I've been feeling a bit lost recently. My training over the summer was sporadic at best and it's shown in my recent marathon results. I can't seem to get close to five hours, let alone below it. Well, I'm having a bit of a marathon splurge again to the point where each marathon will be the last Long Run before the next.
This time, I have the luxury of three weeks between events. Last weekend was the Marathon des Villages which is followed three weeks later by the Preston Guild Marathon. I planned to do 20k this weekend and 10k next weekend in addition the the usual weekly sessions, thus tapering towards the Preston event.
And then, earlier this week, I saw there was a Half Marathon around the villages just north of St Emilion. A very local race and, better yet, you could pitch up on the day. So, after cheekily getting some child care sorted (Thanks, Sue!), I went over to use this as my substitute 20k slow run. The race is snappily titled, too: Semi Marathon des Satellites de St Emilion.
It's been more than 6 months since I went to a small club event and I'd forgotten just how genial they are. Amazingly, I got my race number faster than those who had pre-registered. The previous night, I had printed out and filled in the registration form, made a copy of my medical certificate and written out the cheque for the entry fee: The princely sum of 13 Euros. I walked up to the cashier's desk, handed over the papers and they gave me a race number. Just like that. The people queueing to collect their pre-paid numbers didn't look too chuffed.
It had rained overnight and the forecast was for more of the same but the sky got clearer and clearer as starting time approached. I decided to gamble and stashed the wind- and water-proof gear I had with me. I was just starting to get cold (shivering, actually) when the race started and I warmed up quickly in the first couple of kilometres.
There's not a lot to say about the course unless you're a wine buff. The only places of note we passed were some particularly good wine châteaux taking in the Montagne, Lussac, Puisseguin and St Georges. Added to this, the entire route was on roads which made me very glad I'd opted to wear my Brooks shoes; the ones with superb support and cushioning. Unfortunately, they're getting pretty worn now and I'll have to replace them soon.
In terms of profile, the course was mostly rolling hills with around 300 metres of ascent. None of it was particularly testing but the long climb between 8 and 10 kilometres was pretty gruelling.
I chose to try a new way of pacing myself. At my level of fitness, pace plans and negative splits are just not doing me any favours. Instead, I decided to try to maintain a steady effort level. I fixed on a breathing pattern (which I measure in steps per breath) that I knew represented a decent level of work on my part and varied my stride length to keep cadence as constant as possible. This means shorter steps and slow ascents coupled with long, loping descents.
Surprisingly, this worked pretty well and although my pace faded slightly between kilometres 16 and 19, I was able to pick it up again. I even had enough in the tank to go for it over the last 500 metres. The weather was also pretty kind. Although the wind blowing and getting gustier as the thunderheads rolled in, it didn't rain until the last few kilometres. I guess the actual athletes got to stay dry...
I finished in around 2h10m but will have to wait for the official time. This is great because I was feeling pretty decent and it was almost 20 minutes quicker than my half-way split at the Marathon des Villages last week. Perhaps there is some hope for me after all? It's just the tonic I needed to keep me chipping away at my marathon times.
One last thing: The post-race swag. No medal. No T shirt. No goodie bag. But there was a pot luck bottle of wine and I came out very well from this with a 2001 Montagne St Emilion. I'll be sharing that with friends very soon.