When a slow time can be a PB (Updated)

“It ain’t what you do… it’s the way that you do it…”

This weekend I ran a sub-1:40 Half Marathon, some 12mins 30 secs slower than my Personal-Best (Nottingham Robin Hood, 1999). Even so, I honestly believe that this (my 35th Half, alongside 5 Marathons) was one of my best-ever runs. To say that I was delighted when I saw the stop-time on my watch is an understatement: in that moment my body made that convulsion which is simultaneously both a laugh and a sob.

So what made this particular run so special?

  • The preparation was just right: I managed the frequency and increased mileage of runs, and some moderate speed sessions, yet kept on the right side of injury. So much so, that the long run the weekend before was a 16-miler where I not only cruised the hills but also finished at a strong race pace (in contrast to the more typical dogged grinding-out of the last mile-and-a-half which that route normally entails). So I started positive and with a plan, rather than uncertainty.
  • The plan, in view of the hilly first half, entailed an 8-minute-mile pace to 6 miles, and then picking up if everything felt good. I had 1:40 in mind but knew that was a tall order given the pace required for the remainder of the race. In the event, I managed it perfectly. At 3 miles I was just 16 secs over; at 6 miles, 27 secs under with the worst of the hills behind me. My mins-per-mile average for the splits at 6, 9, and 12 miles were 7:46, 7:29 and 7:15, and the last mile 7:16. How clever is that: an even and sustained increase in pace, to finish at threshold yet still with good form. And by “managed” I mean controlled, rather than survived.
  • It was hard; bloody hard. From 9, everything in me wanted to ease off and accept the time, but I made myself run – I raced – and fought through the red mist. I worked for that time, and it was hard, and I’m proud of it.

 So some 12-and-a-half minutes slower than my PB but I absolutely count this a personal best.

What have I learnt from this?

  1. 1:40 is my half-marathon limit, nowadays. In fact, given the preparation and the conditions on the day, for me to push my body any harder would probably result in injury (unless maybe on a flat course), and maybe even –  not for the first time – failing to make the start.
  2. I have written before that in adopting a more cautious approach to running, in return for longevity, does not mean that you are not allowed to let rip sometimes. Just know your limits, and don’t hurt yourself. Respect your body, and it wil continue to amaze you.
  3. Times are absolute: I can’t deny that 1:40 is slower than 1:27. But is it necessarily “better”? I was 38 then, and nearly 51 now: I daresay there’s a boffin somewhere who has a complicated formula to work out which is the superior athletic performance – I don’t, I just know how I felt. And maybe I managed this run better.
  4. It’s great to have a target, it adds motivation and the satisfaction of hitting it is immense. But the target must be relevant to where you are now. 1:40 for me at the moment, but maybe for some runners it would be 1:30 or less….and for others,  2hrs….? Unless we are elite runners, there is little point trying to race people who are in a different place; we can only run our own race, within ourselves.
  5. Aiming for a moderate time, or possibly to hit a window, and managing that pace, can be as valid a target as running a fast pace. The fundamental principle of TARS is to manage your running with care and to protect yourself, so that you can keep running for longer and ultimately extend the benefits. More life-balance, more countryside, more pleasure, more escape: surely, that can’t be bad.
  6. So in years to come, my PB will improve from 1:40 to 1:50, and at some time in the future, I hope maybe I may one day be able to run a half-marathon in my target PB of sub-2:00 hours.

That, clearly, is nonsense.

But I believe that there may just be some grain of wisdom at the heart of it.

POSTSCRIPT, two weeks later: Beat your time…. or Hit your time?

Full of enthusiasm I put in a late-entry for the Sheffield Half-Marathon. I didn’t want to risk pushing my limits again so soon, and as it turned out the day was also the middle of a heatwave. So, instead of racing, I tried an experiment: picking a more moderate time, I would try to manage my pace to hit the time, rather than trying to beat it.

I made a plan for a time of 1:48: the first six miles at 8:30 min/mile-pace, one mile at the turn at 08:15-pace, and 6.1miles at 8:00 min/mile pace. I found it a little uncomfortable holding back and up to half-way was still some 20-40 secs up. So held back at 8:30s until 9 miles (by which point I was now a little over time)… and then finally let myself run. I had recalculated where I needed to be at 12 miles, was a little fast and so eased off to the line.

Target 1:48. Actual 1:47:32. So over 13.1 miles, with some moderate hills, and in blistering heat, I was able to manage my pace to within 25-seconds… pretty clever, eh!

This is a whole different approach, and just as satisfying in a different way. It certainly makes you do the arithmetic every mile, but you also feel the pace and rhythm of the run.

So The Art of Running Slowly reveals yet another way to extend and relish your running. Long may it continue.

(And in doing that, I also preserved my legs for the Yorkshire Three Peaks in mid-June… hope it’s not quite so hot!)

Credits: with thanks to

Leeds City Council, http://www.leeds.gov.uk

Jane Tomlinson Run-for-All, http://www.forallevents.co.uk/run-for-all/


And my family. Yet again.


About johntleeds

In amongst the perpetual juggling of work, family and things on my mind, this is MY time, MY escape. Any this is what my mind comes up with when it has time to wonder, as I wander on the trails... twitter @johntleeds
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