King’s Forest Half Marathon: when things don’t quite go to plan

I have had a fantastic year of running this year, getting progressively stronger and feeling very happy with my racing. I want to keep making progress, so I decided that a period of slightly lower mileage with more focus on speed would help improve my running.

I had never actually run a proper half marathon, so decided to spend a couple of months training for the King’s Forest Half, a trail race organised by Positive Steps in the beautiful King’s Forest near Bury St Edmunds (I couldn’t face a road half marathon!). I found the training quite tough! Most of my running is done at plodding speed, concentrating on being as economical as possible; I do a bit of speedwork when training for ultras, but my focus is on keeping the mileage high. For my half marathon preparation I was running three quality sessions a week, generally including a speed session (400m reps or similar), some tempo running at either 10km or half marathon pace, and a longish run. The hardest part of this was the half marathon pace, as I was either running too fast or too slowly, and struggling to establish the right effort level of feeling comfortably uncomfortable! In the couple of weeks before the race it was starting to come together though and I was consistently hitting the right paces on training runs.

The day of the race dawned beautifully sunny and unseasonably warm. It felt very strange to be heading off for a race with only minimal kit. The first few miles were a mix of grassy tracks and field boundaries; it was quite rough underfoot but I was feeling comfortable holding my planned pace. After 3.5 miles I passed the first checkpoint at Icklingham and now started to recognise the route – I had previously run this section as part of the Great Barrow Challenge Thetford marathon course. Unfortunately, this meant that I knew what was coming up, a long sandy uphill climb through open Breckland – not too taxing at a steady pace, but hard work when trying to run fast!

The sandy tracks continued as we headed towards the Elveden memorial; I was sticking to my planned pace, but the rough tracks and the heat were really taking it out of me. From about the 8 mile point I felt as though all the energy had been sucked out of me. My right leg had started to seize up, probably as a result of bad running form once I got tired, and I was gradually running more and more slowly.

Thankfully the last few miles were through the forest itself, which provided some welcome respite from the sun. By now I was really struggling to pick up the pace and was just trying to hang on to the end. I crossed the line in 1 hour 58 minutes, considerably slower than I had hoped and feeling rather disappointed with my run!

In hindsight, I think perhaps I was a little hard on myself… The course was a proper trail race with a real mixture of rough terrain – not particularly conducive to running fast times. I finished 37th overall and 8th lady, so clearly ran better than I gave myself credit for at the time. I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience though (no reflection on the races themselves which are very friendly and well run!), so while I will keep working at the speed sessions in training, I’m not sure I will be racing many half marathons in the future! I’m now frantically trawling the race calendars to find myself a nice hilly marathon to run before Christmas!

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