On Sunday 25th October 2015, I ran the Love Luton Half Marathon. It was my first UK Half Marathon only 3 weeks after returning to England. I didn’t want to have to wait a whole year before being able to run a half in Luton, so it was actually great timing. Excited as I was, I did a little research into previous years. It is actually a relatively new race having only been run 3 times before! The first was held just after I had left, in fact.
Some of the first part of the course, was to be run through the grounds of the Luton Hoo! Some scenes of the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral” were shot here! I was told that this was to be a hilly part of the course. I could not find an elevation map so I decided to plot the route on Runkeeper, which produced this:
The highest point is around 163 metres and the lowest around 102 metres! OMG!!! I was not looking forward to that at all! Hills have not been my strong point at all. Ottawa is flat in comparison. An instafriend informed me that I am now running at more than double the elevation than I used to, which will show dividends when I return to run at a lower elevation! That was good news! Looking at this elevation profile was quite an eye opener, so it would be interesting to compare the elevation profiles of all the half marathons I’ve done! I might do that.
Pre-race communication has been very good. The website was simple and straight forward. Containing links to the course details, access to runners list showing your preassigned bib number and other race info. Also timely email notifications were sent out and questions were answered on there Facebook page. That was all great. However the main gripe I had, at this stage, was that it was not possible to collect your race bib/kit before the race. It was only available on the day! I found that more inconvenient, and this may just be a personal issue for me, but it just meant my usual run up to the race was different. I like to get everything beforehand. For 1, I like to prepare for the run the night before and 2 I like to be able to post to Instagram my race details. It is a little ritual I have become accustomed to, and not being able to do that fully, just through me off a little bit. It also meant that I would need to leave earlier than I would have liked, so less sleep for me.
I didn’t have any race plan as such. I just was working off the back of the army run training. Sticking to 3 to 4 runs a week. I did a 10k and 6k run during the week, and then the day before, I did my 2nd Parkrun, a 5k. All runs were at a pretty easy pace – between 7:19-7:32 min/km. One thing that was strictly not good race prep, was going out that Saturday evening. It was a friends belated 40th birthday celebration and semi-reunion for me, since it was the first time I would see a few people since returning home. It was a fun night and some “carb-loading” was undertaken. But I was good, I didn’t drink too much and I also left at a reasonable time, so as to get as much rest as possible given the situation. I was lucky that the clocks went back an hour that night, so that also helped me out!
My sister came at around 7.55am to pick me up and take me down to Stockwood Park Athletics Track, where the race was due to start. Thanks T. Selfie Time 🙂 I was very nervous, butterflies and everything. It was as if this was my very first race! T was not going to watch the start, she was going to be at the finish with my niece and nephew though, which I was excited about. We chatted for a few minutes then said our good-byes and she wished me luck. I then headed in to the Athletics Track. There were two small white tents for the race bib pickup. Split by bib number. There was no race day registration, as the total number of allocated spots were all filled – not all ran/completed though. The race pack; in the form of a little brown envelope, consisted of just the bib number and a separate strip of paper with a magnetic stripe running through, which was the chip. It had instructions on how to apply it! It was a little tricky, not only trying to apply it to my shoe, but as I had not brought my glasses, or wore contacts, I found it hard to read the instructions. You basically just needed to slip the strip through your shoe laces in a loop and then stick the ends together by peeling back the sticky tape, on each end. This was new to me, not difficult, just different. Once that was done, I then needed to attach my bib to my front. Safety pins were supplied of course, but another difference I noticed, was that there were no holes punched in any of the corners of the bib itself. So it was rather fiddly to perform the attaching. In saying that, it felt a little more securely placed than when attaching through holes, so may be they are on to something there. 🙂 With all that done, I then had a chilly 30 minute wait for the start. The faffing around earlier distracted me from my nerves, but now I had time for the butterflies to return. That was probably ample time to go for a final loo break, which did not cross my mind until 20 minutes later. With 10 minutes to spare, I took my chances, but when I got there the queue for the ladies was sooooo long, it was not worth the wait. So I left the queue and headed back to the start area. After the announcements, we were then asked to line up at the start line. There were not enough people for separate corrals or a wave start, but there were finish time markers, so you were expected to position yourself alongside the time you thought you were going to complete the race in. I stood in the 2:30-3:00 hour markers, hoping my finish would be closer to 2:30! 9 o’clock came and we were off!
