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Life after a personal best

by Paul Hayward
Wednesday 20th April 2016
“What time are you aiming for?” possibly the most asked and hated question to a runner, the usual response? “I just want to finish”. But that is never the case really, not deep down. If it is your first half marathon or you are coming back from injury then there is always the chance that a finish is the aim. However, there is probably a small part of you that wants a time even then, and when you keep going back or after you get the taste of it - it becomes an issue of a personal best' or at least that was my view until the Reading half marathon on 3 April 2016. . 
Reading half marathon represents one of the fastest and most popular half marathons in the athletics calendar. For me, in my fourth year, the race represents a whirlwind of emotions from the initial challenge of completing it (secretly within a sub 2 hour time), a better PB as I became a runner (here) and then 'Chasing Nigel' to absolutely smash my time in 2015 with a 1.44 (here). 
So 2016 offered me a real dilemma, having suffered from a large 'hangover' due to Ironman Wales last year (here) - I was not as fit, mentally or physically, as I was last year when I joined my 17,000 fellow athletes in the basking sunshine in Green Park on 3 April 2016 for the start of the half marathon. 
I lined up next to Nigel once again, shook his hand excitedly and looked at the pacing banner of '1.40'. The smile lifted as it dawned on me that I would be running an average of 7 minutes 38 seconds to come within a shot of a 1 hour 40 minute time. Even writing this now, that time frame sounded (not to mention felt at the time) excessively fast. Even at my fittest last year I think I would have struggled to hold onto that pace for long. 
If the last four years have taught me anything, since I embarked on this journey and left the nightclubs and mojitos behind, then it is always to try and have some faith in your fitness / training. With this in mind and with the theme tune ringing out to Starsky and Hutch (Nigel’s playlist) I was off and for the first 3 miles it felt easy, it felt manageable.
However this false sense of speed could have been due to the new start that was put in place last year, whereby there is no loop round the stadium come mile 11 and the instead the first miles out of Green Park are gentle, flat and ensure that you can push from the start. As I weaved through people chasing Nigel my mind said to me that this could be possible, it could happen.
Mile 3 saw the first real challenge; a gradual incline that turned into a full scale climb, or at least that is how I remember it. I pushed hard up the hill, and as my pace dropped and I saw Nigel’s flag disappearing into the distance. Sadness overfilled me as I realised the run of form could be over, the chance to relive the glory of last year was going. Although I tried to push and catch up, my body was reacting badly to this idea and my steps became heavy, tired and 9 minute miles became the standard. With this my smile disappeared as did my belief. 
I have often been told “do not set off too fast or you will have a breakdown”. Yet barely 5 kilometres into a half marathon I had done just that and the breakdown was coming thick and fast, Nigel was a dot and I was in real trouble. Emotionally I was broken - I should have trained harder and smarter, however I thought I could do it and get through. Physically I was getting slower and slower, as more and more people passed me. 
“Come on Paul, you can do this” came a cry from a lady on the side of the road. Sadly I was unaware who she was and I did not know her, but there lies some of the magic of Reading half marathon. As each year passes the Reading half marathon seems, deservedly, to grow in stature and with it the crowds of people cheering and supporting. This year was no exception and I thought to myself that my race was not over, how could it be? 
So with that I pushed back the voices in my head, the heavy legs and started to run again, a mile at a time in the hope that I would claw back to a decent pace and finish at the line with a smile on my face. This seemed to be the right approach, or at least it sounded right and by mile 9 I was back to 8.05 and feeling a lot better, I had pushed through the breakdown and importantly I had held on, somehow to start enjoying the race. 
The race takes you through the City Centre and past large bands, huge London Marathon esq public support, DJs deafening the streets with classic dance music and the famous “pub stops” offering half pints and ringing the bell if anyone takes one. I never have, yet, but each time I run past I clap and smile at these guys - I love the fact they do this and get so involved. 
By mile 11 I hit the final long stretch back to Green Park and the pain set in. My legs had not been pushed this hard and this fast in a while and were screaming at me to stop. But that was not going to happen, not with the Cheerleaders screaming “you are nearly there” and the Madejski Stadium becoming ever more prominent in amidst of Heart FM’s dodgy music choices!
One of the unique selling points of the Reading half marathon is the 'stadium finish' and as I entered the stadium I was hit by a deafening sound wall of applause and cheering. The noise was deafening and louder with every metre. It sounds corny but if you stop to notice this moment rather than being fixated on the finish line - you realise just what a special finish this race has with everyone screaming and clapping. 
At this moment it dawned on me, as I looked around and I noticed the runners around me, smiling, cheering and some even crying whilst waving; it isn’t always about a time, or pushing yourself to the end. It can also be about “just finishing” and having that special moment, achieving the finish line and revelling in the moment. 

paul reading

On stopping at the end I looked up at the clock and it said '1.47' but any moment to reflect was lost as a man grabbed my hand and said well done. He was beaming and I realised that though 13.1 miles can be an awful long way at times, within the last 400 metres the stadium it can all be forgotten as euphoria takes over and you have done it, you have made it to the line.
Reading half marathon returns next year on 19th March and more information can be found here: http://readinghalfmarathon.com/ 

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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