‘Well done. You are strong today. I think, if it’s less windy, you will run 63 minutes.’
If there’s one thing that stands out from the brief conversations I have with Ethiopian and Kenyan runners (or in this case, Jordanian via Kenya) after races, it’s that they tend to have a sky’s-the-limit optimism that British runners lack. I’ve never heard them grumble about injuries or talk negatively before a race. Having said that, I think it’s fair to say I’m not going to run a 63 minute half marathon any time soon, regardless of what the wind is doing.
My girlfriend came along to a second race in two weeks, which made getting warmed up and getting rid of extra layers before the start much easier. Apparently it’s impossible to strike up conversations with other WAGs, HABs (?) or other spectators that don’t revolve around running, so I appreciate her willingness to stand for an hour and wait for me to run back to the start. I’d assumed that the lead car might have been relaying information back to the start area for the announcer, but apparently everyone was kept in suspense until the leading runners finally appeared.
After a swift first mile (around 4.44), a small leading group formed running at about 5-minute pace. I was surprised by how relaxed I felt at that speed, and as we went through 10km (30.51) I was just starting to think how great it would be if the group (now four) kept up this even tempo when Thomas Abyu made the first of several surges. His tactic seemed to be to drift to the back of the group and then to rush past and run hard for about a minute, looking over his shoulder as he went to see whether he was doing any damage.
I had to work pretty hard to catch up to him, and I realised that Anthony Ford was struggling to get back to us. At that point I had a decision to make: stay with Anthony (a far better runner than me) and try to run at an even pace, or try to go with Abyu and Abu-Rezeq at the front. Except that you don’t really think it through at the time – it’s not like there’s time for a quick cup of tea and a list of pros and cons. I gradually worked my way back to the lead two, at which point they slowed down. I decided to lead for a while, trying to run at an even pace and as close to 5-minute miles as possible.
The advantage of being in the lead is that you can start to tell yourself that you’re in control and, if you tell yourself often enough, you occasionally start to believe it. Sometimes though, you’re just giving two better runners a free ride. A few minutes later Abyu resumed his sprint-look-wait tactics, with Abu-Rezeq following easily and me slowly working my way back to them. We played this game up until shortly before the ten-mile mark.
At this point the course dipped down sharply before rising for just long enough to do a bit of damage. Abyu sprinted down the hill and up the other side – one surge too many for me. I like to get into a rhythm and hold it. For the last four miles I’d been running to the beat of his drum, and this was one drum roll too far. I backed off, going through ten miles in 50.20. Still on for a decent PB if I could keep going.
Abyu and Abu-Rezeq opened up a lead of about 50 meters, and then held it there, checking over their shoulders to make sure I wasn’t gaining on them. At this part of the course we turned back along the same road we’d run out on, so we passed runners coming the other way at the four mile mark. I tried to persuade myself that the leading duos casual glances back towards me were becoming more frequent, that they were worried and that the shouts of encouragement from the other runners (‘you’ll catch them!’) might actually be more than wishful thinking, but in the end they held the gap to the end.
I finished close enough to watch the sprint finish – Abu-Rezeq getting the better of Abyu – and finished in 66.13. I was pleased with the time, but also with the fact that I was able to remain competitive until the ten mile mark. I think there’s a lot to be said for talking yourself up (to yourself, in your own head) during races. Perhaps that’s one of the things the winners of this world excel at. I asked Abu-Rezeq how the race had gone at the end and he said ‘I knew I would win, but I waited until the end.’ Simple. Maybe that’s all there is to it. Believe Your Own Bullshit (BYOB) has a nice ring to it as a confidence-inducing maxim. I may have to do a fair bit of this at London.
I followed the race with a really hard week and paid the price by coming down with a bit of a bug at the weekend. I seem to be on the mend now, though and the hay, as they say, is in the barn. I’m told that I should see the extra couple of days rest as a blessing in disguise at this stage. All I have to do now is get to the line in one piece!