Back in April, I set myself the challenge of running a sub-2 hour half marathon. I chose the Stonehaven Half for this challenge. It has hills, many hills. And, it takes place in July when, typically, the weather is hot…. Not European continent or North America-heatwave hot, but hot enough to make it tough to run. Clearly, when I seek out challenges, I like to make things hard for myself!
I took a holistic approach to my training, which resulted in a new half marathon personal best in training – 2:04:xx, after having set my half marathon PB of 2:09:47 at the 2013 Aviemore Half. Training went well. I trained in the heat and incorporated many hills into my long runs. From what I’d been told about the race, the first four miles of the race were uphill, then the route levelled off, and the last four miles were downhill. My plan was to run the start steady with miles no less than 11 minutes (in case the hills were especially steep or long), then pick up the pace along the level section, and speed back into Stonehaven to a sub-2hr finish. That was my plan…
This would also be my first race running for Stonehaven. I had even bought a club vest to mark the occasion, and looked forward to being part of a ‘team’ and having an association again. I miss this from my days of playing softball back in Canada.
Race morning started with my usual, fatty and filling breakfast of a two-egg and vegetable omelette, fruit + coconut cream + Nutter Bomb, and a bulletproof espresso. While substantial and heavy, I ate this at 7:30am; the race started at 10am.
This would be my first race running in the Stonehaven Club vest. I was excited and nervous.
I packed up my gear and post-race food, lathered on the sunscreen for the 18’C + no wind +humidity heat expected that day, then headed out the door to pick up my friend Wendy, a last-minute entry into the race. It was nice to finally have some company, other than Pat, at a race this year! We headed up to Mineralwell Park in Stonehaven, where we parked, toileted, picked up our race bibs, toileted again, then gathered at the start with the other competitors.
We listened to a race briefing, which informed us that this was the 30th anniversary of the race, and also the last year that the race would follow this particular route. Then, we were off!
The race takes you on the outer edge of Mineralwell Park, taking an immediate right up the first street. Less than half a mile in, and we were already climbing! The first two miles take you up and out of Stonehaven, through commercial, then residential areas, crossing over the A90 and through an industrial estate. This uphill section followed the pattern of climb-flat-climb-flat-climb-etc.
Mile 1: 8:31
Mile 2: 8:40
Once we left the town, the climbing became constant. The race route took us along roads I was already familiar with because I drive them to our Tuesday night sessions at Swanley. I knew from this point onward that we were in for some big hills. I knew that, in order to achieve a sub-2hr result, all my miles needed to be 9:00 or under. I also knew that to maintain a 9-minute mile pace up big hills was going to be pretty difficult, and ran the hills without worrying about time. I would be able to make up time and run under 9 minute miles in the downhill section.
As I was climbing, and seeing the pace on my Garmin drop to 9-10 minute pace, I kept repeating in my head, to the beat of my feet hitting the tarmac, ‘This is okay. This is okay. This is okay….’ With race nerves, my mind was all over the place. I just needed to focus.
Mile 3: 9:34
Mile 4: 10:39
As we were approaching the top of the hill by the Swanley parking lot, I could hear a bagpiper. Like the Balmoral 10km, there was a bagpiper at the top, signalling the end of the climbing. There was also the first water stop of the race, of which I took advantage.
It was a relief to finish the hills, despite my legs feeling great and strong, and to run along the flat and downhill for a while. This section of the race was uncharted territory for me as I wasn’t at all familiar with the road or countryside. It was beautiful! And so quiet! We wound our way, sometimes downhill, mostly undulating, past forest (with trees which gave us much needed shade!), past fields of cows or horses, and spectators offering up Jelly Babies, Haribo candies, spray bottles of water or just words of encouragement. It was also during this section that I approached the mid-way mark at about 58 minutes. I knew at this point that sub-2hrs was going to be a reality, it was just a matter of pacing myself and running smart.
Mile 5: 9:12
Mile 6: 8:36 *one pack of Honey Stinger Pomegranate energy chews
Taking those chews, while beneficial, really slowed me down. It didn’t help that I was also running uphill while doing it, which resulted in a slower mile and a bit of worry starting to creep in. It also didn’t help that the hills, albeit small, just kept coming.
