Carlingford Half Marathon

This weekend saw me racing my second half marathon for 2015 up in the beautiful Cooley Peninsula and Carlingford town. For the first time in nearly 5 years, I am once again a sub-2h00 half marathoner!!! I highly recommend this race for 2016 to anyone looking for a lovely setting, great organisation, lively vibe, and just some all-round fun. It's not too far a drive from Dublin, perfect for a day out.

My day started early, having elected to drive in on the day rather than stay over the night before. Predictions were for a lovely warm day (temperatures in the low to mid teens!), if a bit windy still. Thankfully, as I got further north, the wind gusts were not as strong as they were in and around Dublin. It was, however, very overcast in Carlingford, but still mild enough for comfortable running conditions. Ideal really - not hot, not cold: just right!
As is my custom by now, I started just shy of the very back of crowd, as my technique for starting out slow and easy and not running out of steam by halfway. 6:00 minutes per km felt easy and almost slow, and with the rolling hills over the first 5km of the course, I was quite comfortable sticking to this pace, enjoying the scenery, and feeling surprisingly light on my feet and very strong with every step. I'd almost explain the feeling as floating over the ground. I wasn't slowing too much on the climbs, rather I felt strong and was passing people up every incline. I'd glance at my Garmin periodically and adjust my pace to make sure I wasn't starting out too fast. And adjust I had to, all the time, as I just kept speeding up. But I was feeling good, and not after any particular time for this race, just an easy and enjoyable run somewhere below 2h15. 6 months ago this would've been a tough goal, over-ambitious perhaps even, but now this is my easy Half pace. What a difference a few months of solid training can make! 
Eventually I noticed that 2 particular guys were running at around my target pace and decided to try to stick with them for a while. That seemed to work.
From 5km, the hills tapered off and I found my pace dropping significantly (and I left my pace-spotters behind), but I was feeling strong and taking advantage of the gentle downhills and much smaller occasional inclines, so I decided to see what I could make of this race and keep my pace down in the region of 5:30. The wind wasn't too bothersome either, mild gusts but nothing severe. I was still feeling strong and light on my feet and passing a good number of people along the way. Imagine my surprise when I looked at my Garmin again around 12km and noticed that I was dipping below 5:10 pace!!! Still I felt strong and kept going, realising at this point that my overall average pace was around 5:30 and that if I could keep my overall average here I'd be on track for a comfy sub-2h00 for the first time in nearly 5 years. I was still floating past those runners you always find at the races, generally the more inexperienced lads and ladies, who start out too fast and run out of steam later on (I've done this plenty of times myself, and have learnt that lesson by this point).
By 16km I started feeling decidedly less energetic - I'd not taken along any kind of energy gel as I was only planning on an easy run. Pushing myself, I usually take 1 gel at around the halfway mark of a Half Marathon, and that sees me comfortably through the distance. Easy pace I can do without any energy boost. I was starting to regret not taking the gel along as a backup... Nothing for it but to push on. I'm NOT giving up my sub-2h00!!! Somehow I still managed to maintain 5:30 and even 5:25 pace for the last few kms. I was looking at my watch a lot more often, counting down to the finish line, 1/2 km at a time. But I was able to keep moving, keep up my pace, and watched my average dip below 5:30 again. Somehow I found the energy to keep going.
To say I was having a good day would be the understatement of the century! I was on a total runner's high, floating above the ground despite my lack of energy. Smiling and laughing and singing along to my iPod (I rarely have music on the run, but decided for some reason to take it along this time). Still passing people as I went along. Somehow, around the 17km mark, I spotted a guy who'd left me in his dust at the starting line, having started immediately behind me and very quickly disappeared from sight ahead. Spotted him, caught him, passed him, didn't see him again! Wow!
By 20km I was going on sheer willpower. My stubborn streak comes in really handy at times like these - I refused to give up or even slow down. Instead, I targeted the girl who'd just breezed past me: put on a final burst of speed, counting down the remaining distance in 100m intervals (and taking note of the fact that the 20km mark on the road was 100m after my Garmin - so expect an extra 100m at the end, don't blast out the last bit of energy shy of the finish line!), blasted past her and steamed on to the finish line. 1h55:01 according to my Garmin. Official results don't see to be out yet, but I'm more than happy with my Garmin's time :) Not a PB (that honour belongs back in June 2010: 1h53:54), but close. And the first time since that glorious and sunny day that I've broken the 2h00 mark! And only the third time in my life that I've seen the underside of 2h00 on a Half.
Yes, I'm more than ecstatic at my race! :)

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