Psyching myself out at the Surrey Half Marathon

Last weekend I took part in the inaugural Surrey Half Marathon. Starting in Guildford with an out and back route to Woking, the race was run on closed roads through the Surrey countryside. The weather was stunning, the warmest day of the year so far by some margin. It was what I would call a medium sized field – around 5000 people I think and as I arrived at the Spectrum centre on the outskirts of Guildford there was a great atmosphere. I was feeling quite relaxed and looking forward to a good race.

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My plan was to practice running at my target marathon pace. 11:26 min miles or thereabouts. After struggling at 10 miles in Brighton having gone out too fast, Surrey was about pacing myself and having something left in the tank at the end. After all 13.1 is only half of the distance I’ve got to cover on April 13th.

Everything started well. The first few miles passed comfortably with me keeping an eye on my pace and clocking in the miles on or around my target. The last time I trained for the London Marathon my only goal was to finish in one piece. I’ve never really tried to pace myself to a particular time before, I’ve always just done my best on the day, so slowing down or speeding up to maintain a particular mile split is new territory for me.

By 6 miles things were still going well. The course was lovely, plenty of support on most of the route from locals and plenty of space to run as I was towards the back of the field. There had been a few bits of undulation with a steady incline at around mile 3 but nothing that had made me struggle. I was feeling quite warm though and taking on a lot more water than usual – this was the first time this year that I’ve run in the heat.

During miles 6 to 7 things started to unravel a bit. There was quite a steep hill on the way into Woking town centre and it sapped my legs a bit and broke my rhythm. I got a bit obsessed about looking for the turning point – I knew it was coming but I couldn’t see it and mentally I wanted to know that I was in the second part of the race. My pace had slowed and I was off target. I wasn’t happy.

What happened next has never happened to me in a race before. I pretty much gave up mentally. I was still moving but my mind was in overdrive chatting away to me. “You’re never going to run sub 5 at London if you can’t even get to mile 8 at marathon pace” I told myself and with that my legs stopped trying. I was walking a lot more than my planned run: walk ratio and feeling pretty defeated.

The rest of the race wasn’t pretty. My heart and mind weren’t in it and therefore my legs weren’t in it and I just wanted it to be over. I ground out the last few miles and was very pleased to cross the finish line. Remarkably it wasn’t a personal worst, although it felt that way. The smile in this photo is entirely about how happy I was to be finished and the fact that it’s a nice piece of race bling.

1920060_10151879625041012_1247104111_nPhysically I’m in just as good shape as I was when I smashed the Edinburgh Half last May and had my best race ever. Yes my legs are tired from the training and yes it was hotter than I’m used to. Those two factors probably played a part. But I am convinced that what happened on Sunday was almost entirely mental. I put a lot of pressure on myself to run to a particular target time and that really got to me. Despite how terrible I felt during the second half of the race I’m glad it happened because I’ve learned a very valuable lesson.

I need to take the pressure off myself to hit particular mile splits and just enjoy the running. My best performances do not come when I over think the situation. They’ve always been have been when I have just relaxed and just let my legs do their thing.

So today as I sit here getting ready for my longest training run, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

11 thoughts

  1. I had a race like this last week, and worry that mentally i’m not tough enough for a marathon!! To keep on the positive, it’s better to have these runs in training! Good luck

  2. Damn that mental pressure its evil I have run many times just like you have and it does feel horrible but the run is still good as the body keeps going even when the head wins and gives up. You do know you will rock that Sub 5 hour marathon because of how close we came in adversity in our London marathon. I hope your run is today is stress free and fun. People just don’t know how tough ot is to just get to the start line. I am living the marathon dream through you all the memories come flooding back every time I see a training post or blog from you. You are mentally strong your mind is just toying with you to keep you on your toes. X

    1. Thanks Darin. I’ve learned a lot from it and it’s so much better for me just to relax and run to feel. If the 5 hours happens it happens, but if it doesn’t I’m so much fitter and stronger than I was that it doesn’t really matter.

  3. I think you learn the most from races of training runs like this. I think once you get over a certain distance, it’s so much more of a mental battle than a physical one, and learning to cope with your mind, and those voices is just one aspect of it. Getting through a tough training run/race certainly stands you in good stead for the marathon.

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