North London Half Marathon 2017. How I felt it and how I managed 1:24 and place 82

If you’re following me on Strava, you’ve probably noticed that I described my North London Half race with words that I almost never use :). The reason for that was that it was both a hard and an enjoyable race, all this goodness concentrated in a wee bit over 1 hour and 24 minutes, an unexpected outcome, so I had to share this state of mind with the world.

The pace

My greatest weakness so far in big races, especially longer ones, was starting off too fast. Not this time. I believe that keeping myself from going too fast during the first 5-10 minutes of the race was a fundamental advantage. Maybe I looked too often at my band for the instant pace value, which is not a really accurate one, but I used it anyway.

I also paid close attention to my pace during almost every kilometre. Especially the first half, and that’s because the first 8 kilometres were quite hard, my brain and my body trying desperately to slow me down. My shin started to hurt; my good hip felt stiff ever since my warmup with Andreea and that pain started being more and more obvious. But I knew I had to be strong, so me, myself and my pain, we all kept going.

I did have 1:24 in mind (which is around 4 minutes per km), but neither Andreea nor I felt strong before the race. We were just one week from moving home; our stress levels were on the rise, sleep was quite bad, I had one week of not running before this race and only three weeks of training before that. All in all, neither of us thought we were in check to finish a quick race. But we did 🙂

The negative split

When you start running, and you read about negative splits, especially for someone like me, who usually starts too fast, it seems like a distant achievement. Not only I could run faster the second half of the race, but I could run well under 4 minutes during my last 3 km. And that’s where I think my achievement originates. There were, on average, 6 seconds off each of my miles from the second half compared to the ones in the first half. Even now, writing this post, it seems surreal.

The heart rate

Whenever I felt my heart racing too fast, I was pacing down, but I always kept myself uncomfortably comfortable during my race, never let the brain and legs run for themselves, always keeping them in check. And that’s also a common mistake some runners make. When you go slower, don’t go too slow, just as much as to allow your body clear off the lactic acid. Yes, it’s still going to be a struggle, but that’s how races are. If you want a good time, you have to fight hard.

Most of my three weeks training was hard. I did just a few easy runs, the rest being around or just under the threshold point. And this paid off because my body got used to optimizing resource expenditure at that heart rate. It wasn’t random the fact that a half marathon is also run at around these heart rates.

I am so proud of my heart rate during the North London Half that I think it can be used by coaches to teach their students about pacing. Well, not really, but I’m pretty chuffed with this.

The hills

And then there were the hills. I trained a lot on hills and one of the major advantages is a psychological one. It prepares your mind to conquer these hills, overcome any “surprise” during a race. I knew North London Half was a hilly race, but you know what? I found it easier in general than Great North Run.

My Microsoft Band estimated the elevation at 231m and Strava at 179m. I think of North London Half as of a race with an elevation of around 200m 🙂

I read some other blogs and comments about North London Half. Most of them referring to people being burned out by the hills and not being able to get themselves back together to finish the race in style. But that’s the difference between conquering the hills and letting the hills conquer you. Have your training mostly on serious hills, and you’ll find flat races amusing, but most importantly, you won’t find hills come as a surprise during a race. Hill or no hill, you just keep going.

The placing

At the half of the half, in Allianz Arena, there was a guy that was loudly counting what place we were in. Up to that point, I had absolutely no idea of those numbers. And he counted me as 101. That was a key motivator for me. Because, starting at that point, I tried to finish on under 100. So I overtook about one runner during each kilometre. But during the last 3-4km, I was so focused, that I started overtaking a lot more than that. I finished number 82 out of 5807 runners, that’s in the 1.4%. That’s my real achievement.

 

Have you run the North London Half yet? Let me know your thoughts!

The North London Half Marathon 2017. What to expect and a short review of the race

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4 Comments

  1. Congratulations, Alin! I will try the negative split, looks like a good idea.

    1. Author

      Thanks Martha!

      All professional athletes are doing negative splits because it’s like keeping yourself in check and expending the least amount of energy for the first half and then giving your all for the second half, going faster and faster. Even a second off for the average pace of the second half is a really good achievement.

      However, in practice it’s challenging to keep yourself from going too fast because you kind of feel you can 🙂

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