Q1 Race Reviews

I don’t know how, but it’s April already… how did that happen? I’ve done two more races since I last posted and my next one, the Southampton Marathon, is now just a week away. So, better late than never, here are my thoughts on the races gone by.

Baldock Beast Half Marathon

A good friend gifted me entry for the 2017 Baldock Beast… if that isn’t a sign that I talk about running too much, I don’t know what is! Still, I can’t be that boring if he remembered me talking about how much I’d enjoyed it last time, right?

What I remembered from 2014 was a tough course with rolling hills and little time on the flat to recover, but just enough scenic countryside to take your mind off it. Back then I finished in 1:27:42 — good enough for 10th place — and my only goal this time was to go faster, given that my training had been solid and my first race of the year at the Victoria Park Half had gone so well. I went with the Hoka Tracer, as I did there, given that the course is 90% on roads with just a few short gravel, grass, and trail sections.

When the race got underway, the lead runner took it out fast — probably not much more over 5 min/mile pace, and as a result a lot of people, including me, went out faster than expected. I eased off as he disappeared into the distance (on his way to a 1:07:36 winning time… no joke on that course), and kept the pace steady for the first six miles or so, settling into a good rhythm and keeping my cadence up.

Around the halfway point, though, I felt a twinge in my right hamstring — the same one that’d bothered me in the Vicky Park Half — and, while it didn’t get any worse over the second half of the race, I did have to ease off just enough to lose contact with the trio of runners just in front of me. After coming up the toughest hill or the race at mile 10, I pushed downhill as best I could, but strong crosswinds made it more difficult than it should’ve been and I didn’t manage to claw back any places. I came home in 10th place, exactly the same as before, but I took almost two minutes off my previous time, improving to 1:25:45.

Summary

If you’re looking for a low-key race not far from London (about 40 minutes by train) with some decent scenery and a reasonably challenging course, I’d definitely recommend the Baldock Beast. It’s a small field but still well-organised and supported, and the cake at the local garden centre makes for a great post-race treat. The only negatives for me were the wind, which I can’t hold against the organisers, the ridiculously big race numbers and the slightly naff medals (offset by the addition of a race t-shirt, which I happen to be wearing right now).

Fleet Half Marathon

My running partner-in-crime, Annie, has a sister who lives in Fleet — a Hampshire market town of about 40,000 people — so it’s become tradition to take on the half marathon there each spring. The Fleet Half Marathon attracts a lot runners from both the local clubs and the armed forces, so the level of competition is always high. It’s a very different race from the Baldock Beast!

I’m not a massive fan of the course, even if the start is just five minutes from our home for the weekend and it’s nicer than running around London. The organisers had changed the route this year, dropping the hill in the final mile in favour of a flatter, faster route. As someone who tends to pass more people late in races and up hills, I wasn’t too keen on this change… proof, if any were needed, that you can’t please everyone.

Anyway, I lined up in the sub 1:30 group and went out reasonably hard instead of easing into the race as I normally would. At the four mile mark, I barely managed to shout out a ‘yes’ to a marshall asking over the PA if anyone felt they’d gone out too quickly. By mile 7, my legs felt like they were already tying up. I eased off just a little, falling back to high 6:20s for a couple of miles in that stretch.

I don’t know what happened — maybe it was the two caffeinated Shot Bloks I dropped — but I felt a second wind after passing the Barley Mow at mile 10 and started to push on again, closing out the race with three miles at 6:13, 6:09 and 6:08, all faster than my average. I passed a lot of people in that time, too, which was a huge boost mentally.

I crossed the line in 1:22:26, just nine seconds over my PB. It’s hard to be disappointed with the performance, or with the fact that I’ve already run two of my three best times ever this year, but I feel as though I gave up on myself a bit in the middle of this one, allowing myself to ease off when I had it in me to keep pushing. If I’d have done that… who knows?

Summary

The Fleet team put on a great event this year, as they always do. I can’t imagine how much effort goes into it, but I know that all the runners, myself included, really appreciate it. The support from the local residents is incredible too; I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best supported local race I’ve done. If you’re looking for a half 5–6 weeks out from London, the Fleet is a great choice. The only downside is that the level of competition means that some people are perhaps a bit too competitive; I got cut off quite deliberately more than once, and hit with a couple of elbows in the early going. There’s no need for that shit, so leave it out.

Embarrassing admission

You know you see photos of that guy with bloody circles on his chest after the race? Yeah, that was me. It’d never been me before and I hope it’ll never be me again!

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