Friday, 28 April 2017

Sally's return to the roads - Sheffield Half 2017

I gave up road running 4 years ago after finally achieving my marathon sub 3 with 2:57 in the Amsterdam Marathon (at the 8th attempt!).

Road running for me had become a chore, a slave to the watch. Each session was spent chasing times, rather than enjoying what was after all a hobby. I was enjoying fell and trail running much more. The variety of terrain made each mile different so there was no point trying to work out paces, instead, it was more about running to feel and running each mile on merit. I was getting some good results from this approach, gaining selection for the Great Britain team for the Trail World Championships at ultra marathon distances for the last three years.

So, what made me suddenly come back to road running for this years Sheffield Half marathon? It was a local race but most importantly hilly!

The Sheffield Half Hill
The uphill first half, followed by 6 miles of fairly steep downhill appealed to the fell runner in me. I was a much stronger runner than when I was previously road running due to all the hill running as well as regular strength and conditioning work.

So, the experiment was, how much speed had I lost through fell running and could a half marathon be done on fell fitness? Instead of the speed intervals and tempo runs I was going to stick to what I enjoyed, shorter fell races for speed work and a hilly Dark Peak road run of 10 miles or so on a Wednesday night.

My half marathon build up included:

  • Weekly mileage (20 weeks) of 55-76 miles.
  • 7 Fell races, varying from 6 - 21 miles, the last of which was Edale Skyline (21miles) 2 weeks prior to the half.
  • Howarth Hobble ultra marathon (33miles), 5 weeks before, also the GB selection race.
  • 1 Parkrun, 6 weeks before.

The Parkrun was the first time in 4 years I had run fast and consistent miles. It was a PB at 19:04! The mile splits were 6:006:086:04. I wouldn't have thought I could do 1 mile at that pace, never mind 3 in a row!

Come half marathon day, I had no idea how I was going to do. I didn't work out any splits, targets or paces, instead I planned to ignore the watch and run to feel. After all, this is how I'd been running all my fell races. On the climb up to the Norfolk Arms, around 5 miles in I over took 2nd lady and from then onwards I held onto 2nd place. I had to work incredibly hard towards the end, I was feeling the lungs more than the legs by the 11-12th mile but was aware 3rd lady was right behind. The last mile was done in 6:01min/mile despite a slight uphill, and I only finished 10 seconds ahead of her in the end! My overall average pace was 6:27min/mile, giving me a time of 1:24:47. This was 2 minutes slower than my PB but that was set on a pancake flat course at the North Lincolnshire Half, 4 years ago.

So what did I learn:

  • Speed and interval training is not needed for me to race a fast half marathon. When chasing road times I felt I picked up niggles from the high intensity sessions on hard surfaces. To perform at half and marathon distances the risk of these sessions (greater loading on tissue) may not make up for the reward (faster top end speed). 
  • Consistent miles over months and years is the key to progress. The majority of these miles need to be done at an easy pace, but this race showed me that these base miles don't have to be race specific. Hilly off road routes which involve walking can be a valid method of getting these base miles in and are kinder to your body than high road mileage.  
  • Adding strength and conditioning to my training seems to have helped me both maintain (or even improve) my road speed and reduce the number of 'niggles' I experience. This is in line with current research findings. 
  • You can take the stress away from road running by ignoring the watch and running to feel. And it can be just as successful!

Howarth Hobble 2017 - I finished 2nd lady securing selection for GB.