Britain’s Ocean City Half Marathon (Plymouth) – Sunday 23rd April 2017

I chose to enter this half marathon as I had attended and graduated from Plymouth University some 10 years ago and having competed in the 10k race in 2014 and 2016, decided that it would be enjoyable to take part in the half marathon around this beautiful and historic City.

Smeaton’s Tower on the Hoe

The smallest café in the World?

I travelled down to Plymouth by train on the Saturday. It was a very tight turnaround for me as I had been volunteering at the 3rd anniversary of my local parkrun (Royal Tunbridge Wells) that morning and only left the park at 11.15am and my train was due to depart at 12.12pm! Fortunately, I had been sensible to put my stuff together on the Friday evening and so upon my return from the parkrun I quickly packed everything into my suitcase and grabbed some food before walking down to the station.
I had pre-booked my train tickets and managed to get a return ticket from my home to Plymouth (via London Paddington ) for just £49 – it would have cost me more in fuel to drive, park and also the time that I spent on the train instead of driving allowed me to write the run report for the parkrun and this blog!

I arrived in Plymouth at 5.30pm and was checked into my hotel room before 6pm. I decided to take a very easy jog to the Hoe (where the start of the Half marathon was to be the following morning) and took my camera with me. The weather was perfect – blue skies, dry, sunny & warm and the forecast for the race was to be much the same.

The start gantry on the day before the race

The finishing straight on the day before the race

The only sticking point for me was to be my pre-race fuelling as the hotel breakfast didn’t start until 7am and this wouldn’t have allowed enough time for me to digest it ahead of the race. I had only wanted porridge on the morning and was told that I could have breakfast delivered to my room between 6.40-7am although it would be at the cost of a full breakfast (£13.96), so that wasn’t going to happen!

I popped over to Sainsbury and found some tubs of quick porridge (apple & blueberry), where you just add hot water and stir and so I grabbed a couple of these as my pre-race fuel. Now I’m always dubious of anything that you just add water to and I wasn’t surprised when I pulled back the lid to see the apple & blueberry flavouring in powder form – unfortunately it was not in a separate sachet and so I had to stir it in with the “oats”. I had a green tea and sipped on some water before I walked up to the start – less than 10 minutes away.

The bag drop was nice and easy and I had time to get in a quick warm-up and drills before fighting my way through the crowds toward the front of the field. I had studied the elevation of the course the night before and worked out rough splits, knowing that the toughest miles would be between 5 and 7, which were mainly uphill. My aim was to run the whole race at an average pace of 6:35 per mile, allowing for a slower mile at the start and for the 2 miles in the middle of the race. The first mile of the race was mainly on a gradual down hill or flat and so I did my best to relax in to the race and worked my way past the 1:30 pacer. I was still feeling good through mile 2 but toward the end of the 3rd mile I started to feel a stitch come on.

HQ – bag drop and changing areas

This isn’t the first time I’ve suffered from a stitch in a race as it has happened in all but 1 of the 4 10 mile races that I’ve run as well as one of the 10k races that I’ve run and each time I’ve had to stop and walk for at least a minute before gradually building up my pace again. I eventually stopped running just before 4 miles and whilst I was walking the 1:30 pacer passed me with a huge crowd of runners, all I could do is continue to walk as they moved further away.

I began to start running again after a minute or two but struggled to get up to any sort of race pace as I was now going through the hardest part of the race. When I got to the 7 mile point there was a long steady downhill section on a track through Saltram House estate and I was able to relax and let my legs do the work – I covered this mile in 6:19 but was still well off my target time. It’s very frustrating when your goal changes mid-race but you have to re-assess and work out the next best goal. I decided that I would do my best to catch the 1:30 pacer and go from there.

I eventually saw the pacer in the distance (a good 800m ahead) at the 9 mile mark, however, when I passed the 10 mile marker I developed another stitch and had to reduce to walking again for a minute. I started running again and just had to take it easy for the last few miles. The support over the final mile was amazing and with the final half mile on a gradual incline it was the energy that I needed to get me to the finish. I eventually turned the corner to see the finish gantry ahead and was able to build a little more pace and was across the line in 1hr:32m and 23s.

The final 800m was a gradual uphill

I was disappointed with my performance and it was especially difficult for me as I had fallen off the pace so early on and had both a mental and physical battle for the next 10 miles. The most frustrating thing is that I don’t know exactly causes me to get stitches (there have been plenty of research studies but no facts have been derived from this) and it has only ever happened to me in race situations. It could be the fuel that I had on the morning of the race or perhaps, in hindsight, the lack of hydration before the start or could it be the pace that I had set myself was out of reach (although it didn’t feel like it)?

There was plenty of support at the start/finish & the whole way around

With regards to the event, on the whole I have to say that it was very well organised and the support was excellent the whole way round and it is a race that I definitely would like to do again. The bag drop was nice and easy as was the collection of goody bag, tee and medal post-race. There was also free pre and post run massage available courtesy of students from the local Universities, although having only just had one on the Thursday before my race I declined this option. I didn’t use the toilet facilities due to the fact that I was staying so close to the start, however, it looked as though they could have used a few more as the queues were rather long. The only other minor gripe I had was with regards to the starting pens as there were only a couple of places that you could enter – myself and many others had to climb the barrier in order to enter near the 1:30 start or try to make our way through 1,000 or so runners!

A tall-ship which had docked in the day before the race – “Kaskelot”

A navy vessel being “tugged” out to sea

As for me, all I can do now is reset and work towards my next race in June which is the Staplehurst 10k. Since returning from my training camp in the Algarve I have identified two areas of my training plan which were missing completely and I have now worked these in and intend to start my new plan from the 1st May, with training twice a day during the week. My racing schedule over the summer months is relatively quiet with just the 10k race in June and a 5 mile race in July. I plan to also run a fast 5k sometime in August and am toying with making my debut on the track at the end of August (either over 1 mile of 3,000m). This will then take me into the next cross country season which I am very much looking forward to!

I have the third day of my Coach in Running Fitness course on Saturday 29th April with the final assessment day on Saturday 15th July and I shall be writing a blog post about this experience once I have achieved the qualification. My next blog post therefore is likely to be after the Staplehurst 10k although I do also plan to write a blog around nutrition in the near future, so look out for those.

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