Since the Berlin Marathon, I’ve had my eyes on the St Neots Half Marathon and setting a new personal best. 

Whilst I had good results in the Great Stampede 5K and the Cambridge Town & Gown 10K, I wanted to gear my training to the half. That’s where I really thought I could cash in on a lot of those marathon miles and better my time of 1:28:45 set at Cambridge in March. 

The fly in the ointment was that after the Town & Gown 10K, I haven’t felt quite 100 per cent. Training hasn’t been as consistent as I would have liked but I’ve tried to listen to my body and not push it when it didn't want to be. 

In the week leading up to St Neots, I had a hard session at the start of the week before really prioritising rest. I tapered down the conditioning I undertake most days in an effort to get the legs feeling as fresh as possible. 

As the week wore on, I felt up for it and ready to give those 13.1 miles a proper effort. 

My wife, Alison, was my chauffeur for the day and as we drove down the A14 towards Cambridgeshire, it became increasingly clear that myself, and the 1,000-plus other runners, weren’t going to be enjoying ideal conditions. 

Let’s just say that if you woke up on Sunday and thought; ‘I’d love to fly a kite today’ - you’d have been in luck... 

Trees were swaying in the wind and there was the odd moment when I felt a gust buffet the car. 

“Let’s just hope that wind is behind me...” I said to Ally. 

After a good catch-up with Gavin Caney (Renegade Runner and former EDP writer) on the start line, I hoped that the 4:10km pace that I wanted to hold would feel pretty good from early on. 

As we set off after a mile, that pace wasn’t feeling as easy as I’d hoped. I was hitting the splits I wanted for the first couple of kilometres before I decided I was giving my watch too much mental energy; I turned it on to a face that didn’t tell me my pace. 

The St Neots course is not the hardest you’re ever likely to encounter in a half but it’s not the easiest either; the word undulating springs to mind (hilly to non-runners). 

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It was something of a relief to cast aside my gloves to Alison on the sidelines in the fourth mile; it had developed into one of those ‘minor’ things that had really started to bother me, which probably tells you that I wasn’t finding it as easy as I had hoped. 

I felt like I only properly settled into any sort of rhythm from the fifth mile onwards; I didn’t feel too obstructed by the wind but the make-or-break point on this course is miles eight to 10 as you come back into a village called Abbotsley. 

Keeping an eye out for Alison again helped me not to concentrate on how hard this was starting to feel but as we emerged through the other side of the village there’s a gradual incline out in the open where the wind was fully in the faces of each runner. 

Eastern Daily Press: Mark Armstrong in the fourth mile at the St Neots Half Marathon

I tried to stay relaxed and adjust my effort level; the last three miles of St Neots are steadily downhill, so it was just about getting through this part without leaving myself in too much of a hole. 

I didn’t know what pace I was doing but I got an indication when one of the 1:30 pacers pulled up alongside me. 

This wasn’t how I had planned the race to go; but I tried to dig in, thinking that perhaps I needed to realign my goal and just bring this in under 90 minutes. 

‘C’mon Mark, you’ve got about 20 minutes to go here – you can suffer that,’ I told myself. 

So, at mile 10 I gradually managed to pull away from the 1:30 pacer despite the wind hitting runners so hard at this point it was quite difficult to run in a straight line. 

But I had found something; I started to feel strong again and with two miles I gently increased the pace. 

Perhaps a PB was on after all. I turned my watch back on to an elapsed time face; it was going to be very close. 

Someone pulled alongside me with a mile to go and for some reason the competitor in me came out; I didn’t want to let them past – it's ridiculous really but it helped to ensure I finished the race as strongly as I could. 

As we came on to the home straight, I gave it all I had to the extent that I was desperately looking for something to lean on after I crossed the finish line. I settled for slumping on the grass bank. 

I looked at my watch – 1:28:40 – a five second PB. 

I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant when I say I think I am capable of faster but it was a really decent result in the circumstances. 

It was a really solid run and one that I probably wouldn’t have been capable of, mentally, earlier this year. 

I feel relieved to not have any races booked in the near future and it’s time to enjoy a bit of downtime, mentally as much as physically. 

I’ve raced a lot since Berlin, some might argue too much, but it’s been worth it and left me excited for what's to come in 2024.