Though my main reason to go to Jersey (other than to have a jolly with my mate, Mike) was to get my ‘J’ parkrun for the Alphabet Challenge, the timing of the trip was chosen due to the fact that there was also the Jersey Half Marathon.
We could have flown back Saturday afternoon but neither of Mike or I had been to Jersey so wanted to make the most of going there by also doing the race. We stayed another night in our quaint little guest house and my alarm was set for the rather leisurely time of 7am. I had those packages oats you add hot water to for breakfast and a pot of tea before we left to walk to the bus station to catch our shuttle to the start. We didn’t have to pay as it was all organised by the race.The weather was rather muggy and humid. You could see the moisture in the air. It was nicely overcast though and misty which meant though we wouldn’t get the best views of the seafront that we’d run next to we wouldn’t get the sun beating down on us. Though the humidity was annoying.Nothing like being shuffled together with other runners to make you nervous I can tell you. Everyone talking about PB’s, training runs and injuries. Neither Mike or I were feeling very ready for the race. Mike had had some time off due to illness and his furthest run had been a while ago. I was feeling tired and my calves felt tight and one of them felt niggly. I just wasn’t feeling a fast race at all. Weeks before, on my marathon and 5k PB highs, I’d viewed this race as another possible PB-attempt. I don’t usually have big goal races like this as in general I hate the pressure and quite like to just ‘enjoy’ races. However, rarely have I ever been in such good shape. Or so I thought anyway. After a week of rubbish feeling running, I was now backtracking that goal (standard Anna).After 20 minutes or so we’d arrived at the race start area where there were some proper toilets and a few portable ones. We peed, milled around and then dropped our bag (easier to share one bag) at the bag drop and then headed to the start. There were about 700 runners and as the roads weren’t closed it was a bit chaotic getting everyone across the road, but otherwise it was very organised and easy.I wished Mike good luck and decided to head nearish to the front. I’d decided to just see what happened – but give myself the best shot. Start running, see how the legs felt and go with the flow. If I went fast so be it, if I went fast and then flagged so be it. I had my Aftershokz on lined up with some good tunes. Then we were off!
The first mile was pretty much downhill the entire way. It was fantastic but also terrifying. My watch was saying 6.30min/mile pace – FAR too fast. This is my (good) 5k speed!! But I thought “ah what the hell, it is downhill”. I had two really irritating guys next to me getting far too overexcited, jumping about the place and shouting which I wanted to get away from too. They were flying all over the road and yelling and just being a bit mental.
Several people flew past me – including a number of females. Previously when I was eyeing up this race as a possibility of a fast run I’d checked last year’s results. The first female had got a time of around 1:33. As my PB was 1:34:30 I’d wondered if I could place in the top three. There were prizes for 1st, 2nd, 3rd as well as age categories. But as I saw all these girls fly past me I decided to put that dream to bed, as well as the fact that considering how fast I was going on the FIRST mile I was likely to detonate at mile four.
The problem with downhills is that it feels so easy, so when you eventually get back to the flat or an uphill it feels horrendously hard. Like, yes Anna this is what a 6.45 mile really feels like, you idiot. Mile two continued in a similar vein but I managed to pull myself back a bit, as well as the downhill levelled out a bit. But then suddenly we went sharply uphill as we pushed our way up a windy hill. Ooof that felt awful.
As the roads weren’t closed off there were a number of cars that had to slowly creep by us or wait for us to pass. You had to be savvy and aware of what was going on (Aftershokz hugely help with this, allowing me to hear what’s going on). The marshals were great of course but I can imagine it was tricky at times for them. There weren’t a huge amount of supporters as it was a fairly low key event, but it was nice when you passed a bunch and they cheered.
Around mile three I was feeling a bit low. I knew I’d gone out too fast and now I was dealing with the aftermath of that. I kept going back and forth in my mind of what I should do for the race. I saw some Jersey cows grazing at the side of the road. I realised I hadn’t taken any photos of them on this trip (Jersey cows are are something Jersey is famous for, with their milk and cream). So I vowed the next lot I saw I’d take my phone out and snap some pictures, and that would take the pressure of the run and I could just have an “enjoy the scenery” run. The scenery was beautiful. It was very rural – lots of greenery, rolling hills and the sea next to us. But it was very misty so didn’t showcase it as could as it could have.
By mile four we were running down a long straight road. I started to cheer up a bit as I found my groove and had mentally taken the umming and arr’ing about how to run the course. I decided to just go with whatever and see what happened. I saw a few females ahead and noticed I was catching them. I used that as a distraction, idly wondering what position they were in.This massively helped keep my pace up. Trying to reach the next female, it gave me something to focus on suddenly. What also helped were the small pockets of people (literally 3-4 people). I smiled and waved and enjoyed myself. One guy shouted “you’re my favourite runner so far! She’s smiling!” which made me laugh. I mean, it was random but nice.
The day before I’d spoken to a fellow parkrunner who’d told me a bit about the course. She said there was a killer hill around mile seven but there was some nice downhill after. She also said the final 5k was normally straight against the wind as it was right on the promenade. So when we turned round the corner and hit a horrendous hill I wasn’t surprised. I saw a girl half-way up and decided to do my damnedest to catch her. Unfortunately there was also a photographer up the hill too… great. I’m sure I was gurning away nicely for the shot.
