A shorter recap of this year’s Ealing Half. You can read a fuller review from last year here.
I’m not sure why I entered the Ealing Half this year. It’s a great race and fairly local, but following the Great North Run two weeks ago and a weekend chugging beer and demolishing schnitzel in Berlin, I was not feeling fully “on it”. It was likely an early bird email deal that I just could not resist!
I timed my arrival nicely, not too late to rush, but plenty of time to be relaxed. I even had a light jog up and down from the start line down the pens and back again. The 1:40 pacers turned up with about 10 minutes to go until start time and I parked myself behind them. I thought 1:40 was a bit of a stretch, but instead of my normal “change of plans 30 secs into a race”, I decided I would just try and stick with them and see what happens. I shook my legs out. Oh, feeling a little tired! Let’s give this go!
The countdown began and we were off. I was pretty close to the front so was over the line in about the first 30 secs. It was a beautiful day for the last Sunday in September. Around 22 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. I felt pretty relaxed, tried to keep my breathing regular and held onto the pacers.
I mention the hills at the Ealing Half last year. They are not huge and they are not so long, but they just keep coming. You turn a corner and there is another one. Physically they are not too demanding, I think it is more a mental thing. You think they‘re over and that’s the last one, and another pops up.
Even with last years’ experience, I underestimated / misremembered them. I overheard at the start that the hills were in the first 6 miles. Nope. A marshal at 8 miles said, “no more hills now”. There was.
At 6 miles I was starting to feel it. The pacers were edging away and I felt I was slowing. Two weeks before at the Great North Run, I had held my form until the 11th mile. I was going to have to dig in. I calculated in my head – 7 miles at 8 min/mile pace is 56 minutes. Nearly another hour! Oh boy!
Last year I broke physically as my legs went. This year was the mental side I had to push through. My head was telling me to stop. Why don’t you walk this hill? Go on, there’s no shame in stopping!
It crossed my mind a few times for the briefest of seconds to do so. But I have never walked in a race and was not about to start today. The 1:40 pacers were nearly out of sight. I tagged onto a guy called Eric (he didn’t realise his name was on his number) who was shouting out biblical quotes and encouragement to others. It was inspiring and he made me smile a lot and took my mind off the remaining miles. We pushed each other on until the last mile where he surged ahead.
The last metres around the park just kept coming and coming. WHERE IS THE FINISH? Finally, it arrived and whatever sprint I had left was squeezed out. I collected my medal and was glad of some water. I forgot to stop my watch, normally the first thing on my mind. My chip time was 1:43:41. Only 30 seconds slower than last year and not a million miles away from my PB of two weeks before. I still had something in the tank.
This was probably the toughest race I‘ve done mentally. Just keeping going was challenging. I wandered around dazed for several minutes after the finish, feeling mentally spent. I felt a little down afterwards, that I wasn’t quite there for this race and blamed the course.
The Ealing Half is super well organised and feels like a much bigger event than it is. The residents along the route pumping out music and handing out water, oranges and jelly babies also give it a smaller community feel. The best of both worlds.
The race humbled me a little. At the end, I said, “Never again”. Not next year. Me and this race are through. But after a couple of days, I’m starting to reconsider. It’s a matter of pride now. I can take this race. It’s not all that. Maybe my pride and confidence are misplaced. Maybe I’ll find out next year.