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Chasing Nigel

by Paul Hayward
Wednesday 25th March 2015

Race report: Obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward reports from the Vitality Reading Half Marathon - March 22, 2015

Vitality Reading Half Marathon - March 22, 2015 © Marathon-Photos.com

Photos: Pacers - the heroes of the day © Marathon-Photos.com

The Reading Half marathon is seen by many as the official warm up for the London marathon and represents a fantastic opportunity to test your fitness and pace. I raced it last year (HERE) ahead of the Brighton marathon and it was an essential part of my preparation. With a revised course and with Vitality coming onboard as the new main sponsor, there was a lot of excitement for this year’s half marathon.

Having spent the day before the race reviewing an Obstacle Course Race, I fully intended to support my girlfriend and run with her for her preparation for the London marathon. However my girlfriend and some of my good friends suggested, based on my Ironman training and Strava times, that I should chase a personal best, the elusive 1:45. Or I should at least try.

I was a little apprehensive to be honest, but after spending 15 minutes with Matt McGilchrist, from 'your Physio Plan' (HERE) who were kindly offering pre-race massages, who worked some magic on my quads and hamstrings, I felt energised; the chase for a personal best was on.

The Reading Half marathon offers a variety of pacers, from the 1 hour 20 minute mark to the 2 hours 20 minutes mark and I thought my best chance would be to try and keep pace with the 1 hour 45 minute pacer, rather than try this alone. I have recently read our coverage of how hard a pacer’s role can be (and just how big the smile can be when it comes together - HERE) and I knew that it could be a challenge for both of us.

I found my pacer, in between a sea of runners, through his huge flag stating '1.45' and I introduced myself. My pacer’s name was Nigel Pattison, his best half marathon time was 1.29 and he confidently stated that by him running a little slower he could ensure that we could hit our target time. The key, Nigel excitedly stated, was a “flat eight minute mile, which we should pick up after mile three”!

As I listened to the excited chatter around me with my fellow '1.45ers' and the talk of training runs or marathon preparation, I appeared to be the only one who had not run eight minute miles consistently as part of their training and it began to dawn on me that running this kind of speed is a serious game.

I was not able to dwell on this for long though as the gunshot went off and Nigel started striding towards the start line, whilst I had to run, and we were off like a formation of the Red Arrows onto the new route through Green Park. In previous years the distance has been made up through a loop round the stadium at the end before entering it. In a new route for 2015 however the first mile was through Green Park, before making our journey through Reading.

After about half a mile in I casually looked at my Garmin and noted that we were doing a steady “7.34” - enough to put me in an early grave. I was quickly distracted from these worries though by Nigel’s assortment of music coming out of his watch which ranged from Queen to Katy Perry. Before really catching my breath, Nigel announced “mile one 1.45ers; 10 seconds in hand” which was followed by a number of us cheering and clapping.

Despite being one mile in, at a ridiculous pace, I was smiling and I thought to myself that if I was still clapping at mile 10 then this could be achievable. The following two miles consisted mainly of trying to keep pace and weaving in between people to do so, but soon passed by, with breaks for cheers and clapping at miles two and three as well as Nigel’s encouragement of our time saving.

One moment that did make me laugh was when we turned the corner into the hill for mile three and people were cutting across the paths instead of sticking to the road. Nigel quickly announced “do not cheat 1.45ers, we are doing well, lets stick to the road” and like a fluid train we zipped round the corner to the disgust of some of the runners that were on the path.

With a lot of the focus on trying to keep pace with Nigel, we might have missed the signs for drinks or Lucozade, but again Nigel was on hand and had it covered by shouting “water on the left if you would like it, do not stop”. He was even willing to share his bottle half a mile on for those that were flagging slightly!

By mile seven I had, remarkably, adapted to the pace and I was feeling strong. A fair amount of space had opened up in front of me and I was keeping my pace of around 7.50 minute miles. I took the view that I would try and keep this pace, with Nigel in earshot, and enjoy the space. I hit mile ten in 1 hour and 18 minutes, some six minutes quicker than I had ever done before, and Nigel beamed “we are nearly there now, great work 1.45ers. We have 10 seconds in the bank and are looking good”.

On hitting mile 11 Nigel was beside me again and I asked him how we were doing. He smiled and said “you are doing well and are on target”. I did not know what to say at this point. I was still shocked that I had managed to keep up this far but I began to believe that I could actually do this, I could be part of the 1.45 club and I did not want to stop trying now.

In testament to what a true hero Nigel is, when his flag had fallen from his back he, in a scene that would not be out of place in the Spartan film 300, charged forward holding it aloof in his hands down the final straight as he led us to the stadium.

The subtle change of making the route to the stadium direct, meant that psychologically you knew you were almost home when you saw it come closer and closer. This was confirmed by Nigel at mile 12 as he said “mile 12 1.45ers, nearly home” and the applause and cheers were getting louder.

As we approached the stadium, Nigel shouted “start to make your way ahead of me, make sure you are ahead of me”. With these words echoing in my head I tried to keep the pace, push ahead and do the impossible - get a sub 1.45.

Vitality Reading Half Marathon - March 22, 2015 © Marathon-Photos.com

Photos: Pacers - the heroes of the day © Marathon-Photos.com

On crossing the line at 1.44.19 I looked round for Nigel and he was just behind me, smiling with some of my fellow 1.45 club members, enjoying the moment and taking it in. I wanted to hug him but for some reason I settled for a shake of a hand and an emotional thank you. Writing this now I should have hugged him; in an hour and forty four minutes Nigel had done so much for me and I had merely said “thank you”, that does not seem enough.

I have never considered running with a pacer at a race before, but I can't see why and I would recommend it to anyone. I can't imagine what the pressure must be like on Nigel and his fellow pacers They guide a group of at least 20 or so runners who are all reliant on them and hang on their every word and their personal bests all rest on their shoulders.

This clearly did not phase Nigel as he made it look easy by keeping us all motivated, smiling and to be honest he made the time fly by through leadership and enthusiasm. Nigel was a credit to his running club and the Reading Half marathon. He is also my new favourite person.

With the inclusion of a new route and a new headline sponsor; Reading Half marathon has gone from strength to strength. It is still a testing route, with three hills, but offers a great atmosphere with the crowds lining the streets for the majority of the race all clapping and cheering. The finish into Madejski Stadium is very special and this half marathon is fast becoming one of the best races in the south.

If you are training for a marathon, setting out on a running journey or tempted for a challenge - make sure you consider it for your 2016 diary. Also try it with a pacer; it takes all the pressure off you (apart from keeping up) and offers you a chance to be distracted from 13.1 miles and concentrate on being caught up in a moment.

For more information on the Vitality Reading half marathon please visit: www.readinghalfmarathon.com

Click here to find out about other events in the Vitality Run Series


About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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