Although the New Forest half marathon didn’t play out the way I had hoped for, I am proud to have made it to the finish line and added another medal to my collection. Now a few days have passed, I’m able to reflect more on what went well and what I can still improve on.
I was really excited to return to the place where I ran my first ever 10k (and my first official race apart from Race for Life or parkrun) as it held really positive memories. I arrived in plenty of time, hardly had to queue for the toilet, had already had my race number posted to me and enjoyed a tasty pre-race snack. I had been practising race pace in long runs, and felt ready to go for my big sub-2 hour time target, especially after having come so close to that goal almost accidentally back in February. Would my sixth half marathon be the one that let me finally tick off that goal?
The journey to the start line was extremely smooth, thanks to the careful planning of the race organisers and volunteers, and suddenly we were off! But despite the logistics all having fallen into place, I just couldn’t quite get into my groove when I started running. The pace display on my watch was jumping about all over the place, likely due to GPS issues in the forest, and I was struggling to get into a consistent rhythm. I did notice that I had been running alongside the same group of people for the first couple of miles, so I guessed they were also aiming to finish in around 2 hours and I kept my eyes glued to a man in a bright green t-shirt, deciding to try and match his pace for as long as I could.
After a long hot summer perhaps I should have been more prepared for warm weather on race day, but after a week of grey days I was surprised by the sunshine. After the death of the Queen I had made a last minute change to my race day outfit, into my 2018 black New Forest marathon festival race t-shirt (as suggested by the race organisers in their email to confirm the event would still be going ahead) and very quickly I started to feel very hot. I was wearing my hydration vest but longed to see a water station come into view. They seemed to be spread very far apart, until there were two only about a mile apart towards the very end of the race. The water was cool and refreshing but the energy drinks being offered alongside it were not particularly clearly labelled, and once I accidentally picked up the wrong cup of clear liquid!
By around the five mile marker I was starting to feel a little bit more in control and at the halfway point I was still on track to come in just under two hours. I could still see the man in the green t-shirt and I had taken my first gel on with no issues. But soon after that point things started to unravel. Suddenly a little voice in my mind started telling me I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t strong enough or fast enough to push on for another hour, and I started to feel quite emotional. The realisation kicked in that the confidence knock I’d experienced earlier in the year at Brighton marathon was still lingering, and that it had affected my mindset more longterm than I had thought.
Just like in the marathon, I struggled to take on my next gel, leaving a half empty sachet with a kind volunteer instead. I just couldn’t stomach it, and more and more negative thoughts started to creep in. I thought about the advice my new coach had given me about trying to enjoy the race, whether it turned out to be a PB or not, so I made the decision to slow it right down. I knew the original sub-2 goal had already slipped away. Instead of chasing a PB, the race was now about finishing.
I tried to start taking in more of the beautiful scenery and wildlife and enjoy a run in the sunshine. There were definitely more hills than the advertised ‘fast and flat’ course description, but I obviously didn’t expect a scenic half marathon route through the trails of the New Forest to be completely flat. The most difficult section for me was the (very short) section of grass around Rhinefield House. But I really enjoyed running straight through the middle of the Blackwood Arboretum.
Further into the race there were more issues with my GPS, as at the 10 mile marker, my watch only showed 9.62 miles, so I still wasn’t sure how to judge my pace. At the finish line my watch had only just ticked over to 13 miles, and another runner had to check with me whether that was actually the end of the race! I had tried to pick up my pace again slightly for the last couple of miles, but I didn’t have much left to give. I had managed to keep running, only walking a few steps through the water stations, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming disappointment as I crossed the finish line in 2:12:16, my slowest half marathon in a year.
Not only was it my slowest 13.1 miles in a while, but it was also the one I found the toughest mentally. In my last race before Brighton marathon (Goodwood Running Grand Prix in February 2022) I was finally feeling that the half was a distance I was comfortable with, but I felt the complete opposite during last weekend’s race. I am looking forward to running the Great South Run 10 miles next month though, to hopefully give the sub-2 half marathon pace another attempt over a slightly shorter distance. Fingers crossed that will give me a bit of a confidence boost again.
Just like I mentioned earlier, now a few days have passed I am definitely feeling proud to have another medal to add to my collection. I’m especially pleased to have ticked off a second distance at the New Forest marathon festival. Hopefully one day I will run the 5k and the marathon there too and complete the full set!
So, even though it wasn’t the finish time or race experience I had aimed for this time at the New Forest half, there is a lot I can take away from it and use to hopefully keep improving. Here’s to another sub-2 attempt next year!
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