In 2017, together with some friends in Oxford, I signed up to the Blenheim Palace Half Marathon, 10k and Family Fun Run which began my return to running. Training was limited, but I was happy to finish without pausing to rest in 1:47:13. I returned in 2018 with better training and ran 1:31:45 placing 41st. Despite missing my goal time of 1:30:00 I was happy with the 15 minute improvement. This year I finished 31st overall with a time of 1:32:17. I was disappointed to run 32 s slower given I had run a PB of 1:29:57 in 2018 and gone further with training throughout 2019, so I suspect the increased fitness was mitigated by poor conditions (given I gained 10 places overall), poor pacing, and only recently recovering from a cold.
I wanted to return to Blenheim and meet the 2018 goal of sub 90 over the hilly course.
In the 17 weeks before the race, I averaged 77.4 km per week peaking at 116.9 km in a single week. Seven weeks before the race I ran 25k at 4:30/km pace which included 21.1 km in 1:33:20. I felt confident in the lead up that I was comfortable with the distance, and on the Monday of race week a 19:59 5k had me feeling confident with the speed as well.
It was wet.
I went out cold, wet, and fast. Completing the first 5k in 20:46 gave me nearly 30 seconds to play with, and I still had that buffer 10 km into the race. From around 0:45 in the video below you can see another runner tucked in close behind me (I’m in yellow), who was also hoping for a sub 90 time. I felt strong, and was encouraging him to sit in my draft. As we climbed to the highest point in the race, around 11 km in, I started to lose the pace and the runner I was pacing dropped me. From that point I started to lose the mental battle, and my third 5k took 22:10, eating up my 30 seconds of buffer and putting me 25 seconds behind. Knowing that I had the Oxford Half two weeks away as another chance at a half marathon PB, I eased off and lost a further 90 seconds between 15 km and 20 km. In the final stretch a man in full rugby kit carrying a ball (you can see him a fair way behind me at 1:05 in the video) overtook me, and I pushed myself a little to hold onto him, finishing in 1:32:30.
This was my first experience with cameras recording video along the course.
Over-striding on the downhills in an attempt to build speed left me sore, and I went on to run intervals the next day, which was not smart. Now with pain even when walking, I tried light training on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday before accepting I’d need to take a few days off completely to race the Oxford Half only two weeks after Blenheim. In hindsight this led to a series of poor training sessions (and decisions) and finally to the injuries that forced me to take several weeks off over December 2019 and January 2020. Trying to avoid this reality is one of the reasons I think this race report has been delayed. Consider this lesson learned.
Particular thanks to Mike for being there for so much of the training that made this possible, and to Josh for taking the photos.