't put on the spot I might have phrased it a different way - I simply meant that being outdoors and generally not being in contact with anyone for a protracted period limits the risk, but also there is a balance to be achieved.  By staying fit it also helps the immune system.

Whilst we live in uncertain times, the plan is to continue what I'm doing and I'm pretty confident that if I can stay injury free I may even be able to better Valencia.  Talk is cheap though, doing it is another thing altogether.  For obvious reasons no races planned in the near future; technically I'm registered for the Reading Half Marathon but expect it to be cancelled in the coming hours/days.


Popular posts from this blog

Spine Race - Some Stats (2012-2024) - Updated following 2024 race.

Ranger Ultras - High Peak 100k

Ranger Ultras Pennine Bridleway 270km