Stafford 20

What is it about me, races and terrible weather?
So January had the race that never was when snow and ice caused the last minute cancellation of the Four Villages Half Marathon.
Now it’s March, the first of the daffodils are out, and you could be forgiven for hoping for a bit of warming spring sunshine.
No such luck!
The Stafford 20 started off well enough. In fact, I was grateful for the light drizzle as we headed off the Stafford University campus and onto the course proper as it cooled me down and reassured me that my two-layer strategy wasn’t going to leave me overheating in the first 5k.
But that’s pretty much where my luck with the weather ran out. Peter Kay was right about that “really light rain” – it does soak you through! But on Sunday, it also gave way to really heavy rain. And that soaks you even more. Then there was the wind. The cold, biting wind.
Singin' in the rain!
Singin’ in the rain!

Still, only another 15 miles to go.

That’s right. The Stafford 20 isn’t a 20k as many of my colleagues had assumed when I told them about it the previous week:
“Doing anything nice for the weekend?”
“Yes! I’m running a 20-mile race.”
“Twenty miles?? Are you mad?”
You know the kind of thing.
Even when I told them it only cost me £12 (or was it £14?), they didn’t see the fun, challenge or frankly just darn good value-for-money it represented. “I’ve spent double that on a 10k,” I could have argued. It would have been in vain.
Not an ugly mug
Not an ugly mug

But seriously – on the value for money front: £12 is seriously good. OK, so the roads weren’t closed to traffic. And we ran on some busy roads. But it was well organised, on a not-unpleasant course overall, and you got a free finisher’s mug, which is a lot more useful than a medal in a box! And that’s without even mentioning all the free-to-download photos (see below).

Anyway, to the race itself. Training has gone well since Helsby Half. I’ve been running 50-60 miles a week and have even managed to make it down to Alty track night a few times (which I’d not previously done since 2003!). I managed my best Parkrun since 2012 a few weeks ago (21:07 at Huddersfield) and three days before the race, I even managed my fastest run into work for three years.
And it was that runcommute that changed today’s race. Instead of being a controlled run at something like marathon pace, I decided to run it flat out and aim to break my PB of 2:39:42. To do that, I would need to run 8mins a mile, and then shave a few more seconds off in the last mile or two.
On the plus side, I could also put off thinking about what marathon pace might be for another few weeks!
So off I went. An 8min/mile strategy sounds easy to execute, but this is an undulating course and so it’s only after a few miles that I could start to work out what pace I was running on average.
At 10 miles – halfway through lap two of three – I was on 1:20:20 – 20secs down, but at the highest point of the course. All good.
I was soaked through at this point, but I could still feel my fingers.
At 16 miles – the highest point on lap three of three – I was 2mins off target and couldn’t feel my fingers. Or my toes. Or even my arms. Unfortunately, I could still feel my legs and my lungs and both complained as I began to put my foot down.
With one mile to go, I needed a 7-min mile, uphill, to break my PB. No chance! I’d given it a mighty good go, but there was no way I’d do that. In fact, it was as much as I could do just to fight the urge to ease back and cruise the final few hundred yards.

Mile 19 and I'm flying!
Mile 19 and I’m flying!
I didn’t. In fact, crossing the line, it was hard to think of another race in recent years that I’d judged quite so finely and given every last drop of effort on the course. It was hard anyway, what with the hills and the weather, but I’d also run it hard – much harder than in 2012.
Earlier in the week, I’d been thinking of 2:45 as a realistic target and, over 20 miles, had knocked almost 5 mins off that – without really easing back on the rest of my training (that final mile also took me over 50 miles for the week, again).
And without, it must be said, taking the whole of the race entirely seriously (I tried three heel clicks for the photographers and didn’t manage to get a pic of any of them!).
So what next? Well the next race is the big one, for Spring at least: Manchester Marathon.
On this evidence, I’m not in quite the shape I was three years ago (I tried much harder, and still came up 40secs short).
But I’m not that far off either.
The question is: How far? Were the conditions worth 2secs a mile? What about the other 30 miles I’d done in training during the six days beforehand? And of course in 2012, I went on to mess up my pacing at the marathon – what if I could work out the pace I’m capable of and ran it sensibly this year?
We’ll get all the answers on April 19.
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