Last weekend saw the introduction of pure road running races. No adventure marathons, no mud, no trial runs, no mountains, just loop upon loop of tarmac…I could barely contain my excitement. 

13 miles up Benidorm strips and on the seafront. I had not given the run much thought as I had signed up as an excuse for a weekend away in the sun more than anything. Run club had been cancelled the week before so the last time I ran was two weeks ago, a modest 13k around Maidstone. However, with spirits high in the group I travelled with and the sun shining all day I began to warm to the idea of running that evening.

The race started at 6 pm (I am assuming Spanish folk do not like running in the heat) which gave us all day to register and eye up the competition. At events in the UK, there is ALWAYS  a batch of fun runners or people that are not going to be taking the run seriously. There are so many of them that anyone taking a race seriously stands out like a sore thumb. However, in Spain this is reversed, everyone was skinny and kitted out in head to toe Lycra and running gadgets. There was not a single fun runner bar three men from the north of the UK who had come along on a stag do.

The majority of the field were running the 10k race rather than the half marathon, feeling deflated by the combination of professionals and minimal half marathon runners  I was preparing to be the last person across the finish on the 13 miler.

At the start, the heavens started to open. Music blared from the start line band, everyone was cheering and the support was something else. People were stood on their balconies, lining the streets, crammed into cafes and stopped in cars on the roads that were open to cheer us all off, and boy was there a lot of us. I can safely say it was the most atmospheric start line I have stood on in terms of support and build up.

After a while, the gun went off and I started my journey. Feeling well I jogged off fresh and bouncy, enjoying the support down the stip from the stag and hen parties. The sun was setting the streets lit up and the crowds swarmed the streets, it was buzzing. This, of course, makes for quick running, I get a bit carried away. However, fortunately, I am beginning to notice when I am not pacing myself, it is something that is taking time. I really can not stand people overtaking me but I am learning to let it slide and think of the bigger picture. So after 2 miles of bombing around and enjoying the atmosphere, I slowed down a fraction and set in for the long run ahead at a steady Eddy pace.

Seeing as everyone in this race looked like a professional athlete I took advantage and watched how people ran, their form, their pace, their posture, everything. I began to apply the running drills Paul at my gym had given me and rather than adopting my steady foot shuffle of a run. I lifted my knees and took elongated smooth paces, covering more ground per stride with less energy consumption. For anyone trying to improve their running without wanting to cover miles upon miles during the weeks, I would highly recommend running drills for improving efficiency.

At the end of the 10k, a lot of people peeled off towards the finish line. I was rather tempted to do the same and join the rest of my party in the surrounding bars, but my distance was plastered across my chest and the crowd were cheering me on to run the 21k, so off I went. By this point the front runners of the half marathon were coming up to the split to cross the finish, I was maybe pacing myself a bit too slowly for once! Time to speed up a tad.

The course took us up through the old town, the streets still packed with people both locals and drunk tourists offering shots to runners on passing. Live music was pumping from all the bars and from street discos that had been put up for the event and I felt strong running out onto the second half of the course. Catching up with a tall lanky boy who looked to be running a similar pace I set myself behind him and took his lead onto the beachfront deciding to use him a pacer.

Everything was going rather well, the pace was on point, I had not stopped and I felt good considering it was the furthest I had run in half a year. Pottering up a long but not difficult hill I began to feel a bit sick, might be something to do with the huge lunch I ate and sweets I scoffed minutes before the start. Ignoring this I carried on jogging along behind my pacemaker.

After a while, my lead began to slow down and I was jogging on top of him with my Darth Vadar running breath hitting the back of his neck. He stopped and told me to overtake him, whoops I think this might have been a bit of a telling off. I apologised and jogged past, feeling a bit lost without feet to follow I took off in search of new, faster feet to follow. In an attempt to catch up with a group of people 100m up the road my stomach did a 180 and the contents of my stomach appeared on the road via my face. “uh oh, this isn’t good” I thought to myself. A Spanish policeman marshal shouted something at me and started to walk over to me. “Can you be arrested for vomiting in the streets of Benidorm?” I thought. Not wanting to find out I shouted “Lo Siento” at him a few times and ran off (my GCSE Spanish teacher would be so proud of me for my only applied Spanish being “I am sorry” for when I am sick across her countries streets). Fortunately, I was near my hotel and so took a quick detour to make myself sick in the loos. Feeling much better for Jelly babies and Jaffa cakes no longer having a dance off in my tummy I had a new lease of life.

