I ran the Mercedes-Benz World Half Marathon in Weybridge (somewhere in Surrey, close to Heathrow) this morning. It was a four-lap race on a racing track in, obviously, Mercedes Benz World. I can honestly say that, out of the four half marathons that I have completed, the only one that was more brutal was the one in Singapore - and that's more or less entirely due to the tough weather condition back home.
The first thing that I said to E today, immediately after I finally crossed the damn finish line, was, 'That was really tough.' And it was. It was a combination of things: running four laps which means passing the finish three times before finally finishing; the 99.99% unshaded route, which wasn't fun at all because it wasn't cloudy enough today and there was way too much sun; the wind, free to blow unobstructed all over the racing track, surrounded by wide open spaces, and needing more effort than normal to run against it; and my confusion after the first lap, my GPS telling me that I'd hit 5km when I was 1km away from the end of the first lap, then realising later that we ran an extra distance at the start that wasn't part of the lap, so no, I wasn't off by 1km like I'd thought.
The confusion over distance messed up my pacing. Since I thought I was 1km slower than I really was, I started speeding up - and I sped up earlier than I'd wanted. I started off really relaxed, running at a comfortable pace, and the plan was to gradually increase the pace to something close to my max and maintain it for the middle of the race. But nope, that plan did not come to fruition. I don't know how much of my speeding up earlier than I'd planned contributed to the absolute leadenness of my legs at the final lap, but wow, my legs felt terrible. I think I hit the wall even before 18 or 19km; it was something like 14.5 or 15km. It honestly took a lot of concentration and mental effort to keep going and not start walking, or even just drop out of the race. I can't even begin to say how many times I'd thought of quitting the race. When the sun was blazing down on me; when the wind was blowing in my face; when I reached the end of the third lap and hoped in futility that it was actually my final lap...
I like to laugh at the Brits and their overreaction to slightly warm weather, such as reports of a 'heat wave' at the London Marathon last year when temperatures reached an extreme high of 22 degrees celsius. And while I still find their overreaction quite hilarious, I can sort of understand it now, though the problem for me wasn't the temperature; it was the sun. And it was relentless on the track today; it just wouldn't bloody go away. There was a patch of shade for maybe 10m; otherwise, there was no hiding from it. I was actually quite worried when I left the house that we stayed in and saw some rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds. The forecast was for a cloudy day...and it wasn't cloudy enough eventually. I guess the upside was that the sun went away after the first hour, so the second half wasn't that bad. There was still the wind to contend with, though; and that really wasn't fun at all.
My confusion over the distance, coupled with my inability to see the time on my phone because of the stupid sun, meant that I really had very little idea how fast or slow I was going. At one point, I thought I was so slow, and I was suffering so much, that I actually thought to myself that I didn't even care anymore if I finished it slower than in Singapore. All I wanted was for the torture to end.
Well, it did - after 2 hours and 3 minutes.
On the one hand, yay personal best! On the other hand, it was 3 minutes too slow.
That said, I wasn't gunning for a sub-2 this time. I wasn't training properly, wasn't putting in as much effort as I would need to for a sub-2 in my training, didn't even come up with a proper training plan, just ran a few 5k and 10k here and there, did maybe three proper long runs before this (two 15 and one 18)...so the only goal that I had was to improve on my timing, and I set a rather timid aim of 2 hours and 6 minutes (the previous timing being 2 hours and 7 minutes at the London Landmarks Half Marathon). When I saw that I'd hit the 2-hour mark with less than 1km to go, I pushed myself as hard as I could (which wasn't that hard because my legs were taking a serious beating) and sprinted like crazy over the bloody finish.
My god. I'm still reeling from the toughness of the experience. While running, I thought to myself that I wasn't going to do another race for the rest of the year, and certainly not in the summer. But perhaps the point is to never do another lap race ever again. It was so much more mentally challenging. Still, I'm glad I did this. Now I just need to break the damn 2 hours barrier...