Pleshey Half Marathon (Essex Championships)

Heading into the half marathon, I actually felt a little nervous. Nothing like a major marathon but after the season I have had, the only thing really missing for me is a better half marathon PB. To give myself the best chance in the race I decided to have a bit of a taper and reduce my running in the days leading up to the race.

I totalled a very “easy” 35 miles for the week prior to race day and really reeled in any effort in the later part of the week. The race falling two weeks before Chicago, gave me the best opportunity to run well and be able to recover for October 7th. The only downside to the race falling on the weekend that it did was the (sad) matter of the Hatfield Forest Parkrun finale falling the day before. The last event at the Forest was something I couldn’t really miss, over the last couple of years Parkrun has been such a great part of my Saturday mornings, helping make new friends while also improving my fitness along the way. I decided the best thing for it was to drive or be driven to the start, saving my legs the best I could while also being able to get involved. With Clare working locally she was able to be my taxi for the morning and cart me around.

Upon arriving at the forest I was greeted by none other than Batman. My favourite superhero at the gate to one of my (favourite) places. Some would say it was like a dream come true, but unfortunately Batman hasn’t aged well and actually looks rather like Phil Chaplin when you see him in person. I made my way to the start for the final time where everyone had gathered for Chris’ emotional speech and briefing. I know the Forest Parkrun means a lot to Chris and I will always be thankful to him for bringing the event to my doorstep.

It was the final event, and I would be lying if I didn’t say I would have like to win but I had to be sensible and Sunday had to be my main focus. Thankfully any doubt or required self discipline was instantly removed out of my hands, not only had young speedster Afferwerk Rossom made the trip but so had Billericay’s Crispian Bloomfield. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest and was actually rather pleased as now I knew that even if I had run at my very quickest a win would have been a big ask.

The event was great as always, a lovely atmosphere as we made our way around the 5,000 (well 4,900 this week) metre off road course. As expected the race was battled out by Afferwerk and Crispian who pushed each other around the course to almost a course record of 15:59. As much as I wanted to get involved it was nice to plod around the forest watching the fast boys do battle. I finished the final parkrun in 5th position in 17:37, ok so not quite a plod but a slower than my target half marathon pace the following day. The course being around 100/150m short also helped the time which was more realistically around 18 minutes or over. I enjoyed the rest of the morning chatting with many of the Parkrun regulars and to Crispian. It was great to talk about some of his achievements while I tried to pick up advice where I could a he has definitely been there and done it as far as running is concerned.

Around the lake one last time…..
After the run me and Clare had a pretty chilled afternoon, as Saturdays probably should be. A bit of shopping in Chelmsford, food and some quality time together which made a nice change for one of us not to be working or me participating in some sort of sport.

The Springfield Striders Pleshey half marathon arrived on the calendar and was once again chosen as a Grange Farm club championship race. This would be my third time running the race and is one I thoroughly enjoy, thanks to its cheap entry, local location and the plenty of familiar faces it attracts. The race is also host to the Essex half marathon championships so good company is assured and I was under no illusions that my recent race winning streak would come to a close.

It was a lovely warm sunny morning, perfect conditions for pretty much anything but running. It certainly seemed to bring most local runners out to play and I could name everyone I spoke to before the event but it would drag on so long that if I haven’t lost you as a reader already, I almost certainly would have by the end.

The race started up hill slightly which I quite like, as it splits up the pack quickly while also keeping the pace reasonably honest. To no surprise Paul Molyneux broke away from the field quickly and effortlessly and I tried to settle into my goal pace as soon as I could and found myself running alongside Tim Woulfe for the first part of the race. As much as I wanted to chat, today I really felt I was on the limit and any talking might scupper the race at a later stage. Someone who didn’t mind chatting up in front was Mark Newton, I focused on him and Pete Robinson up ahead and it just looked effortless as they talked running at 5:30’s per mile of something silly! 
Me, Alex and Tim grouped together following Chris Burgoyne up in front we had a nice group together however it didn’t really last long. As we passed the 3 mile marker, Tim the short distance expert  joked “that’s me done”, although joking it was a lovely thought that if we were running 5k it would all be over. We wasn’t though and the early stages passed quickly but one thing I did notice was that I was never really completely comfortable. The pace certainly didn’t feel silly but I have always said that 13.1 miles is my favourite race distance. Why? Because it doesn’t hurt from the start….. maybe I just haven’t been working hard enough all this time. It could also however have been down to the heat on the day as I found myself wiping sweat away after a couple of miles.

At around 5 miles the group had completely split up, Alex pushing on ahead and Tim dropping back a little. That was pretty much how it stayed for the majority of the race, although I had hoped to feed off the others company in the build up to the race my plan of keeping Chris in sight for as long as possible was still well on at the half way stage.

The route through quiet country lanes was pleasant and I was very grateful for the shade provided by hedges and trees on the way round. I was also grateful to my family for coming out to support, as always they try to come along to races and seem to enjoy it as much as I do.

The rest of the race was just trying to maintain leg speed and a good pace as I was aware a sub 1.15 was fading as I slipped to and seemed to stay around 5:50 pace for rest of the race. Pleshey isn’t a hilly course as such but it certainly isn’t flat and the hard work uphill is rewarded with some nice downhill sections. I passed my family for the final time as we headed left away from the finish and I was probably struggling the most at this point. However having completed the course twice previously I knew that a hard earned downhill gradient wasn’t far away and focused my attention on making it to that section.

The penultimate mile, although running into a headwind, has a gradual decline back into the village and it was here I thought there was a possibility of catching the guys in front. I was tired – no doubt about it – but one minute I thought it was definitely possible but ten strides later I found myself checking my stride a little as I convinced myself the gap was too large.

One thing for sure was that I was closing in on both Alex and Chris in the closing stages which was very encouraging, but not working as hard as they had at some point earlier in the race to gain the advantage it was probably inevitable! I hadn’t expected to be so close to Chris at the finish if I’m honest, especially with the way he has been running of late and knowing Alex is more than competent at this distance I was content enough with my position as I just didn’t quite have the legs to close them enough in the final mile! Probably not 100% accurate but looking at Strava in the final stage of the race I covered the final quarter of a mile in the same time as the race winner Paul Molyneux, if correct I suppose it’s a positive stat but to me shows I should have left more out on the course somewhere. What good is having the fastest finish to a race if you can’t compete for the other 12.8 miles?

I crossed the grass to finish with the clock at least displaying 1:15 something so I suppose I could count it as target met but it was hard not to be a little disappointed especially as the conditions could have been much worse, although not exactly favourable.

I finished in 6th place in both the race and the Essex championship in a personal best and club record time of 1:15:42.

Link to race results
Link to Strava activity
After the race I joined Alex, Chris and Paul for a warm down. Little did I know Chris was planning a 5 mile route to cool down but thankfully this came to our attention early enough so me and Paul could turn around. It was nice to chat to a guy who has exceeded the club running scene and is easily of national running standard. In a few weeks all the guys mentioned above will be participating in the Amsterdam marathon and I will be tracking and wishing them all well from the comfort of a sun lounger in Miami. As we say over here in the US “go get em”

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