I caught up with my pacing man again, overtook him as we reached the double back to the finish line, around 7k out. Determined to make up the lost ground I ran past him, conscious that the 2-hour marker flag runner was catching me up. On the double back the “Out of time” bike and car were following a couple of runners-up the hill. “Christ the slowest people on the course are not that far behind” I worried. Panicked at the lack of fun runners and the prospect of being last I upped the pace and ran along the seafront a bit faster than I should have done.

On exiting the seafront and returning to the old town I thought I was done. Running down the cobbled streets I danced and hopped around high fiving children as I ran past and generally rather a happy bunny. However, I was not nearly done, the course veered off back towards the seafront and away from the finish line. “NOOOOOOOOO” I cried internally, “How am I not done!?” A 5k marker appeared.

Without going into too much detail the last 5k was a bit of a trawl. I had spent most of my remaining energy running through the old town and dancing on thinking I had finished. However, determined to not stop I jogged on watching all the stag and hen dos on the seafront cheering us on. The support was still in full flow and the vibe of the race still amazing, truth be told it was this that kept me going. This and the worry that if I stopped one of the stag dos that had been chasing runners would manage to catch up with me, pick me up and carry me into the bars. Usually, I wouldn’t be opposed to this but I wanted my medal.

As I turned off the seafront to the strip the 2-hour marker man ran past me. *Insert profanities here* I was not happy. I ran to keep up with him, following his feet, trying to stretch out my gait as I had done at the start. Finally finding a rhythm I jogged alongside the little group that had accumulated around him. On reaching the finish line, and always one for a bit of showing off, I sprinted up the finish line hill and collected my medal. Slightly surprised by this excess energy I wandered around for a bit watching the remaining finishers and noting that my legs did not feel as bad as past runs, nor did I feel tired. This pacing lark was obviously the way forward and clearly worked. Result!

The next day I did not ache or have any problems which again is rare for me. 2 hours for a half marathon on the face of it is pretty shocking timing for someone that is not new to running. However, from the point of view that I am learning to pace myself over long distances on roads after a  swim and cycle I think this may well be the approach to running races I need to take. Rather than burning myself out in the first 7 miles I can slow it down, focus on technique and adapt my running technique from stop, sprint, stop, sprint to a slow, continuous, more effective run. 

This was by far the most valuable run to date. Learning to apply newly learnt techniques in drills and forcing myself to quash my competitive nature to an extent and let people overtake me. Ironman will not be a race for me it will be a case of finishing and for that to happen I will need to pace myself, rather than get caught up in the thrill of the competition and running off too quick.

Lessons learnt:

  • Road runs can be fun with drunk spectators and live music.
  • Do not eat a massive lunch a few hours before a long run or gorge on sweets on the start line, you will be ill.
  • Pacing is everything, you can run an entire race and still feel fresh at the end if your pacing is on point.
  • Think about how you run. If you adopt the shuffle as a means to get by you will exhaust yourself early on and won’t cover the ground as efficiently. Run with cause and run with technique to the best of your ability.
  • If you are going to high five children spectators do so with care, they are a lot smaller and you might miss and clock their face as you run past rather than their hand (Note: this was a man in front of me, I do not hate children that much)
  • If you need to put yourself behind someone to pace yourself then do so, just do not run too close to them or they may get a bit angry at your heavy breathing down their neck.
  • If you feel like you are going to be sick, make yourself sick otherwise it will just come up and take you by surprise anyway, better to plan the exit!
  • Look at the course plan before you set off so you do not pre-empt the finish and use all your energy up prematurely dancing in the streets.
  • If you have energy at the finish line there is nothing wrong with a little sprint over the line.