At the beginning of this year, Andreea and I have pinned down a big dream of running a race in Hawaii. We found the perfect marathon and half-marathon combo on the Kauai Island on 2 September. Perfect, because we could make it the celebration of Andreea’s 30th birthday.
Where to climb?
If you don’t know already, the Kauai marathon has a particular challenge for the average runner: elevation. Even though it’s a road marathon, the course climbs to some of the island’s peaks. With over 2100 ft total climb, it takes the marathon runner to some impressive views. However, this race is “only” the final target, the journey that gets us there is what counts the most.
I finished last year with something I’m proud of. I achieved my sub 3 hours marathon dream. Not only that, but I got close to my sub 80 minutes half marathon target. None of the courses was flat. All I was thinking of was “I want to run a flat race”. With the elevation profile of the Kauai marathon, I had to delay my wish.
So I started to look for races that would provide me with some challenging climbs. It wasn’t long until I found the Hitchin Hard Half Marathon or H3M. The more reviews I read, the scarier it seemed. The finishing times of just under 1 hour 20 for the previous years’ races were also a sign that it’s not your average potential PB race.
Race day and start line
The day has come and there I was, no plans for the race whatsoever. I only wanted to check where I was with my training and see how I am coping with intensive runs on hilly courses. However, these races tend to give the most unexpected results in my experience.
20 minutes before the race, the warm-up was what I would expect from a local Pilates studio. Pilates is something I enjoy, and all runners should do it regularly, not only for warm-up but as strength and conditioning workouts as well. The hips, the spine and the abs were the parts targeted by the warm-up stretches, for a better stance during the race.
The race started and to my surprise, after no more than a few hundred meters, I was already with the front-running group, at a comfortable pace. Yes, I was aware that there was some respect to be paid to this race and not start too fast, but it was really comfortable. I overtook some of the front guys one by one, and then I got to another surprise: there was only one runner left in front of me. A fast one, I couldn’t catch him in years, but the second place was mine.
Hills, more hills and then some more
My overall strategy for the race was to do my best when going up – to test my climbing strength – and run as fast as possible downhill, aiming at my current 5k pace. I know from experience that other runners try to catch their breath during downhills. Going as fast as I could has given me the edge.
Of all the hills on the course, the first long one has an elevation of about 80 metres in total. The last 20 metres or so the incline is quite steep. Because I already had an advantage over the 3rd place, I took my time and walked the last steep part so I can save my energy for the rest of the race. I had 18 more km to go, so I had to weigh my options better than during a flatter race.
Apart from that first hill, there are lots of ups and downs. Practically, you can’t anticipate anything and do your best. Don’t let your mind trick you into thinking “this is the last hill”. You run uphill segments throughout the whole race. During the final miles of the race, when you’re tired, even the lightest hills seem dreadful. If you’re ever in this position, just breathe in and carry on without even paying attention to the inclines. You’ll have to make yourself immune to hills. Otherwise, they’ll get you.
About half of the race there was a significant gap with number 3. I tried to look back a couple of times when I could see a longer part of the road behind me and there was no sign of anyone. It all changed after about 15-16 km. My body started to feel tired, but I was not… “depressed” (if you know what I mean). I could still run at a fast pace, but couldn’t sustain longer pushes any more.
It didn’t take long until I felt number 3 coming right at me. It took him a couple of kilometres to overtake me, but he did it in the end. I didn’t fight, I only did my best to keep up my pace. He was now going for silver, I was for bronze. His faster pace helped me keep my third place.
The cheers of the other runners and cyclists kept me going. When I re-entered the Hitchin Priory grass area, I looked back to see if anyone is trying to race me for the 3rd place. Nobody. Took my time, and finished in just over 1 hour 24. 2-3 minutes from my PB, but what a brutal course this was.
I registered through the runbritain.com website, which was a confirmation of the race being affiliated to England Athletics and counting towards my ranking. I wore my Vegan Runners club vest and received some serious cheering along the way from both marshals and other runners, which helped my morale.
There was coffee served by local scout groups and nice clean toilets. Everything was above expectations, especially from a smaller local event such as this one.
There were some lonely segments, and I remember one or two points where it wasn’t 100% clear which way to go and no marshal to point out the way. But I knew it was a road race and I kept running on the tarmac where I could.
At around the 8km mark, I turned right on a road and cut the corner so I ended up on the right-hand side of the road while most of the race I ran on the left side as advised. And there was this idiot who called me an idiot because I was running (temporarily) on the right. Didn’t let that get me and my Sunday turned out to be a great one.
My first ever podium
Even though the event is mostly local, with a total of about 250 runners for the half marathon and almost 500 for all 3 races (5k, 10k, and HM), the half is known more widely as being a serious challenge. Not only is it a very hilly race, but the summer temperatures (24C) are not comfortable either. With no expectations set at the beginning of the race, I got myself the first ever podium place, with a trophy and a cash prize. That’s not to say it’s the correct way to consider a race, but it does work sometimes.
My plan of winning a large race in the future is to start with smaller races and grow from there. That’s how I can create momentum and have a strong moral to help me go further.
What are your running plans for the rest of the year? What was your most challenging race so far?