Mile 7: 9:38
Mile 8: 9:09
We then joined onto the Slug Road, between Stonehaven and Banchory. Initially, the route took us downhill, and I was able to gain speed again and make up ground, running into sub 8-minute territory. I knew, however, that there was at least one hill on this road, possibly others, so I remained conservative in my approach back into town.
Mile 9: 8:25
Mile 10: 8:16 *new 10 mile PB of 1:30:xx
I had been playing a cat and mouse game with a few runners around me, and I was able to pull away from them here. Wendy and I had run the first half together, but she pulled away when I ate my chews. I could see her ahead, and made it my goal to catch her. But then the hills came.
There were two by the Ury Estate, where I could feel the 10 miles in my legs by this point, and I was very grateful they were short and over with quickly. Then came the worst hill of the race: the final one that takes you over the A90, back into the town. Again, this was a small hill, but it was brutal! I did want to stop and walk, and told myself it would all be over soon enough.
Mile 11: 8:57
Mile 12: 8:51
Back in town, we joined the spectators again, and ran past Mackie Academy downhill, although not as downhill as I had hoped or expected. The route took a sharp left along the Glebe, and onto a trail heading back into Mineralwell Park. I’ve trained on these trails, and they are steep hills, which I pounded down, grimacing because my legs were tired. I kept an eye on my watch, and looked ahead to the race finish. I ran through the playground of the park, down onto the grass and onto the final stretch. The entire race, my Garmin hadn’t been in sync with the mile markers, and my watch beeped 13 miles with about 600m left of the race. I ran as hard as I could for that final 0.1 of a mile, which registered a time of 1:57:52. I eased up slightly after that, assuming I would cross the finish line over 2 hours. I was happy with my Garmin time.
With 200m to go, and having had many runners past me in the finisher’s chute, I could hear the heavy breathing of one of my cat-and-mouse runners behind me. Determined to not let her beat me, I sprinted to the finish, and crossed the line. My official time was still sub-2hrs: 1:59:38. Again, I’ll take that.
Mile 13: 8:33
Average pace: 9:00 minutes exactly. Excellent pacing!
Elevation gain: 729 feet
I saw many familiar faces from the club immediately, who all asked me how it went; unfortunately, I was so breathless and tired from my efforts, I couldn’t muster the best reply. Racing over 13.1 miles (or 13.3 according to my Garmin) is tough! Combine that with a tough route and heat, and it was understandable that I was spent.
I picked up my race tshirt, goodie bag, bottled water and banana, then searched for Wendy. I also knew that Pat would be at the finish, after having completed a 54 mile cycle for his half Ironman training. I found both of them immediately, and we all chatted about our accomplishments that morning.
Wendy and I helped ourselves to some of the amazing treats provided by the club for all competitors, then took some obligatory photos.
We then headed back to the car for post-race recovery meals, which consisted of Turkey Meatloaf, roasted beet(root), and baked sweet potato. Turkey is a great source of Branch Chain Amino Acids, which are vital in repairing muscles; the vegetables were necessary to begin rebuilding glycogen in my muscles again.
I also enjoyed a few baked treats post-race, containing gluten and sugar, because I was in the post-exercise window where I needed to boost lowered blood glucose levels (the sugar helps with that), and rebuild glycogen again (the baked goods actually would help). Then Pat and I headed home to showers, more water, and resting. I was done!
Overall, regardless of what my time is, I’m extremely happy with the result. The race route wasn’t exactly what I had expected, and I should’ve done my homework with regards to that. I had assumed the last four miles were all downhill, and were going to be easy, but they turned out to be the toughest ones of the race! I’ve never had to work so hard in a race before, but if I want to continue to get faster and push my limits, I need to get used to it.
A big thank you to all organisers and volunteers of this race as well. I saw many familiar faces from the club along the race route (giving high fives and words of encouragement no less), and at Mineralwell Park, handing out race bibs and timing chips at the start, and goodie bags and water at the finish. It makes you really appreciate the work and efforts people put in to holding a successful race.
Now, it’s time to rest and recover. I’m not entered in any other races this year, but I’m toying with attempting a faster half and also a faster 10km time. We shall see 🙂