Sunday, 23 February 2014

Headcorn Half-Marathon 2014

23 February 2014

I entered this race the day before online registration closed (£15 for club runners or £17 for an unattached runner). It was a last minute decision and my initial plan was to use it as a training run. The training run then turned into first half at training pace with the second to be run at race pace. Then the day before the race I changed my mind again. I would aim to run the race at a pace that would bring me in just under my half marathon personal best time.

headcorn village green

On the day we headed down to Headcorn and parked up in the train station car park (£1). From here it was about a 5-10 minute walk down to the White Horse public house, which was being used for registration and as the secure bag storage area. I collected my number (45) with integrated timing chip and headed back to the car to get ready. (edit: the pub was quite small inside but their original larger hq arrangement fell through and the pub was used as a last minute replacement.)

The conditions on the day were pretty good for February. The temperature was around 9 degrees, and it was cloudy. The only downside was that it was a tad windy. The headwind at some points was fairly strong and I'm pretty sure it was worse during the second half. Overall, considering what the last few weeks had been like (storms, floods etc) I think we got a pretty good deal weather-wise.

Heading back over to the village green, we found the start/finish gantry and the public toilets. By now it was gone 8.50am and the race was due to start at 9am and the queues for the public toilets on the green were fairly short. There were also some toilets at the train station and at race hq. (edit: apparently there were some portaloos but there was no signage so I didn't manage to find them).

race hq at the white horse (list of runners)

The start/finish was on the village green and was quite muddy. With all runners lined up, there was a pre-race briefing but there was no amplification so I couldn't really hear anything. Anyway, I caught wind of the fact that the countdown had started so I was poised with my finger hovering over my GPS start button - ready to hit it with two seconds left to go before switching to my stopwatch and hitting that on the sound of the claxon.

The first part of the race was a lap on the grass around the village green which as I mentioned earlier was muddy. Once off the green the course is 100% tarmac all the way round (apart from the finish, but we'll get to that later). The race was advertised as being flat, and to a certain extent it was. I wouldn't say that it was pancake flat but it was flat enough to earn the 'flat' label. You could say there are some mild undulations throughout the course, the steepest of these was a 6.8% incline at its steepest point (according to my gps data) just before the 14 kilometre point.

the start

My intended pace was approx 7.30 per mile (4.40 per kilometre) which would have taken me around the course in about 1 hour and 38 minutes (resulting in a one minute pb). As we covered the first couple of miles it became apparent that I was running a little faster than this pace. I considered slowing slightly but as it felt very natural to run at this speed I stuck with it.

The race continued through the small country lanes around Headcorn. The roads were still open to traffic so every now and then we had to move to one side to allow vehicles enough space to pass. It worked pretty well and I made a point of saying thank you to the patient drivers that I encountered.

I think there were four water stations out on the course. Three of them were handing out water in cups and one in bottles. I took a drink at three out of the four stops, but only took a few sips each time. I haven't done any training runs where I drink whilst running so I didn't want to overdo it. It seemed to work out ok.

the runner completing the lap of the village green

As far as signage and marshaling were concerned, I can't fault either. The marshals were friendly and gave clear instructions on where the route was heading. They also had a bit of traffic management to contend with so I take my hat off to the marshals for doing such a great job.

Everything was going well up until the fifth mile. At this point my legs started to feel a little heavy - I have a feeling that running 12 kilometres (2 parkruns - one at time trial pace - plus a bit of jogging in-between) the day before had left me with slightly fatigued legs. I maintained my pace but a few other runners had begun to pass me - I let them go and didn't attempt to do anything silly.

Me (45) approaching the end (if you look closely you can see the hole in my glove) [photo: Funkydooby (blog)]

By the time I had got to the ten mile marker (16km), my legs had started to feel slightly refreshed. So I felt confident enough to push a little harder. I caught some people and moved in front of them. Then I caught some more. As I worked my way through the last five kilometres I kept pushing harder and harder. I caught and passed a few of the runners that had overtaken me during the tough middle miles. This was particularly satisfying.

Into the last kilometre and my legs were tired but my pace kept increasing. Again I overtook a few more runners here which helped boost my confidence even more. With a few hundred metres left to run, I overtook the next runner but he fought back and re-took the place and held on to cross the line just in front of me. The final sprint was back on the muddy village green - maybe some work could be done to relocate the start/finish to a tarmac area and avoid the potentially muddy grass at both the beginning and end in the future.

the finish (I'm there, just under the blue bike)

The only goodie on offer at this race was the medal, and this was handed to me as I crossed the finish line. There was also a water station with jaffa cakes at the end. We had intended to hang around for a little longer to watch some other runners that I know finish, but the ladies had been out in the wind for long enough and we all wanted to go and find some food for our lunch.

You can see my splits and the hill profile by looking at my GPS data from the race on Strava. I was pleased that I managed to hold my pace throughout the tough middle miles when my legs felt bad and I was very pleased that I was able to increase my pace every kilometre for the last six kilometres.

the obligatory shot 

My official finishing time by chip was 1 hour, 33 minutes and 8 seconds. The official results are on this web page. However, it looks like there may have been an issue with the timing chips system as quite a few runners have identical gun and chip times even though they didn't pass over the mats until almost a minute after the gun sounded. Something's not quite right there. I'll add an update if I hear anything else.

Finishing time (chip): 1:33.08 (new personal best)
Position: 47/380

Related links: The full set of photos by Funkydooby can be found on the South East Running Snaps blog - Headcorn Half Marathon 2014.

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