The day of the St Albans Half-Marathon had arrived and the good thing from my point of view was that I could walk down to the event at my leisure because it was only about a mile away from my house. I could also take a look at the weather before setting off and I had decided to run in my long-sleeved Berghaus base layer with the half-zip front, and to carry two proto pure orange flavour energy gels in the back pocket of my Ron Hill running shorts. I was also wearing my 2XU compression tights, my Bridgedale CoolFusion Na-kd socks and my Merrell Trail Gloves, so it was all very familiar kit which I had been training in, and which I had run in before. I ate some porridge, took my supplements, drank some water, and ate an apple on my walk down and a banana once I got to Verulamium Park. I had a wander around, took a few photographs, deposited my bag for safe-keeping and then joined the long queue for the toilets, managing to make it to the funnel into the start just before it got going. And about 10 minutes later I crossed the Start line, which was on the far side of the grass in front of the car parking areas.
We ran across the grass to the footpath and followed that along the hedgeline which ends at the Museum. We ran into that car park and out the other side, turning left on to St Michael’s Road and then right on to Bluehouse Hill, the A4147, passing the 1 mile mark at the roundabout as we went straight over. I had got here in 10 minutes and 45 seconds, which is pretty much the pace I wanted to be going at as I did not want to set out too fast like I did at Silverstone, and did want to try to beat the 2 and a half hour mark. We carried along the road before turning left into Batchwood Golf Course and the first hill on the run. I got to the top and caught up with the lads from the Royal Anglian Regiment who were tabbing with 20kg packs, using this as part of their training before deploying for Afghanistan, and also to raise funds for the RAR Benevolent Charity, and they achieved their aim of completing the distance in under 3 hours. The road went through the golf course before running along its edge, and I stayed with the Anglians as it wound its way. I went past them as we came away from there, while being careful not to sprint away, so they overtook me as we came down the hill from the golf course and on to the A4147 again, at which point I overtook them once more and then managed to stay ahead of them. We went up the hill towards the roundabout at the top, were now coming into the 3 mile mark and I was maintaining an 11 minute per mile pace and feeling pretty easy. The road kept going upwards on a slight incline but I was taking it in my stride and my breathing was controlled, and more to the point I could not feel any aches. I saw a couple of red kites circling overhead as we made our way along the road. We reached the end of this section going under the A414 at the left turn on to Appspond Lane, and I took on some water from one of the many water stations on the route just before making the turn. In fact, the organisers should be congratulated on the facilities available on the route, and the water stations seemed very well distanced apart, and the number of marshalls they have stationed along it providing encouragement. Things like that made a positive difference for me.
I was still running at 11 minute per mile pace at this stage, and kept that going as I ate one of my proto pure orange flavour energy gels while running down the lanes between miles 5 and 6.
We turned right into Bedmond Lane, and not long after I had eaten my gel I reached the water station under the M1 where they were handing out apple flavour High5 EnergyGel Plus, so I took one of those and ate it immediately. I was just outside of 11 minute per mile pace at the 6 mile mark but then we hit a hill to take us right to the top of Bedmond Lane and I could feel myself gradually slowing as I made my way up it. I pushed on but had to add in some walking to stretch out my legs and just get some energy back. The gels began to work. I hit the half way point in a time of 1 hour 12 minutes and 09 seconds. I reached mile 7 and the top and opened up my stride to go down Sergehill Lane but it never did seem to go down so much as we had previously gone up. We went into Whitehouse Lane and then over the M1 and past another water station into Blunts Lane. I was now taking some water at each station, so quickly stopped here for a much needed toilet break in the bushes. I knew my pace had slowed and pushed along the undulating Blunts Lane, keeping it going up the hills and then trying to open it up as I went down, until we turned right into Furzebushes Lane and I kept going as much as I could through miles 8 and 9, although I was now somewhere near to 11 and a half minutes per mile. Not long after mile 9 we turned left into Ragged Hall Lane and carried on along there until we reached the Hollybush Pub. Then it was a right turn into Potterscrouch Lane and we passed under the A414 again. I reached mile 10 at around the 2 hour mark and knew that my chances of beating 2 and a half hours were slim to none.
Potterscrouch Lane goes into Bedmond Lane and we passed the 11 mile mark.
The route brings us back out of the lanes on to the A4147 and over the roundabout at the top of Bluehouse Hill, and then down that hill past the 12 mile mark. I just needed to keep pushing on, up the hill on the other side to the SOSA bend (Special Olympics St Albans) just before the next roundabout and back down the route we had taken on the way out to go up the incline before turning left into St Michael’s Road to head back into the park.
There was lots of support keeping us going now and I was running pretty easily as I went through 13 miles, got on to the grass and drove on over that final stretch to reach the finish in 2 hours 34 minutes and 03 seconds by my watch. Which was 2 seconds faster than the official time.
I finished with a Gun Time of 2 hours 41 minutes and 37 seconds (which placed me at 2457, but is clearly dependant on how near the actual Start you are at the beginning), so my real time, the Chip Time, was 2 hours 34 minutes and 05 seconds which placed me at 2437 out of 2558 finishers. My half way time was 1 hour 12 minutes and 09 seconds, so I slowed by 10 minutes over the second half, by over 1 minute per mile, which is the only disappointing aspect of the run for me.
I got my breath back after that final spurt, was handed my medal as I did that and then collected my goody bag with tshirt, bottle of water, blueberry crisp Clif Bar and sachet of High5 Zero. Plus an orange ice lolly, which was delicious. I walked over to collect my bag, where one of the helpers very kindly took my photograph,
and then I went to have my medal engraved with my name and my time, reflecting on how I had done, before walking the mile back to my house. I would say this was a harder course than Silverstone (even if the organisers say this year is “a little ‘less hilly'”) and I had finished it in a quicker time without any real pain in my body. I had certainly not felt the pain in the side of either knee, although my hips and the front of my right knee could feel they had been worked. So I reckon the fitness work is paying off. The only way to really find out is to run the St Albans Half-Marathon again next year, of course. Yes, I think I will do that.
Huge thanks must go to the organisers, the marshalls, the volunteers and the spectators for making the run a whole lot better than it might have been – without you it could not happen, and certainly would not be the same !