Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Richmond Park Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 11th Edition
157.21 miles run and 58 miles biked and 1930 meters swam in 2023 races
Race: Richmond Park Half Marathon
Place: Richmond, UK
Miles from home: 4011 miles
Weather: 40s, cloudy, quite windy

This year has not been a good one for me for racing. I could sit and analyze why that has been for hours and believe me, I already have. Whether it’s getting older, just having not the best weather to race in, a lot of emotional things going on in my life, or a combination of all of the things, it doesn’t matter.  It's been an off year and I don't really know exactly why just yet. I have had some decent races and one in particular that got the monkey off my bank but none that I was like "Yes! That's a good one."  Alas.

On Halloween when I tweaked my knee on a run I thought it put the nail in the coffin for the crappy year. But then 19 days later, I was feeling pretty good after a training run earlier in the week that went off without a hitch and decided to run a half-marathon. I woke that morning NOT wanting to run the race more than I ever have before. I knew it wasn't going to be the race I had been planning to run all year and I had zero desire. I then proceed to run the best first 6 miles of a race in years.  But my knee protested and I dropped at mile 8. It stung at the time but I knew it was for the best.

This disappointment of my first ever DNF in a half-marathon was a assuaged by how well my knee had held up to over 2000 feet of downhill in 6 miles. Fast forward to nearly a month later, and I’ve had some ups and downs with this knee, and was unsure even a week before whether I was even going to do this particular race. However, as it was taking place in the outskirts of London and I was definitely going to go on this trip that I had booked regardless I figured I would show up in ole Blighty and see what was what.

Two days before the race I did a little sightseeing run of 7+ miles and other than being a little bit jetlagged, and a little bit out of shape because that was the longest run I have done in two months, the knee held up fairly well. Also, hey look! Big Ben. Parliament!

As well as this went, I figured I would simply go out and race to the best of my ability and play the entire thing by ear.

I was fortunate to partner with The Fix Events in this low-key event in the suburb of London called Richmond. Fans of the show Ted Lasso will know it as the location of the fictional soccer team in the show. This particular race would take place in Richmond Park, which is known to hold some very domesticated, but still wild, deer. The race had something going for it that I like, which was that it was four loops of the park to get the half-marathon distance. Other people do not like repetitive loops in a race, but I find them to be very easy to handle. 

Even though it was mid December, the weather in London had been very balmy as of late. In fact, on race morning, it was nearly in the mid 40s by the time we started at the absolutely LOVELY time of 9 a.m.. However, unlike the previous few days I had spent in the area, this was quite windy out in the park itself.  I couldn't tell if it was because of the open nature of certain sections or if it was always like this. Either way, it was howling.  

There was a very old-school feel to the race, in spite of chip-timing and race photographers and all the trappings one comes to expect for a well-run race. I finally realized what it was: no music. No pump up music was being played and I learned that was because this was a Royal Park. I had no complaints about the lack of tunes and Depeche Moded the whole morning. (Meaning, wait for it, I enjoyed the silence. I'll show myself out)

Photo credit http://markeaston.zenfolio.com/

After I got my bib number on the morning of the race, one of the organizers asked me to step up and say a few words to everyone in attendance. I jokingly told them that, in spite of our reputation as loud Americans, I had not simply grab the microphone and started talking to them but rather had to be asked. Not that I don’t like talking to runners, I just don’t like talking in the morning. I think what I said wasn't absolute gibberish. 

Soon after I finished, we lined up for the start where we would begin by running a little out and back to make up for lost mileage that we would need from the not-quite-3 1/2 mile loops and awaited the director's vocal gun signal. The Christmas tree counted down and away we went!

First 5k loop: 22:52 

Photo credit http://markeaston.zenfolio.com/
The course was more than half trail or dirt or grass underfoot. Moreover, more than the first half of each loop was quite hilly. I knew it was going to be a bit challenging for me and a test for my knee.  Haven't ever had a joint problem before I have been so cautious and worried. Muscle soreness or strains always seem like such a more minor thing in my head.

I felt surprisingly good as I often do on race morning. There’s something about putting on a bib number that completely changes. My foot is metaphysical nature and allows me to take minutes off per mile what I’m normally able to do on a training run. But I was cautious and had no major goals other than finishing injury free. By the time we are done are out and back on the grass and began our way to start the first loop. I was somewhere in the top 15. Again where I placed was pretty much, no consequence to me. But I still wanted to do the best I could with what I had. As I mentioned, the first part of each loop was rather twisty in tourney with a few muddy sections to run through, and some hills that seem to get higher as the day went on. I held my own on his up hills, which I’m notoriously bad at, but was a little bummed that I was unable to take advantage of the downhill running that I am also notoriously good at. My body wanted to run fast, but I knew I couldn’t risk the knee. That said, virtually anyone who passed me on the uphills was passed on the down hills on the other side. As it flattened out, and we ran a long, paved bike path, I could see in the distance the area where we had done our turnaround before the first loop began, now I knew what I had in store for me, and it was simply repeating this three more times.

Second loop: 24:00 

Photo credit http://markeaston.zenfolio.com/
I felt pretty good and passed one or two runners as one or two runners passed me. I had a brief mile that was my second fastest of the entire day where I thought I might somehow be throwing down an amazing negative split and shock even myself but just as quickly as the energy spurted, it left me. I began a cat and mouse game with a couple of runners here that would last for the entirety of the rest of the race. It was hard for me not to push too hard but also, it wasn’t like I was lollygagging out there either.  This was all that I had to give. The wind was very much in my face on the way out and the hills as usual took a great deal out of me. I finished the second loop still somewhere in the top 20 but was now beginning to feel some fatigue.

Third loop: 24:21

Almost a carbon copy of the second loop, with just 21 seconds separating the three miles. I began to realize, in spite of the relatively cool weather and wind blowing in our face, that I was absolutely dripping with sweat. Most people were dressed much more warmly as the sweat rivulets made me look like I was running in the heat of the summer. The uphills got more difficult to handle and the downhill got harder to hold back on. There were also plenty of non-race participants out on the course who, while we knew the course was open, they could have been a bit more giving to those of us wearing bib numbers. 

I just wanted to get to that last loop injury-free and bring it home. I went down the big hill on the back end of the loop and looked up to be almost eye to eye with a herd of about seven deer no less than ten feet away from me! No one else was even giving off a whiff of surprise as I let out a "Holy shit. Deer!" As we crested the final uphill on the last loop, I was hoping to find an inner well of strength and speed to power me along and give me a slightly better time. 

Photo credit http://markeaston.zenfolio.com/

Final Loop: 25:03

However, That speed didn't appear. I haven't run over a half-marathon distance since my marathon in April and with the least miles I have ever run in a month in November since I began recording my mileage back in 2006, I just didn't have the chops today. I also knew that as I grew weary, my form could slip and I could re-inure the knee. So I simply pushed forward, holding off a few runners as we bob and weave through those running the 10K (who had started after us) and finished by myself in the finish chute.

I was 32nd overall in my sixth slowest half-marathon ever in a time of 1:41:41. That said, in spite of its slowness, it’s probably my top five most proud moments of all of my 123 half-marathons. I ran within myself, not knowing what my knee would do, on a pretty challenging day even on a good knee. It seems, as of Monday and a flight home, that I am no worse for the wear today and that I might, just might be out of the woods.

The race itself was very well put together and I am sure that echoes all the races the Fix Events people do. I can definitely say that the next time I come back to England I will be looking to see if one of theirs is being run around me at that time. 

Thanks for such a warm welcome, England, and for helping me end a not-so-great year on a pretty solid note.

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