I'm just home from running the Downton Half Marathon. It was my fourth Half Marathon, my second in a month. I hope to be running plenty more.
My first HM was in Blackpool in February 2007. I then ran the Cardiff Half Marathon that October, but spent the last three miles with a knee problem which caused me so much pain that it repeatedly forced me to walk. Somehow I still made it round in under two hours. But the problem with my knee put me off any more half marathons. I did, foolishly, tackle some longer distance mountain running - taking in the Dales Three Peaks and the Welsh 3000s - though I did both with friends for fun, rather than at an organised event. Doing these though I also found myself slowed to a walk, about at the time I passed the ten mile mark. The Welsh 3000s is a 33 mile hike, so spending 23 miles in and out of pain wasn't fun.
I finally went to a physio. The problem I had is very common and is basically down to the poor stretching and exercise routine I've had most of my life. I lacked core strength on my right side, which my leg was compensating for, and it reaches a point where it can't do the job it's trying to do and the pain kicks in. Football, squash and the other sports I dabble at don't require the legs to do the mileage in a constant way that running demands, so the trouble had never flaired. Once I hit that ten mile mark in the HM it kicked in. In a nutshell I needed to stretch. A lot. So that's what I set about doing, as well as taking up Yoga and Pilates.
Starting Kung Fu this January seemed to be helping my flexibility a lot, and so when I began running in October before the Cardiff Half Marathon I was confident I might have done enough to get me past the ten mile mark. I was still nervous I might not make the 13 miles though, and only doing two training runs - 5 miles then 9 miles - only told me I was fit enough to get round. But I made the full 13 miles without any pain at all. Cured!
High from the Cardiff HM I booked myself into the Downton HM, picking it because it seemed close enough (about a 2 hour drive) and I had a free weekend. Downton was a whole new experience today, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Just 500 runners (which is its chosen capacity), there's none of the pomp of the Cardiff HM. You assemble in a school hall for the race briefing, walk to a road where they stop the traffic, lay down the mat which clocks your racing chip, and you're off. Its a whole new experience running through the small village before heading out onto the hills. There's no mountains to scramble up, but plenty of rising and falling and more rising along the small roads. Cars slow to pass you, and as you re-enter the village at the end you have to be sharp to the traffic. It rained pretty hard today. Twice it hailed. It was windy too, and of course the hills were new to me on a HM. I've been spoilt by the flat of Blackpool and Cardiff. Still, despite all the obstacles I made it round in 1:51:04. I was delighted, not expecting to make it under 2 hours, let alone under my Cardiff time. I'm pleased as punch I've made progress and I think I'll be setting a New Year's Resolution to try and achieve a sub 1hr 30min at Cardiff next October. That's ambitious I know, but I loved running today, and the more I can do the better.