After damn near destroying my knee running in the Ealing Half Marathon last September, my fitness levels were gradually returning to form. I’ve been dabbling with Insanity recently, building up my running distances and then a sign appeared. Literally. As we were driving through Larne a few weeks back.
Lisa turned to me and said “The Larne half-marathon is on the 8th June. You should go in for it.”
“Huh? The Larne half was in March.” Apparently not. The unexpected cold snap and snow that had virtually cut off parts of the North Coast meant that the race had been postponed. Excellent! I’d wanted to do this run since last year and now here was a second chance!
Saturday arrived and I shuttled across to Larne in record time. I love standing around and watching the crowds build and the atmosphere gradually gets more exciting. The weather was phenomenal, clear blue skies and a cooling breeze drifting in from the ocean. The heat was rising, however, and that was something to be concerned about as the runners would be totally exposed along the coastal route that the race takes.
I managed to chat with a few of the other runners. Like most races, there’s a great cross-section of athletic types on display – one guy was from a walking group who’ve taken to some light jogging in their hikes to improve their timings. Others were veteran marathoners, and some were like myself: only just starting to get into half-marathons and wanting to test themselves.
I have got a minor grumble about the race itself: the rules read because it’s an open road race, runners weren’t allowed to wear headphones. I love running to music – it helps me keep my pace and sometimes tune out my body when it’s ready to give up. So I left the headphones at home and muted my Nike+ app. And then discovered that there were quite a few runners who were openly ignoring this rule. Gah!
And so we set off. Some 900 runners, in a slow procession through Larne town centre…until the runners gradually fanned out and there was room to manoeuvre. This part of the race is actually quite fun – dodging and weaving between runners as you try to find an open space to run in. Keeping a lookout for other runners that are doing a decent speed so you can keep pace with them for a while.
One of the biggest challenges this time round was dodging the pointing-out elbows of many of the female runners. I’ve never seen this phenomenon before, but many of them had their hands high and their elbows pointing out at acute angles. So trying to pass between two of these runners was often an exercise in avoiding being jabbed in the chest.
The run around Larne passed by in a blur. My mind was focused on the climb out of town and onto the coast road. However, the hill that leads out of Larne isn’t nearly as steep as it seems. And our legs were relatively fresh at that point, so bounding up the hill was pretty straightforward. The coast road itself was mostly flat, but almost dishearteningly, you can see for miles ahead at a time, which sometimes knocks the fight out of you. Still, it was possibly the most picturesque run I’ve been on, bouncing through Drains Bay (and the brilliant bongo music they were playing to lift our spirits), past Carnfunnock Country Park and out to Ballygalley.
And here’s where it all went pear shaped. This course is legendary for its hill climb at the mid point of the race. You turn left at the Ballgalley Castle Hotel and are directed up a hill. As I passed one guy, I grunted “So this is the big hill? It doesn’t seem that tough.” And he grunted agreement, saying it was his first time round the course too. What idiots we were. A little bit further up the road, we were directed right. And that’s when the real climb began. And kept going, and going, and going. At this point, my legs were starting to feel fatigued. But I struggled on and kept pace with another couple of runners who were solidly plodding along. Finally, we came to the top of the hill and began a speedy descent. Hooray!
I won’t drag out the last half of the race – which was basically a return journey along the same route. It was hellish though. My legs were knackered after the hill and never quite recovered. I managed to struggle on until Drains Bay, when I grabbed some water and decided to walk for a while. It was about Mile 11, I think. But it was exhausting. After a little recovery, I ran for a little while longer but never quite regained my rhythm. This was devastating – there’s nothing worse than stopping to walk and I ended up walking twice. However, I ran the last mile and decided to put on a hard push when I saw the finish line, and actually sprinted those last 100 feet or so until I heard that reassuring beep from the chip and an announcer saying my name. That bit felt surreal.
Finally, I discovered that my chip time for the race was 1:45:11, which my Nike+ app agreed with, so hooray for technology! I placed 325th out of 900 runners, so I’m broadly happy with that. However, I was still a little disappointed that there’s been no real improvement in my pace. 1:45 is pretty much the same speed as I finished the Ealing Half on, and I did a 13.1 miler a few weeks ago in 1:44, so clearly I need to work on improving my speed (and possibly stamina if my leg fatigue is anything to go by).
My initial plan is to continue with my Insanity For Pussies programme which alternates Insanity workouts and runs on different days. I’ll be using my run days for more speedwork, intervals and hills as well as one long run per week that pushes the 13 mile barrier.
4 Things I’d Do Differently
If I was doing the Larne Half again (and I think I will), here are a few of the things I would do differently:
- Train harder. Be more used to long distances. Definitely do more hill work. And I need to work more on achieving better splits so that I can perform harder in the second half of the run. I might even attempt to run the route myself before next year’s event.
- Wear sunscreen. Yes, Baz Luhrmann. I capitulated this year and started wearing hats to protect my thinning hairline when running. But I set out on the Larne run without an ounce of Factor 50 on me and came back with the ultimate Farmer’s Tan. Ouch.
- Take earphones. Sorry, rule-makers, but I need my tunes to run. I need hard-pounding rock and metal driving my feet forward to the beat and a heartbeat raising guitar solo to lift my spirits and make me run faster when all I want is an ambulance and a nice stretcher.
- Be better hydrated and eat a little closer to race time. I feel like I should have had something small to eat and drink just before the race. Just a guess, but it had been easily 2 and a half hours since breakfast, so maybe a little something extra would have helped my energy levels.
Big thanks and respect to the organisers, marshalls and onlookers who came out to cheer the runners on! I had a great time, and am 90% likely to do it all again next year. Provided my legs still work.