Saturday, 26 March 2016

alloa half

Alloa Half. I was going to say it's like returning to an ex girlfriend. But it's more like running a race I've done too many times with a greater chance of disappointment than glory. I was dreading it. Not a positive way to go into a race. But I've just not been doing enough specific training. Best to run 13~15 milers at tempo on roads to get used to the pain of a half. I thought maybe because I did ok at this a couple of years ago, running 1.18 and first m50, I might do ok this time. However last year I gave it my all and came away with 1.22. So this year, being in better condition than last I set my benchmarks at sub 1.20 for hats-in-the-air and anything over 1.22 would be a disgrace. You've got to have a target. I mean it's not like I was doing it for the scenery. Or the t-shirt.

I knew there were many aspects I could not control. It is a huge event and thousands gather in the small town. I try to blank out the inane 80s music blasting out the speakers at the start and the milling crowds. I hate all of this and wonder why I am here. Really this is exactly everything I hate about certain races: too many folk, a course I have done too many times, ALL roads, a breeze that will be a headwind along the Ochils and too many folk. I queue for 10 mins at the disabled loo. Every toilet has a huge queue. I descend into a black mood. All of the surroundings are bustling and unquiet. Why am I here? I fight my way into the crowd at the start. I can't be bothered to fight any further foward and I notice many slow runners who will finish 20 minutes to an hour after me are up ahead of me in the start area. Are they being unduly optimistic or are they just not considering the process in which they are involved? As soon as the gun goes I run past dozens of folk but my main thought is not what numpties they are, but to pace myself and rein it in for at least 5 miles. 2 things I can control: my pace and my pumps. I have chosen comfy shoes over fast shoes and much the same for the pace. I could knock out 5.40s for a few miles (I often do) but then feel like crap from mile 8. I decide to stick close to 6 minute miles and ignore the temptation to increase the pace and catch up with Richard L and Stuart H who I can see about a hundred yards ahead. 

As the crowd thins out I am pleased with my pacing and new found sensible start. I feel okay and am going at what feels like a sustainable pace, the sun is shining and if I have a plan it is about slowly reeling in the dudes ahead. 5 miles passes at something like 30.45 which is a bit below ideal but better too slow than too fast at this point. And there were a couple of climbs in those five miles. At 5.5 miles we start the long backstraight. I have been running beside a couple of guys and we take turns drafting each other. We catch a Wee County Harrier and he joins in. As a group we are catching the guys ahead. I see Stuart up ahead and he is running out to the side not getting the benefit of any wind shade. Same with Richard. I surge forward with my pack. At the Alva finger loop I wave to them both in a way that could be interpreted as either "hi comrade" or "I'm coming to get you."

Thanks to Gordon D for taking these photos as we climbed the hill.

Richard has his earphones in and didn't realise in the next mile I caught right up to him. I dropped off the back of the Wee County vest and pulled in behind him. I wasn't sure if he was aware of me and thought about punching the back of his head as he looked like he needed a pick-me-up. I resisted. Eventually we turned the corner and, feeling the pain having pushed too hard to catch those ahead, I drifted back a bit. By the time he was climbing up the first hill Richard had gained the ground lost earlier. Stuart was just ahead still.

I tried to keep the pace going but I was pretty much done in. My pace had been really even until then and I was working out I'd be about 1.21 if I kept it going. (I think I was 61 something at 10 miles.) However the hills did for me and my pace dropped from 6.10 to 6.45 and 6.36 in miles 11 and 12. After a long long struggle up the last hill and down into town I was surprised the end result was a few seconds over 1.23. Disgraceful. Now it did seem to be a slowish year and those just ahead - Richard and Stuart - also seemed slower than they should have been. The weather was not quite bad enough to justify this, and I wondered if the slightly long course added a minute or more to everyone's time. Everyone seemed to measure 13.2 at least. I got 13.27 which is a minute longer than it needed to be but it did seem to be exactly the same course as the one I did 1.18 on 2 years ago. Maybe it was just a heavy gravity day.

Gordon Donnachie

If there are lessons to be learned they are old ones: don't go in for this sort of race if you don't like this sort of race. I really enjoyed the Foxtrail 20k course recently even though it was much tougher ground. Why? Because it was scenic and I loved the venue. It was tougher and lasted longer but I was excited about being there and interested to see what came next. There was no excitement about Alloa, just the promise of a long grind on a road I could do in my sleep. If I had the option of signing up for it a week in advance I wouldn't have bothered but the obligatory sign-up-months-before when you don't know how you will be going months hence, means you have to decide way sooner.

I don't write this to spell out the obvious - it's a heads up for myself when next year I think, Alloa Half, I did my pb there in 2014, it's like meeting up with an old girlfriend. Well, bear in mind the 80s music, the loudspeakers, the noise, the bustle, the lack of toilets, the crowded start, the last 3 miles up 2 hills and the poorly measured course. And if you haven't been doing 13 mile tempo road runs don't expect anything good to happen; it will be painful, unrewarding and harsh. On a sunny day when you could be up the hills enjoying the view.

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