Running column: An accidental personal best, raspberry liquorice and realising it’s time for a rest

Mark Armstrong after setting a new personal best at the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong after setting a new personal best at the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Picture: Alison Armstrong


Milling around your starting pen before a race is an odd experience.

Mark 'carbs' up the night before the race. Picture: Mark ArmstrongMark 'carbs' up the night before the race. Picture: Mark Armstrong

There’s a mixtures of nerves, anticipation and excitement; it’s often how you use these that determine the relative success or failure of your race.

I looked around at the start of the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday and the nervous energy emanating from the runners was tangible. Some people will have built a whole year’s training round this event and it had come down to the next couple of hours.

But I felt slightly removed from all the angst that often accompanies the start of a race.

I was just going to enjoy the event – remove the pressure of chasing a time that I’ve saddled myself with in the past. It’s liberating.

Some last-minute fuelling before the race. Picture: Alison ArmstrongSome last-minute fuelling before the race. Picture: Alison Armstrong

My hard running had been done for the year – the marathon at Nottingham became my priority this year and it took a lot out of me. I had barely run in the two weeks between the full marathon and Royal Parks.

MORE: Read about Mark’s marathon experience in Nottingham

This was just going to be the race that topped off a good year’s running.

Less than two hours later…well 1-48:40 to be exact, I had set a new half marathon personal best.

Was I aiming for it? No…but that’s why it happened.

The Royal Parks Half Marathon starts in Hyde Park. Picture: Mark ArmstrongThe Royal Parks Half Marathon starts in Hyde Park. Picture: Mark Armstrong

In the past I’ve built up races in my mind for months and taken the enjoyment out of it, the competitive beast within too often taking hold.

But on Sunday I just ran to feel with the occasional look at my GPS watch. It wasn’t easy…in fact the first couple of miles I could almost hear my whole body saying: “Really? We’re doing this again?”

But I just kept a nice, steady pace around the 8:15 per mile mark and kept on top of my fuelling (raspberry liquorice…yum) really well.

I saw my wife, Alison, cheering me on at the 10km point and it was one of those moments when you really appreciate the ability to run and take part in these kinds of events. Who knows when that’s going to be taken away?

By mile 10 it was starting to get a little tougher and it still worries me how quickly you can go from feeling fine to barely being able to put one foot in front of the other.

But ‘the wall’ didn’t come (I didn’t even need to eat any mini cheddars…) and I knew when I got to mile 12 that I was going to set a good time for me.

Running down the Horse’s Guard parade on the home straight will go down as one of the highlights of my year. It felt like all the hours of training and worrying about niggles had manifested itself in this moment…and it felt wonderful.

MORE: Don’t let your ego spoil your running

I feel pretty exhausted now, several months of hard training has taken its toll, so much so that I’m sure I could hear my knees begging for a bit of mercy when I gingerly ambled down the stairs on Monday morning.

It hasn’t stopped me from turning my attention to next year’s race calendar. The London Marathon is out as mentioned in last week’s article but if you’re not careful, by the time you start thinking about next year, all the big race events are fully booked.

I want to keep things a bit more local next year and I will be concentrating on half marathons for a while with a view to another full in the second half of the year.

But for now I just need to give the legs a rest. I’ll keep things ticking along with a few easy runs each week before ramping it up again in the new year with Neil’s help.

I know I need to stay relaxed when it comes to my approach to events, but that hasn’t stopped me wanting to go faster.

For now, I need a bit R&R – rest and repair in my case.

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