On Saturday June 13th I did my first ever half-marathon, the Half on the Head – and I will never use the term “only a half” again (okay, maybe “never” is a bit strong, but certainly not for a week or two).
I went into this thinking that I’d take it fairly easy, and do it in 2 hours, or maybe 2:05 – after all, I recently ran 13.1 miles in training, in under 2:10, on a hilly course, without putting myself under any stress at all. It was going to be easy. It was, after all, only a half…..
I drove out to Ballyheigue nice and early (mainly because I left home way sooner than I needed to – I’m more used to running to Ballyheigue than driving there at this stage!) and met up with some of the Born To Run gang beforehand. There was a 10k as well as the half, and there was a great atmosphere, helped by Martin O’Sullivans expert MCing.
Conditions couldn’t have been better at the start, warm but not too hot, with just enough cloud cover to keep it cool, and a gentle breeze off the sea. That would soon change.
We set off from the seafront, and ran through Ballyheigue village, getting a great cheer from the 10k runners waiting for their start, and then turned north, and tackled the first of what would prove to be many, many hills! This first hill was tough enough, but was a taster of what was to come. I had run most of this course as part of the Tralee 100k Ultra, but had somehow forgotten most of it – funny how that happens. They say that women are programmed to quickly forget the pain of childbirth, as, if they remembered how bad it was, no sane woman would ever have more than one child, thus condemning humanity to gradually die out (or at least be taken over by people genetically inclined to REALLY like pain), and I think distance running must be similar – I vaguely remember suffering like a bastard on quite a few marathons, but, after a week or two, no marathon I’ve done seems that bad in retrospect. Until I do the same course again, then I tend to remember.
Within a mile of the start, the clouds miraculously parted, and the sun blazed from the sky. Just what you need on a hilly race. I soon realised that this was going to be tougher than I had thought. I still wasn’t getting how much tougher though.
The one problem that really struck me was that my pacing was all over the place. Having not done a half before, I didn’t have a natural feel for what pace I should be doing, unlike a marathon or 5k, and I ended up mixing up bits of sprinting with bits of walking, and not doing either particularly well.
The hills continued. I began to have the odd flashback to the 100k. I had kept the 2 hour pacer in sight for the first mile or so, but he soon disappeared into the distance. My legs were not in this at all – they felt heavy from very early on, and my stamina just wasn’t there.
When, at around mile 3, the 2:15 pacers blew past me as if I was standing still, I knew this was going to be a long day. Every time we hit a downhill section, I pushed as hard as I could, but my hill sections were awful, and, even if the whole thing had been downhill, I don’t think I would have done a particularly good time. Just not my day I think.
By the time I got to the halfway point, I decided to throw any notions of doing a time out the window, and just enjoy the race instead. And what a race it is – it must be one of the most scenic races in the world, especially on a day like this was, with amazing views out over the Atlantic, all the way across the Shannon Estuary to Clare, and the magnificent Brandon Mountains behind you. The section around Kerryhead, close to the sea, and back into Ballyheigue is well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.
I found it a little easier once I stopped worrying about my time, and other than one or two more tough hills, found the second half a bit easier. This was helped by the last few miles being mostly downhill. I remembered this road well from the Ultra, as I ran it with Jim from Born To Run, and I thought that Ballyheigue must be a mirage, as the more we ran that day, the further away it seemed to get! That section was probably the toughest part of the 100k for me, despite being downhill.
Today it wasn’t as bad – I had been getting the hamstring pain I had suffered in Tullaroan and Tralee back again, and the downhill seemed to ease it a bit.
I met another Born To Runner this time, John (a reader of this very blog incidentally!), and we stuck together for the last few miles.
I ended up walk/running the last few miles, and anyone who has ever heard me casting aspersions on those who run half-marathons can now rightfully laugh at me. This was as tough as any marathon I’ve run!
Myself and John crossed the line a few seconds short of two and a half hours, and I was well and truly beat. If you want to test your hill running abilities, this is the half to try – a really testing, and amazingly scenic course.
Well done to Marcus, Vivienne and company for organising it, although I swore I’d never run it again, I’ll probably have forgotten my suffering by next year, and be back for more!
Well done to everyone who ran it – if you did a good time here, you can be rightly proud of it.
On a slightly different note, well done to all those who ran the marathon and ultras in Portumna, especially the Born To Run, Kerry Crusaders, and The MCI gang!
Well done also to our clubmates who ran the Liverpool Rock ‘N Roll this weekend.
Next up for me is the Summer Solstice 10k – hopefully will have an easier day for that!