Written by Ben Price
At 9 am on Sunday I was standing on the sunny start line alongside a 2000+ strong field at the 37th edition of the Stroud Half Marathon, superbly organised by Immortal Sports.
I had a good look around at my fellow competitors, checking to see who was there. Who would be pushing me for the win? Last year’s winner, Phil Bridge – who was due to race – wasn’t there, but my mates, Dave Bell, Will Ferguson and Harry Bishop were. I knew Dave and Will would be, they’re great runners and lovely blokes from nearby running clubs, but Harry was a surprise. He is a fellow Cheltenham Harrier and puts in big miles when he’s into his training. He doesn’t train with our group though so we never know what sort of shape he’s in! What I did know was that he beat me in a 5k in the summer so I believed he was probably my biggest threat for the win. After a short interrogation (disguised as friendly chit-chat!) I’d found out he hadn’t run a half marathon before. He’s also a fair bit younger than me so I thought he might not pace himself too well and could get carried away. I cruelly hoped he might overcook it. Hang on, that’s not cruel, this is racing! He’s hoping the same of all of us…
The gun went and as usual Dave shot off, but a group of us quickly dragged him back. Dave, Will, Harry, Jack Turner and I soon formed the front pack with another unknown runner sitting in at the back. As expected, Harry went off hard and I decided to go with him – I saw him as the biggest threat and didn’t want him to get away. The pace was high – the first 4 miles were all sub 5.15. Then on a slight downhill, Harry upped the pace even more. I had to make a decision. I pushed on hard and went with him. I needed to sit in on him and get a little bit of draft. Perhaps this was when we could break the others and create two separate races: one for the top spot, and one for 3rd place. Then Will came across to me – what an effort from him! We ran mile 6 in 4.54(!!!) and went through 10k in 32.01 with Harry a few strides ahead of us. 32.01 is 5.09 minute per mile pace: sub 68 minute pace/ That’s nearly 2 minutes quicker than my PB pace. I.e. we were going fast and it wasn’t sustainable!
I didn’t worry about that – I was not after the PB – I was after the win and hoped Harry couldn’t keep this up. I backed myself to hold Will off as he is fast but hasn’t done the mileage for half marathon distance lately. We turned onto the A48 and ahead of us stood a couple minor uphill sections. The sort of hill you wouldn’t notice in a car but when running you definitely do! This was when we’d see what Harry had. This was crunch time. Dig in! Then something happened that I was not expecting. The unnamed runner – who had let the three of us head off up the road – came alongside us, then effortlessly cruised away. He looked really controlled, strong and light. In other words, he looked proper quality and I realised things weren’t going to pan out as I had hoped! This guy pulled clear and by the top of the two rises had a significant gap. I was left battling with Harry and Will. The latter dropped back, then at about 9 miles Harry fell back and I was on my own.
This was a mentally tough point in the race. My legs were hurting and whilst a PB was on the cards, I will be doing far faster half marathon races in the future – did I want to push myself that hard? I was never going to catch 1st place and the 2nd spot was mine. This was not a priority race so I had trained hard all week, including 12k with quite a few hard efforts the day before. In other words, I was hurting! My coach was at 10miles and shouted at me to get the arms moving. He was so right, I wasn’t working my arms enough and as soon as I started it got my cadence up and I moved a little better. I pushed on as best I could, as much a mental as a physical battle. The final 2 miles were upon me and then I was heading up the first of two slight rises in the final mile. It really hurt, but by this point, I knew I wasn’t going to blow up or cramp up so pushed on. It would soon be over. I came down the crowd-lined finishing straight and dug as deep as I could. Perhaps I could still get a PB despite the slower last miles…
I crossed the line in 69.42. I was satisfied with that as I was only 2 seconds slower than at the Cheltenham Half, this time on tired legs and running isolated without any support, unlike in Cheltenham where the support was crazy.
The winner? Well, he had crossed the line 90 seconds before me. BOOM! What a kicking! I had a good chat with him afterwards and it turns out he’s called Andrew Davies and has run a 65 minute half in the past. He’s a different class! And a really top bloke too. I really should have known who he was!!
Afterwards, my coach gave me a fair bit of stick. He always says to me, ‘Know your sport’, because I’m not always aware of who I’m racing and what’s going in the elite Powerman duathlon world especially (my main focus). It would not have made any difference to the overall result but I’m pretty confident I might have run a little quicker if I’d sat in with Andrew and not gone into the red as much in the opening 10k. He would have still utterly destroyed me, but I would have had a better race. It certainly would have made more sense to run more even splits!
The funny thing about all this was that I don’t even know my own stats, let alone the sport. This morning (2 days later) I found out from the Cheltenham Harriers weekly news bulletin that I had actually run an 8 second PB! The time I had in my head for Cheltenham 3 weeks ago – my PB – was 69.40, when in actual fact it was 69.50. It’s funny, but although the feeling in the race and the time is exactly the same, knowing it was a PB, even by 8 seconds, changes how you feel about the race. Suddenly, I’m feeling far more positive about it! It’s a funny old mindset!
Anyway, from now on, I am going to ‘know my sport’. In fact, after I’ve finished writing this I’m going to email Human Race Events to get the start list for the Ballbuster Duathlon, my next race in 2 Saturdays time… can’t wait!
Last week’s training:
Monday: AM 75mins easy turbo. PM 7 miles easy run
Tuesday: Another classic Tuesday night monster session! 11miles running including 12x800m with the Cheltenham Harriers then straight to turbo for 40 mins with 4x5mins max efforts [2mins spin recoveries]. I cramped up in the 3rd effort so ended up doing 2x5mins and 3x2mins max efforts before pretty much dying.
Wednesday: AM 5 miles easy run. PM 40 mins high cadence spin on turbo
Thursday: AM 8 miles running with 16x30secs at sub 3k pace [1min jog recovery]. PM 40 mins easy turbo
Friday: 40mins easy turbo
Saturday: 12km running including 5x30secs sub 5k pace and 10mins at 10k pace. Quite a bit the day before a race I reckon! I was definitely questioning my coach (in my head) at mile 9 in the Stroud half the day after when my quads were CANING!
Sunday: Stroud Half Marathon followed by a 25mins easy spin on the turbo in the car park – hidden away so very few people saw me being Mr Billy Big Balls Team Sky Wannabe – it’s good recovery though and my coach always says, ‘Who cares what people think?! Do what’s right for you’!
Ben Price is a duathlete who has represented GB at elite level over the past two years. He came to the sport in his late 20s and since then has progressed through the age group ranks until he was selected for the elite team in 2017. You can follow Ben’s training on Instagram through his daily posts.