Why running a half marathon is great dress rehearsal if you’re planning to run a full 26 miles 385 yards marathon this year

 
Sunday 20th March saw me line up with 6,797 other people just outside the iconic arch of Wembley stadium. I wasn’t waiting to get into a match, but to take part in the second-ever Vitality Series North London Half Marathon.

I’d decided to run it as part of my training for the Milton Keynes Marathon, which takes place on 2 May. It’s a good idea to race a half marathon round about halfway through a marathon training plan. It gives you a sense of how you’re doing, makes you work harder than your usual leisurely Sunday long run. And, importantly if you suffer from nerves, it gives you a chance to practice pre-race preparation.

The route

It was a sunny, spring morning, chilly but dry and perfect for running. The race itself was very well organised. The start was seamless and the route was all on closed roads. The event wasn’t oversubscribed as some popular races can be, so the course wasn’t at all congested.

It runs from Wembley out to the Allianz stadium, home of Saracens rugby team, and back again. I’ll be honest, it was probably the least scenic race I’ve ever run, but if you’re just concentrating on giving it your all, who needs scenery?

There’s not an awful lot of support en route either, most likely because it’s a race only in its second year, so it’s a case of bring your own cheerleaders. There were a few hills – I’d call it ‘very’ undulating! And the groans from fellow runners around me told me that most people hadn’t anticipated them. But what goes up must come down and with every steep hill came a fast, fun descent that you could use to speed down and make up time. It’s always good to include hill work in your training, even if your goal race is pancake flat. It builds strength and power which translates to increased speed on the flat.

If hills aren’t your thing the good news is the last mile or so of the race is mainly downhill. And you’re treated to a stadium finish which, even if you’re not a football fan, feels exciting. In anticipation of the number of runners who’d want to take a selfie on the Wembley pitch, the race organisers cleverly set aside a ‘photo area’ to keep the finish area clear for people like me, bent double and trying to get their breath back!

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My result

Despite the hills I managed over a minute’s PB, which was a welcome surprise and has given me a confidence boost for my marathon. On finishing there was an impressive medal, technical T-shirt and a goodie bag of snacks. And the results were up on the website by early afternoon. Full marks.

Whether you’re new to running and thinking of targeting your first half marathon, going for a PB or training for another event, it’s well worth putting the North London Half on your race calendar for March 2017. Or try one of the other races in the Vitality Run Series. Next up is the Reading Half on 3 April, the Hackney Half Marathon on 8 May, or the British 10K on 10 July. Visit www.vitalityrunseries.com to find out more, and www.northlondonhalf.com to pre-register for 2017.

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What I ate:

Pre race I stuck to my usual pre-run breakfast of Weetabix with almond milk, a banana and a sprinkling of a linseed, chia and goji berry mix – easy to digest and a good source of energy. I make sure I’m well hydrated throughout the day and evening before so I don’t overdo the water on race morning and end up endlessly queuing for the loo!

During the race In training I’ve been experimenting with having real food for an energy boost on long runs, rather than relying on sugary, processed gels and sports drinks. I sometimes have pieces of fruit or homemade flapjacks or energy balls (Healthy Food Guide recipes have served me well). But as I’m still adjusting to chewing and digesting on the move, I decided to stick with a product for an energy boost during this race. I went for Clif Blocks, which are like melt-in-the-mouth wine gums, and of all the products available seem to me to have the most natural ingredients.

Post race I always fantasise about a nice cup of tea as I get to the end of a race – bit weird, maybe, but it gets me through. So a cuppa and a banana was my post-race treat, followed by a slap-up Sunday roast once I got home (my TomTom sports watch told me I burned 1686 calories on the run so I felt justified in having an extra Yorkshire, just this once…).