I was a bit unsure of my form going into this one. Originally I’d entered it with Jules, as she was looking for an end-of-summer target (and for me, a stepping stone to a London Marathon good-for-age qualifying sub-3:15 Luton Marathon in a few weeks time), but her shifts changed and she picked up a niggle in her hip which curtailed running for long enough to make the race a no-no. I’d missed quite a bit of mileage over the summer, nursing the achilles niggle I’d picked up after Challenge Roth. And then, 10 days before the race and just as it seemed my preparation was going a little better, I stepped off a kerb towards the end of a harder run and strained a calf. I’d rested it though, and it seemed OK in the couple of jogs I’d managed to fit in before this race.
The Saturday evening beforehand was spent cooking for Jules so she could watch Strictly, while I had the small matter of catching up with the Ironman World Championships, streaming live over the internet from Kona (and catching up with the gossip in the Tritalk chatroom) inevitably, this whole process is made more fun with a few tins of beer on the side. I got to bed not long after the athletes had started on the run and my favourite, Pete Jacobs, was looking on course for the win; I was five tins of beer to the good.
It was a very cold and misty bike ride over to the start, the first frost of this winter! It all looked a little chaotic at the Kassam Stadium and I jumped the baggage queue so I could get a little jog done on my way over to the start. It was already crowded on the startline so I squeezed in as best I could. We had the usual delays and so on while the various dignitaries did their stuff (Sir Roger Bannister was there to sound the klaxon for the start), and then, only 7 minutes late (last year it’d started 15 minutes late apparently), we were off.
I was stuck well down in the bunch, somewhere near the 1:50 pacemaker, and it took me a few hundred metres to get a bit of clear space, but after that I was more comfortable. I kept a careful eye on my GPS watch (a Forerunner 410), watching the average pace for each mile tick along. I had 6:40/6:45 in mind for these opening miles and apart from a bit of harder pace at mile 3 to catch up with a sizeable bunch, it all went OK. Despite years of experience I usually start off a bit too quickly and pay the price later on, but the watch made pacemaking easy.
Turned out the bunch had the 1:30 pacemaker in it (he wasn’t carrying a balloon like his slower compatriots were). They were blocking the road ahead and anyway, 1:30 was plenty fast enough for me so I jogged along behind them, feeling pretty comfortable. The sun was out and I got a few cheers from various Oxford Tri members along the way. We slowed slightly as we negotiated the narrower gravel path around Christchurch Meadow, but then a slightly faster pace down the next section brought us back onto target.
I was starting to wonder if I’d have enough energy left at the end to speed up away from the pacer, but as we turned on to the ring road he decided that he wasn’t going quickly enough and sped up anyway. I managed to keep with him for a mile or so but he got quicker and quicker and I wasn’t too bothered to catch him up. I knew that due to my slow start from further back I had a minute in hand over him and I could feel a little blister developing on one of my toes.
A last effort along the road back to the Stadium and then I was across the line, just as the finish clock ticked past 1:30. On chip time I’d comfortably beaten it. Provided I can get some longer runs done in the next few weeks, a sub-3:15 qualifying time at Luton looks on the cards.