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 the start was only about a mile away from my house. I could also take a look at the weather before setting off, and as the sun was shining down I had decided to run in my short-sleeved Berghaus base layer with the half-zip front, and to carry a High5 energy gel in the back pocket of my Ron Hill running shorts. I was also wearing my Bridgedale CoolFusion Na-kd socks, and, taking a bit of a risk, a new pair of Merrell TrailGloves, although they were exactly the same as the pair which I had been training in, so I was not expecting any problems with wearing them for the first time for the race. I had eaten a banana as soon as I woke up, and drunk a pint of water, and now I ate some muesli with a topping of granola and added flaxseed, hemp, chia, maca and spirulina, drank another pint of water, and ate an apple on my walk down to Verulamium Park. It was very sunny and getting very hot. I had a wander around, took a few photographs, and while I was in the queue to deposit my bag for safe-keeping I was spotted by Serena and Chris Ebbs who came over for a chat. They both seemed very relaxed and put in excellent times of 2 hours 8 minutes and 35 seconds, and 1 hour 46 minutes and 10 seconds, respectively. Which explains why I did not see them again all day ! After dropping off my bag I followed the lead of many others in using the nearby bushes because there was a very long queue for the toilets. I made it to the funnel into the start in very good time, warmed up with some stretches as I waited, then bent down to check my laces were tied securely. I felt dizzy as I stood up, which is often a symptom of my low blood pressure, but I had eaten properly this morning so I did not really think about it and put it down to the heat. Maybe I should have thought about it a little more. I had lined up in the section for those predicting a finish between 2 and 2 and a half hours, and about 3 minutes after the gun 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 02 seconds, which is pretty much the pace I wanted to be going at as I wanted to finally beat the 2 and a half hour mark for a half-marathon. It was very hot but I was feeling fine, and the pace felt like a good one. I definitely did not feel like I had set off too fast. We carried along the road before turning left into Batchwood Golf Course and the first hill on the run. And suddenly I felt dizzy and my legs felt shot. I could not run all the way up the hill, so decided to walk the final bit to the water station at the top, because some water would surely sort me out as the heat must have been getting to me. I took a cup of water and drank it all before continuing to run along the road which went through the golf course and then carried on along its edge. The second mile had taken me 11 minutes and 07 seconds, and even taking into account the heat that meant something was not right. In training I had easily been able to run over 5 miles at under 10 minutes per mile pace, and now I was outside of that in just 2 miles. I came down the hill from the golf course and on to the A4147 again, at which point I still had that dizzy feeling. As we went up the hill towards the roundabout at the top, I passed Nina, who I knew from Regiment Fitness, but took a while to recognise her, and as she asked me if I wanted some water I could only mutter that I felt dizzy. We were now coming into the 3 mile mark and my pace had gone out to 11 minutes and 47 seconds for that mile, and it was feeling like tough going. The road kept going upwards on a slight incline and I was having to walk. I went through 4 miles having taken 15 minutes and 24 seconds, and 5 miles having taken another 12 minutes and 30 seconds. I was able to run any parts which were downhill but the moment the route became flat or went uphill I had to walk, and when I stopped running I was immediately gasping for breath until I regulated my breathing. 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 the next water station on the route just before making the turn, again drinking a full cup. The organisers should be congratulated on the facilities available on the route, with the water stations were very well distanced apart, and the very high number of marshalls they have stationed along it, all providing encouragement as well as directions and assistance. Things like that made a positive difference for me, especially with me in this condition, and made me carry on rather than deciding to just call it a day.
I was thinking about eating my energy gel as I was running down the lanes between miles 5 and 6, but remembered they had free energy gels at the next water station last time, so I thought I would hold on. We turned right into Bedmond Lane, getting to mile 6 took me 13 minutes and 34 seconds, because there was a lot of downhill on this stretch, and sure enough at the water station under the M1 they were handing out High5 energy gels, so I took one of those and ate it immediately. We hit the hill to take us right to the top of Bedmond Lane and I could feel myself gradually slowing even at my walking pace as I made my way up it. The energy gel began to work and was making me feel better, but not necessarily making me go any faster. I hit the half way point in a time of 1 hour 22 minutes and 58 seconds, compared to my time of 1 hour 12 minutes and 09 seconds last year. I reached mile 7 and it had taken me another 15 minutes and 22 seconds to get to the top, where I was able to open up my stride to go down Sergehill Lane, although it never did seem to go down so much as we had previously gone up. I took on some more water, which felt needed every time I did. I was always drinking the full cup, which I had never done during a race before. I went into Whitehouse Lane, passed the 8 mile mark after another 13 minutes and 36 seconds, and then went over the M1 to reach another water station at Blunts Lane. I took more water at this station, but was still not feeling properly hydrated. I knew my pace was what it was and pushed along the undulating Blunts Lane, keeping a fast walking pace going up the hills and then trying to open it up as I went down, until we turned right into Furzebushes Lane and I went through mile 9 after 13 minutes and 51 seconds. And that felt like it. I had nothing left, but I ate my remaining energy gel and pushed on. Thankfully, there was another water station, and not long after turning left into Ragged Hall Lane I passed the 10 mile mark after another 14 minutes and 53 seconds, and carried on along there until I reached the Hollybush Pub. Then it was a right turn into Potterscrouch Lane and I passed under the A414 again, taking on some more water and reaching mile 11 after another 15 minutes and 26 seconds, with the last two miles feeling as hard as they turned out to have been. At least I was still able to keep going, unlike the poor guys being treated by the St John’s Ambulance people back at the water station. Just two miles left and now I wanted to see if I could make it within 3 hours. Potterscrouch Lane goes into Bedmond Lane and I got some more water before the route brought me back out of the lanes on to the A4147 and over the roundabout at the top of Bluehouse Hill, and then I ran down that hill past the 12 mile mark, covering that mile in 14 minutes and 34 seconds.
I just needed to keep pushing on, walking fast up the hill on the other side to the SOSA bend (Special Olympics St Albans) just before the next roundabout and running 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 had intended to run all along this stretch but when it came to it I had nothing, absolutely nothing at all. I went through 13 miles after another 13 minutes and 39 seconds, and eventually got on to the grass, determined to give this one last push although I knew I was not going to come in under 3 hours now, so I drove on over that final stretch to reach the finish in 3 hours 00 minutes and 53 seconds by my watch. Which was 2 seconds faster than the official time.
I finished with a Gun Time of 3 hours 04 minutes and 03 seconds (which placed me at 2483, but is clearly dependant on how near the actual Start you are at the beginning), so my real time, the Chip Time, was 3 hours 00 minutes and 55 seconds which placed me at 2472 out of 2517 finishers (last year I was 2437 out of 2558 finishers and about half an hour quicker). There were 2546 starters. My half way time was 1 hour 22 minutes and 58 seconds. All in all, a disaster !
I collapsed over the line, falling to my knees to get my breath back after that final spurt, and was handed my medal by the St John’s Ambulance people as they helped me to move off to the side, leaving the finish clear for other runners. I tried to stand up but was too dizzy to do that, so I drank some of the water they gave me and breathed deeply as I remained sitting on the grass. I did that and then collected my excellent tshirt, plus a cola ice lolly, which was delicious. I walked over to collect my bag, where one of the helpers had seen me and very kindly brought it across to me, 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 should be able to run this course, and I should be able to do it in under two and a half hours. The only way to really find out is to run the St Albans Half-Marathon again next year, of course. Looking back as I write this I do wonder if I was running with a bug because something stayed with me during the following Monday and Tuesday which was suddenly gone on the Wednesday morning. Having said that, the very high temperature on the day probably did not help.
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 !