Last fortnight I came the closest I ever will ever come to running another marathon, which is running two half marathons a week apart. This wasn’t entirely a deliberate choice, both were postponed from 2021 and weren’t a week apart when I booked them, though when I learned of the new dates I didn’t want to give up either of them and told myself it would be absolutely fine.
And so it was that I found myself in the Woking Premier Inn on Sunday morning with legs like breeze blocks and eyes that needed propping open with matchsticks. You’d think that after 21 half marathons I would have got used to them and bounce back quickly but this is not the case, in fact in a way being fitter makes the whole thing more exhausting because you have to run faster. I had invested so much in the Brighton Half that I wasn’t actually sure I had it in me to do it all again so soon and found myself lining up at the start with a curious sense of detachment.
Surrey Half 2020 had been the very last race I did before The Corona took over the world, but at the time there was very little indication of what was to come. I feel like the trauma of the next two years might have wiped out a lot of my memory of the event because I remembered very little of the course except the fact it was flat with an invisible hill at km 16 that made me think I’d lost the will to live until I got to the top and realised I was not dying, just running uphill. The course for 2022 was identical to 2020, but it didn’t feel identical. You might just about be able to get away with calling it “flat” but it certainly wasn’t pancake flat and it seems to have a lot more Up than Down although this is impossible because it starts and finishes in the same place (the glamorous Woking Leisure Centre).
Despite the concrete legs, I matched my times from Brighton for the first 10k almost exactly – 35:55 for 5k, 1:12:48 for 10k (versus 36:18 and 1:12:25 at Brighton). This time I was prepared for the dreaded 16th kilometre and kept my effort steady and didn’t walk or think I was dying and didn’t look at my pace for the entire kilometre in case I found it dispiriting (I would have done, it was 8:25). I passed 10 miles at 2:00:16, a whole two minutes behind Brighton, but I wasn’t too worried because I knew I had just done the hardest part and that I spent the last 5k of Brighton running directly into the wind and surely that wouldn’t… oh…
As I reached the turn around in the out and back, I turned and started running into the wind. Okay, it wasn’t quite the hurricane conditions of Brighton, but it was still unwelcome. It clearly wasn’t going to be a speedy last 5k but there was still a chance to beat last week’s time – but it was going to be tight. I couldn’t drop below my long slow run pace and I definitely couldn’t walk. Not a single step. I didn’t even visit the last water station because every second counted.
There weren’t a lot of slow people in this race but I managed to pass quite a few of them in the last 5k which gave my spirits a bit of a boost, and I focused very hard on telling myself that just because other people could get away with walking, it didn’t mean I could. Woking Leisure Centre gradually grew closer and as the time ticked away I attempted to persuade my legs into a feeble sprint which filled my head with goldfinches and nearly made me vomit.
As I crossed the line I hardly dared look at my watch but was eventually delighted to see I’d finished in 2:39:34, knocking a whole minute off last week’s time. Admittedly, this was mostly because it was an easier course and if I hadn’t been greedy and done both races I would probably had done even better, but the main thing is that I am getting faster and PB day is getting ever closer. Also if you add both of my races together and ignore the week long rest in the middle you could kind of claim that I knocked two and a bit hours off my marathon PB. Maybe.