The hill seemed to go on forever and when it finally ended I felt the energy had drained from my legs. Happily I’d overtaken the lady I’d spotted, but then I spotted another female ahead. I was also aware that I needed to maintain my position. I made it my next mission to catch her. It was a good way to get my focus back and crack on.And then it was the blissful downhill. I decided to just go for it. Leg my legs go a bit looser and just lose myself. My pace cranked up but I just went with it. I was running the course for what it was and decided that if I could make up some speed here then so be it. I might crash later but whatever, let’s go crazy. Suddenly the course seemed familiar. I recognised this packed sandy track… we were leading on to the parkrun route I’d run the day before. How cool. Instead of turning around though where we did yesterday we carried straight on down the railway path.
These were the best miles. I was absolutely flying and loving life. I mean, it was downhill so it was pretty good. And I was picking off people as I went. But then I hit mile 11 and suddenly we were back on the flat and life was hard again. I hit the promenade, the sea on my right looking all misty and grey, and the wind was boom against me. The graft was on.It was literally like focus on every single breath, focus on every single step getting my closer to the finish and focus on the miles ticking down. There were two things that hugely helped keep my pace going. Number one there was a girl I could see in the distance, and I could tell I was gaining on her. And number two was the memory of maintaining seven minute miles for the last three miles of the Brighton Marathon. If I could do that at the end of a marathon I could do faster at the end of a half. It gave me great confidence and belief in myself. I wasn’t going to combust, I wasn’t going to break, I could keep going.
What amazes me is that I ran a sub-21 minute for the final 5k! Faster than my parkrun the day before, which felt pretty tough to me at the time. The wind wasn’t behind me and it definitely felt like “oh my god this is hard”. Minimal smiles and larking about now, I tell you. But no one overtook me.I caught the girl and couldn’t see anyone ahead now. This was painful and mentally hard to maintain the pace with no one to catch now (the other runners too far ahead) but I only had a mile or so to go. Two songs. Come on. I finally saw the finish area but as I turned round the corner to get there I was confused about where to go and headed where I thought it was (there was no big arch or anything). As I ran across the grass I saw loads of people yelling and pointing at me, telling me I was going to the wrong way! I had to quickly change direction, leap over a flower bed and actually go the right way to the finishing funnel. Whew!
As I finished I was gasping for air and feeling absolutely pooped. I walked slowly to the medal and t-shirt collection bit and then stood bent over with my hands on my knees for about a minute catching my breath before looking up at the lady who was stood staring at me waiting for my name. She laughed though when I apologised for making her wait.My time was 1:31:06. The race director came over and asked for my name and race number. I asked him where I’d placed and he said second female! The first female time was an absolutely belting 1:23. I mean whaaaat. I’d never have caught her in a million years but I’m super pleased I caught all the other ladies up (and 44 seconds ahead of the third female!). I was 28th overall (out of 529). I will take that! And a PB by well over three minutes!!!The prize giving was to be 6pm that evening but we were catching our flight at 2.30pm so I spoke to the race director. He said sadly I wouldn’t be getting my bottle of champagne then but he’d post my trophy. How cool! Also, turns out I’ll get two trophies: one for second female and one for first senior female (the lady who came first was a +40!!).I waited for Mike to finish, chilling on the steps drinking much needed water, before realising I should probably collect our bag. He finished in 1:56 which he was pleased with, considering he hadn’t trained for it and wanted to take it easier (his PB is around 1:45). He was very happy with how it’d gone, though he had said he had probably gone too fast and would have preferred it to have been 10 miles not 13 😉Then we literally had to quick march back to our hotel, shower and find some lunch pronto. It was now 11am and our flight was 2.30pm. We were going to get to the bus stop for 1pm so we were pushing it. In quick time we got sorted and then hit the street looking for somewhere to eat… Only to find that Jersey turns into a ghost town on Sunday. Literally no where was open. After desperately hunting around we found one of the only pubs open and thankfully serving food. We sat outside as it was warm and noticed several other half marathoners around us proudly wearing their medals and t-shirts. A happy crowd indeed.
I wasn’t hugely hungry or fancying anything crazy so stuck with a simple meaty wrap. Crazy I know. Then we hot footed it to Costa to get a coffee before grabbing a bus to the airport. Easy peasy.
Our trip to Jersey was great! I’m so chuffed I got the ‘J’ parkrun done – that was the most important thing. But I’m also hugely pleased with my new PB. In my head I wondered if I could get close to a 1:32 time when I was ‘feeling’ it, but the week before and the day of I honestly didn’t think I’d break 1:40, that’s how rubbish I felt. So to exceed that beyond what I could imagine, I am over the moon. It’s given me such confidence. I think what helped was racing it for a place rather than a time. Having those females to try and overtake massively helped and took away thoughts about what pace I should be aiming for. I literally just wanted to get past each one and that pushed me on.
I do wonder about those downhills though… I think they definitely helped. So part of me wonders whether to take this time with a pinch of salt. I have two half marathons later in the year that are flat though I might aim for one of those…but then again, this is me we’re talking about 😉
Have you ever not felt a race only to then do well at it?
Do you like a race with downhills?
Have you ever raced a race for a position rather than a time?