A couple of years ago, I started the usual running trait of focusing on getting my times down to a target...firstly training towards a sub-20min 5K and then onto a sub-40min 10K. After a very sunny 19:19 in Lancaster and an unofficial 39:07 10K, I was happy and since then my running has really been about distance, climb and enjoying some challenging courses.
But what about that half marathon PB..."Surely you must be sub-90?!" is the comment often heard. So a 1:43 half PB has always been something that could be improved upon (although the PB is from Gerry McCabe's Legendary Hendon Brook ).
This time last year, I raced the Dales Trail 20km in the misty hills of Swaledale in North Yorkshire, then the following day the inaugural Darwen Half on a sunny Lancastrian Sunday. So was fair to say I was not in best condition for Darwen and looking to 'get round' but felt surprisingly good, coming away with a then-PB of 1:44. Since I've always wondered what I could do if I properly raced Darwen Half…last year's was 1:44 so a 1:30-something would be nice. I'm going to need a training plan!
Now when I say 'training towards sub-20min/sub-40min', I've never been one for a structured training plan and more just running with an aim. Unfortunately, most generic training plans cover 8 weeks and with only 5 weeks to race day, I'm going to need something more bespoke.
"Try the Asics App" say other running geeks. I love technology so that was downloaded to my smart-phone faster than a Gebrselassie crowd-wave. I input the various metrics and out comes the answer: Asics says no. IT says the best I can do is 1:41! I hate technology.
So undeterred I turn next to the amazing #TeamTAC Facebook Group for support, asking for a general training plan that I was to tweak and tailor to 5 weeks. Then comes back the answer I really wante: "We don't do generic training plans...just ask!" As it was from Chris Singleton, I felt compelled to 'ask'. For those who don't know Chris, he is a top-runner, 100km England competitor and generally top bloke who famously beat the marshal to a checkpoint on his way to winning the 2015 Haworth Hobble. A brief chat about the timescales, race and outcomes and before you know it, I'm on it.
The first couple of sessions were a real surprise for me, not only deciding to swap to measuring in miles (I've always be a 'km-runner') and realising how far a bloody mile is (!) but also a couple of speed sessions giving some good times and realising what I could achieve. A brief tempo session covered 5 km in 20mins plus a few seconds...I'd trained for months for that previously...what's going on?! I need to prepare properly for this now!
As part of the process, I had a couple of race PB targets along the way, firstly a Pendle parkrun PB. A nice speedy run around the muddy, windy fields of Holt House and I'm left 3 seconds off a parkrun PB.
Next, Trawden Club Champs race Boulsworth Bog (and also one of my favourite two local fell races). A nice fast start up hill and before I know it, I'm leading the pack onto Boulsworth bottoms. Having never led a race before, it was quite enjoyable until the CVFR guys and Ribble Valley girls went flying past! A 6th place finish and a PB just under the hour restored the confidence for the attack on Darwen. I just need a realistic target!
So what do I target for the Darwen Half? Well there's the obligatory:
2) 1:43 - to beat last year's time
3) 1:42 - new Half PB
Plus the sought after:
4) 1:39 - sub-1:40
5) 1:29 - sub-90 mins
Then came the next milestone:
6) 1:27 - Fastest TAC last year, Frazer Durris - dare I try to topple our own Mr Darcy?
A quick look at the race profile the night before and I felt the race strategy would be fine as I'd plan previously, broken down to four 5ks: Steady, Fast, Hard and then everything to home.
On race-day morning, despite taking on what I would say are much more daunting challenges, the race-day nerves kicked in (for a half around the Darwen hills?). A brief Twitter conversation with Autumn (club-mate and general runner inspiration) and I'm reminded, enjoy it first and give it your all.
First 5K - Nice and steady up front (i.e. a few hundred metres behind the likes of Team Fish Ben and Jake!) with a fistful of gels ready for the later stages.
Second 5K - All going well and ducking under the sub-40min 10K mark for the third "unofficial" time
Third 5K - I feel every race hard has a painful stretch to get through and at Darwen that's mile 9.
Fourth 5K - I felt I'd done enough but it's not over until you pass that finish line. I keep pushing (as much as I could to try to close the gap to club-mate Kevin) knowing there's a nice long descent to the finish line. Avoiding the temptation to look at the watch (which I've wanted to do since halfway) I kept thinking (as my wife, Roxanne has said in the past) if I've time to look, I can push harder. Then the cheers of the #TeamTAC support a few hundred metres later and a "Come on, Mac, you've smashed it!" from Roxanne. Just one last stretch...
A brief natter with Kevin at the finish line and a look at the watch...1:25...beyond my wildest expectations!
The training set by Chris was perfect. In five short weeks he tailoured to what I needed, how I performed and (most importantly) around everyday life.
Whilst Darwen isn't the flattest of courses, the gorgeous winding (yes, hilly) roads through the surrounding villages makes a perfect place for a lasting memory of an epic PB.
Oh and as for the Asics app... #gofasterstripes