The race started with a full loop of the athletics track. You can just see me to the left of the picture. There were no pace bunnies that I could see. The boost of the spectators at the start was great, allowing to be swept along with the other runners, and not feel a thing. This is where I pick my targets. I look around at people in my time category (or usually the corral) and see if I can stick with them, or even beat them. Sometimes this works, but most times it doesn’t! In any case it gives me something to focus on later on in the run. The first 2k was on high, but level, ground. I did my, now, usual thing of running the faster Ks of the race at the start. The 3rd K was on a down hill, so I tried to pick up the pace, to reserve time for when the hills came a long. I was running behind a guy and 3 girls chatting. They were loud, and as I wasn’t wearing headphones at this stage, I could hear their conversation loud and clear. It was amusing, and applicable to me. The guy was telling them about his dating experiences – I’m assuming he had started dating again after separating with a wife or longtime girlfriend. And he must have been in his late 30s, early 40s and he was going on about how he was looking for a younger lady. His reasoning was single women in their 40s were either desperate to have kids or had let themselves go and didn’t care about what they looked like, and were unfit. The words he used were much funnier than how I have put it (as I cant remember enough to make it “read” funny). It made me laugh at the time, and I did provide a sarcastic comment as I went past. It was more due to me being one of those said women…. I am a single woman in my early 40s no kids! But I am not desperate for them, and I would hope I haven’t let myself go! It just amazes me what “some” men think and how they generalise! But as I said, I was more amused then offended. By this time the athletics track was well behind, and we were on the local streets, running towards Luton Hoo. This is the start of the inclines and hills. My last 2k of this section I started to slow down. But I am pleased to say I ran without any stops to this point, which was around 29 minutes. The 5th K was the steepest hill of around 49m elevation. But I must say the views were beautiful! My splits were 6:46, 6:55, 6:18, 7:00, 9:18 for a 5K time of 36:17
This next section I can really only describe with hills hills hills!! It was run through the beautiful grounds of the Luton Hoo. Lovely greenery and views of the hills and a lake, and the grand house! The scenery was the distraction, but it was very hard work. Because this section was a loop, you knew that that any luxury you were feeling with the declines was going to be counteracted by coming right back up it on the way back! Although the inclines were not as steep, they were just very long and gradual! I think that might be worse. There was still great support from the local cadets and volunteers, shouting cheering and offering motivation. The water stations were here too! Only water was offered throughout the race, they felt further apart then I was used to, too. No public spectators were allowed in the grounds. Another runner was being really supportive – herself shouting words of encouragement as other runners came past or had slowed down. She encouraged me a few times too. At the inclines, I resorted to run/walking, so I would pass her when I was running, and she’d pass me when I was walking. She did well to run consistently through the hills. One day I will be able to do that! My splits were 7:51, 7:20, 6:43, 7:55, 8:30 bringing the 10K to 1:14:37, which makes a 5k time of 38:20. These splits with the hilly section impressed me, but maybe I should try and increase my speed on the downhills, to even out the pace a little!
The start of this section was great, it was descending that great big hill that we came up to enter the Luton Hoo. I was able to pick up my feet a little here, so that was good. The next part was running through the town centre. The crowds increased at this point. This was because the Finish line was here. We actually have to pass the finish line, and go further out and back again. This point all the bulk of the runners are finishing! The Sub 2 hour runners, that I aspire to become one of, were getting cheered through! It is great to see them finishing but disheartening to know that you are only about halfway through. lol! I kept plodding a long and accepting the cheers for me as I went passed. 🙂 My splits were 6:19, 7:35, 7:24, 7:17, 8:19 bringing the 15K to 1:51:31, which makes a 5k time of 36:54!
Now down to the last quarter. I was starting to feel tired at this point. I was glad I had brought Clif Shot bloks with me as I needed them. I also decided to plug my headphones in at this point, hoping some upbeat music will help me a long my way. Now only the slightest of inclines was affecting me. We ran through a residential part of Luton at this point. A few people were outside in their front gardens clapping us through. A nice lady was handing out jelly babies, which I gladly took a couple of. Thank you! 🙂 This section finished up by running through Wardown Park, where the Luton Parkrun is held. My splits were 7:27, 7:25, 7:34, 7:48, 7:53 bringing the 20K to 2:29:38, which makes a 5k time of 38:07.
The final section and there were only a few of us left! My last full 1K I was much slower than I should have been. I was about ready for it to be over at this point, so I walked more than I should have. The last water station was there and I took advantage of this. A 7:39 min/km pace, which truly was not that bad for the 21st kilometer. I walked over the last bump of the road and then could see the finish line in the distance. There were a few spectators and a lot of volunteers and marshals with their high-vis jackets on. But the cheering helped me to kick it up a notch! I was also looking out for my family too as I was excited to see them for the first time at the end of a race. I saw them as I blasted through to the finish in a pace of 5:55 min/km. It’s amazing how fast you can run at the finish line! That brought my, watch measured, finish time to 2:37:53! I was very happy with that time, especially with the hills that I encountered. It just goes to show that I may have matched my PR if those hills weren’t there!!! 🙂
The official time was 2:37:48.
To some up… I really enjoyed my first race back home! And I was especially pleased that the medal was Purple!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Because we all know that …
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