Norwich Half Marathon win had Ben jumping for joy
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
At the risk of sounding like an X Factor sob story, winning Norwich Half Marathon has been both my biggest success in athletics to date and my most scary.
Victory in 2013 was made all the more satisfying by the frustration I'd suffered at the previous year's race.
Twelve months earlier, I'd been leading the race, knowing I was in good shape. I'd felt I had a good chance of winning the biggest race in my home county and a race I had experienced as both a spectator and a participant over many years.
Unfortunately, at the two-mile mark I suffered an irregular heart rate and dizziness and had to drop out. As disappointing as it was at the time, tragedies at the previous year's half marathon and the Round Norfolk Relay this autumn firmly put into perspective the fragility of even the most aerobically fit individuals.
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That would be my first bit of advice to anyone doing the half marathon or any other physical challenge; never push yourself beyond your limits. You will leave your comfort zone, that's the very definition of a challenge but do so with caution. No matter how fit you are sometimes it's just not your day and stopping is always an option.
Race day in 2013 began as any other; up four hours before the start, porridge made with water for breakfast, get myself ready, pack my bag, repack my bag, repeating the well-worn mantra of 'shorts, vest, shoes... I can race' – knowing that those three items alone will be sufficient, and anything else I remember to bring is a bonus!
I followed my normal routine of a two-mile/15-minute warm up, gradually accelerating from truly shuffling to a steady jog 50 minutes before the start.
During this time it was a case of working out which parts of the course were going to be buffeted by the considerable wind. After doing some light stretching in the cattle sheds it was then out to complete my 10-minute routine of short sprints and running form drills to ensure everything was loose and felt relaxed.
Stripping down to vest and shorts, standing on the start line, I was more nervous than I'd been before as lessons from 12 months earlier had taught me that no amount of training can overcome the unknown variables that make sport such a spectacle. I knew I was in similar shape to a year previously, and just hoped for a better outcome. I was perhaps the only person who considered passing the two-mile mark as a significant target!
Thankfully, after a mile or so I began to pull away from the rest of the field and, as I relaxed, each mile seemed to float by at a fairly even pace between five minutes 17 seconds to five minutes 23 seconds per mile.
I maintained a controlled pace at which I knew I would be able to comfortably speed up from if I had any company in the last few miles.
The feeling of running away from my nearest rivals and from mile five or six, knowing it would take something disastrous not to win, was a great feeling and something I will always remember. Those who have completed the Norwich Half Marathon will appreciate just how much support there is on the course.
I've run city centre races with less people watching, and considering the course is two 6.5-mile rural laps, it's a very impressive achievement.
Coming into the final mile in the Norfolk Showground at Costessey, I knew that there were no more hills and made a real effort to enjoy it and look around. It's not often you get to win a big race and even less often do you get to enjoy the final stages without having the pain of a sprint finish to come.
Unfortunately it did give me too much time to think about crossing the line, and having spoken to 2012's winner Nick Earl, who had leapt across the line with style and grace, I decided to try to outdo him with a somersault. I struggle with basic gymnastics on fresh legs, let alone after 13 miles, and anyone who saw the finish will appreciate it looked better in my mind's eye.
So if you're aiming to win or just to finish, 13 miles is an achievement and Norwich Half Marathon is a great event, so relax and enjoy it.
Take the first lap easy and, if there's more in the tank, try and pick it up in the last three miles. And, most importantly, don't try and leap over the line – it's not a comfortable experience!