It’s three years since I ran Congleton Half Marathon. It’s normally on the same day as Chester Marathon which I’ve run since. However, due to my lack of distance training I decided that 13.1 miles would be more than enough to work with.
My last visit to Congleton was during the 13 Challenge and was somewhat affected by the fact I’d come immediately off a nightshift. In hindsight, that was not the best ever running decision I’ve made. But live and learn.
I collected my number and timing chip and went looking for other Stockport Harriers. Despite having been a member since February, I don’t know many people due to having been injured for most of my membership. I eventually found a few which made me feel a little more part of something. This isn’t a major thing as I’ve been running as an individual for the first 10 years. However as a big running club, and one with this race in its championship calendar, I’d rather expected to see lots of people from Stockport. It turns out that several had gone to Chester. And the rest I presume stayed in bed!
As it happened, I drove to registration via the last few miles of the route. It’s known as ‘Sting in the tail’ as it has a short sharp hill at mile 12. For reasons I don’t know, the route for 2016 was different with runners heading down the hill first. The route itself is that of a ‘lollipop’ with a common few miles at the start & end and a loop in between.
The race started in the middle of a non-closed road. This resulted in 400 people being herded en masse to the start line and sent off. Normally the faster runners will gravitate towards the start line and slower ones behind them. I think this herding jumbled a lot of runners up and the first mile or so involved a lot of order changing.
I’ve been trying to implement my ‘Chi Running’ approach which worked to an extent as I sped down the hill and kept going. The runners I spoke with at the start were slower than my plans so I soon passed them. Congleton is an odd course – it’s fast, but not flat at all, something that seems to work for me.
My first few miles were faster than I have been running for a while. I wasn’t flat out but then I also had a lot of race to cover. My memory of the old course was faded and entirely useless. Therefore the need for sensible pacing was very high.
After about 5 miles I saw a group up ahead which included a couple of Harriers and their pace was good. Slightly conservative, but very sensible. So I sneaked into the group and got talking with them. Turns out they were pretty high-calibre runners and were running to a plan with several PBs being targeted.
Discovering one of the evening coaches from the club in this group also gave me more reason to get back to training!
Longer Strides and the Sting
I stuck with the group until about mile 10. I saw from my watch that at the current pace I’d be on for about 91 minutes. Significantly faster than my recent form. However, too close to missing the 90 minutes which I’d first managed at Anglesey.
In order to be inside 90 minutes I had slightly more than 20 minutes to do the last 3.1 miles. Which was going to be tough, especially with the hill. I figured it was unlikely, but I’d increase my pace a little and see how things went on the hill.
Passing the 12 mile marker, I remembered it was here, three years ago, that my body decided it was too tired. I struggled through the last mile in 2013. Today I felt strong and attacked the hill alongside another runner who I used as a pacer. This allowed me to get a good exit from the hill and I caught a few people before the mile was ended and as the crowds along the finish stretch came into view.
As I approached the finish gantry, the clock just ticked beyond 1h30m00s. However, I’d taken a few seconds to get to the starting mat on which the chip began its timing. So my official chip time was 1h29m52s.
Having been out of sorts with the bursitis I had worried my pace had left me. Today I proved to myself that I could still run a measured race. This was my second fastest half-marathon and my second sub-90 minute result. I’m chuffed!